EU

Strong tobacco from Stark

Thursday, 12 February, 2015 0 Comments

“The truth is that, in contrast to many eurozone countries, Germany has reliably pursued a prudent economic policy. While others were living beyond their means, Germany avoided excess. These are deep cultural differences and the currency union brings them to light once again.” So writes Jürgen Stark, a former board member of the European Central Bank, in today’s Financial Times. “The historical and cultural differences that divide Europe’s union” is the title of the piece and it reveals all one needs to know about the division and disunion at the heart of the euro experiment.

In some ways, the comments are more revealing than the article.

This man needs to read Michael Pettis.The self satisfaction is nauseating.While the “bailout” of the German banks was going on, Siemens was flogging submarines and other much needed rubbish through a vast system of bribery and corruption. senior muppet

For the Greeks it was wonderful for many years to be able to run a political system of patrimonial privilege funded by transfers from outside the country, but that is a self-exciting system in need of a negative feedback loop – which it finally got. The upshot is that now the Greeks are being compelled to consider a choice between maintaining their old social contract or continuing to receive transfers from outside, but not both. In such cases one would normally expect a society to make the most strenuous efforts to avoid the choice. But in their anger at the unfairness of it all, the Greeks now look capable of actually, voluntarily making that choice. Amazing! This moment will not last, but in this moment all kinds of potential surprises now lurk. Whatever

Nice piece of Teutonic my-opism. German non-keynesian economics work as long as there are other countries willing to generate excess demand through borrowing and you can export to (US, China, Souther Europe). It is recipe for disaster for continental size economies. This is not a theoretical debate, the results are painfully obvious. True Finance

Sorry the disasters of the early twentieth century were German disasters. No other country was so bad. You simply cannot read across from a completely awful Germany to anywhere else. Nicki

If Mr Stark is right about the “deep cultural differences” between Eurozone countries, then why on earth did they create a common currency in the first place? This article is basically a list of all the reasons that the Euro should never have come into existence. If the Euro is to succeed, Eurozone countries must work more closely to coordinate their economic policies. It is obvious now that they cannot do so. I have always hoped that the UK would eventually join the Eurozone, but Mr Stark has finally removed the scales from my eyes. Gordon Brown was right after all. Little Briton

Meanwhile, in Spain, six years into its depression, 5.46 million people don’t have jobs, two million households have no earned income, youth unemployment is at 51.4 percent and home prices are down 42 percent. No surprise, then, that the neo-Bolivarian Podemos party is pulling ahead in the polls. The latest Metroscopia survey gave it 28 percent. The ruling conservatives have dropped to 21 percent and the once-mighty PSOE, the Spanish Workers Socialist Party, has fallen to 18 percent. The message to Jürgen Stark is clear: The elites can defend the euro, but they will lose their political base.


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


Written in Alexandria by an Achaean

Sunday, 25 January, 2015 0 Comments

Greeks go to the polls today at a time of rising tension between Athens and its main creditors. A win for the left-wing opposition party Syriza over the ruling conservatives of New Democracy is predicted. Would a Syriza-led government start a game of poker with Germany that could lead to chaos and a Greek exit from the euro? While we wait for the results, let’s turn to the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy. He knew his Greek history.

Those who fought for the Achaean League

Valiant are you who fought and fell gloriously;
fearless of those who were everywhere victorious.
Blameless, even if Diaeos and Critolaos were at fault.
When the Greeks want to boast,
“Our nation turns out such men” they will say
of you. And thus marvellous will be your praise.

Written in Alexandria by an Achaean;
in the seventh year of Ptolemy Lathyrus.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)

Note: The Achaean League (280 — 146 BC) was a confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese. It was dissolved when the corrupt generals Diaeos and Critolaos were defeated in 146 BC by the Romans. Cavafy attributes this imaginary epigram to an Achaean living in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Lathyrus, a turbulent age, somewhat like our own. Actually, Cavafy wrote the poem in 1922, after Greece had been defeated in the Greco-Turkish War. History has no end.

