Tag: EU

#Brexit: Wolff on Johnson and Trump

Wednesday, 22 June, 2016 0 Comments

On one side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson wants Great Britain to regain its post-war sovereignty, on the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump is promising to restore American greatness. The two are charged with opportunism by their opponents; of not believing in what they say. In the eyes of their supporters, however, the message is clear: It’s the real people against the elites. Well, that’s how Michael Wolff sums up the situation for USA Today in What the Brexiters and Donald Trump have in common:

“Both views, in addition to emphasizing national pride, also target as the enemy the superstructure of remote, seemingly soulless, modern governmental management. In the case of the Brexit campaign, the enemy is Brussels and the cold-blooded, unaccountable, ever-expanding, ‘bureaucratic leviathan’… In the case of the Trump campaign, the enemy is a political establishment of complex policy abstractions and self-interested bias that is not only embodied by Hillary Clinton but that has also hopelessly tainted most figures in the Republican party.”

Donald Trump is a political lone wolf, says Wolff, and “his hyperbolic and pugnacious retro views” may, in fact, “reinforce the technocrat’s uneasy hold on the uneasy status quo.” Boris Johnson, in contrast, is “a smart, popular, charismatic, as well as opportunistic, politician with wide support in his party.” If one ends up in the White House and the other in 10 Downing Street, there might be a meeting of minds on some matters, but the conceptual gap between the world’s sole superpower and a Britain that has turned its back on “global anomie” would be huge. Unbridgeable, perhaps.

Still, says Wolff, “there is a conservative message here of return, of cultural revanchism, of a search for national meaning, of a determined deviation from the modern norm, that has gone mainstream and that is not going away.” In the end, it all comes down to how people view their world. Does the future looks bright? Is life full of promise and do most people feel like they are doing well? Or does the future seem uncertain and prosperity and security more elusive? Voters in the United States in November and tomorrow in Great Britain must decide.

USUK


The other European crisis: milk

Saturday, 21 May, 2016 0 Comments

“Dear Representative of the Media,

The severe turbulence in the milk market makes it increasingly clear that the current reckless EU policy has drastic negative consequences for man and beast alike in the countryside… It is essential to systematically counter the extreme overproduction in the milk market. Political institutions and representatives of producers and industry will be addressing this issue at the hearing in the European Parliament on 25 May.”

So goes the invitation from the European Milk Board. How bad is the situation? In Germany, discount supermarket Aldi has cut the price of milk in its outlets from 59 cents a litre to 46 cents. Other chains have followed, the Hamburger Morgenpost reports. Milk is now cheaper than some brands of mineral water and dairy farmers are getting as little as 18 cents a litre. They say they need at least 40 cents a litre to cover costs.

Having decided to phase out their extravagant support for the coal industry, Europe’s leaders are now under pressure to pump billions into another bottomless pit of sorts: the dairy industry. But the iron law of supply and demand cannot be wished away with handouts. Market rules should apply as much for farmers as for fitters and flight attendants, who must endure disruption, too. The price for cheap milk comes with a significant cost, however. An entire way of life is dying and the ruins of Europe’s abandoned dairy farms will serve as memorials for a lost rural culture. Those of us who were reared in dairyland are familiar with the words of Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Pints of milk


The memory hole in Europe and China

Wednesday, 16 March, 2016 0 Comments

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “memory hole” is a slot into which government officials deposit politically incorrect documents to be incinerated. Thoughts of Orwell’s warning were awakened by two recent occurrences, one minor, one major. Let’s start with the minor. A Google search of this blog for references to Steve Jobs produces a results page that ends with the notification: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” This is a consequence of the EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling, which is Orwellian in its implications.

Now, the major matter. A week ago, the Hong Kong Free Press reported that “All traces of Hong Kong English language newspaper the South China Morning Post have been wiped from social media platforms in China.” The writer, Karen Cheung, added the Orwellian aspect with this ominous sentence: “The paper’s disappearance from Chinese social media came weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to tighten control over the news in China, saying that ‘state media must be surnamed Party.'”

As an ex-English teacher, Alibaba’s Jack Ma must be familiar with the works of Orwell. If his bid for the South China Morning Post goes through, he may be tempted to complete its descent into the memory hole. Why would Ma want to buy the paper? “Maybe he’s been told to,” speculates Big Lychee. Orwellian.

