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The case for Austerity

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 4th, 2015 at 08:10:54 AM EST

Former Irish Taoiseach and EU Ambassador to the US John Bruton lays out the case against the Greek Government fairly succinctly in his article in the Irish Times today (4/7/15). In it he criticises US Nobel prizewinning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz for advocating a NO vote in the Greek referendum.

His arguments may be summarized as follows:

1. "Krugman says the euro was a "terrible mistake" because he claims it failed to insulate the public finances of the states of the euro zone from bubbles in particular countries, like he says the US system does. In fact, the US only does this to a limited extent and, unlike the EU, it has no general bailout fund for states".

In fact Krugman never claimed the US system could prevent housing bubbles and criticized neo-liberal de-regulation "reforms" for making such bubbles more likely. Furthermore, the US Federal budget is 20% of GDP compared to an EU budget of only 1% of GDP and thus Federally funded programmes like Social Welfare, Medicare and Medicaid can do a lot to alleviate the worst effects of (say) a burst housing bubble in Florida on the poorer people in Florida. How much better off would the Greek people be today if they had a social welfare and healthcare system funded by the EU?

Read more... (14 comments, 831 words in story)

The new Utopia

by chumchu Thu Jul 2nd, 2015 at 08:38:43 AM EST

I believe that a fundamental problem for the left after the fall of the Soviet Union is the lack of a common utopia to strive towards for three reasons. Without a long-term goal the left has become reactive. Without grand visions for the future, the differences in rhetoric between political parties decreases and elections seem like contests in looking statesmanlike. Without a hope in a better future it is hard motivate people to engage in politics and to act altruistically. The last two points, together with individualism and workers rising into the middle class,  are important in explaining the declining engagement in mass parties and unions. With declining engagement, their competence and influence wanes.

I want to ask you if you share this analysis and, if so, what you think the long-term goal or utopia of the left should be. There are a number of candidates that I can think of at the moment listed below. These are not mutually exclusive but to avoid complicating things, let us just say that you have to emphasise one idea. Further, how should one work with utopia and political reality. I believe that slow, careful reform works, if you always have an end goal in mind and do not get lost in rhetoric and sacrifice to much trying to win elections.

  • spreading human civilisation in space for preservation or exploration
  • a sustainable society living within the planetary boundaries
  • breaking through limitations in production and energy to create an abundance, rendering property rights moot and giving people freedom from work
  • uniting humanity politically in a world-state
  •  a global federation of national welfare states, well-functioning and peaceful
  • benevolent AI
  • something else

Comments >> (39 comments)

The Ineffable Quietness of the European Tribune

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 1st, 2015 at 08:42:43 AM EST

I have been holed up in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for the past few days at the invitation of an artist friend. It's a rambling old country house on a beautiful wooded lakeside estate set in the drumlin countryside of County Monaghan. Artists of all stripes can stay here (subject to acceptance of application) at state subsidized rates to meet, work, and reflect on their practice. At the moment it is full of quite an eclectic and international mix of novelists, painters, printers, composers and performance artists. The estate was gifted to the people of Ireland by the family of Tyrone Guthrie, a noted theater director in Ireland, England, Canada and the United States.

As a lowly blogger I don't feel particularly qualified to take part in the many informal discussions between artists of wildly different backgrounds, but it did get me thinking about the apparent decline of my own particular art form: the community blog; and more particularly, my favorite platform, the European Tribune. Why have we gone so quiet, and is there anything that can be done about it?

Hidden within the 355 comments on End game for Greece? are a couple of sub-threads which begin to deal with this issue.  rz set the ball rolling:

It has become very quite here at the European Tribune. Why is that? Maybe we all feel that things are total spinning out of control and there is nothing left to do about it.

The European discussion is over, everything that matters now happens on the national level.


To which rifek replied:
It could be that the possibility of a solution is so remote, everyone is throwing their hands in the air.  That's pretty much the case here in the US (I figure we're a generation away yet from people taking to the streets, although an old-fashioned food shortage could change that in a hurry.).  Or it could be that we're in the opposite of an academic debate (where the debates are so bitter because there is so little at stake): The stakes are so high, debate isn't much of a priority.  Two men in a burning building can't stop to argue.

