2. Europe: The Gloves Come Off

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: …and the jackboots go on. Economic hardship rarely brings out the best in any group, and Europe today, despite its Nobel Peace Prize,  is an example. As various bodies of bankers fight, the UK joins those protesting austerity. Do look at the Guardian’s interactive timeline, which offers a remarkable amount of knowledge in an interactive format that simply couldn’t happen in a non-computer medium.

* IMF and Europe in Dangerous Game Of Brinkmanship  Guardian

The eurozone and the International Monetary Fund are locked in their worst showdown of Europe’s three-year sovereign debt crisis, engaged in a dangerous game of brinkmanship over how to respond to a Greek bailout that is threatening to go off the rails.

The IMF, it is understood in Brussels, is insisting that Greece’s eurozone creditors and the European Central Bank write down or write off up to €30bn (£24bn) in Greek debt to close a funding gap in the Greek rescue plan which may need to be extended by two years.

The showdown between the eurozone and the IMF is being described as eyeball-to-eyeball, a shouting match, and a contest to see who will blink first. It is expected to come to a head next month. The IMF is demanding that the eurozone and the ECB resort to a new policy of Official Sector Involvement (OSI), meaning a write down or write-off of Greek debt to its official creditors – a move that the ECB and the German government are resisting fiercely.

 * Eurozone Crisis: Three Years Of Pain – Interactive Timeline The Guardian

A fascinating summary of three years of history, and the interactive part is unique in my experience.

 * “David Cameron is Clueless”: Ed Miliband   The Independent

Nurses, firefighters, teachers and prison officers joined over 150,000 protesters today in huge demonstrations against the Government, loudly cheering calls for a 24-hour general strike. Union officials and politicians, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, bitterly attacked the coalition’s spending cuts, accusing ministers of being more interested in supporting millionaires than ordinary workers.

The events in London, Glasgow and Belfast passed off peacefully, although activists from the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) group staged a sit-in and cut off traffic close to Hyde Park in the capital. The TUC said the turnout was better than expected and sent a strong message to the Government about the unpopularity of its policies.

* Greece Today: A Fascist Party In Full Cry Mail Online

Dressed in black shirts with faces hidden by helmets, ten men on motorbikes came to find him on a Saturday, after darkness fell. 

Finding the door bolted at his home in a pot-holed Athens side street, they smashed the windows, broke in and trashed the place. Then, their dirty work done, the neo-Nazi gang roared away into the hot evening. It had taken less than a minute for them to sound an ugly warning that foreigners were not welcome in Greece….So dangerous are the streets for foreigners that the U.S. State Department has sent out a warning to dark-skinned American visitors that they must be careful of their safety when they leave their hotels.

A shocking internet video shows leaders of the anti-immigrant Far-Right Golden Dawn party — which has 18 MPs — marching into an ethnic street market at Rafina, an hour’s drive from Athens, destroying the stalls with wooden clubs and scattering the merchandise to the ground.

2. Europe

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Austerity isn’t working for the people, however much it may help the bankers. And across Europe, the people are protesting it, with increasing violence. Analysis first, then examples, with a hat tip to the Guardian Weekly which focussed on this issue.

* The Root Of Europe’s Riots   Ha-Joon Chang   The Guardian

What has been happening in Europe – and indeed the US in a more muted and dispersed form – is nothing short of a complete rewriting of the implicit social contracts that have existed since the end of the second world war. In these contracts, renewed legitimacy was bestowed on the capitalist system, once totally discredited following the great depression. In return it provided a welfare state that guarantees minimum provision for all those burdens that most citizens have to contend with throughout their lives – childcare, education, health, unemployment, disability and old age.

Of course there is nothing sacrosanct about any of the details of these social contracts. Indeed, the contracts have been modified on the margins all the time. However, the rewriting in many European countries is an unprecedented one. It is not simply that the scope and the speed of the cuts are unusually large. It is more that the rewriting is being done through the back door.

Instead of it being explicitly cast as a rewriting of the social contract, changing people’s entitlements and changing the way the society establishes its legitimacy, the dismembering of the welfare state is presented as a technocratic exercise of “balancing the books”. Democracy is neutered in the process and the protests against the cuts are dismissed. The description of the externally imposed Greek and Italian governments as “technocratic” is the ultimate proof of the attempt to make the radical rewriting of the social contract more acceptable by pretending that it isn’t really a political change.

