Sun May 1st, 2016 at 07:46:55 AM EST
Last year, Viktor Orbán, Hungary's right-populist prime minister, decided to regain voters lost due to endemic corruption by starting an anti-refugee hate campaign. With success. But that success made his minions only more brazen.
I recount two recent tales with comical elements: the rise and fall of shopping-free Sunday (or: the mystery of the baldies), and the secrets of the central bank.
Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger
by Frank Schnittger
Sat Apr 30th, 2016 at 12:46:07 PM EST
Your correspondent, Donald Clarke, (My 10 cents on newspaper comments sections, Fri. 22nd. April) takes advantage of a suspension of readers comments on Irishtimes.com to have a whinge at, yes, you guessed it, reader comments on newspapers.
He has discovered, apparently to his shock and horror, that many reader comments are rude, abusive, or ill-informed. He wants to read the views of expert columnists, under the supervision of wise editors, and not the drivellings of the great unwashed.
Fair enough, but no one is forcing him to scroll down the page to the comments section.
Strangely enough, my experience has been almost the exact opposite. Formal newspaper columnists tend to dish out the same ideas, again and again, in a number of different guises on different topics.
You can generally predict what the writer is going to say on any given topic if you are familiar with his or her previous work. Sometimes their articles amount to little more than the witterings of old farts...
Readers comments, on the other hand, are often a joy to behold: witty, informed, controversial, outspoken - without the "both siderism" , equivocation, and faux objectivity so often characteristic of their supposed betters on staff.
Of course there are also those comments which cross the line into unacceptable personal abuse, but most commenting systems have functionality to report those comments and exclude them from the discourse.
Some commenting systems even become largely self-regulating by enabling fellow readers to downrate and exclude a comment where a number of readers have found it to be offensive.
Other commenting systems allow readers to promote other readers' comments they have found to particularly incisive or informative to a more prominent position at the top of the comments section.
The Guardian recently did a study which found that of their ten most abused authors, 8 were women, 6 were non-white, three were gay and two were of a non Christian religion. (Note to arithmetic nitpickers: an author can belong to several categories!)
Of course this is unacceptable. In total, 2% of their 140 million comments to date were deemed to violate their community standards and were eliminated from the discourse.
Adding commenting and blogging functionality to irishtimes.com has, in my view, been one of the great enhancements of your digital offering. I often find the comments more enlightening than the lead article. Frequently they correct errors that the lead author has made, hopefully, before the article has made it to print.
The Irishtimes.com thus gets free content, free fact checking, free marketing feedback on what its readers like, read, and think, and more readers as a wider community engages with the Irish Times and with each other.
What's not to "like"?
Thu Apr 28th, 2016 at 10:57:32 PM EST
I read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals (published 1971) in the 1990s and wanted to remind myself of what my thought was then of what Alinsky wrote long before his name became a conservative slur.
Alinsky was a successful organizer and a seasoned tactician. Alinsky, however, was not a strategist. The difference between strategy and tactics is often confused: Tactics are the means used to gain an objective and strategy is the general campaign plan or goal.
Here are some of the tactically radical rules of Saul Alinsky that I noted then and now note again:
Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
Never go outside the experience of your people.
Whenever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.
Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.
A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
Keep the pressure on.
The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.
The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
The real action is in the enemy's reaction.
The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction is your major strength.
Tactics, like organization, like life, require that you move with the action.
For a different take on community organizing, my notes on Grace Lee Bogg's The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century are at http://hubeventsnotes.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-next-american-revolution.html
by Frank Schnittger
Wed Apr 27th, 2016 at 08:54:50 AM EST
In Political Paralysis in Ireland? I wrote about the inconclusive outcome to the Irish general election of February 2016 and predicted that we were in for a prolonged period of Kabuki theatre where the major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, would be dancing around each other without holding hands and with everyone else trying to force the unwilling couple to mate.
It is now over two months since that election, and I have revisited that diary on occasion to see if an update was required and concluded that no, nothing much new was really happening. Fianna Fail have been anxious to avoid the fate of minority partners in previous Irish coalition Governments which traditionally get hammered at the next election. So a straightforward coalition which would have provided a large working majority was out of the question.
In addition, the lack of an ideological distinction between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail only seemed to magnify the personality and trust issues between them. Fintan O'Toole, channeling Sigmund Freud, calls it the narcissism of minor difference.
Jonathan Swift, who got there before Freud, has a vicious conflict in Gulliverís Travels, between the Big-Endians, who break their boiled eggs at the larger point, and Little-Endians who break theirs at the smaller one.