And Migeru weighed in:
What is there to discuss? The European Union is institutionally hopeless

Whereas Upstate NY was more upbeat:
There is a silence. But sometimes, from reading you all for years, I also always hear your voices in the silence. ET is special in that way.

I want to try to weave together the many other comments on those sub-threads to come up with an overview of why ET may be in decline, and to come to an initial analysis of what might be done about it, always assuming that community blogging is an art form worth preserving and indeed one which should be developed further.

Read more... (103 comments, 1846 words in story)

Grexit and Propaganda

by Metatone Mon Jun 29th, 2015 at 03:49:18 AM EST

At the heart of this crisis is the misinformation put out by the Eurogroup & Troika and by media sources across Europe.

Jake said it best in a comment on the other thread. (quoted below) But it's worth highlighting. He's responding to a critique of all the things the Greeks are not doing...

It appears that many members of the Eurogroup are resolved to "throw Greece up against the wall as a warning to others" and leaking and misinforming to justify that.

The IMF's desire to force tax rises and spending cuts when there is no possibility of devaluation goes against their own policies. Again, it's hard to find sane motives for such an action.

The great irony for me is that none in the IMF/Eurogroup seem to understand that their policy stance is only going to lead to vast market pressure and forthcoming crisis in Portugal and Italy. Just as with the ERM, once you show that there is money to be made in betting against the system, people will bet against the system.

This is a solvency crisis - and most of the periphery is insolvent - as others have noted, it's an inevitable result of the accounting identities. For Germany to run surpluses inside the EZ, other EZ countries have to be in the opposite state. In a real single currency this does not matter, but since the Eurogroup have decided this is not a real single currency, it will matter a lot - and it's very hard to see how it is not the end of the Euro.

Read more... (50 comments, 474 words in story)

Ready for tomorrow?

by Luis de Sousa Sun Jun 28th, 2015 at 12:41:56 PM EST

Greece was left between the sword and the wall and the Greeks opted for the former. Portugal is next in the line of fire, but an eerie serenity reigns in the country. The mercury is up and most folk are at the beach this weekend; the media speak of football and hockey.


In reality much has changed since yesterday, and Portugal, even if not yet aware, is today a much more fragile country. Events will go sour, and possibly much faster than most expect. Hereby a short list of the gravest developments that  are to take place from tomorrow onwards.

Read more... (24 comments, 552 words in story)

Greece: The next step; introducing the Euriou

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jun 28th, 2015 at 12:07:34 PM EST

Let us assume for the moment that the Greek people reject the Eurogroup ultimatum by an overwhelming margin and that the EU/Troika/Council/EuroGroup continue their childish stance of throwing sand in the face of Tsipras/Varoufakis every time they make a proposal. Let us further assume that despite running a structural primary surplus the Greek Government runs out cash in the near future: so much so that it has to default on its IMF loans and has difficulty paying wages, pensions and contractors.

This will be mainly because the current crisis has further depressed the economy and created a crisis of confidence which will result in the citizenry and businesses hoarding cash thereby depressing tax revenues further. Banks will also struggle for liquidity in the absence of further ELA assistance from the ECB. Thus, even though the state and the banks may still be technically solvent, liquidity will become a huge problem, the more so because the cash cow of the tourist industry appears to be in severe recession.

What will happen then?  

Read more... (32 comments, 1126 words in story)

Yap essence of money

by das monde Fri Jun 26th, 2015 at 04:10:02 AM EST

This is almost a lazy quote diary, except my primary inspired source is in Dutch. So this is a sketchy translation, with a few quotes in English from elsewhere.

Yap is a small island of just 100 km2, some 1500 km to the east of Philippines. Until the end of the 19th century, it was one of the most isolated and disregarded islands on Earth. In 1903, an American anthropologist visited the island for two months. Soon he published a lively book on Yap's social hierarchy, religion and... the most remarkable economy. What can be amazing about the economy based on fish, coconuts and sea cucumbers? Well, John Maynard Keynes was impressed in his early years.