Steve Bell, from The Guardian

* Spain’s Cultural Fabric Tearing Apart As Austerity Takes Its Toll The Guardian

As unemployment hits 25% and keeps rising, parts of the country’s fabric are beginning to tear. Half a million homes have no breadwinner. More than half of the under-25s and half of immigrants are jobless. And with one-third of them not qualifying for unemployment benefit, desperation is setting in.

One of the alarming tendencies is the removal of old people from care homes, with families either unable to pay or simply desperate to have the stable, if meagre, income provided by a pension back in the house. Some 8,000-10,000 of the 240,000 people in private residential homes have returned to their families this year alone, according to the FED association of private care homes, which account for about 75% of private beds.

 * French Protesters March In ‘Resistance’ To Austerity The Guardian

 Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to protest against the spread of economic “austerity” in France and Europe.

Chanting “resistance, resistance”, the crowds had been rallied by around 60 organizations, including the leftwing Front de Gauche and the French Communist party, which oppose the European budget treaty.

“Today is the day the French people launch a movement against the politics of austerity,” said the Front de Gauche president, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

 * Hundreds Of Thousands Of Greeks March Against Austerity  The Guardian

Hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity protesters took to the streets of Greece on Wednesday as the country was paralysed by a general strike in the first mass confrontation with Athens’s three-month-old coalition government.

In one of the biggest demonstrations in the capital in recent years, as many as 200,000 marched on the Greek parliament, according to unions in the public and private sector, which called the strike to oppose new wage and pension cuts – the price of further rescue funds from international lenders.

Clashes broke out between riot police and hooded youths hurling rocks and petrol bombs at the finance ministry. The protesters, many shouting: “We can take no more. Out with the EU and IMF,” and said to be part of the crisis-hit country’s vibrant “anti-establishment” movement, then set light to rubbish cans and bus stops, sending plumes of acrid smoke above the capital. TV footage showed demonstrators running for cover in Syntagma Square, seat of the Greek parliament, as noxious fumes filled the air. More than 100 people were detained.

* Portugal At Flashpoint As Austerity Lights Fires In Mild-Mannered Populace  The Guardian

“We have reached the limit. People are tired of making sacrifices because you don’t see any improvement whatsoever. Quite the opposite.” Marina Padeiro, 36, is one of Portugal’s estimated 1.3 million unemployed – a number that has shot up in the past year and a half, as a result of the stinging austerity measures imposed on the country in exchange for a €78bn bailout.

Sitting in a café in the northern industrial belt of Lisbon, she shrugs. “If there was some sort of hope you may see a decent future … the problem is they are not showing it to us.” Her father, a retired lorry driver, says the evidence is on the streets. Out here – far from the capital’s pretty, cobbled centre, which still attracts tourists – shops are closed up for good, or open only sporadically.

Oct. 5th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 35

Oct-05-2012 | Comments Off

1. Greece and Spain: Crisis Approaching 

Bird’s Eye: Most of what we read the media is about the financial implications of the Euro-crisis. But the political implications are at least as fraught. Both Greece and Spain have over 50% of their youth unemployed… and the implications of that are just starting show their jack-booted heads.

* Greek Youth Unemployment Hits 55% The Atlantic

* The Golden Dawn (neo-Nazi) party is the law enforcement in Athens Guardian

Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party is increasingly assuming the role of law enforcement officers on the streets of the bankrupt country, with mounting evidence that Athenians are being openly directed by police to seek help from the neo-Nazi group, analysts, activists and lawyers say.

In return, a growing number of Greek crime victims have come to see the party, whose symbol bears an uncanny resemblance to the swastika, as a “protector”.

One victim of crime, an eloquent US-trained civil servant, told the Guardian of her family’s shock at being referred to the party when her mother recently called the police following an incident involving Albanian immigrants in their downtown apartment block. “They immediately said if it’s an issue with immigrants go to Golden Dawn,” said the 38-year-old, who fearing for her job and safety, spoke only on condition of anonymity…. “If the police and official mechanism can’t deliver and there is no recourse to justice, then you have to turn to other maverick solutions.”

* Behind Spain’s Turmoil Lies A Cronyism That Stifles The Young And Ambitious  John Carlin   The Observer

It’s a problem that has a decisive impact on the country’s capacity to remain a competitive global player and that will be terribly difficult to solve because it is embedded in the national DNA.

I’m thinking, say, of two young men, in their early 30s, who moved to London six years ago, before the economic crash. They’ve done well…. 