Instead of a straightforward coalition, it now looks as if we are going to get a minority Fine Gael government with a small rag bag of Independent and small parties kept on life support by Fianna Fail abstaining on major votes of confidence. Whether this strategy succeeds in allowing Fianna Fail to escape the blame for unpopular Government decisions remains to be seen. I can see Sinn Fein and the other opposition parties and independents excoriating them at every turn for maintaining in office a widely unpopular Government with only a 25-30% base of support.
Things have come to this sorry pass because the only alternative was another General Election, a la Spain, with no guarantee of a very different outcome. This was the scenario feared by all because there was no way of telling whom the electorate might blame for the impasse. The last General election in February had resulted in a huge protest vote for all sorts of parties and independents few of whom had any intention of joining a Government as a minority partner.
by Frank Schnittger
Wed Apr 27th, 2016 at 08:50:23 AM EST
Given that it is the great Bard's 400th. Anniversary, a Shakespearean soliloquy seems apposite. What are the arguments for and against a British exit from the EU, and what are the views of European Tribune contributors on the subject?
President Obama has just swung by on his way back from being snubbed in Saudi Arabia, before giving Merkel some much needed succour on the refugee problem. His emphatic endorsement of Britain staying within the EU inspired Brexit lead campaigner Boris Johnson to the heights of Trumpian abuse.
Basically Obama said Britain should stay in the EU to maximise its global influence, and suggested that the UK would have to go to the back of the queue if it wanted bi-lateral trade deals post Brexit. And in case anyone should think that Obama is on the way out and therefor cannot speak for the USA on this issue, it should be noted that Eight former Republican and Democratic Treasury Secretaries have just written a letter endorsing his point of view.
This struck at the heart of the Brexit case - which has always maintained that Britain could have all the benefits of EU market access, without the costs of EU membership. Britain, the argument goes, is so important in its own right, that other countries including the rump EU Block would be falling over themselves to cut bilateral trade deals with a newly independent UK.
Sun Apr 24th, 2016 at 04:28:46 PM EST
This was then.
Spring 2012: the financial crisis that struck four years ago has thrown more people into unemployment and the economy has still not recovered. The ECB is running a tight money policy and the official priority of the Eurozone is to reduce state debt and budget deficits. Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland have been subjected to austerity policies, with the understanding that Italy and maybe France may be further down the line.
In France, outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is running for re-election. It's an uphill battle: unemployment has increased during his term and for those who still have a job, their wages have stagnated or even receded. The economy hasn't recovered to pre-recession levels. Many are calling for the ECB to do more to "support economic growth" in addition to its main mandate to keep inflation in check; Sarkozy eventually joined this choir:
Sarkozy puts role of ECB back on French election agenda -- EUbusiness.com | EU news, business and politics (17 April 2012)
Sarkozy launched the last week of his difficult re-election campaign with a veiled swipe at the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB).
"On the role of the Central Bank in supporting growth, we are also going to open a debate and we will push Europe forward," he told an election rally on Sunday.
"If the Central Bank does not support growth, then we will not have enough growth."
Despite the so-called "Merkozy" alliance, reaction from Berlin was swift:
Germany stresses ECB independence after Sarkozy comments | Reuters (17 April 2012)
[Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger]
Germany on Monday rebuffed calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to extend the mandate of the European Central Bank (ECB) to include supporting economic growth, citing the central bank's independence.
"The German position on the ECB and its independent role is known and is also known in Paris and has been unchanged for a long time," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.
Wed Apr 6th, 2016 at 04:02:44 PM EST
Something you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in The Economist: a piece worrying about... too much profits.
Too much profits, by US companies mostly and on their domestic market: an effect of undergoing "consolidation".
Too much of a good thing | The Economist
What is true of the airline industry is increasingly true of America's economy as a whole. Profits have risen in most rich countries over the past ten years but the increase has been biggest for American firms. Coupled with an increasing concentration of ownership, this means the fruits of economic growth are being hoarded. This is probably part of the reason that two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, have come to believe that the economy "unfairly favours powerful interests", according to polling by Pew, a research outfit. It means that when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the Democratic contenders for president, say that the economy is "rigged", they have a point.
You say "rigged"?
Too much of a good thing | The Economist
Profits are an essential part of capitalism. They give investors a return, encourage innovation and signal where resources should be invested. Their accumulation allows investment in bold new ventures. Countries where profits are too low--Japan, for instance--can slip into morbid torpor. Firms that ignore profits, such as China's state-run enterprises, lurch around like aimless zombies, as likely to destroy value as to create it.