The money system on Yap is really jaw dropping. A damn heavy, hard currency...

for centuries, the main form of currency on this tiny Micronesian island was stones. Very large stones. Looking like Claes Oldenburg sculptures of oversized bagels, the stones -- or rai, as they're called -- can stand as high as ten feet and weigh several tons each.

While these carved stones may not look like big bucks to an outsider, some have enough value to purchase a new house.

Read more... (35 comments, 627 words in story)

Iron Curtain Mark 2

by DoDo Tue Jun 23rd, 2015 at 03:16:36 PM EST

The latest insanity of Hungary's right-populist government is an anti-refugee campaign copying the worst of Western European far-right parties. The campaign itself is quite bizarre, and prompted some push-back from unusual quarters.

Read more... (22 comments, 488 words in story)

EU 2014 Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by gmoke Tue Jun 23rd, 2015 at 02:56:36 PM EST

While looking for the current price per ton of carbon in the EU ETS, I came across this release on the 2014 figures:

"The EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) installations emitted 1,584 million tCO2 in 2014, down by 4.4% from previous year. This figure is derived from the verified emissions data submitted so far by 87% (in volume) of the 12,000 installations currently included in the trading scheme."

pdf alert
https://www.carbonmarketdata.com/files/publications/Press%20Release%20EU%20ETS%20Data%20-%201%20Apri l%202015.pdf

It includes a list of the 15 largest CO2 emitters which contribute 251 MtCO2, about a  sixth of the total covered greenhouse gases in the EU ETS.

Still looking for a current price per ton for carbon under EU ETS.

Comments >> (3 comments)

On the RhB 4: short lines

by DoDo Sun Jun 21st, 2015 at 06:29:18 AM EST

In this fourth instalment of my series on the state railway of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railway (RhB), I show the two shortest lines of the network, both of which provide access to winter sports centres and are famous for landmark viaducts.

After traversing the Langwieser Viaduct and stopping at station Langwies, ABe 8/12 No. 3512 "Jörg Jenatsch" (a powerful mountain-fit member of Stadler's Allegra family) continues its descent to Chur

Read more... (4 comments, 922 words in story)

End game for Greece?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jun 20th, 2015 at 07:28:18 AM EST

Yanis Varoufakis has an article in today's Irish Times in which he laments the failure of the Eurogroup to listen to his proposals even whilst they themselves have been kept in the dark about what "the Institutions" are proposing. Apparently no substantive discussions took place on what either "the Institutions" or Greece were suggesting as the way forward. A majority of the Eurogroup Ministers appear to have decided, in advance, that Varoufakis is not someone they can "do business with."

But perhaps the finance Ministers couldn't address, never mind resolve, the Greek crisis because at root it isn't a financial crisis, it is a political crisis which effects the whole European project. If this all goes horribly wrong, we will have Greece spinning, out of control, into the Russian orbit run by a military Junta and with politicians such as Varoufakis in exile, jail, or worse.  

The EU, meanwhile, will start to fall apart with nationalists governments, led by the UK, doing their best to break it apart. We may not have a major European war any time soon, but the slippery slope will have begun.  Meanwhile we will have people starving in the streets and dying en masse for lack of proper medical care.

There is no doubt that Greece needs an internal social, economic and political revolution.  For too long it has been run by a corrupt elite who pay very little by way of taxes and do not re-invest their profits to modernize the economy. It has a massive and inefficient military and civil service which absorb huge resources and stifle all economic enterprise and growth. The underlying Greek economy is painfully underdeveloped whilst social inequalities grow.

It is unclear whether Syriza, or any Greek government, have the means to lead such a revolution. Perhaps a massive rupture is unavoidable.  A default followed by ejection from the EZ could well result in hyper-inflation of any new currency, mass impoverishment, and violence in the streets.  Sounds familiar?  

The EU was founded to prevent such a re-occurrence and it will have failed in its most basic and sacred duty if it fails to prevent it. It will have destroyed its own most basic raison d'être and claim to legitimacy. All of Europe will be the loser.

We need to decide whether the EU truly aspires to be a Union or not.  If so, the suffering of the Greek people is indivisible from suffering in our own home states.  It is as much our responsibility as is the hardship experienced by our neighbours down the road. There is no solution to the Greek Crisis which does not involve at least a mini-revolution in the EU institutions as well.  Monetary Union cannot be pursued in isolation from fiscal Union, and the health, social welfare, education and economic development of the Greek people must be assured at an EU institutional as well as at a national level.