The Achaean league


Selfish

Thursday, 22 January, 2015 0 Comments

Yes, the European Central Bank’s belated embrace of quantitative easing will dominate today’s headlines, but given the widespread disaffection with the continent’s out-of-touch leadership and the gnawing sense of being left behind in an increasingly globalized world, Europeans are switching off. Instead of the dismal Mario Draghi, people want the fascinating Kim Kardashian. And she’s everywhere today.

First: Mrs Kanye West took to Instagram on Tuesday to share some snow shots while wearing a “Furkini” that shows off her big booty, flat tummy and signature boobs. She captioned the pic: “Boots with the fur…

Second: Medium has a marvellously nerdy piece titled “How PAPER Magazine’s web engineers scaled their back-end for Kim Kardashian (SFW)“. Snippet: “The first thing Knauss did was get a big honking server to run on the Amazon cloud, with a large hard drive. He copied all the images and files from the smaller original web server to the new, big server. Then he installed a piece of software called Gluster, which allows many computers to share files with each other—it’s sort of like a version of Dropbox that you can completely control.”

Third: On 28 April, Selfish, by Kim Kardashian, will be published. Blurb: “Kim has mastered the art of taking flattering and highly personal photos of oneself. For the first time in print, this book presents some of Kim’s favorite selfies in one volume.”

Over to you, Mario.

Selfie


We need to talk about Greece

Tuesday, 20 January, 2015 0 Comments

The latest poll before Sunday’s election in Greece show the anti-bailout party Syriza getting 33.5 percent of the vote. Should this translate into a majority for the left-wing agitator Alexis Tsipras, the cat will be truly among the euro doves and hawks next week. Note: Syriza has promised to enact a law preventing banks from seizing the homes of people who have fallen behind on mortgages on primary residences valued at less than €300,000.

Greek euro On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Adding to the air of trepidation ahead of the vote, Eurobank and another lender, Alpha Bank SA, have requested access to an emergency cash facility run by the central bank. Both said the moves were only a precaution and that neither faced an immediate funding crunch.” The report’s next sentence is a classic: “People familiar with the matter said the banks are seeking a few billion euros between them.” Just like that: “a few billion euros between them.” Not hundreds, not thousands, not millions; just a few billion.

The Journal article moved Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle to write a piece headlined “It Might Be Time to Panic About Greece.” Money quote: “I rush to note that we are hardly in the end days yet; bank officials told the Wall Street Journal that this was only a precautionary move, and they were not facing an immediate cash crunch. One is always pleased to hear that bankers are being cautious. But the Journal also reports that $3 billion has fled Greek banks over the last two months, and there are rumors that other European banks are reining in their lending to their Hellenic counterparts. Which means that, unfortunately, their caution seems more than warranted.”

Wait until Monday. Meanwhile…


Germany curbs some surveillance and intercept exports

Tuesday, 20 May, 2014 0 Comments

The Munich company Trovicor claims to be “a leader in communications and intelligence solutions that help law enforcement, national security, intelligence services, and other government agencies fight crime and terrorism.” Thing is, some of those intelligence services happen to be in Syria and Bahrain. The Syrian security services are also said to be customers of Aachen-based Utimaco, which supplies a range of software products, including a “solution to help telecommunications service providers respond to electronic surveillance orders as required by law.” Syborg from the Saarland and the Gamma Group are also in the surveillance and monitoring systems business.

The problem for these firms now is that Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, has decided to stop the export of surveillance and monitoring technologies to authoritarian regimes. Although Gabriel hasn’t presented a list of the black-listed end-users, targets are thought to include Middle East states as well as Russia and Turkey.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Gabriel intends to halt the cyber spying exports until the EU adopts more stringent regulations for surveillance technologies and intercept tools, which would then become law in Germany. Legislation is being discussed in Brussels but there’s no clear indication of when it might be enacted.

Eye spy


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.


Kissinger: “The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction”

Thursday, 6 March, 2014 0 Comments

“Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.” So begins a Washington Post meditation by Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977.

Titled “How the Ukraine crisis ends,” the article spares no one: “The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissinger.