The lessons from these two stories, entirely typical of Spaniards abroad, are clear: the Spanish are not inherently idle; the labour market in Spain does not sufficiently reward talent and hard work. The Spanish disease that both these young men said they had fled was “amiguismo” –“friendism” – a system where one gets ahead by who one knows.

Reams of opinion columns in the Spanish press in recent months have pointed to amiguismo in the political classes. Which is no doubt largely true but fails to acknowledge that corrupt or lazy or incompetent politicians do not inhabit a closed ecosystem but behave in a manner in keeping with the way society operates at large.

* Spain Reels At Violent Tactics By Riot Police  The Observer

The middle-aged man sitting on a railway station bench protects a younger man by wrapping his arms around him as he shouts desperately at the helmeted, baton-wielding police officers running up and down the platforms at Madrid’s Atocha station.

“Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” he bellows repeatedly in a video that shows how police charged into the station during violent demonstrations that shook Madrid last week.

On the other side of the ticket barrier a younger man is whacked with truncheons by two policemen. “I don’t know whether he is a passenger or a protester,” one of them admits. A third man who was waiting for a train is bundled down the platform by police officers as he asks: “And what have I done?” A youth points to blood running down his face. “What the hell is this?” he asks.

As Spaniards respond with dismay to the violence shown by demonstrators, who launched attacks on police, and the response of some riot police, during scuffles in the area around Madrid’s parliament building last week, the long-running drama of the country’s deflating economy has lurched into a newly confrontational stage, amid fears that there will be more violence to come.

Sept 20th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 32

Sep-21-2012 | Comments (1)

1. France, Under Hollande

Bird’s Eye: Half a year ago, François Hollande was elected president of France. While most of the press in North America has focussed on the Eurozone economies, here’s a quick round up of some of the exciting changes he’s been making inside France. Taxing the rich, banning GMO crops and fracking, and cutting back on nuclear power all seem pretty inspiring achievements.

* François Hollande Keeps Election Promise Of Raising Taxes For Wealthiest  The Guardian 

Since its revolution France has had a reputation for loving to hate the rich. But it has always boasted mega-wealthy business leaders, global brands, moneyed aristocratic families and designer luxury from embossed crocodile handbags to villas on the Riviera. Now it could be set for a new record as the European country doing the most to soak the rich.

The president, François Hollande, made no secret of his election pledge to squeeze fat cats and hit the mega-rich, making them bear the brunt of “sacrifices” needed to fix public finances. This week he was true to his word. The wealthiest households, banks and big business are to shoulder the best part of €7.2bn (£5.7bn) in tax rises this year, and more next year. France, already the only EU country with a wealth-tax, will increase it, with people worth more than €1.3m paying a one-off levy this year.

Inheritance tax, lowered by Sarkozy, will rise. New taxes are aimed at bank profits, dividends, bonuses, stock options, big businesses and energy companies holding petrol stocks. Already there has been a clamp-down on fat-cat salaries with a cap on the pay of chief-executives at state-owned companies.

* France Says No to Genetically Modified Crops, No to Fracking  Common Dreams

France will maintain its ban on genetically modified crops [GMOs] and will ban fracking, politicians announced during an environmental conference held in Paris Friday and Saturday. “The government is keeping its moratorium on the cultivation of GMO seeds currently authorized in the European Union,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the conference in Paris on Saturday.

Reuters reports that the ban specifically targets Monsanto’s MON810 maize, as it is the only GMO currently allowed in Europe. The ban was originally enacted in 2008, was overturned by a French court in 2011, and was reinstated in March. At the opening of the conference, President François Hollande declared the banning of shale gas drilling, or fracking.

* Nuclear power is dealt a blow Climate Spectator

Two of nuclear power’s greatest champions dealt the industry a heavy blow on Friday, with Japan deciding to phase out its plants and France confirming plans to cut its heavy reliance on the technology following concern over the Fukushima disaster.

Japan, which produced more than 10 per cent of global nuclear power before it suffered last year’s accident at Fukushima, joins Germany, Switzerland and Belgium in deciding to shut down nuclear plants and to spend money on renewable energy instead.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Japan would pull out of nuclear power by the 2030s and triple the share of renewable sources to 30 per cent of its energy mix.

In Paris, President Francois Hollande confirmed his campaign pledge to cut the share of nuclear power in France’s energy mix to 50 per cent by 2025 from 75 per cent. At the same time he urged the European Union to set tough targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 and 2040.

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