But high profits across a whole economy can be a sign of sickness. They can signal the existence of firms more adept at siphoning wealth off than creating it afresh, such as those that exploit monopolies. If companies capture more profits than they can spend, it can lead to a shortfall of demand. This has been a pressing problem in America. It is not that firms are underinvesting by historical standards. Relative to assets, sales and GDP, the level of investment is pretty normal. But domestic cash flows are so high that they still have pots of cash left over after investment: about $800 billion a year.
Mon Apr 4th, 2016 at 02:47:37 AM EST
Surprising op-ed by Charlie Hebdo in English was published last week.
It is being reviled on social media for being islamophobic.
Although I found the op-ed hard to understand, I would have to agree. In particular, this clause from the concluding paragraph jumped out at me:
the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil
Charlie Hebdo is troubled by the veil? Sounds to me like the very definition of islamophobia (or is it religiophobia).
HOW DID WE END UP HERE? | 2016-03-30 Charlie Hebdo
... the attacks are merely the visible part of a very large iceberg indeed. They are the last phase of a process of cowing and silencing long in motion and on the widest possible scale. ...
Sat Apr 2nd, 2016 at 07:54:24 PM EST
Wikileaks has released transcripts of an IMF discussion of how to get Germany to accept IMFs proposal for austerity and debt relief for Greece. The method seems to be to create a crisis in April by threatening to pull out.
WikiLeaks - IMF Internal Meeting Predicts Greek 'Disaster', Threatens to Leave Troika
Thomsen said internally that the threat of an imminent financial catstrophe is needed to force the other players into a "decision point". For Germany, on debt relief, and In the case of Greece, to accept the IMF's austerity "measures," -- including raising taxes and cutting Greek pensions and working conditions. However the UK "Brexit" referendum in late June will paralyse European decision making at the critical moment.
Wikileak has the transcripts as PDF
Greece government is not amused according to Greece demands IMF explanation over leaked debt transcript | Reuters
Greece demanded an explanation from the International Monetary Fund on Saturday after an apparent leaked transcript suggested the IMF may threaten to pull out of the country's bailout as a tactic to force European lenders to more offer debt relief.
EU/IMF lenders will resume talks in Athens on Greece's fiscal and reform progress next week aiming to conclude a bailout review that will unlock further loans and pave the way for negotiations on long-desired debt restructuring.
The review has been adjourned twice since January due to a rift among the lenders over the estimated size of Greece's fiscal gap by 2018, as well as disagreements with Athens on pension reforms and the management of bad loans.
frontpaged - Bjinse
by Frank Schnittger
Tue Apr 26th, 2016 at 01:33:43 PM EST
The 334 articles I have posted on the European Tribune since Wed Nov 28th. 2007 are grouped somewhat arbitrarily under the 12 headings below with the latest listed first.
1. Human Rights (29)
2. Energy, Climate Change, Transport and the Environment (14)
3. Irish Economy (30)
4. Irish Politics (53)
5. Irish European Referenda and Elections (43)
6. The EU and the Eurozone (45)
7. US Politics (58)
8. Global economics, politics, foreign policy and war. (15)
9. Sport (11)
10. Personal Topics (19)
11. The European Tribune, Blogging and the Internet (12)
12. Just having a laugh (5)
Stories are listed only once even though many could have been listed under several headings. For direct access to a story please click on the titles in blue below.
Tue Mar 29th, 2016 at 01:40:59 PM EST
Found this while going through my archives and thought that it stood the test of time and, unfortunately, might be useful again after Paris and Brussels and Baghdad and Lahore, especially evil with its targeting of children and women, and on and on and on and....
Augury of Two Towers
Now I know what we must do.
We must be as united in our humanity
as we were when we watched
our brothers and sisters falling, dying, burning,
recognizing our own mortality and the Hell
at the heart of those who would do such a thing.
We must be as stern and courageous as the firemen were
in those first moments, running up the stairs
to get the people out before the towers fell.
We must be as gentle with each other
as we were in our first grief and unbelief,
strangers sharing sorrow and tears
until we were strangers no longer.
We must not forget
We must not forget
We must not forget that we are all together.
Now we are united in horror at the terror
a few have wreaked upon us.
They used their own deaths as the fuse
to our destruction.
We must be at least as smart as they were.
We must be at least as determined as they were.
We must never be what they were,
in love with
hate and death.
September 26, 2001
Sat Mar 12th, 2016 at 11:08:44 AM EST
Two days after the latest round of ECB tinkering with the Eurozone's monetary parameters, I find nothing but a bored silence at the European Tribune.
This is distressing, as it exposes me to the risk of having to think for myself.