We cannot allow the suffering of the Greek people to become a bargaining chip in the power politics of competing national elites.  It is time for Community wide solutions to Community problems. It is time for the European Union to get real.

Comments >> (356 comments)

Welcome to post racial America*

by melvin Mon Jun 15th, 2015 at 01:18:40 AM EST

*dna sample required 5 months prior to entry

Rachel Dolezal, head of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, was recently outed by her parents as being white. Or "white." Or hell, I just don't know.

Believe it or not, this is consuming a great deal of oxygen here in the home of identity politics. Let the social media wars ensue.

First there was the claim that her situation was analogous to that of Caitlyn Jenner. [No, it isn't.]

Then the griping that she was "taking away resources" from deserving, authentically "black" women. [Absurd and imbecilic. If you think only black people can teach African history at a university level, as Dolezal does, you are a sick racist.]

(I would be nearly crucified for saying this in the US, but perhaps part of the reason Ms Dolezal was so successful at passing is that, per the recent census, Spokane's black population is 2.3% of the city population. Perhaps most of the "authentically black" population had other things to do? Like Carl Maxey, elected mayor in a landlside in 1981 when the city was even less black.)

Then the claim from Dolezal that "Well, we're all originally from Africa." [True, but irrelevant. Or is it?]

Chances are, like most Americans, she is a mongrel. So where's the one drop rule (trigger warning, nausea warning) when you need it?

Complicating matters is the fact that she is a highly regarded activist, recognized over and over by the city and the NAACP.

Ignored in all this is the science that tells us race is nothing but a social construct. There are genetic differences in populations - and more within Africa than outside it. See lactose tolerance or a hundred other topics. But skin color is nothing; it doesn't appear on the screen.

I have not checked the teabag sites in a while. Presumably, they are having a field day. Progressives meanwhile are tying themselves in knots trying to love the sinner - an otherwise exemplary citizen - and hate the sin. Of what? After all, Clinton gets away with calling herself a progressive. Millions of black Americans chose to pass as white and were lauded for it. How is it that these ridiculous matters are a joke one day, and life and death the next? It used to be a common joke in the US: "I'm so old, I remember when Michael Jackson was black."

Comments >> (60 comments)

Ireland votes for marriage equality

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 23rd, 2015 at 07:12:21 AM EST

It looks like Ireland has voted to include a specific provision to legalize same sex marriage in its constitution in the first vote of its kind in the world. Early tallies indicate that the YES side is likely to win in what appears to have been with a very high turn-out election.

The referendum was part of a sequence of referendums on social and moral issues over the past few decades in Ireland's own version of the culture wars which have been fought in many parts of the world. The amendment to the constitution was opposed by the usual suspects in the Catholic Church and assorted right wing pressure groups who sought to turn the vote into a vote on surrogacy and children's rights which were in no way effected by the Amendment itself.

The YES side had feared that a low turnout might enable the NO campaign to win the vote because of the greater propensity of older and more traditional people to vote.  However, in what appears to have been an unprecedented mobilization of younger, more secular, and more liberal voters a high turnout now looks the likely outcome. Thousands, including members of my own family, flew home from abroad so that they could vote. (Irish Embassies do not make provision for Irish voters to vote when abroad).

The outcome, if confirmed, could result in a seismic change in Irish politics.  Some NO campaigners made no secret of their opposition to the measure because they feared that it might lead to an overturn of the 1983 Referendum which outlawed abortion in Ireland.

I will update this story as more vote counts came in.  In the meantime, please feel free to use the comments to discuss the issue. For a list of Referendums to change the Irish Constitution, see here.

[Update] Final Result:
YES: 1,201,647 (62.1%)
No: 734,300 (37.9%)
Margin 24.2%
Turnout 60.5%

This is the highest turnout in a Referendum since the 1996 Referendum which removed the constitutional ban on Divorce from the Constitution by a margin of less than 0.6%. Only one of Ireland's 43 constituencies (Roscommon-South Leitrim) voted no by a margin of 49 to 51%.

