Archive for the 'Europe' Category
Posted by David Foster on 1st September 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, thereby igniting the Second World War.
Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland’s assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain’s government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.
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Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 17 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 31st August 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Two related posts…first, Peter Drucker:
Originally posted 11/13/2005
In Managing in the Next Society, Drucker writes about the tension between liberty and community:
Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive.
One recent example. My family and I lived in rural Vermont only fifty years ago, in the late 1940s. At that time the most highly popularized character in the nation was the local telephone operator in the ads of the Bell Telephone Company. She, the ads told us every day, held her community together, served it, and was always available to help.
The reality was somewhat diferent. In rural Vermont, we then still had manual telephone exchanges…But when finally around 1947 or 1948, the dial telephone came to rural Vermont, there was universal celebration. Yes, the telephone operator was always there. But when, for instance, you called up to get Dr Wilson, the pediatrician, because one of your children had a high fever, the operator would say, “You can’t reach Dr Wilson now; he is with his girlfriend.” Or, “You don’t need Dr Wilson; your baby isn’t that sick. Wait till tomorrow morning to see whether he still has a high temperature.” Community was not only coercive; it was intrusive.
And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventy or twelfth century. The serf who managed to escape from the land and to be admitted into a city became a free man. He became a citizen. And so we, too, have an idyllic picture of the city–and it is as unrealistic as the idyllic picture of rural life.
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Posted in Civil Society, Europe, Urban Issues, USA | 4 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th August 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Some years ago, I succumbed to the blandishments of the overloaded bookshelves at Half-Price Books. I knew I shouldn’t have wandered into the section housing assortments of ‘Texiana’ but I did and I was tempted. Since I can resist anything but temptation, I gave in and bought a slightly oversized volume (with color plates!) with the gripping title of German Artist on the Texas Frontier: Friedrich Richard Petri for a sum slightly less than the current price on Amazon. Who was Friedrich Richard Petri, you might ask – and rightfully so for chances are practically no one outside of the local area might have heard of him, he finished very few substantial paintings, was only resident in the Hill Country of Texas for about seven years, and died relatively young.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Europe, Germany, History, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th August 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
A number of summers ago, when I was still stationed in Spain, I packed up my daughter, and a tent and all the necessary gear, and did a long looping camping tour of the southern part of Spain, down through the Extremadura, and to the rock of Gib al Tarik, and a long leisurely drive along the Golden Coast – I had driven from Sevilla, past the sherry-manufacturies around Jerez La Frontera (on a Sunday, so they were closed, although the Harvey’s people should have given me a freebie on general principals, I had sipped enough of their stuff, over the years), made a pit stop at the Rota naval base for laundry and groceries. I had driven into Gibraltar, done a tour of the historic gun galleries, seen the famous Gibraltar apes, and then waited in the long customs line to come back into Spain. We had even stopped at the Most Disgusting Public Loo on the face of the earth, at a gas station outside of San Roque, before following the road signs along the coastal road towards Malaga and Motril, and our turn-off, the road that climbed steadily higher into the mountains, the tall mountains that guarded the fortress city of Granada, and the fragile fairy-tale pavilions of the Alhambra.
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Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Europe, History, Society, War and Peace | Comments Off
Posted by David Foster on 7th August 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Donald Sensing reminds us that the First World War began on August 1, 1914. Don has a summary, and there is a fairly extensive entry at Wikipedia.
I’m not sure that most Americans understand just how devastating this war was for Europe. The casualty levels were immense, representing significant portions of an entire generation.
At the French military academy of Saint-Cyr (the French equivalent to West Point) a memorial was erected after the war with the inscription “To the class of 1914.” Every single member of that class was killed in the war. (Reference here.)
The following passage is from F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night. The time is about 10 years after the end of the First World War. The setting is the battlefield of the Somme.
Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.
“See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”
“Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco—”
“That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”
“General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.”
“No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.”
“You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,” said Abe.
“All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” Dick mourned persistently.
UPDATE 8/8/2012: See also Sgt Mom’s well-written post about her visit to Verdun.