So I will expose my naive and shallow thoughts, in hope of provoking some enlightenment...
|So, Super Mario the plumber has apparently thrown the kitchen sink at the Eurozone economy. This is the big bazooka, we are told. He has hit the lower bound on interest rates, he admits.|
But what has the ECB ever done for us anyway?
by Frank Schnittger
Thu Mar 10th, 2016 at 07:36:13 PM EST
The recent Irish general election resulted in an outcome that is unlikely to lead to the formation of a stable government. Ireland thus joins a number of countries such as Spain and Slovakia which have had inconclusive elections in response to the austerity policies of recent times. Governments have not been re-elected, but neither have coherent alternative governments been formed. Fine Gael, the main Government party, got 25% of the first preference vote (-11% compared to 2011), and won just 50 seats (-26 since 2011). They are still the largest party but fell far short of the 79 seats required for an overall majority. Their erstwhile coalition partners, Labour, were close to being annihilated gaining just 7% of the vote (- 13%) and 7 seats (- 30).
Fianna Fail, the previous ruling party unceremoniously booted out of power at the 2011 general election for presiding over the bank bail-out and economic collapse made something of a comback, gaining 24% of the first preference vote (+7%) and 44 seats (+20). However they have ruled out forming a grand coalition with Fine Gael, the only combination of parties capable of forming a stable government with an overall majority in parliament. Part of the problem is that minority partners in Irish Governments have tended to be severely punished by the electorate at the next election - witness the permanent demise of the the Progressive Democrats in 2009, the temporary demise of the Greens at the last election, and Labour's latest implosion this time around.
The other big winners in the election were Sinn Fein with 14% of the vote (+4%) and 23 seats (+9) and a wide variety of smaller parties - People before Profit/Anti-Austerity Alliance (6 seats, +4), Social Democrats (3, +0), Greens (2, +2) and independents from both the left and right of the political spectrum (23, +9). Most are protest or local candidates with no interest in helping to form a national Government. Collectively most share the traditional wet dream of the left - forcing the two (1922) civil war parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail into a grand coalition in order to expose the lack of ideological distinction between them in anticipation of seeing them decimated at the next general election. The expectation is that this would lead to a more "European" left right divide in Irish politics and the prospect of the left attaining majority power at some stage in the not too distant future.
Wed Mar 9th, 2016 at 01:10:46 PM EST
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
538 has been had the best record and, often, the most insightful commentary on politics with regard to public opinion in the USA. Yet today it posted the following:
What The Stunning Bernie Sanders Win In Michigan Means By Harry Enten 538
Bernie Sanders made folks like me eat a stack of humble pie on Tuesday night. He won the Michigan primary over Hillary Clinton, 50 percent to 48 percent, when not a single poll taken over the last month had Clinton leading by less than 5 percentage points. In fact, many had her lead at 20 percentage points or higher. Sanders's win in Michigan was one of the greatest upsets in modern political history. (My bold)
I believed Sanders was going to do better than the polsters were predicting, but then I AM a Sanders partisan and make no bones about it. I could be the proverbial stopped clock and it was just that time of day for once. But what happened with them? And even I had been beaten down and was surprised at the outcome. I expected it to be close, but for Hillary to win, if only by a point.
Fri Feb 26th, 2016 at 01:35:08 PM EST
The Sustainable Design Lab at MIT has built a model which estimates the gas and electricity demand of every building in Boston for every hour of every day of the year, nearly 100,000 buildings in total.
Next the MIT team will be validating the model against actual energy consumption data. "We'll do this using any building-level energy dataset that we can get our hands on, so the models become more and more accurate," Professor Christoph Reinhart explained. "Ultimately, our goal is for every city in the world to rely on a citywide energy model to meaningfully manage its future energy supply and carbon emissions." As Boston has an energy reporting and disclosure ordinance, Prof Reinhart and his team should have a lot of data to work with.
More at http://news.mit.edu/2016/mit-researchers-create-citywide-building-energy-model-boston-0222
The Boston city government will also be using the energy model in its energy planning process and MIT's Sustainable Design Lab is now working on energy models for Lisbon, Portugal and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Christoph Reinhart and his team had previously built a solar map which shows the solar electric potential of every roof in the city: http://web.mit.edu/SustainableDesignLab/projects/CambridgeSolarMap/
Disclaimer: I know Christoph and like him. He is doing some great work.
by Luis de Sousa
Mon Feb 15th, 2016 at 04:33:45 PM EST
To whomever likes politics, the Presidential election in the United States is always an interesting, and sometimes exciting, event. Not only because it is the largest economy in the world, but most especially for the unique political setting, that in essence forces the squeeze of a vast swath of candidates into just two parties. The indirect election system (with great electors per state), coupled with the party primary system produces a rather intricate process, divided in two phases that drag on for well over an year.
