Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be afraid

Good news from the European Central Bank!

This action will enable the Eurosystem to provide euro to those central banks when required, as well as enabling the Eurosystem to provide liquidity operations, should they be needed, in Japanese yen, sterling, Swiss francs and Canadian dollars (in addition to the existing operations in US dollars).

So the ECB is making plans to be able to provide large amounts of other currencies from within the Eurozone system of central banks.  Why might they need to be able to do that?

Be very afraid.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maybe mineral water is counterrevolutionary

Amid what the media are still describing as an invasion of the UK Embassy in Tehran by "students", a cleric chants slogans while a goon puzzles over a bottle of Italian mineral water; the original photo caption suggests that he may have suspected it contained alcohol, which would be a strange way to store booze inside an embassy, although stranger things have happened.

More seriously, it's a bit strange that the "students" singled out the UK for enhanced protests given that lots of countries have sanctions against Iran; apparently additional sanctions by the UK against the Iranian Central Bank were the trigger.  They must treasure their ability to conduct monetary policy.  Yet these same "radical" students don't seem at all worked up about the atrocities of their client state, Syria.  In short, we have a carefully channeled "spontaneous" protest against an easy target of the Iranian dictatorship desperate for a distraction from how its Syrian entanglement gets messier and messier.  The "Arab Street" moved to Persia.

Photo: Vahid Salemi

Friday, November 25, 2011

A reason to have your domestic league soccer stars be citizens

The Italian Football Players Association is asking its members to buy Italian government bills next week, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport:

l'iniziativa va segnalata perché, in un momento estremamente difficile per l'economia globale, ma soprattutto italiana, l'investimento in titoli di Stato da parte dei cittadini può essere un contributo importante per dimostrare la fiducia che gli italiani hanno nel proprio Paese e per aiutare a migliorare l'aspettativa complessiva che i mercati hanno nei confronti dell'Italia

[basically, that investment in state bonds can show confidence of the citizens and help fight against the market forces that confront Italy]

It appears that they will also waive commission on the purchases.

Of course it could also be seen as an attempt to head off higher taxation of players.  But it's hard to imagine any other players association coming up with such an initiative.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Not top billing

Kuwait News Agency --

National Assembly Speaker Jassem Al-Kharafi received on Monday British Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and member of the House of Lords Baroness Symonds, along with Former Secretary of Defense and current MP Nicholas Soames. The meeting highlighted issues of mutual concern, including political and economic related topics with regard to the two countries. Al-Kharafi also received British Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, discussing issues of mutual concern and bilateral relations.

Note: news item covers first the minister and Nicholas Soames.  Then as an afterthought, that Blair dude.  Then again, Soames has a talent for the big face-time.

Photo from the MP's website

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just in time for the 1916 centenary

Niall Ferguson's view from 2020 in the Wall Street Journal --

And in 2013, in a historical twist only a few die-hard Ulster Unionists had dreamt possible, the Republic of Ireland's voters opted to exchange the austerity of the U.S.E. for the prosperity of the U.K. Postsectarian Irishmen celebrated their citizenship in a Reunited Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the slogan: "Better Brits Than Brussels."

Full illustration from story

Friday, November 18, 2011

Look After The Next Generation

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine:

Mr PM: Can you speak German?
Enda: Not much beyond Good Day but my children learn German

Ireland in new anti-Semitism outrage

Irish Times --

THE PRICE of bagels, croissants, garlic bread and a range of other similar products is likely to increase significantly in the weeks ahead after Revenue decided they were not sufficiently bread-like to be exempt from VAT. The move will see the products fall into the tax net for the first time and may lead to them increasing in price by as much as 13.5 per cent with almost immediate effect.

All on the heels of this.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Kuwait!

AFP -- The [Kuwaiti] police had used batons to prevent protesters from marching to the residence of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family, after staging a rally outside parliament. Witnesses said at least five demonstrators were injured and treated on the site. Some activists said they will continue to camp outside parliament until the premier is sacked.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The chair, Lebanon style

40 minutes into this video, the talk show bust-up between Fayez Shukr and Mustafa Alloush. Apparently Mr Shukr (the chair lifter) carries the "Baath Party" affiliation with pride. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

They were right because they were right

Paul Krugman:

It [the Euro] was criticized by Thatcherites, who wanted to be free to move Britain in an American direction

Actual Thatcherite*, 1990:

It [the Euro] would also mean that there would have to be enormous transfers of money from one country to another. It would cost us a great deal of money. One reason why some of the poorer countries want it is that they would get those big transfers of money. We are trying to contest that. If we have a single currency or a locked currency, the differences come out substantially in unemployment or vast movements of people from one country to another. Many people who talk about a single currency have never considered its full implications ...  When the Delors proposals for economic and monetary union came out, it was said immediately by my right hon. Friend [ Nigel Lawson ] the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was not really about monetary policy at all but about a back door to a federal Europe, taking many democratic powers away from democratically elected bodies and giving them to non-elected bodies ...  I think that some in Germany—only some—are backing the scheme because they know that the dominant voice, the predominant voice, on any central bank would be the German voice. 

*Mrs Thatcher.

UPDATE: In his NYT column, Krugman has modified the claim to --

But it was opposed by British conservatives, who also saw it as a step toward a social-democratic Europe.

That is no more consistent with Maggie's quote.

Pope and Wall Street Journal agree: blame the culture, not the perpetrator

Bizarre line from a Wall Street Journal editorial on the Joe Paterno/Penn State scandal --

It's also something of a relief that in a culture as libertine as ours at least some behavior—sexual exploitation of children—is still considered deviant.