Comments >> (34 comments)

Costa Rica: 100% Renewable Electricity for 100 Days, Carbon Neutral by 2021

by gmoke Tue May 19th, 2015 at 06:03:10 PM EST

Costa Rica has provided all of its electricity from renewables, usually a mix of 68 percent hydro, 15 percent geothermal, and 17% mostly diesel and gas, for the first 100 days of 2015.  The Tico Times reports (http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/04/22/costa-ricas-renewable-energy-streak-is-still-going-but-what-does -that-really-mean)

"The clean energy streak is likely to continue. Last Friday [April 17, 2015] ICE (Costa Rica Electricity Institute)  released a report estimating that 97 percent of the country's electricity will be produced from renewables this year. This is good news for Costa Rican residents, who will see their electricity prices drop up to 15 percent starting this month."

In 2016, Costa Rica is a launching a satellite to monitor CO2 across the world tropical belt
(http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/04/22/costa-ricas-first-satellite-to-be-launched-into-space-in-2016)

"...the first Central American satellite, built in Costa Rica, will be launched into space in 2016.  The satellite will collect and relay daily data on carbon dioxide to evaluate the effects of climate change."

Costa Rica announced in 2009 that it plans to be a carbon neutral country by 2021 and they are following through on that planning.

Read more... (7 comments, 602 words in story)

The left alternative to the FN

by r------ Thu May 14th, 2015 at 02:31:41 AM EST

T

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What can be done? (Or, whither Maastricht.)

by r------ Tue May 12th, 2015 at 08:02:47 AM EST

A recent satire,

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Comrade Juncker's Unseen Foes

by r------ Wed May 6th, 2015 at 07:28:12 AM EST

Our

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The Great Eskate

by In Wales Sun May 3rd, 2015 at 06:22:04 AM EST

Two friends of mine are doing a sponsored rollerskate across the Netherlands starting on May 21st and are looking out for supporters along the way and potentially people with a spare bed/sofa to sleep on too.  

Theirs is a great story of adventure and human spirit.

Read more... (1 comment, 343 words in story)

Footing the bill in Libya

by Luis de Sousa Fri May 1st, 2015 at 02:12:33 AM EST

Muammar Gaddafi visited Europe for the last time in August of 2010, received in Rome with all the honours of a chief-of-state. At the time he requested five thousand million euros from the European Union to help the fight against illegal immigration. His words were peremptory: "Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in".

One year later Gaddafi would be summarily executed at the hands of an Islamic militia.

Read more... (13 comments, 882 words in story)

Recycled Solar: Double-Glazed Solar Hot Cap Cloche

by gmoke Wed Apr 29th, 2015 at 01:40:57 PM EST

I was cleaning out my storeroom the other day and came across another recycled solar device that I was fooling with a few years ago.  A one liter clear plastic bottle makes a good hot cap or cloche when you cut the bottom off it.  Plant a seedling, pop the bottomless clear cap over it, and you protect  the seedling from the cold.  It probably adds between 5 and 10 degrees F over the outside temperature by protecting the seedling from the wind and by capturing sunlight in a small, closed space.  My twist on this idea was to find different sizes of clear plastic bottles which could nest one inside the other making a double-glazed hot cap cloche.  A double-glazed hot cap cloche might be able to protect the seedlings even better, keeping that small, closed space even warmer than the outside air.

This afternoon, I planted two tomato seedlings in my garden using this device.  We'll see whether it works.

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 6-7 July 2015

by DoDo - Jul 6, 27 comments

Your take on today's news media

 4-5 July 2015

by DoDo - Jul 4, 35 comments

Your take on today's news media

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 Open Thread 22-28 June

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Top Diaries

The case for Austerity

by Frank Schnittger - Jul 4
14 comments

Grexit and Propaganda

by Metatone - Jun 29
50 comments

The new Utopia

by chumchu - Jul 2
39 comments

Ready for tomorrow?

by Luis de Sousa - Jun 28
24 comments

Iron Curtain Mark 2

by DoDo - Jun 23
22 comments

Yap essence of money

by das monde - Jun 26
35 comments

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