Posted in Europe, History, War and Peace | 7 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd June 2012 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
There have been some major events in the world energy market lately. For the first update let’s start with Spain.
Spain and Renewables:
Spain under-took a massive effort to embrace renewable energy technologies. Per Bloomberg:
The country generated 23 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2010… wind power in April covered 25 percent of electricity demand, a record that saved 270 million euros in fossil fuel imports. At one point on April 19, wind covered 61 percent of power demand.
How did Spain become a pioneer in wind and solar? Simple. Massive tax breaks for these sorts of installations.
In the 2000s, Spain copied the German clean-power aid model, as did nations from Portugal to Israel and Japan, increasing subsidies to a pinnacle in 2007. That’s when a law granted 444 euros ($556) a megawatt-hour for home rooftop solar panels feeding the power grid, compared with an average 39 euros paid to competing coal- or gas-fired power plants. By 2009, the consumer bill for clean-energy aid had risen to 6 billion euros a year, ahead of the 5.6 billion euros in Germany, whose economy is almost four times bigger, according to the Council of European Energy Regulators… Solar energy was the biggest drag on the system, accounting for almost half of the annual 6 billion euros of liabilities and producing just above 2 percent of the power
Let’s do the math there again. Through state subsidies, the government was paying 444/39 = more than 11x the rate for solar panels. This understates the disparity because that 39 Euro per MWH on the other sides includes a much longer term investment horizon, while rooftop solar panels would have a correspondingly lower life span. To be fair, much of their renewable subsidies went to wind power, which while un-economic was less disastrously so than rooftop solar (with this level of subsidies). In addition to overpaying, the government was doing this on a massive scale, as noted above since the government largess was larger than Germany in absolute terms while their economy is much, much smaller.
The scale of over-building in these technologies was incredible. Per the article:
With peak electricity demand at less than half of capacity, the country doesn’t need more power plants, he said. Spain has a capacity of 99 gigawatts, and peak demand of 44 gigawatts.
This level of surplus power, (123%, or (99-44)/44)) is unprecedented. By contrast, in the United States in 2010, our surplus (summer) capacity is 19.2%, per the EIA document summarized here.
Recently Spain has undergone an austerity crisis and the government stopped subsidizing new energy installations. What happened? The industry immediately evaporated.
Saddled with a budget deficit more than twice the European Union limit and a ballooning gap between income and costs in its power system, Spain halted subsidies for new renewable-energy projects in January. The surprise move by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy one month after taking office helped pierce investor confidence in stable aid for clean energy across Europe. “They destroyed the Spanish market overnight with the moratorium,” European Wind Energy Association Chief Executive Officer Christian Kjaer said in an interview. “The wider implication of this is that if Spanish politicians can do that, probably most European politicians can do that.”
In addition to halting the bleeding of government finances caused by the end to these massive subsidies for new installations, the “green jobs” immediately melted away.
The 75,466 renewable energy jobs that existed in Spain at the industry’s peak in 2008 shrank to 54,925 in 2010, according to the Renewable Energy Producers Association’s most recent data.
Likely this job loss will further accelerate since in 2010 there still were some subsidies available; now the subsidies have been completely eliminated, thus de-facto decimating the industry in Spain.
It is important to note that this Spanish “investment” in renewable technologies often can’t be leveraged by industrial producers because wind power is intermittent (and expensive) and much of the solar was implemented for individual households. By contrast, the US shale gas boom, tied with expansion of gas-fired plants making up a larger percentage of the total capacity base (and in particular the “base load” capacity base), has made America more competitive for industrial producers and led to economic growth (or a slowdown in relative decline) in energy-intensive industries. This document (by an industry source, but likely directionally correct) states the following:
The lower natural gas prices achieved with shale gas production will result in an average reduction of 10% in electricity costs nationwide over the forecast period. By 2017, lower prices will result in an initial impact of 2.9% higher industrial production. By 2035, industrial production will be 4.7% higher.
