Browsing the archives for the Europe category.


What About That Britain?

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Europe

News from Britain is just astounding. Wales beat Northern Ireland to get into the Euro 1916 quarterfinals, for the first time ever.  And then there was that Brexit thing. Discuss.

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Fight the (Fossil Fuel) Power

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environment, Europe

It can’t happen here

On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%.

Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

The U.S. has lots of sun and wind. You’d think we’d be able to manage a shift to renewable energy. But we may never know — in our lifetime, anyway –because the fossil fuel industry owns too many politicians. And if we did go to renewable energy, it would be private and inefficient, and we’d still be price-gouged.

As near as I understand it, Germany has done a lot of work to reduce fossil fuel usage, and apparently this effort has been a huge success, a model for the world. They aren’t afraid to use government to do stuff, and they aren’t afraid to let the fossil fuel industry dwindle away.

I see also that Germany is shutting down its nuclear reactors. I’ve been running into people who are still advocating for building more nuclear reactors. And I say, um, Fukushima? And this is brushed off as some kind of technicality. Turns out Hillary is in favor of building more nuclear reactors, while Bernie is not.

I’m sorry, but we’ve been messing around with nuclear reactors since freaking World War II, and they still can’t build a foolproof reactor. The risks are too great, and as Germany is showing us, there are other ways to go about things.

At least it appears even the Republicans have stopped being outraged about the halting of the Keystone XL pipeline, or at least they’ve shut up about it lately.  Oil prices are too low to make it profitable, I understand.

—–

On a personal note, I have had a rough couple of days. The company that owns About.com has shut down a large number of the sites there, including my Buddhism site. The old articles will be online for the foreseeable future, but the site won’t be updated. I’m very sad; I’ve been writing the articles there for more than eight years. It was a big chunk of my life. Oh, well.

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A Global Disaster

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economy, Europe

Paul Krugman is calling the European summit agreement on Greece “the sacking of Athens.” He said, gloomily, “So we have learned that the euro is a Roach Motel — once you go in, you can never get out. And once inside you are at the mercy of those who can pull your financing and crash your banking system unless you toe the line.”

See also Krugman’s blog posts “Faithocrats,” “The Pause of 2014,” “An Unsustainable Position,” and “History Lessons for Euro Debtors,” which together make about as good a primer on the Greek situation that there is. See also Ivan Krastev, “A Greek Farce.”

The immediate impact of the Greek agreement is calmer markets, defeated Greeks and skeptical Germans. So should Europe celebrate? Do European leaders expect Greece to be transformed by the accord as Central Europe was transformed in the 1990s? Is it possible that the whole referendum episode — a resounding public “no” followed by Mr. Tsipras’s climb-down with the creditors — could serve not to humiliate Greek voters but instead to re-educate them?

While many in Brussels are hoping that the Greeks have learned, it is more than likely that the new reform package agreed to on Monday will result in further radicalization of certain segments of the European left and the spread of apathy in Greece.

Mr. Tsipras’s leftist populism failed to win Greece a better deal. Instead, the real political winner is most likely to be not the moderate center but the anti-European right. And while European leaders can congratulate themselves on keeping the Union going, the price that Europe will pay for saving Greece economically and losing it politically is the transformation of the Union from a project sustained by hopes and aspirations into one surviving on shared fears and confusion.

Krugman says in “Faithocrats,”

But let me note, as I have before, that what Europe calls technocrats aren’t people who know how the world works; they’re people who subscribe to the approved fantasies, and never change their minds no matter how badly wrong things go. Despite the overwhelming evidence that austerity has exactly the dire effects basic textbook macro says it will, they cling to belief in the confidence fairy. Despite a striking lack of evidence that “structural reform” delivers much of a growth boost, especially in an economy suffering from a huge output gap, they continue to present structural reform — mainly in the form of disempowering workers — as a sovereign remedy for all ills. Despite a clear record of past failure, they continue to push for asset sales as a supposed answer to debt overhang.

In short, what Europe usually means by a “technocrat” is a Very Serious Person, someone distinguished by his faith in received orthodoxy no matter the evidence.

Structural reform in the form of disempowering workers sounds pretty much like what the Republicans want to impose on us, here.  Faith-ocratism will be our doom.

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Greece: Don’t Back Down

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economy, Europe

While most of the world is cluck-clucking about how Greece needs to play by the rules and do what it’s told, a whole lot of economists are saying something else entirely.

Thomas Piketty et al.:

The never-ending austerity that Europe is force-feeding the Greek people is simply not working. Now Greece has loudly said no more.

As most of the world knew it would, the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.

The humanitarian impact has been colossal—40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent. Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem. The Greeks have complied with much of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for austerity—cut salaries, cut government spending, slashed pensions, privatized and deregulated, and raised taxes. But in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933. The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.