Censor


Europe will continue to speak English after Brexit

Monday, 8 February, 2016 0 Comments

What will be the role of English in the European Union if the British vote for Brexit? To use one of those phrases that most speakers of English do not understand, with one fell swoop English would change overnight from being the community’s unchallenged lingua franca to a minority language spoken natively only by the Irish if the British decided to leave. Naturally, English would remain essential for doing business in Brussels, but its prestige would be tarnished and its authority questioned.

Or would it? There is a counter-argument that even if Brexit were to happen, English would expand its role as the EU’s working language because of its growing global influence, which is powered by the dynamism of North America, the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere. As well, it’s preeminent position in science and business remains unchallenged and, on a practical level, its lack of genders and related conjugations, unlike Germanic and Latin languages, makes it attractive to millions of learners looking for jobs in a world where the universal English “you” offers a practical way of avoiding those social minefields caused by formal modes of address in other languages. Yes, the spelling system is inconsistent, but this is balanced by the incredible depth and breadth of the English vocabulary.

Brexit Question: In a post-Brexit EU, would UK English be replaced by US English? This is a tricky one because anti-Americanism is the only form of racism that’s acceptable in Europe and the speaking of UK English or “Oxford English”, as some affectedly like to say, is seen as a form of superiority. But this is silly because US English, with its preference for structures such as “He didn’t do it yet”, is simpler than UK English with its preference for the more complex present perfect tense: “He hasn’t done it yet.” This is not to say that US English is a pidgin unworthy of sophisticated Europeans. Far from it, but it is an uncomplicated language, with simplified spelling and reduced vocabulary, that has demonstrated enormous value for a nation that has successfully absorbed millions upon millions of newcomers from a of broad spectrum of linguistic groups. And now that Europe is receiving vast wave of migrants, the need for a basic, continent-wide language makes more sense than ever.

Should Europeans be unwilling to learn US English because it would represent to them the ultimate acceptance of American supremacy, there is an alternative: Hiberno-English. The English spoken in Ireland manages quite well without the intricacy of the present perfect — “How long are you in Brussels?” — or the nuisance of pronouncing “th” in words such as this, that and those. In this way, it is actually nearer the original pronunciation that lexicographer David Crystal is now championing. Another advantage of Hiberno-English is that its speakers use the entire UK English vocabulary and enhance it with colourful coinages of their own: “yoke” (thing), “craic” (enjoyment), and lively alternative meanings — “cute” (clever), “savage” (excellent) and “bold” (naughty). What’s not to like? And then there’s the spelling: “reigns” for “reins”, and so on.

Sunday World

A Brexit would rattle the already shaky EU structure and it would pose a severe crisis for the island of Ireland, but it need not be all downside. Hiberno-English could be the light at the end of the tunnel and it might not be long before Martin Schulz is saying, “C’mere to me, Jean-Claude. Where’s the feckin’ yoke for opening the bottles? Tisn’t in the press, anyway. The turnout was desperate last night, wasn’t it?”


Own the robots, rule the world

Wednesday, 9 December, 2015 0 Comments

According to Marx, it’s simple. Ownership of the Means of Production is in the wrong hands and this has led to the class differences that bedevil the planet. Individual ability, religious or cultural factors are irrelevant to the Marxists — all that’s needed is to wrest the machines from the capitalists, give them to the proletariat and the world will be as one. The disciples of Karl Marx have been preaching this “gospel” since the mid-19th century with spectacular calamity for the masses, most recently in Venezuela.

Is there a better way? And if so, who should own the modern Means of Production? The question is increasingly urgent in a world where Google is replacing librarians and professors are being eliminated by massive online courses. As computers and robots eat up the tasks being done by humans, workers need to do something or they’ll end up doing nothing. One solution would see governments taxing the Zuckerbergs and the Musks punitively and redistributing the “take” to the workers, but that’s the Venezuela way. Better: workers own shares in tech firms, have stock options in the AI start-ups and be paid in part from the profits generated by the robotics companies.

Who says? Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University does. Recently, Germany’s Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH, better known as the Institute for the Study of Labor and abbreviated as IZA, asked Freeman for his thoughts on technology, work and capital. For the Bonn-based non-profit, Freeman wrote “Who owns the robots rules the world” and in it he argues that the best model is an American one in the form of the Employee Stock Ownership Plans introduced in 1974 and which have since energized a sector that now employs some 11 million workers.

“The EU has endorsed such schemes in its various Pepper Reports and encouraged these forms of organization, though with, at best, modest success,” notes Freeman, ruefully. The continent of Marx is not too fond of worker ownership, unless the state is the proprietor, that is. On the other side of the Atlantic, which remains Marx resistant, despite the best efforts of the elites, Freeman points out that “enough firms in the US have extended some form of ownership stake to their workers that on the order of half of American employees get some part of their pay through profit-sharing, options, or stock ownership.” This is the way forward because, “In the US, at least, people with widely different ideological and economic views find attractive the notion of spreading ownership. One can imagine governments giving preferential treatment in procurement to firms that meet some basic ’employee ownership’ financial standard.”