On a larger scale, Spanish “investment” in renewable energy didn’t make the country more competitive from a manufacturing perspective nor did it reduce the cost of energy to the average homeowner. It created a class of economic parasites that evaporated as soon as the subsidies went away. The Spanish companies that thrived off the boom are now moving overseas to attempt to compete with local entities in other countries where subsidies still exist that could make renewables viable.
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Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Europe | 22 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 1st June 2012 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The nation of Poland and hundreds of thousands of Polish-Americans were outraged when President Obama referred last week to “Polish Death Camps” in a speech awarding a medal of freedom to a Polish American named Jan Kozielewski who was smuggled into a death camp and brought evidence of the Holocaust to President Roosevelt. Evidence that was ignored.
There is a back story to this controversy that is only now starting to come out. In 2009, President Obama cancelled US missile sites that were intended to defend Poland and Czech Republic against Iranian missiles. The action was taken at the Russians’ request without even notifying the Polish government. That crisis began when the US promised to install such a missile site in 2008. After Obama took office, He cancelled the agreement without bothering to notify the Poles.
Subsequently, Walesa refused to meet with Obama when he was on a visit to Poland. He said,” ‘It’s difficult to tell journalists what you’d like to say to the president of a superpower. This time I won’t tell him, I won’t meet him, it doesn’t suit me,’ Walesa told news station TVN24.”
The European reaction was negative.
The president hadn’t even had a chance to redecorate the Oval Office before he felt the need, in fall of 2009, to appease Moscow by scrapping plans to build a missile defense shield protecting Poland and the Czech Republic from attack by Russia, Iran or any other aggressor.
At the time, the Polish minister of defense said, “This is catastrophic for Poland.”
The message, once again, delivered loud and clear to America’s friends, allies and enemies alike, is that the U.S. can’t be relied on.
This is what American voters get when they elect to the presidency an underexperienced man weighed down by an oversized ego.
Now, Obama, who has been shown to be a petty man,
got his revenge on Walesa by barring him from the ceremony.That was no gaffe. TelePrompTers don’t make gaffes.
Posted in Europe, History, Human Behavior, Iran, Middle East, Obama, Politics, Russia, Terrorism | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 9th May 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Arthur Brooks (surely one of the very few people to pursue a career as a professional player of the French horn before becoming a professor of business and government) has a good piece in today’s WSJ.
The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.
During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”
Read the whole thing.
Posted in Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, Europe, Human Behavior, USA | 3 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th March 2012 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Here is a photo that all Palestinians and their supporters should see and remember,
The caption is worthwhile, too.
Sudeten Germans make their way to the railway station in Liberec, in former Czechoslovakia, to be transferred to Germany in this July, 1946 photo. After the end of the war, millions of German nationals and ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from both territory Germany had annexed, and formerly German lands that were transferred to Poland and the Soviet Union. The estimated numbers of Germans involved ranges from 12 to 14 million, with a further estimate of between 500,000 and 2 million dying during the expulsion.
It is a mystery to me (not really) why the Palestinians and their supporters do not make the connection between the Arabs who left Israel in 1948 and the Germans who were forced out at the end of the war. How many terrorist Sudetan Germans have you heard of ?
Posted in Europe, Germany, History | 12 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 5th March 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
The last remains of a dream castle that never was completed – Comanche Hill, San Antonio
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Posted in Americas, Europe, North America, Photos | 7 Comments »
Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 29th February 2012 (All posts by Telegram from Innisfree)
So in today’s continuing Eurodrama, Fianna Fail deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv had to step down due to his refusal to support the Fiscal Treaty. Interesting, especially as Fianna Fail is due to start its annual party conference (the “Ard Fheis”) on Friday. Will the grandson of Eamon de Valera lead the way to a new Irish euroskepticism?
Meanwhile, The Independent points out in an editorial today that on March 31, Ireland will have to pay another €3.1 billion on its ongoing €30 billion bailout of Anglo-Irish bank. For a country with a GDP of somewhere around $200 billion, that’s not chump change. Indeed, there are rumblings of the government will have to cook up what is called here a “mini-budget” (a budget revision) the summer involving more cuts, although (hopefully) no new taxes.
