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It's not easy being Green

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jun 7th, 2020 at 11:26:49 PM EST

Both the Irish Times: Leadership and the Green Party, and the Independent have published my letter to the editor today:

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Countering Karlsruhe

by Frank Schnittger Thu May 28th, 2020 at 11:43:51 AM EST

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The Primacy of EU law

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 25th, 2020 at 03:43:08 PM EST

I am upbraided by an email correspondent for my article on Karlsruhe and German exceptionalism as follows:

Dear Mr. Schnittger,

as long time reader of the I usually agree with most of you opinions. However, your comment on the German decision of the Bundesverfassungsgericht misses by far the point in a few instances.

The major issue of the Judge Huber was  that in Germany (and according to Huber also other countries) the Basic Law/constitution sets the highest bar, it cannot be changed by a European court. There was and is a conflict that has to be solved.

"If the German court can be allowed to superimpose its own judgement on an EU policy it doesn't like, what's to prevent all other member states doing the same?" only points to the fact, that you do not understand the issue. To complain that a German judge points to this conflict is therefore weak, the EU is not one country, it is a union of sovereign states, that causes problems. Ignoring the problems solves nothing.

"Is the Merkel/Macron proposal for the EU to borrow and spend €500 Billion a direct response to the Karlsruhe ruling?"

Again a miss by a wide margin. There was never a discussion whether there is support for the countries hit hardest by the corona visrus epidemic, only the legal framework was. The judge Huber did NOT exclude some means, he only requested a better reasoning, this should be easy for the EU. And a larger EU budget as suggested for the 500 billion EUR is of course perfectly within the legal framework given by judge Huber.

"Far from being slow to condemn Karlsruhe, Ireland should be equanimous about the prospect of Germany leaving the Eurozone, if that is what it really wants to do, as the logic of the Judges ruling seems to suggest."

Nonsensical conclusion.

Best regards in the hope to read high quality article in future again.

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Karlsruhe and German exceptionalism

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 20th, 2020 at 02:49:31 AM EST

Michael McDowell
, prominent barrister, senator, Irish Times columnist, and former Tanaiste (deputy prime minister), Leader of the (now defunct) Progressive Democratic party, Attorney General, Minister for Justice, and leading advocate for the neo-liberal policies which devastated the Irish economy in 2008-2011, has written a column in the Irish Times basically supporting the Karlsruhe judgement.

This is hot on the heals of Fintan O'Toole taking McDowell to task for his new role of deficit-scold-in-chief, having been entirely profligate while a Minister of the disastrous 2002-2007 Fianna Fail Progressive Democrat government. As I noted in the comments to that article:

"Deficit Scolds" is the term of art to describe those far right economists (like Rogoff) who criticise all spending when the Democrats are in power and give free licence to Republicans to run up far bigger deficits whenever they are in power - usually on tax cuts for the rich. As Dick Cheny said: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" when it comes to rewarding the rich, even if this is the most economically inefficient form of "spending" any state can opt for. Michael McDowell fits the description admirably.

But it is his view on Karlsruhe that concern me here. I have responded, in the comments, as follows:

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Test Test Test

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 15th, 2020 at 12:14:18 PM EST

The data above (sorted by total deaths per country) is taken from Worldometer with the exception of two calculated column (in red) of confirmed case mortality rates (deaths/confirmed cases) and % positive tests (confirmed cases/tests) which I have added to illustrate the degree of testing which is happening in each country. Obviously the more widespread and intensive the testing regime, the lower the % positive rate you are going to get. Conversely, countries which only test the most obvious cases, usually on admission to hospital, will return a much higher % positive rate.

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The Joys of Spring

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 4th, 2020 at 02:04:15 PM EST

One of the reasons the lock down in Ireland has garnered less opposition than might be expected is that we are currently enjoying glorious May sunshine having had a much sunnier than average April. Temperatures of 10-15 degrees with an absolute max of 20 degrees recently may not seem like much to our European neighbours, but hey, this is Ireland, and we will take this kind of weather any day.

As I write my 6 month old grand daughter is enjoying her first outdoor bath in warmed water under a clear blue sky and a light breeze in blissful 12 degrees sunshine. Many Irish people regard 20 degrees as hot, and 25 degrees an almost unbearable heatwave. There is a reason our forebears migrated northwards out of Africa, but I have always wondered why the war loving Vikings focused on polar climes. Surely population and military pressures from the south couldn't have been that bad?

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Growing Old?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 29th, 2020 at 03:33:58 PM EST

As an old radical I now sometimes find myself in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of defending a conservative party led government. There was a time when I couldn't locate myself anywhere on the Irish political spectrum, such was my disenchantment with everything that passed for politics in Ireland.

I could just about associate myself with campaigning groups like Amnesty International and the Irish anti-Apartheid movement but never felt comfortable with the idea of joining any political party. As Groucho Marx is reputed to have said: I refused to join any club that would have me as a member.

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Growing old?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 29th, 2020 at 03:31:10 PM EST

As an old radical I now sometimes find myself in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of defending a conservative party led government. There was a time when I couldn't locate myself anywhere on the Irish political spectrum, such was my disenchantment with everything that passed for politics in Ireland.