Paul Krugman:

It’s now clear, or should be clear, that the Greek program was doomed to failure without major debt relief; no matter how hard the Greeks tried, austerity would shrink GDP faster than it reduced debt relative to the baseline, so that the debt situation was bound to worsen even as the attempt to balance the budget imposed vast suffering.

And there was no good, or even non-terrible, answer given Greece’s membership in the euro.

But there’s a broader lesson from Greece that is relevant to all of us — and it’s not the usual one about mending our free-spending ways lest we become Greece, Greece I tell you. What we learn, instead, is that fiscal austerity plus hard money is a deeply toxic mix. The fiscal austerity depresses the economy, and pushes it toward deflation; if it’s accompanied by hard money (in Greece’s case the euro, but a fixed exchange rate, a gold standard, or any kind of obsessive fear of inflation would do the trick), the result is not just a depression and deflation, but quite likely a failure even to reduce the debt ratio.

Joseph Stiglitz:

I don’t believe Europe’s leaders were seeking to punish Greece. They were just using bad models — evidenced by the enormous gap between what they thought would happen and what did happen. Europe and the International Monetary Fund predicted a fairly quick turnaround. The reality was deepening recession.

And it wasn’t because Greece didn’t do what it was supposed to; it was because it did. On the all-important macroeconomic front, Greece had the biggest and fastest fiscal consolidation among the advanced European economies in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, ruthlessly cutting back expenditures and raising new revenues. …

…The ball is now in the court of European leaders. The question is, will they stick with a policy that has proved a disaster? Or will they combine a desire to preserve the euro with good economic policies and a respect of democracy? Can they reform the reform package sufficiently?

This is the moment to stand up against unthinking austerity. Four years ago, as the first signs of the failure of this policy emerged, Europe’s leaders recognized that what was needed was a growth strategy. They promised Greece that. They didn’t deliver. There was just more of the same.

(Weirdly, but typically, the lesson Stephen Moore of Fox News draws from the Greece example is that socialism has failed. WTF?)

Exactly what’s to be done to turn the Greek economy around is hard to say, but Piketty et al. lay out a broad outline:

Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger. Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the Eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.

In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.

To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear; we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world. History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.

We’ll see if they can put aside the Austerity Mystique and do what really needs to be done.

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It Wasn’t About the Cartoons

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Europe, Terrorism

Juan Cole has a must-read analysis of the Paris massacre that unfortunately will not be read by the people who need to read it.

The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

Do read the whole thing. Juan Cole also writes that the perps were radicalized by Bush’s Iraq War and the Abu Ghraib torture.

Without Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is not at all clear that Sharif Kouachi would have gotten involved in fundamentalist vigilanteism. And if he hadn’t, he would not have gone on to be a point man in murdering out the staff of Charlie Hebdo along with two policemen.

Iraq is a major Arab, Muslim country. Its capital, Baghdad, is special to Sunni Muslims because the Abbasid empire built it and ruled from it. Having American troops occupy it for 8 years, humiliate its citizens, shoot people at checkpoints, and torture people in military prisons was a very bad idea. Some people treated that way become touchy, and feel put down, and won’t take slights to their culture and civilization any longer. Maybe the staff at Charlie Hebdo would be alive if George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney hadn’t modeled for the Kouashi brothers how you take what you want and rub out people who get in your way.

That last part is supposition, but it’s well-informed supposition. Just as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 triggered a massively wrong-footed reaction that served the cause of al Qaeda a lot more than it did national security, the Paris massacre was designed to cause a massively wrong-footed reaction that could radicalize Muslims in Europe. But you’ll never get a true Islamophobe to admit, or even see, that he’s being played.

See also “Muslims Around the World Condemn the Charlie Hebdo Attack” and “‘Religious Violence’ Isn’t Just Religious.”

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A New Irish Uprising

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economy, Europe

I’m always heartened when I hear about Celts acting up. So I read “The Irish Rebellion Over Water” by Fintan O’Toole with some interest. Background: the Irish economy crashed because a handful of greedy bankers had been playing Ireland like a slot machine, and they lost. And the Irish have been paying for the bankers’ sins with a gawdawful austerity program that conservatives have praised as the model all nations must follow.

According to conservatives, the Irish Recovery is the wonder of Europe. According to Fintan O’Toole — and Paul Krugman — it’s a fraud. O’Toole writes,

There is a deep sense of injustice at being turned into one of the most indebted nations on earth in order to rescue international bondholders who gambled on rogue Irish banks. There is the way the pain has been inflicted most deeply on the poorest people — the last four government budgets have been regressive, hitting those on the lowest incomes hardest. There is the bitterness of yet again having to export the country’s greatest asset: its talented, highly educated young people.

