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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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Toward a Finite-Planet Journalism

by Eric Zencey Wed Feb 19th, 2014 at 06:01:51 AM EST

What happens when an infinite-growth society smacks into environmental limits?  For one thing, it loses some of the ground on which democratic decision making can be exercised, as the effort to fit an increasingly problematic ecological footprint onto a finite planet means that more and more policy decisions have to be made by technocrats.  

On a finite planet, only an ecologically knowledgeable  electorate can reconcile democracy with non-negotiable ecological limits.  If the majority of voters remain ecologically illiterate, they must give up either civilization or democracy.  It's  impossible to retain both.

That sad truth emerges from a careful look at a political protest in Missouri over the future of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway.  Some citizens of that state are worried about the National Park Service's plans to limit access and exercise greater regulatory control; they see it as just another instance of rampant bureaucracy, of the sort that Frederick Hayek and corporate-backed Tea Partiers have warned us against.  Unfortunately, the science says that more regulation is needed if park ecosystems are to be kept from  irreparable damage by overuse.

And another truth emerges from a careful look at the story:  the media have a role and responsibility in educating voting publics about ecological limits.  At the very least, if they want to have any claim to be offering a "fair and balanced" look at the news, they need to give up their infinite-planet bias.  

What's that kind of bias look like, you might ask?  Read on to see how it cropped up in one U.S. newspaper.

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LQD from Rocky Mountain Institute

by paul spencer Wed Feb 12th, 2014 at 01:44:48 AM EST

Most of my experience with these folks finds them to be quite sane and often just enough ahead of conventional wisdom to help to shape it. This article is eurocentric, so I'm very curious as to y'all's critiques.

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Propaganda works

by Cyrille Sun Feb 9th, 2014 at 04:59:31 AM EST

As I recently wrote about, we are once again hearing calls for selling, well,everything public. And a French nominally (yes, already only nominally) socialist president is announcing a major turn rightwards -economically, that is- despite being at the helm of a country that has been performing markedly better than tenants of Aust(e)rian orthodoxy, such as the Netherlands or Finland.

And, you know what: he's getting praise for it.

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Autumn on the Arlberg railway

by DoDo Wed Feb 5th, 2014 at 02:54:56 AM EST

The westernmost state of Vorarlberg is separated from the rest of Austria by the water divide between the Rhine and the Inn (and thus Danube) rivers. Since 1884, a single railway provides connection across the mountains, with steep approaches to a summit tunnel over 10 km in length under the Arlberg Pass. On my two holidays in Switzerland in the summer and autumn of last year, I also stopped here. Beyond steep climbs with spectacular bridges in spectacular landscape and an eventful history, the line is notable for an arrested development: a modern double-track mainline in some parts and a single-track line with sharp curves in other parts.

The end of an eastbound (descending) railjet atop the Trisanna viaduct below castle Wiesberg (the tip is visible on the left) and above a 110-year-old hydroelectric power plant restored after massive floods damaged it in 2005

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The Morality Of Taxation

by afew Sun Feb 2nd, 2014 at 09:28:34 AM EST

From Frances Coppola on Pieria:

Laffer and the Yeti

we need a serious discussion about the morality of taxation. While the rich believe they are morally entitled to low tax rates, they will continue to avoid higher rates by taking advantage of the global mobility of capital and the fact that tax arbitrage is a survival strategy for small countries. For higher tax rates to be economically effective, therefore, the moral case for them must be so clearly made that the rich themselves buy into it because they cannot in conscience do otherwise.

Can this be done? How?

Comments >> (70 comments)

Old and new in Austria

by DoDo Sun Jan 26th, 2014 at 05:15:09 AM EST

On my way to and from the Gotthard railway last summer, I went through Austria. I got to see a lot of recent developments up-close: new lines with semi-high-speed traffic, open-access competition, the fruits of stimulus spending, and a recently refurbished narrow-gauge mountain railway.

100-year-old narrow-gauge electric locomotive 1099.14 with its train of heritage cars stands ready in Mariazell for the return journey to St. Pölten

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Lincoln's team of rivals

by DoDo Wed Jan 22nd, 2014 at 03:23:48 AM EST

Ever since I read a glowing review of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (which I still haven't seen), I longed to read its main basis: Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. This biography used the novel approach to put the personal histories of the main contestants in the 1860 Republican Party presidential nomination race side by side, to show how and why Lincoln rose above all of his rivals.

I finally got to read the book during the holidays. It is a difficult read, with over 750 pages even without footnotes (it takes 250 pages just to get to Lincoln's nomination on the Republican ticket), and the author's style is at times annoying (frequent reproductions of insubstantial praise for personal qualities, descriptions of the vanity festival that was Washington social life, the first-person plural focus on an American-only audience and the need to 'excuse' Lincoln's weak religiosity), but I highly recommend it for the broad and detailed view of the age and its issues. There is also some modern relevance in relation to centrist politics. I thought I share some of the insights I came away with.

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When a refutation is anything but

by Cyrille Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 12:19:58 PM EST

For decades, many academics and pundits have pronounced that the 70s conclusively proved that Keynes had been completely wrong, and that it proved that Friedman had been completely right.

You see, there was a recession, and it should have created deflation, except if inflation was actually determined by expectations based on previous experience, in which case it would not be brought down by depression. Friedman went on to state that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon" which, if you think twice about it, is the most laughable statement.
And to this day, I keep reading articles, even by professors of economics in the UK, saying that the episode of inflation over 2% in the UK in the early years of the current Government is a clear indication that any stimulus would have had little to no effect, being swallowed by inflation.

That's what happens when you start believing that your model matters more than reality.

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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

by A swedish kind of death Thu Jan 16th, 2014 at 01:27:47 AM EST

The EU informs us that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is presently being negotiated under much secrecy will have positive results.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - Trade - European Commission

Independent research shows that TTIP could boost:
  • the EU's economy by €120 billion;
  • the US economy by €90 billion;
  • the rest of the world by €100 billion

That should be, according to Dean Baker:

Research by a pro-deal think tank shows that TTIP could in the best case scenario boost:

  • the EU's economy by €120 billion;
  • the US economy by €90 billion;
  • the rest of the world by €100 billion
in the year 2027, in 2027 euros. However it also shows that the more likely scenario is about 50 USD per person and year.

The US-EU trade deal: don't buy the hype | Dean Baker | Comment is free | theguardian.com

As growth policy, this trade deal doesn't pass the laugh test, but that doesn't mean that it may not be very important to a number of special interests and, for this reason, bad news for most of the public. Since conventional barriers to trade between the US and EU are already very low, the focus of the deal will be on non-conventional barriers, meaning various regulatory practices.

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News and Views

 17 Septembre 2014

by afew - Sep 16, 56 comments

Your take on today's news media

 15-16 September 2014

by afew - Sep 14, 62 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Midweek Open Thread

by Helen - Sep 17, 8 comments

this monkey's gone to heaven

 Start The Week Open thread

by Helen - Sep 15, 33 comments

Linking my thinking with computer technology.

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