For leading parties Fine Gael and Labour to succeed, they will have to try to forestall the mini-budget until after the referendum. How they will managed to wrench out a Yes vote from this will be, um, interesting. And why, yes, I do mean that in the Chinese sense.
Posted in Europe, Ireland | 2 Comments »
Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 28th February 2012 (All posts by Telegram from Innisfree)
Prime Minister Enda Kenny has just announced this afternoon that a general referendum will be held on the EU Fiscal Compact prior to the summer. Labour and Fine Gael, the parties currently in power, will campaign for a Yes vote. Sinn Fein will probably line up on the No side, which would continue their journey on the road to Euroskepticism. Fianna Fail, which spectacularly combusted in general elections last year, will be having its Ard Fheis (Party Conference) this weekend, which a good deal of the party’s future will be discussed. No doubt this referendum will be a hot topic. The sense I get so far is that Fianna Fail will back a yes vote, since the previous government was thoroughly Europhilic and the current leader, Micheal Martin, was in the prior cabinet. But let’s see what happens this weekend…
A few quick thoughts:
- The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) is announcing this now because he thinks people are generally feeling good about Ireland’s prospects. In the last 10 days or so several hundred new jobs from various overseas corporations have been announced.
- Or maybe his hand has been forced by the prospect of Sinn Fein issuing a court challenge?
- Initial takes I’m reading/hearing indicate a No vote would imply a break from the Eurozone.
Time to go listen to the radio!!
Posted in Europe, Ireland | 11 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd February 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
We lived in Athens for nearly three years, my daughter and I. She was only three years and a few months old, when we arrived there, and just short of kindergarten when we left. This is the place that she remembers clearly as a child. I was assigned to the base at Hellenikon, which was merely an acre-wide strip between Vouligmeni Boulevard, and the airport flight line, wedged in between a similar strip which was a Greek Air Force facility, and a couple of blocks of warehouse and semi-industrial facilities of the sort which cluster in the vicinity of busy urban airports. Once – at the end of WWII, or so I was told by people who remembered that far back – the airfield had been away out in hell and gone in the wild and rolling scrub-brush country, south of the city. One very elderly American retiree recalled that the airfield was so far from the city that he was advised to carry a pistol for self-defense purposes, when he had reason to venture out that far from the American Embassy.
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Posted in Civil Society, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Society, Urban Issues | 7 Comments »
Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 15th February 2012 (All posts by Telegram from Innisfree)
There she is. Sobbing on the phone. Making threats. Trashing her bedroom. And of course, making all sorts of promises to stay in the relationship.
Meanwhile, Ireland is holding her breath and crossing her fingers. News radio here is breathless and buzzing with anticipation with whether this is the “Big One” – whether today’s teleconference will push Greece further to the brink, or indeed – over it. The way it has been painted is that if Greece goes, Portugal could be next. And then, Gd help us – what happens to Ireland?
Hmm. Better pick up a few more pound notes when I go get the kids today…
Posted in Europe | 14 Comments »
Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 14th February 2012 (All posts by Telegram from Innisfree)
“Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don’t exactly know what they are!”
So there I sat at the table after Saturday morning services at the little Irish synagogue, talking with the one raging conservative in the room. (Actually there are a number of raging conservatives in Dublin. But very few know it yet. My acquaintance is one of the few self-acknowledged ones). “So what do you think about Daniel Hannan?” says I. “Nope, never heard of him” says my friend, reaching for another gefilte fish ball.
Now, this is a well-read fellow who reads The Irish Independent and can reel off any number of American right-leaning politicians. He is head over heels for Chris Christie. But he has never heard of Dan Hannan?
It’s no surprise. Dan Hannan gets very little play in his home media – or in Irish media — and yes, the Irish do follow other British politicians. But not this one.) Meanwhile, he is renowned in the US. Why does CPAC give Hannan a soapbox to stand on, but he is barely heard from on the eastern side of the Atlantic?