I could just about associate myself with campaigning groups like Amnesty International and the Irish anti-Apartheid movement but never felt comfortable with the idea of joining any political party. As Groucho Marx is reputed to have said: I refused to join any club that would have me as a member.

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Of Corona bonds and viruses

by Frank Schnittger Sun Apr 26th, 2020 at 11:41:39 AM EST

There is no doubt that having a common currency like the Euro has been a net benefit for most members, most of the time. For a net exporting country like Germany it eliminates one barrier (currency fluctuations and exchange costs) to trade. For a small economy like Ireland it can also avoid the wild fluctuations in currency value experienced by our previous currency, the punt, which could be gamed by a medium sized hedge fund. Businesses crave predictability and eliminating exchange rate fluctuations and costs helps provide that.

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Nirvana around the corner?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 23rd, 2020 at 02:41:24 AM EST

Letters to the Editor, Irish Times. The realities of forming a government

Sir, - If we are to believe Fintan O'Toole and Una Mullally, nirvana is just around the corner and all we have to do is boot Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael out of power (Fintan O'Toole, "FF and FG have produced a colouring book for adults", Opinion & Analysis, April 21st; Una Mullally, "Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael exposed as intellectually dead", Opinion & Analysis, April 20th).

There is no mention, never mind analysis, of the alternative policies on offer from the vast majority of TDs who were elected in February on a platform of booting Fine Gael out of office, and who have as yet, unaccountably, failed to form an alternative government.

Could it be that these change- supporting TDs are all clamouring to join the opposition because they realise that anything but nirvana is likely to be on offer over the next few years?

Not only will the economy have to be rebuilt from a base at least 10 per cent lower than we achieved in 2019, but the costs of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, together with the costs of Brexit, global corporate tax reform, global trade wars, and combating climate change will have to be borne before we can even think of regaining the average standard of living we enjoyed in 2019.

Certainly we can address issues such as income inequality, housing, healthcare, childcare and care of the elderly, but we will be doing so, in all likelihood, out of an economy and tax base far smaller than we enjoyed in 2019. The notion that some of us are not going to have to pay a lot more tax so that more of us can benefit is fanciful. We will be lucky to retain existing benefits even if we all pay a lot more tax.

Certainly, in the short term, we can borrow more to ease the pain. [Last Monday] We paid off a €10.6 billion debt taken out in 2004 which was costing us €450 million a year in real money ("State will save close to €450 million a year as it redeems a €10.6 billion bond", Business, April 20th). Right now we can replace that borrowing at near 0 per cent interest rates, but how long will that last when almost every nation on earth tries to tap the debt markets on a vast scale?

And with Italy on the verge of bankruptcy, I wouldn't be counting on the EU and ECB to come running to our rescue.

As the Chinese curse would have it, we live in interesting times. - Yours, etc,


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Comparing different approaches to Covid-19 containment

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 22nd, 2020 at 01:05:52 AM EST

Table 1 - countries listed in order of cases per million people (Source Real Clear Politics). All data taken at midnight GMT 21/22 April.

We are used to seeing these league tables with the USA, Italy, Spain, France and the UK on top, but when you adjust the data for population size, it turns out that Luxembourg, Spain, Belgium, Ireland and Switzerland are the hardest hit so far. Of course that may also be due to the fact that these countries have tested more than others - see table 4 below.

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Political passengers looking for an easy ride...

by Frank Schnittger Sun Apr 19th, 2020 at 01:24:29 AM EST

Irish Independent: We need another election when normal life resumes (second letter down)

Fine Gael campaigned to remain in office and won 35 seats, a loss of 15 seats. All the other parties and candidates campaigned for a change of government, and succeeded in wining 125 seats. A decisive victory, well done.

Now, somehow, many of those 125 TDs find themselves unable or unwilling to form a government and the responsibility is said to fall, once again, on Fine Gael to form one. Where is the logic in that?

Cobbling together a government of two or more parties that promised not to coalesce with each other is no way to honour the will of the people. It can only end badly.

If those 125 TDs want to be true to their mandate, let them deliver a government. If not, we have no option but to have another general election to give a mandate to TDs and parties who are actually prepared to form a government and who have campaigned on that basis.

Any party programmes put forward will then also have to explain how they will deal with the realities of post-coronavirus Ireland and the world. That debate will, in and of itself, be a good and necessary thing.

The election can be held just as soon as "normal" life resumes. In the meantime, the current "caretaker" government should just get on with the job of managing the crisis as best as it can. That should be its sole focus until the election is called.

Frank Schnittger

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A Disgraceful Slur

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 16th, 2020 at 10:20:40 AM EST

Press reader image of Belfast Telegraph page - that newspaper doesn't publish letters online, and is not available where I live

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Burying the hatchet

by Frank Schnittger Mon Apr 13th, 2020 at 10:44:04 PM EST

The Belfast Telegraph, a staunchly unionist paper, does not publish its letters to the editor online, and so it is only by chance that I have just spotted on Press Reader that they have published a riposte to my letter to the editor some days ago. I will have to draft a response. Once again my apologies for dragging the European Tribune into this. I list my home page on the auto-sig of all my emails and they must have used this to check out my credentials.