Above all, there’s the gap between the Irish story and the Irish experience. The story is upbeat — austerity works. The experience is rather different. The impressive G.D.P. figures are at least partly unreal, boosted by the accounting practices of Irish-based multinationals.

Unemployment remains very high, and the figures would be much worse if people were not emigrating. Household debt in Ireland is still the second highest in Europe relative to disposable incomes, which have not improved.

 O’Toole wrote earlier this year:

But Ireland has two economies: a global one dominated by American high-tech companies, and a domestic one in which most Irish workers have to make their living. The first is indeed booming. Not least because of those low corporate taxes, large global corporations find Dublin convivial for reasons other than its pubs and night life. …

… But home is where the heartache is: in the domestic economy outside the gated community of high-tech multinationals. Outside Dublin, property prices are still falling. Wages for most workers have dropped sharply. Unemployment remains very high at 12.8 percent — and that figure would be higher if not for emigration. There’s always been a simple way to measure how well Ireland is doing: Go to the ports and airports after the Christmas vacation and count the young people waving goodbye to their parents as they head off to the United States, Canada, Australia or Britain, where they have gone to find work and opportunity.

In wingnut lore, Ireland is the Official Proof That Keynes Was Wrong.  Spending cuts, not government intervention and investment, would get the economy growing again, and they’ve got numbers to prove it. They’ve always got numbers to prove whatever they want to believe; righties are brilliant in that regard. But these numbers are statistical illusions. Yes, Ireland has seen an increase in exports, but Krugman explains that “most — most!– of the export rise has come from pharma, which is very intensive in foreign-owned capital, and does very little for Irish incomes and employment.” And, as O’Toole says, the drop in unemployment is mostly because of emigration — educated young people especially are leaving Ireland in droves.

The Irish have thus far been fairly accepting of their government’s policies. But now they are rebelling over water. O’Toole:

In a recent Irish Times poll, 33 percent of people said they would refuse to pay the charges for domestic water when they become due in the spring (and less than half of those polled said they intended to pay). This is in spite of the government’s having already made huge concessions in the face of an earlier wave of protests by reducing the average effective charge to just 160 euros (about $200) a year per household, making Irish domestic water the cheapest in Europe. Compared with many of the other tax increases endured over six years, this seems too small a measure to have such large consequences.

But, O’Toole says, for the Irish this was a deprivation too far. Water? In western Ireland it typically rains 225 days of the year. Water falls from the sky in Ireland, copiously. And having lived with center-right governments for many years, polls show the electorate is turning Left.  Éireann go Brách.

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The Pathological Denial of the Right

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conservatism, Europe

Many, many years ago, back when Ronald Reagan was primarily known as the host of Death Valley Days, I concluded that the essential difference between American liberals and conservatives was this: Liberals identified real-world problems and at least attempted to implement solutions, albeit solutions that didn’t always work. Conservatives tended to be in denial that many real-world problems were happening at all until it bit them on the ass personally, and since they tended to be a privileged lot that didn’t happen much. Racial discrimination was not a problem for them, for example, so (in their minds) it couldn’t possibly have been a real problem for anyone else, either. But if you had packed conservatives into a crowded theater and yelled “Communist!” they’d likely have trampled each other to death as they stampeded to the exits.

Of course, those long-ago days seem like the golden age of rationality compared to what we’ve got going on now.

Gail Collins points out that many of the states being hit by the real-world consequences of global climate change are governed by politicians in denial of global climate change. Collins notes that Louisiana is sinking into the Gulf at an alarming rate, and Gov. Jindal thinks climate change is just a “Trojan horse” full of nefarious liberal ideas that would destroy freedom. However, Jindal has come out against forest fires. Forest fires definitely are bad.

Another article in today’s NY Times begins,

In Louisiana, the most common way to visualize the state’s existential crisis is through the metaphor of football fields. The formulation, repeated in nearly every local newspaper article about the subject, goes like this: Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders. This is surprising, because the wetlands, apart from their unique ecological significance and astounding beauty, buffer the impact of hurricanes that threaten not just New Orleans but also the port of South Louisiana, the nation’s largest; just under 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves; a quarter of its natural-gas supply; a fifth of its oil-refining capacity; and the gateway to its internal waterway system. The attenuation of Louisiana, like any environmental disaster carried beyond a certain point, is a national-security threat.