1. I think in general MEPs tend to get a lot less coverage – a reflection of the unhappy truth that the Parliament is Brussels is a high school debate club with a gargantuan expense account. Which is why I think UKIP gets as many votes as it does for European elections. Since voters feel the EP is less consequential, they feel more free to vote for less popular parties.
2. Hannan also represents an unpopular line of thinking – against Big Government, against (European) Union, and incredibly – I mean incredibly - pro-American. And it’s hard to get his ideas play in a culture (here in Ireland and I would reckon in the UK as well) that for the most part still treats political discussion as ill-mannered. And as for the media? Here in Dublin the only British radio station I can being in is BBC Radio 4. (Well, OK that and a Liverpool sports station) Like they’re going to give Hannan a chance to even heavy-breathe on their mikes.
So, sorry, Smitty — please don’t take Dan Hannan away. We need him here. (While we’re on the topic, tell Rupert to send us a Fox News Channel too…)
Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Europe, USA | 4 Comments »
Posted by Zenpundit on 13th February 2012 (All posts by Zenpundit)
Cross-posted from zenpundit.com
World affairs are much more like spider’s web than the neat little drawers of an apothecary’s cabinet. In the latter, the contents of each drawer are cleanly isolated and conveniently compartmentalized. What you do with the contents of one drawer today has no bearing on what you do next week with those of another. By contrast, with a spider’s web, when you touch a web at any point, not only do you find it to be sticky in a fragile sort of way, but your touch sends vibrations through every centimeter of the lattice.
Which alerts the spiders.
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Posted in Academia, China, Europe, International Affairs, Iran, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th February 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
I got a Kindle a few months ago, and have been very pleased to discover lots of old and largely-forgotten but very worthwhile books available for download, often for free or for 99 cents. In this and future posts, I’ll be giving some focus to these neglected but worthy books and their authors.
Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a “Founding Mother” of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.
In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:
In 1919 I was a communist.
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Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Europe, History, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | 11 Comments »
Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 29th January 2012 (All posts by Telegram from Innisfree)
So tomorrow (Monday) morning there’s going to be a new pact signed in Brussels at the EU leaders’ summit which basically wrests more fiscal power away from Greece, and turns it over to a “Eurozone budget commissioner”. Here in Ireland, the current government is going to sign on with the understanding that it won’t need to ratify it with the people (75% of whom are hankering for a vote). According to the Independent, President Higgins can refer it to the Supreme Court for a legal test. I doubt he’ll do it – he’s a Labour man and his party is currently sharing power with Fine Gael. All should make for hours of exciting Eurocrisis soap opera on the radio…
Posted in Europe | 1 Comment »
Posted by onparkstreet on 25th January 2012 (All posts by onparkstreet)
The US could be almost self-sufficent for energy by 2030, while the EU will be the most vulnerable region for energy security, BP said on Wednesday.
Growth in shale oil and gas production would mean the US needed few imports, while North America as a whole could be self-sufficient, BP forecast at its Global Energy Outlook 2030.
BP forecast that Eurasia could also become self-sufficient, based on the prediction that Europe would being a net importer of energy, and the former Soviet Union countries net exporters by a similar amount.
In practice, this would leave the EU the most vulnerable region for energy security.
– The Telegraph
Friends, I have no particular knowledge of this subject. If you have anything to add in comments, I’d love to hear it.
Ah, age. One of the most daring aspects of this novel is that Lively is concerned with the hearts and problems of older characters. Her major players are well past their youth, and a boyish up-and-coming historian (the snake in Lord Henry’s mansion) doesn’t become important until much of the novel has passed. “How much remains when youth is gone?” Lively seems to be asking. And the answer is, “An abundance.” Here middle and old age are times of blossoming identity and possibility, miraculous bursts of sunshine.
– The New York Times on Penelope Lively’s “How it All Began.”
Even as a twenty-something, I was fascinated with literary representations of middle age. An odd one, that’s me.
Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Europe, International Affairs, Middle East, National Security, North America, Predictions | 9 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th January 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Pretty damned ironic, that the Costa Concordia disaster happened almost exactly a hundred years after the Titanic. It’s not all that often these days that a European/American flagged passenger ship becomes a catastrophic loss to their insurance company – although it happens with dispiriting frequency to inter-island ferries in the Philippines and hardly any notice of it taken in Western newspapers. The contrasts and ironies just abound; fortunate that the Costa was so close to land that some passengers were able to swim to safety, and that rescue personnel were at the scene almost before the air-bubbles from the sunken half of the ship even popped to the surface.
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Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Civil Society, Europe, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous | 41 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 10th January 2012 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Today I read an article about the fact that the German government can issue debt with a negative yield.
Germany sold six-month treasury bills at a negative yield for the first time amid demand for the debt securities of Europe’s biggest economy as a haven from the sovereign debt crisis roiling the region. The government auctioned 3.9 billion euros ($4.98 billion) of securities maturing in July at an average yield of minus 0.0122 percent, the Federal Finance Agency said in an e-mailed statement today. It was the first time it sold the securities at a negative yield, Joerg Mueller, a spokesman in Frankfurt, said in a telephone interview. The Netherlands sold 107-day bills at minus 0.007 percent on Dec. 12.
Thus purchasers are paying the German (and Dutch) governments for the privilege of lending them money.
Meanwhile, Italy is having a tough time finding buyers for its bonds. In order to sell debt, the yield is now above 7%, a line that (for some reason) in the popular press is read as the dividing line for “unsustainable”, kind of like the “Mendoza line” for baseball batting averages.
Italian bond yields rose above 7% on Friday (Dec 23) as worries about the government’s debt problems resurfaced. The yield on 10-year Italian government bonds edged up to 7.04%, after falling below 6% earlier this month. Italian yields first topped 7% in November amid fears that Italy could fall victim to the same debt crisis that led to bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
On the face of it, this seems odd. Germany and the Netherlands are issuing bonds in Euros, just like the Greeks, Italians, Ireland and Portugal. Theoretically, all of these countries have the same “backstops” built into the Euro, and there is no exit mechanism.
The debt market is saying something different than what the politicians are saying – the debt market doesn’t believe the hype and, when the dust settles, they want to be holding paper from the creditworthy countries (Germany and the Netherlands) and not the PIIGS (the above countries plus Spain).
Back when Dan and I were in college we had a friend nicknamed “Strohs”. Since we were all very poor back then when we played poker often people used “markers” instead of cash. At the end of the game (generally when we ran out of beer and / or someone passed out) you might hold cash or you might hold “markers” which were really IOU’s from each person at the game. “Strohs” markers were a deck of cards marked with the ubiquitous “Dogs playing poker” picture, and thus at the end of the game if you held his marker, they were “Dogs”. “Strohs”, while a good friend of ours, wasn’t an especially credit-worthy guy (at the time). He earned his nickname by showing up for college with some clothes in a hefty trash bag and a pallet of Strohs 30 packs with which he filled his entire closet top to bottom.
So as the night wore on, if you held “Dogs” in your pile of chips and markers, your betting became especially reckless. It was common to say “I’ll raise you a bucket of dogs” which probably meant you were bluffing because if you lost all you did was remove the markers with which payment was unlikely to happen out of your stack of chips, for the promise of winning “real” markers (equivalent to the German debt above) or actual cash, instead.
For years books and magazines have focused on “yield” and also the credit worthiness of individual companies and (mostly) ignored currency risk. A friend of mine in the investment business talked about a customer who bought a huge Australian debt position and their piddly yield was irrelevant as currency gains from the Australian dollar (which I wrote about here) drove the position to a huge gain, when translated back into (weak) US dollars. Obviously this trader was ignoring yield and betting on currencies.
This is what appears to be happening today. When Europe’s dust cloud settles, people don’t want to be holding “a bucket of dogs” backed by promises from PIIGS governments’, they want the equivalent of the old Deutschmark from Germany. That is why they are essentially ignoring yield and accepting a negative yield from one country and demanding a 7% yield from another country ostensibly backed from the same currency.
