Sunday, July 26, 2015

TISA and the Grebacle (from the notebook)

TISA = Trade in Services Agreement, Grebacle = Greek debacle, a subject I've been too discouraged to write about so far. (I would happily have given a headline link to the US government's page on TISA, but there is almost nothing there, so in protest I'm linking Wikileaks instead.)

On July 6th, I had been writing about Greece for a week or so, and one evening I was reminded by David Dayen that the capital controls the Bank of Greece used to survive would be outlawed under the proposed TISA agreement. If Dayen is correct, most effective consumer banking regulation would be outlawed under TISA, leading to a situation where hoarding cash might again become reasonable. Are we all to be made into Greece? Or what?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Yemen: Saudi Arabia has turned hawkish

This one is a "what Juan Cole said" post. From two months ago:
Watching Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia nowadays, is like Kremlin-watching in the old days of the Cold War. It is not as if most Western journalists have a really good idea of the maneuverings inside the Saudi palace or know why exactly things happen. Since King Salman succeeded the late Abdullah this winter, Saudi Arabia has become a different country with regard to foreign policy. Abdullah was known for being cautious and diplomatic.[…] Since Salman came to power, it is as though Bruce Banner got angry and turned into the Incredible Hulk. […] And then without telling the US it was going to do so until the last minute, the Saudi Air Force began a massive bombing campaign on Yemen in a bid to destroy the rebel Houthi movement of Zaidi Shiites

And, the point:
I think we may conclude that something has changed. The hawks have taken over Saudi Arabia and it is newly militarily assertive and the long-standing paranoia about Iran has spun out of control.
Go read the damn thing. We're in still more trouble, if that is possible.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thomas Piketty Totally Pwns the German Austerians

My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.
The fine upstanding German state, I'm sure, deserved its debt relief.

(The German newspaper Die Zeit (The Times) posted this interview in German. An authorized English translation is available at the Indian site, The Wire. Google's mechanical translation is here.)

(Updated July 17, 2015, to include the English translation.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Grisis 7/5

The Troika lost the referendum. If the Troika hadn't overplayed their hand by forcing a Greek bank shutdown, they might have won: two weeks ago polling showed the Greeks were evenly split on the Troika's position.

The Greeks are dancing in the streets. I am left feeling, though, that little has been won. It is hard for me to see the Germans backing down. It is just possible the Troika will split internally; the leaked (unofficially released?) IMF report indicates that the IMF staff, at least, wants debt reduction for Greece. But for the Greeks, more hard times. And there are terrible risks. The Greek fascist Golden Dawn party also sees this as a victory, and if conditions do not improve in Greece quickly, they will have a chance at power. It is hard for me to imagine any EU nation going to war to collect their Greek debt, but tensions could increase.

Still, at least austerity has taken a hit in the eyes of the world. I think other European counties whose hard times have been made harder by poor decisions of the European Central Bank will fight harder, even if the Troika ultimately prevails in Greece.

Yemen: and now for something completely different

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) writes:
Since the violence in Yemen escalated in March over 3,083 people have been killed and 14,324 have been injured, while over one million people have had to flee their homes. Three months into the conflict escalation, more than 21.1 million people – 4 in 5 Yemenis – now need some form of humanitarian assistance.—OCHA Press Release, 1 July 2015 
 OCHA overview

F—, F—, F'ity F—.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Grisis 7/3: but there is commentary

And it's totally appropriate for Independence Day in the USA, so here's a few links:
  1. Enough about Greece, let's talk about Finland: "Finland is a model European citizen; it has honest government, sound finances and a solid credit rating, which lets it borrow money at incredibly low interest rates. It’s also in the eighth year of a slump that has cut real gross domestic product per capita by 10 percent and shows no sign of ending."—Paul Krugman, Europe’s Many Economic Disasters, "What all of these economies have in common, however, is that by joining the eurozone they put themselves into an economic straitjacket."
  2.  Jamie Galbraith, advisor to Syriza. Greece: Only the 'No' Can Save the Euro and 9 myths about the Greek crisis.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Grisis 7/2

And now:
According to the IMF, Greece should have a 20-year grace period before making any debt repayments and that final payments should not take place until 2055.—Guardian link
So now, the IMF admits Greece's debt is unsustainable, after putting the Greeks through five years of misery.

I'm going to put this series of posts on hold, pending the referendum. The various parties have staked out their positions and it does not seem like much will change until it is held.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Something Completely Different: Tar Sands

(This is something a friend asked me to boost the signal on. It's not my usual ambit, but it is important, so I'm doing something on it, rather late.)

The climate activist group 350.org is leading various protests against the development of tar sands oil. My friend, who lives in BC, tipped me to the opposition of Prof. Lynne Quarmby, department head of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry department of Simon Fraser University. Prof Quarmby went to jail in opposition to pipeline construction in BC. She was later released. But that is only the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion. Efforts are being made to ship oil tar sands from the tar sands fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan to, literally, all four points of the compass. So there is the Energy East project, leading east to New Brunswick, the Keystone XL Pipeline, running south through the USA to Houston, the Trans-Mountain Pipeline running west to Vancouver, and even a proposal for an Arctic Gateway Pipeline (PDF), that would take advantage of the warming climate the ship oil through Tuktoyaktuk on the Beaufort Sea, and thence through the newly opened Northwest Passage through the Arctic Sea.

I wrote about this two years ago, quoting James Hansen, but here's his remarks on the tar sands oil again:
The truth is that the tar sands gook contains more than twice the carbon from all the oil burned in human history. If infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, is built to transport tar sands gook, ways will be developed to extract more and more. When full accounting is done of emissions from tar sands oil, its use is equivalent to burning coal to power your automobile. This is on top of the grotesque regional tar sands destruction.—Hansen: Norway, Canada, the United States, and the Tar Sands (PDF)
We badly need to leave this in the ground, and we badly need to start relying on other sorts of energy.

Grisis 7/1

German political leaders saying inexcusable things about Greece, Guardian link.

Merkel: "'The door to talks with the Greek government has always been, and remains, open,' she said, but added that talks could not take place before Sunday’s poll."

Translation: "You're not getting any supper. Go to your room and think about it."

Schäuble: "Greece is in a difficult situation, but purely because of the behaviour of the Greek government…It’s all very sad."

Translation: "It makes me really sad that I have to hit you."

The Greeks are not children to disciplined, and no-one is to be abused at whim. Adult Greeks are in the streets, starving and dying.

There is huge condemnation of the Greeks for profligacy—why is there no condemnation of the Germans for miserliness?

BTW, Guardian editors, Syriza is not radical left. KKE, the Greek Communist Party, is radical left. Know the difference.

Postscript: Jared Bernstein offers a measured overview of the problems of Greece and the risks of financial contagion, MSNBC link."[The Greeks] have long suffered … far more from their treatment by others [than from their own mistakes.] If they decide to put a stop to that, we should not blame them." (Dr. Bernstein, I love your posts, but I wish you'd kill the weasel words. It's hard to pull short quotes when half the words are equivocal.)

Update: The Guardian, as the lede of an sympathetic article generally sympathetic to Germany and the Eurocrats, writes: "Berlin has delivered a blistering attack on Greece’s beleaguered radical prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, accusing him of lying to his own people and seeking scapegoats for the country’s misery everywhere but in his own ranks." Translation, I think: "You made me hit you. Don't make me hit you again."