Where does it go, this vanishing land? It sinks into the sea. The Gulf of Mexico is encroaching northward, while the marshes are deteriorating from within, starved by a lack of river sediment and poisoned by seawater. Since 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has delisted more than 30 place names from Plaquemines Parish alone. English Bay, Bay Jacquin, Cyprien Bay, Skipjack Bay and Bay Crapaud have merged like soap bubbles into a single amorphous body of water. The lowest section of the Mississippi River Delta looks like a maple leaf that has been devoured down to its veins by insects. The sea is rising along the southeast coast of Louisiana faster than it is anywhere else in the world.

I confess, I hadn’t realized it was that bad. And Gov. Jindal’s response is to speak out against forest fires. One wonders (although not much) to what extent the petroleum industry in the Gulf influences his opinions.

Collins continues, “In Alaska, entire towns are beginning to disappear under the rising seas. Roads are buckling as the permafrost starts to melt.” And climate change is “causing the drains in Miami Beach to back up with saltwater, sending the ocean running down the streets.” The politicians in those states deny anything is happening being caused by man or about which anything can be done. And if pushed, they just say they are not scientists. Collins continues,

Florida is absolutely awash in backed-up ocean water and elected officials who are not scientists. Louisiana has a rapidly receding coastline and a governor who’s afraid of the energy industry. Alaska has drowning villages and a political establishment in denial.

Part of the problem is that climate change denial has become teabagger orthodoxy, and any Republican politician who so much as expresses willingness to consider the science is liable to be primaried. That, combined with energy industry money, pretty much guarantees that Republicans won’t admit there is a problem until they are drowning. And then they’ll blame Democrats for a shortage of lifebuoys.

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Celtic Uprising Postponed

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Europe

Scotland voted to remain in the UK, which disappointed me a bit because I keep hoping the Great Celtic Uprising will happen while I’m at least around to watch it on the TeeVee and cheer it on. I do hope that at least the vote was enough of a nail-biter to have given David Cameron something to think about.

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Ukraine: Baggers and War

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Asia, Europe, Obama Administration

Consensus is settling on the belief that Malaysia Airlines 17 was brought down by Russian-backed Ukranian insurgents who believed it to be a Ukrainian military cargo jet. This audio tape is the chief evidence:

After more thorough investigation we may yet learn that something or someone else was responsible for the 298 deaths. However, the Guardian is reporting that the insurgents are destroying evidence.

About the insurgents: David Remnnick describes one separatist leader at the New Yorker:

A wildly messianic nationalist who cultivates an air of lumpy intrigue, [Igor] Strelkov has found his way to the battlefields of Chechnya, Serbia, and Transnistria. He is now helping to run the separatist operation in Donetsk. Like the radical nationalists and neo-imperialists in Moscow, who have easy access to the airwaves these days, Strelkov has a singular point of disagreement with Putin: the Russian President hasn’t gone nearly far enough; he has failed to invade and annex “Novorossiya,” the separatist term for eastern Ukraine. Pavlovsky said that people like Strelkov and his Moscow allies are as delusional as they are dangerous, somehow believing that they are taking part in grand historical dramas, like the Battle of Borodino, in 1812, or “the novels of Tolkien.”

“Strelkov is well known for leading historical reënactments of Russian military battles, like you have in the States with the Civil War reënactors,” Pavlovsky said. “It used to be a fantasy world for people like him, but now they have a realm for their imaginations.”

In other words, they’re the Russian equivalent of the Cliven Bundy militia, armed with surface-to-air missiles. Josh Marshall wrote,

So that’s who you’re dealing with: some mix of civil war reenactor or Tea Partier decked out in revolutionary garb, with a mix of reckless aggression and comical incompetence. Here we have them break into nursing homes to photographs senator’s comatose wives; there Putin gives them heavy armaments designed for full scale land war in Europe.

I feel compelled to add that not all Civil War reenactors are that delusional. But you get the idea. See also Dylan Scott, This Is The Feared Russia-Born Separatist Who Allegedly Boasted Of Downing An Airplane.

There are a number of articles out today about why Putin is doing this. In brief, beside the fact that his ego is bigger than Russia, he’s also got ideas about nationalism that should have been left behind in the 19th century. His games in Ukraine also appear to have boosted his approval ratings among Russians.

And of course, on the GOP/Bagger American Right, the plane crashed because Obama.

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France Dumps Sarkozy, Probably

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Europe

McClatchy:

French Socialist Francois Hollande appeared headed to victory over President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to exit polls of voters released by Swiss and Belgian news media.

Those polls showed Hollande with 52 to 53 percent of the vote in an election that turned on solutions for Europe’s economic crisis amid record unemployment in France.

These are exit poll results, not actual results, but it appears it would take a miracle and the U.S. Supreme Court to keep Sarkozy in power.

Associated Press:

France voted in a presidential run-off election on Sunday that could see Socialist challenger Francois Hollande defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy by capitalizing on public anger over the government’s austerity policies.

This will probably be the big news of the day.

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