He’s got this advice for President Obama: “For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.” And when it comes to President Putin, he calls him “a serious strategist”, but warns that “whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War.”

Kissinger’s preferred outcome is “not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.” Sadly, one feels that this will not satisfy any of the key players in this drama.


Fack ju EU

Monday, 10 February, 2014 0 Comments

The comedy Fack ju Göthe premiered on 29 October in Munich and by the end of 2013 it had become the first film in six years to sell more than five million tickets in German cinemas. It’s about an ex-con forced to take a job teaching at a school located over the spot where money from a robbery is stashed so that he can dig up the cash. What’s made the film such a hit is the language. Ostensibly, it is the language of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but it’s actually American Hip-Hop that’s been remixed with German by immigrants from Turkey, the Maghreb, Russia and the Balkans. The result is a pidgin that allows its speakers communicate by dropping articles, mashing up prepositions and disregarding the genitive, the dative and the conjunctive. And central to it all is the word “fuck”, or “fack” as it’s enunciated by those who find \'fək\ difficult to pronounce.

The word was in the mouths of Germans again at the weekend, but this time the establishment was voicing it, thanks to Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State whose F-bomb was secretly recorded and dropped on YouTube (apparently by the Russians). The impact was felt from Berlin to Brussels.

Fack ju EU

Although Ms Nuland could have been more subtle, her analysis is fundamentally correct. This was proved in another Russian-recorded conversation, this time between Helga Schmid, a representative of EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, and Jan Tombinski, the EU Ambassador in Ukraine. Snippet:

Helga Schmid: “I just wanted to tell you one more thing in confidence. The Americans are going around and saying we’re too soft, while they’re moving more firmly toward sanctions. […] Well, we’re not soft! We’re about to issue a very strongly worded statement about Bulatov!”

When was the last time that Putin lost sleep because of “a very strongly worded statement”? No wonder Nuland is so contemptuous of these people. Putin has no intention of going down in history as the Russian tyrant who lost the Ukraine and he’s not going to let statement typists stop him, either. He knows that the US and the EU have more power than the Russian Federation does, but he also knows that they don’t have a joint approach to Ukraine. Brussels and Berlin prefer to busy themselves drafting “strongly worded statements” and, as with Syria, the Obama administration keeps sending out signals that confirm Putin in his belief that he can bully the Ukraine without paying a price.

Fack ju EU, indeed. But it’s not just Victoria Nuland who’s saying it.

This just in: Switzerland goes there. It’s said Fack ju EU, too.

Denglisch


Where’s the European GAFAT?

Thursday, 17 October, 2013 0 Comments

A rum lot of politicians and publishers have gathered in Munich for the annual Medientage talk fest. They’re being aided and abetted in their deliberations by the bureaucrats of Germany’s media apparatus, who intone the yearly incantations about the vital role that newspapers and state broadcasters play in preserving democracy. That these pieties are nothing but a tawdry appeal for protectionism against the inroads being made by the new media is lost on no one, but they must be uttered to ward off the dark shadows being cast by GAFA. That’s Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, by the way. Europe’s total failure to produce its own GAFA is never openly discussed at events like the Munich Medientage for fear that it might expose how dependent the continent’s media industry is now on the kindness of more innovative strangers.

And when it comes to the future of journalism, the shape of things to come won’t be defined in Europe, either. Yesterday’s announcement by Pierre Omidyar that he was “in the very early stages of creating a new mass media organization… that will be independent of my other organizations” suggests that it won’t be paper based or based in Omidyar’s native France, for that matter. He made his money by founding eBay and now lives in Honolulu.

Then there’s the agora, that space in which democracies conduct open discussion. According to the Munich media apparatchiks, state gatekeepers are best placed to take care of that. In the real world, however, the critical service for the well-being of the global public sphere is going to be Twitter. So, make that GAFAT.

This just in: The International Journalism Festival, set to take place in April 2014 in Perugia, has been cancelled. Reason? The thing that’s said to be the root of all evil. In this case, the lack of it. The organizers should have asked @pierre for a few dollars. He’s got them and he’s hot on journalism. Major fail, that, Europe.


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.