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Crunching the covid-19 numbers

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 7th, 2020 at 10:18:47 PM EST

The data above for the 30 countries with most deaths is taken from RealClearPolitics at c. 21.00hrs GMT on 7/4/2020. For the first time, Realclearpolitics has added an additional column for the number of tests carried out. I have added three additional calculated columns- % positive tests, tests per million population, and population to identify how intensively each country is testing for Covid-19. Some of the numbers are surprising...

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Hurlers on the ditch

by Frank Schnittger Sat Apr 4th, 2020 at 12:39:34 PM EST

Forming a government

Sir, - There is something wrong with a political culture where more parties want to be in opposition rather than government.

Fine Gael initially responded to its election defeat by saying it would go into opposition.

Sinn Féin started off by saying that it wanted to enter government but quickly settled back into an opposition role when it was clear it didn't actually have the numbers to lead a government.

The Labour Party decided to go into opposition.

The Greens ruled themselves out by setting conditions they knew no one else would agree to.

The hard-left parties never showed any interest in entering a government unless it was formed entirely on the basis of their policies. Most Independents are keeping quiet.

All seem to be aware that the electorate has a habit of punishing any party in government regardless of how well or badly they perform in office.

So does this tell us that we are a nation of complainers rather than doers?

That we elect politicians who can emote our frustrations but who can't actually get anything done?

Only Fianna Fáil seems interested in being in government, but is that because this is Micheál Martin's last shot at being taoiseach?

Many of his backbenchers seem deeply ambivalent about the prospect.

Are we a nation of hurlers on the ditch? - Yours, etc,


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The chickens come home to roost

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 3rd, 2020 at 04:15:52 PM EST

Today the UK has joined Italy, Spain, the USA and France in surpassing the total of Chinese deaths despite having had a couple more months to prepare and learn from the Chinese experience of dealing with what had been a new and unprecedented corona virus disease. European governments were slow to identify and react to the gravity of the threat while Trump dismissed the pandemic as nothing more than a Democratic party hoax and the deputy Chief Medical Officer for England dismissed WHO advice on dealing with the pandemic as being appropriate only for low and medium income countries.

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Bordering on madness

by Frank Schnittger Tue Mar 31st, 2020 at 03:00:08 PM EST

Covid-19 seems to be doing what even Brexit could not achieve - reinforcing the border within Ireland. From the get-go Ireland and the UK have been pursuing different strategies to deal with the Pandemic. Ireland has been pursuing the WHO mandated strategy of physical isolation, closing all schools and non-essential workplaces, testing as much as possible and tracing and isolating the contacts of those who test positive.

The UK, on the other hand, flirted with a "herd immunity" strategy, was slow to shut down mass sporting events, schools and non-essential work places, tested only those hospitalised and never attempted contact tracing. When presented with evidence by epidemiologists that this could lead to a quarter of a  million deaths Boris Johnson's government did a U-Turn and belatedly introduced much more comprehensive measures, all the while denying there was ever a change in policy.

However with the number of infections doubling every three days, the two week delay in implementing stricter measures could lead to a 32 fold increase in infections and deaths, and more if the health care system is overwhelmed. Even now, health care professionals in the UK cannot get tested unless hospitalised themselves, no contact tracing is being attempted, and suspect cases are told to self-isolate for 7 not 14 days, as is the case in the Republic of Ireland.

If the Republic succeeds in suppressing the disease while N. Ireland does not, the government may have little option but to close the border to prevent new infections being re-introduced via the north.

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And now for some good news about the crisis...

by Frank Schnittger Mon Mar 30th, 2020 at 02:16:22 PM EST

Perhaps its time to focus on some relatively good news in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The OECD estimates that the Irish economy will suffer the mildest shock of any OECD economy as a result of the crisis, a reduction of 15% in GDP. How anyone can make such estimates with any precision at this stage in the crisis is beyond me, but there is perhaps some logic behind that prediction.

The Irish economy is heavily invested in sectors where working from home is widely possible such as financial services and software development, and also in the pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors which may grow as a result of the crisis, and may actually make a major contribution towards combating it.

Medtronic, (based in Dublin and Galway) has just made the design specification and software of one of their ventilators public to enable it to be more widely produced by other companies, and a collective of medical equipment design engineers from a number of companies have just completed the design of a "battlefield" emergency ventilator which could be manufactured rapidly all over the world.

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LQD: Merkel does Leadership

by Frank Schnittger Sun Mar 29th, 2020 at 11:48:46 AM EST

The Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It

Angela Merkel doesn't do drama and she doesn't give speeches on TV. So the mere fact that the German chancellor faced the camera across a desk and spoke to the nation Wednesday evening made the gravity of the situation clear. "Es ist ernst," she said--"This is serious"-- and those three bland words had more power than a hellfire sermon. Then she pivoted from statement to plea: "Take it seriously." Quickly, she moved on to historical context, the reason for her unprecedented impromptu appearance: "Since German unification--no, since the Second World War--no challenge to our nation has ever demanded such a degree of common and united action."

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