The election this year is no exception and is clearly falling into the exciting category. It can actually become an even more exciting race than that that gave the Presidency to Barack Obama in 2008. With the first primaries already in, most candidates already in firm ground and plenty of polling, one can already speculate on the outcome and its implications.
by Frank Schnittger
Mon Feb 15th, 2016 at 07:26:27 AM EST
NB This post does not seek to represent the official views of RJS Limited.
One of my few remaining active responsibilities post retirement is to act as a voluntary Director and community representative on the Board of Restorative Justice Services Ltd., a charity funded by the Probation Service of Department of Justice. As such, I am somewhat constrained in what I can say on the subject, and in particular, must avoid using confidential or privileged information. However one of our roles is to act as an advocacy group for restorative justice in Ireland, and it is in that spirit that I offer the following summary (based largely on internal documents) of what is being done in the area of restorative justice in Ireland, and particularly in the greater Dublin area.
Restorative justice is defined in National Commission on Restorative Justice Final Report (2009) (PDF) "as a victim-sensitive response to criminal offending, which, through engagement with those affected by a crime, aims to make amends for the harm that has been caused to victims and communities and which facilitates offender rehabilitation and integration into society".
We see restorative justice as complementary to the punitive or retributive criminal justice system and we manage the process entirely under the supervision of the Courts service and the Department of justice. There is in Ireland, at present, no statutory basis for our service (for adults) and as such participation is entirely at the discretion of the relevant Judge, the offender and the victim. The service generally intervenes pre-sentencing and is focused on offender rehabilitation and harm reduction with a view to reducing re-offending and the impact of crime on victims and the wider community.
At present we offer services only for adults in the greater Dublin area while a sister organisation offers somewhat similar services in Cork City, Offaly and Tipperary. The service is simply not available elsewhere in Ireland yet. A different model of restorative justice is offered in parts of Northern Ireland arising largely out of the Troubles and as an alternative to the vigilante justice that was sometimes meted out by paramilitary groups. I will not offer an account of this service as I have no direct experience of it.
There are quite a wide range of different models of restorative justice in operation throughout the world arising out of different social traditions and judicial systems. We focus on just two: Victim Offender Mediation, and more commonly, Offender Reparation Panels which do not require victim involvement. Initially our focus was on less serious offenses committed by first time offenders, but increasingly the focus has shifted to more serious crimes committed by repeat offenders. We currently deal with c. 250-300 cases a year referred by the courts with the help of volunteer panel members and a small staff of full time and sessional case workers.
Wed Feb 10th, 2016 at 11:23:28 PM EST
What could the USA do if there is another, more serious global financial collapse? This has been a subject of discussion on several economic, financial and political blogs. The question also applies to any country. But the answer below will be restricted to countires with their own currency.
Sun Feb 7th, 2016 at 12:58:21 PM EST
Cooling towers into green communities
Aker - snap together kits for urban ag
One of the POC [Proof of Concept] ideas from COP 21
Agritecture: "Your source for vertical farming and urban agriculture news, business, and design."
Local Roots Farms - local produce anywhere
Bell Book and Candle - NYC farm to table restaurant, rated as one of the best in the country. "SOME ITEMS WE PRODUCE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR FROM OUR AEROPONIC ROOFTOP GARDEN LISTED BELOW: Sage, Chive, Chervil, Cilantro, Dill, Genovese Basil, Opal Basil, Italian and Flat Leaf Parsley, Spearmint, Rosemary, 4 varieties of Nasturtium, Cheddar Cauliflower, Purple Tomatillo, Tomatillo, Japanese and Kermit Eggplant, 2 varieties of Arugula, 4 varieties of Cherry Tomato, Great White Tomato, Bibb Lettuce, Red Oak Leaf, Red Romaine, Green Romaine, Lola Rosa, Frisee, Green Crisp, Poblano Pepper, and Fennel."
SPREAD, a Japanese company, will open the world's first robot-controlled farm in Fall 2017, producing 11 million heads of lettuce each year
Pilgrim's Market to grow its own produce in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Risk of lead poisoning from urban gardening is low, new study finds
Bright Agrotech - Zip Farms, Farm Walls, and more/brightagrotech.com
Urban Agriculture? Only 1 Percent Of Seattle Residents Could Eat Locally Even With All Viable Space In Use
Year round growing in Alaska
Southeast Asia's largest green development with extensive green roofs and terraces