Cross posted at LITGM
Posted in Economics & Finance, Europe, Germany | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th January 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
A writer at The Economist notes that hatred of bankers is one of the world’s oldest and most dangerous prejudices:
Civilisations that have eased the ban on moneylending have grown rich. Those that have retained it have stagnated. Northern Italy boomed in the 15th century when the Medicis and other banking families found ways to bend the rules. Economic leadership passed to Protestant Europe when Luther and Calvin made moneylending acceptable. As Europe pulled ahead, the usury-banning Islamic world remained mired in poverty.
In medieval Europe Jews were persecuted not only because they were not Christians but also because killing them was a quick way to expunge debts. Karl Marx, who came from a Jewish family, regarded Jews as the embodiments of capitalism who could only be rescued from their ancestral curse through revolution. The forgers of the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” wanted people to believe that Jewish financiers were engaged in a fiendish global conspiracy. Louis McFadden, the chairman of the United States House Committee on Banking and Currency in the 1930s, claimed that “the Gentiles have the slips of paper while the Jews have the lawful money.” The same canards have been used against Chinese minorities across Asia.
It can be reasonably argued that the financial industry in the US, and probably also in Europe, is too large as a % of the overall economy and also far too influential in political affairs–see my post about sticky governors. But the unthinking demonization of finance as an activity, and of people involved in that activity, is counterproductive, and, as the Economist author argues, dangerous.
via Stuart Schneiderman
Posted in Economics & Finance, Europe, History, USA | 6 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd January 2012 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Portugal is an EU and Euro member with a population of 10.5M. Portugal is one of the “PIIGS” (along with Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) that are having severe debt and austerity problems caused by a lack of confidence in their ability to service their huge financial burdens.
Portugal is relatively uncompetitive within the EU. They benefited from inflows and subsidies from the EU over the years and used it to raise living standards and develop a large and expensive public sector.
One advantage Portugal does have is their connections to former “empire” countries that also speak Portuguese including Angola and Brazil. These countries, while they have their own very significant problems, are not shackled with the anti-competitive rules and regulations that burden companies in the EU. While Portuguese citizens are not at the top of the education group in EU terms, in Angolan or Brazilian (general) terms they are very well educated and can assist multi-nationals taking advantage of the natural resources that Angola and Brazil are blessed with.
In this context, when asked what young people should do when faced with high unemployment, this article the conservative prime minister told them to “just emigrate”.
While many thought that his comments were not appropriate, there are few avenues for ambitious young people since the gravy train of EU subsidies is drying up and EU labor policies make it very difficult for companies to remove redundant staff in order to make room for more productive and cost compeititive new graduates.
This is a practical, if sad, solution to the problem of a non-competitive state which is forced to support the high cost and social benefits of the EU. It also perfectly crystalizes the “fixed pie” view of the left – keep jobs and barriers high for those that have them, and watch as the nation slowly loses competitiveness, falling hardest on those newest to the work force.
It is a blessing to the former colonies, however, who will receive the youngest, most productive and aggressive citizens who can make their fortune overseas rather than waiting in line (in vain) for a spot in the bureaucratic system.
Cross posted at LITGM
Posted in Economics & Finance, Europe | 14 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 30th December 2011 (All posts by David Foster)
Admit Britain to NAFTA?
The acronym even still works…”NA” could stand for “North Atlantic” as well as “North American.”
via Neptunus Lex
Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Economics & Finance, Europe | 3 Comments »
Posted by Helen on 19th December 2011 (All posts by Helen)
To me the Cold War is very real, perhaps because my family was involved in various ways and, towards the end, I was, too. The news of the great men and women of that fight dying comes with very special sadness and also with many conflicting thoughts. Vaclav Havel, for instance, was a great symbol of that struggle against Communism but as a politician he did not live up to that and so one see-saws between various opinions.
I have tried to sum it all up on Your Freedom and Ours (though the posting starts with the death of Kim Jong-il). I may get beaten up (figuratively speaking).
Posted in Europe, Obits, Politics | 4 Comments »