Er, isn't it also criminal, and, like, wrong?

Harvard saves world, again

European Central Bank statement --

Today, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, Member of the Executive Board and Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB), informed President Mario Draghi that he will resign from his position prior to the end of his term of office on 31 May 2013 to join Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs on 1 January 2012. 

LBS taking his time about quitting was causing problems between France and Germany, because he's essentially sitting in a board seat that France thinks should belong to France.   Unlike the European Prime Ministers forced out of their jobs by European Union policy power plays, LBS wanted to be sure of his next job before he jumped.

UPDATE: If Lucas Papademos is any guide, Harvard seems to be the holding area for future technocrat Prime Ministers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Celtic Tiger's sore spot

Whipped into a froth of righteous indignation by a Daily Mail report -- always a shaky stool -- Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute (via Forbes) launches into a denunciation of Ireland's incoming President, Michael D. Higgins:

He’s also an economic illiterate or a cynical hack who apparently thinks noble poverty is a good idea for the other 99 percent.

Here’s some of what the Daily Mail reported about one of his recent speeches.

"Michael D Higgins launched a savage attack on the Celtic Tiger in his first speech as President elect. In his acceptance speech, the Labour Party candidate…rejected the years of materialism and selfishness that drove the country to ruin. …Michael D declared: ‘We leave behind a narrow individualism that valued the person for what was assumed to be their accumulated wealth but neglected the connection between the person, the social, the community and the nation. …Mr Higgins called on Irish people to return to ‘co-operative and collective values’."

Isn’t this just wonderful? This pampered and cosseted member of the political elite thinks that Ireland somehow was demeaned by being the Celtic Tiger. Does this mean he wants to go back the mid-1980s, before Ireland began to reform? Back when government was consuming more than 50 percent of the nation’s output? Back when the the corporate tax rate was 50 percent? Back when other tax rates were at extortionary levels?

If that’s true, he wants to dramatically reduce the living standards of the Irish people.

This is strange on several levels.  First, Mitchell seems to have conflated Michael D with Eamon de Valera, who in the much more powerful position of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) infamously invoked what he saw as a better Ireland of athletic youths and comely maidens while pursuing a much more statist and isolationist policy than the country has now.  As President, Higgins will have no such influence of policy and that's not his leaning anyway.

Because what's truly revealing here is that Michael D made no specific reference to any policy choices or indeed the supposed virtues of the 1980s.  Instead it was his denunciation of individualism that caught Mitchell's eye.  In other words, it's not so much that a genre of corporate tax policy or light-touch financial regulation drove Ireland into the ditch -- it's that Ireland's economic troubles can be read as an indictment of a broader economic philosophy of everyone-for-themselves/I've got mine boosterism.  That wound will apparently take time to heal.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Credit where it's due

Here's a link to the French website that broke the story of the Sarkozy-Obama G20 conversation about Bibi Netanyahu being inadvertently being picked up by translation equipment used by reporters (strangely, the G20 organizers' system for preserving the sanctity of conversations involving translators apparently was, er, asking reporters not to listen in till they said so).  As there appears to be some excitement among US Republicans to package the Obama side of the conversation as disparaging about Bibi, it's worth noting that it's hard to read it like that.  Obama was deflecting Sarko's comment, nothing more.  However, other reporters now look foolish for having agreed to suppress the story once the cat was out of the bag.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Wit from the otherwise dismal world of Greek politics --

George Karatzaferis, leader of the small nationalist Laos party, said there was still no agreement on Mr. Papademos. "I was hoping that coming out of here I could say 'Habemus Papademos' but I can't say that yet," he said after a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

Habemus Papam!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

At least Sepp Blatter is not involved in selecting the mosques

Yesterday, newly-appointed Saudi Crown Prince Nayef gave what was essentially his inaugural news conference in that position, albeit one springing from his existing position in charge of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Responding to what were apparently some testy questions about the state of preparations for a mass arrival compared to a World Cup --

The Crown Prince rejected the comparison between the organization of the world soccer cup finals and Hajj, stating that organizers of such international football events will have each a grace of more than two years while Hajj is a yearly event.

Among the problems with this excuse is that a World Cup hosting country has to build a lot of infrastructure for a one-time event, whereas Saudi Arabia knows ahead of time that it is home to the two holy mosques -- it's in the King's job title, after all --- and it knows exactly when each year's main pilgrimage will occur.  In addition, it's not like being a pilgrimage site swamped by visitors is a uniquely Islamic phenomenon.  A small town in France is able to host 5 million pilgrims a year without the recurring questions about preparedness faced by the Hajj -- that would be Lourdes.  Let's hope he's got a better response to the deficiencies than waiting for Qatar to screw up the 2022 World Cup.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

We are not amused

Statement today from EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy --

We take note of the intention of the Greek authorities to hold a referendum. We are convinced that this agreement is the best for Greece. We fully trust that Greece will honour the commitments undertaken in relation to the euro area and the international community.  The Presidents of the European Council and Commission have had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Papandreou. The Presidents are in contact with members of the Eurozone and will continue to be in the margins of the G20 meeting in Cannes. 

Among other things, the statement is quite vague about the status of what Greece agreed to at the latest Summit to End All Summits on October 27.  Which puts the self-congratulatory tone at the end of that summit (see photo above) in sharp relief.  How long more can the EU function with the same pathetic leadership?

Photo: EU Council photo service.