As we enter the age of Industry 4.0, a priority of every developed economy should be encouraging worker ownership of capital to provide income streams from the technologies changing the world of work. Otherwise, Richard B. Freeman warns: “If we don’t succeed in spreading the ownership of capital more widely, many of us will become serfs working on behalf of the owners. Who owns the robots rules the world! Let us own the robots.” Aye!

Robots at work


Rejection to Brexit: from getting in to getting out

Thursday, 12 November, 2015 0 Comments

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron sent a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk about the the reforms London wants in its relationship with the EU. If these are not forthcoming, Brexit might go from neologism to reality.

Back in 1967, however, Britain wanted to join the European club but couldn’t get past the velvet rope, which was being held by the French. History: The European Economic Community (EEC) was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. President Charles de Gaulle of France vetoed British membership on the grounds that the UK was a Trojan horse for US influence. Following de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969, things changed and the UK joined the body on 1 January 1973. Upon the formation of the European Union (EU) in 1993, the EEC was absorbed into the EU framework and ceased to exist.

UK EEC


Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”


Greek EU joke

Monday, 26 January, 2015 0 Comments

Back at the beginning of this century, a small town in Spain was twinned with a similar one in Greece and the mayor of the Greek town was invited to visit his Spanish counterpart. When he did, and when he saw the lavish home of the Spanish mayor, he wondered aloud how his host could afford such a place.

“See that bridge over there?” the Spanish mayor asked. “Well, the EU gave us a grant to construct a two-lane bridge, but by building a single lane one with traffic lights at each end, I was then able to buy this place,” he said, winking at his Greek peer.

The following year, the Spaniard visited the Greek town. He was astonished at the mayor’s mansion: marble floors, a Kallista Archeo copper bathtub, gold taps, Aresline Xten chairs, plasma screens, Sartori silk rugs, a Northland refrigerator, diamond doorknobs… it was simply incredible.

When he asked him how he’d made the money to build and furnish such an amazing house, the Greek mayor said: “See that bridge over there?”

The Spaniard replied: “No.”

La Pepa  Bridge


This is ready to be tweeted

Tuesday, 6 May, 2014 0 Comments

The key to leading Europe into an era of growth is the digital economy, says Jean-Claude Juncker, the EPP candidate for President of the European Commission. He’s right, of course, and his sense of humour, which mocks his analog activity, might even win him some extra votes. The charming pronunciation of “techie” as “tacky” is good, too.


Transparent Spanish idiocy

Monday, 5 August, 2013 0 Comments

Increasingly corrupt, dysfunctional and beset by regional tensions, Spain has gone from being the poster-child of the EU to one of its most troubled member states. At the height of the current crisis, unemployment was at 26 percent — youth unemployment was above 50 percent and, to add to the challenges, the authority of the government has been damaged by a party-funding scandal. Then there are the GUBU moments like Morocco agreeing to free 48 Spanish prisoners as requested by King Juan Carlos during his recent trip to Rabat. Turns out, though, that one of these was Daniel Galvan Vina, convicted of raping 11 children aged between four and 15 years of age. The Moroccans are not very happy about that.

Gibralter In an attempt to divert attention from this lamentable state of affairs, Spain, which is dependent on tourism income and goodwill, is contemplating imposing a new border tax on Gibraltar and to investigate the affairs of Gibraltans with Spanish economic interests. Spain is also considering closing its airspace to flights heading to the Rock. The latest strains emerged 10 days ago after Gibraltan boats began dumping concrete blocks into the sea near the territory. Gibraltar said it was creating an artificial reef that would to improve fish stocks which it maintains have been depleted by incursions by Spanish fishermen.

Spain claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, which stands on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula but has been a British Overseas Territory since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The business with The Falklands didn’t work out well for Argentina and democratic Spain would be foolish to think that it can succeed where Franco once failed.


Joey’s jug will be refilled

Sunday, 19 May, 2013 0 Comments

Diners at Baffetto on Via del governo vecchio near Piazza Navona in central Rome, where the guests know that they’re playing a role in an enterprise that’s designed to line the pockets of the proprietor, his family and the employees. But most enjoy the brazenness of the experience. There’s something so authentically unabashed about it […]

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