EU

Wednesday Morning: Adulting is Hard

While looking for Wednesday, I discovered there’s a video short series based on a grownup version of Wednesday Addams character. Cute, though from Wednesday’s POV becoming an adult isn’t all the fun one might expect.

So much for those carefree days when one could leave all the bad news and difficult choices to parental figures. It was all an illusion there were ever any grownups in charge.

Playstation moves to U.S. as Sony melds and migrates interactive entertainment divisions
What’s this really all about? Does this consolidation of Sony Computer Entertainment with Sony Network Entertainment and their move to California as Sony Interactive Entertainment allow better collaboration with Sony Pictures? Or does this allow for easy access by U.S. government entities suspicious of Playstation Network as a potential terrorist communications platform? Or is this a means to secure a leaky business by pulling more of Sony Group inside a single network? Sony explained SIE will “retain and expand PlayStation user engagement, increase Average Revenue Per Paying Users and drive ancillary revenue” — but that sounds like fuzzy vapor to me.

Bent spear? Oh, THAT bent spear…” Air Force review omits report of damage to nuke
I hope like hell President Obama has already called someone on the carpet and asked for heads to roll. Not reporting a “bent spear” event in a review of U.S. nuclear force isn’t exactly a little boo-boo. A “bent spear” in 2007 spawned a rigorous investigation resulting in a large number of disciplinary actions including resignations and removals from duty.

Zika virus: risk to U.S. mounting
There have been more non-locally transmitted cases of Zika virus here in the U.S. as another Latin American country warns women against pregnancy. Not to worry, it’s not like Ebola, relax, we’ve been told…except that we’ve seen this playbook before, where there were casualties as a pandemic began before either federal or state agencies took effective action. In the case of Zika, we may not see mortalities; casualties may be serious birth defects following a rapid spread with mosquito season. Fortunately President Obama has now asked for more accelerated research into Zika, though we may not see results before Aedes mosquito season hits its stride this year. For more information about this virus, see the CDC’s Zika website.

EU seeks hefty fines in draft law to overhaul auto industry regulations
At fines of €30,000 (£22,600) per vehicle found in violation, the EU might get some results out of proposed regulations governing automotive emissions standards. But the problem hasn’t been the lack of EU standards — it’s the inability to validate and extract compliance when so many member states are willing to turn a blind eye to their constituent manufacturers’ failings in order to preserve employment. Can the EU make these fines stick once new regulations are passed?

By the way, Consumer Reports published a really snappy overview of the VW emissions scandal. Worth a read.

Con Edison’s creaky website leaves online customers exposed
You’d think by now after all of the successful hacks on business and government websites that companies would catch a clue. But no, not in the case of Con Edison. Read the article here so you know what to watch for at other websites; all of ConEd’s site’s links do not open fully encrypted connections. This is a really easy thing to fix, should be the very first thing every single business allowing customers to log in or pay online should check.

Heading out to act like an adult for the next eight hours. Maybe less.

European Neoliberals Crushed the Leftist Party in Greece

Two of the most depressing interviews I have ever seen are the Jacobin interview with Stathis Kouvelakis and the New Statesman interview with Yanis Varoufakis in the wake of the Greek referendum and the capitulation of Prime MInister Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party. Kouvelakis is a member of the Left Platform in Syriza, Tsipras’ governing party. Until shortly after the referendum, Varoufakis was the finance minister, charged with leading the negotiations with the Troika. I thought Tsipras was trying to fulfill his promises during the elections that he would be able to get an acceptable deal from the Troika and remove the burden of austerity from the Greek economy, while rationalizing Greece’s weak governmental institutions. Varoufakis confirms this. But then came capitulation.

Varoufakis says that he prepared for the negotiations like an academic. He worked out his theoretical position and the data that supports his view that Greece would never be able to recover from under the strain of the austerity and other demands of the Troika. He claims that the Troika knows that is true, though they won’t admit it, and at least initially there was personal sympathy with the problems of Greece and the positions he was taking. This is his major point:

HL: You’ve said creditors objected to you because “I try and talk economics in the Eurogroup, which nobody does.” What happened when you did?
YV: It’s not that it didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.

He says that Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister, took the position that the previous government had agreed to the austerity program, and the Greeks were stuck with it. When Varoufakis asked if debtor countries should just dispense with elections, Schauble was silent, which Varoufakis interprets to mean it would be great if that could be done. Then came the referendum, a smashing win for rejecting the austerity demands of the Troika. Varoufakis says he had a plan ready to get ready to exit the Euro, but Tsipras rejected it, and moved to capitulation.

So from this we can conclude that what we thought about Europe is true: it is a purely neoliberal state, one in which creditors cannot suffer losses. Either the debtor pays or the taxpayers pay, but the creditors do not lose money. And, of course, by taxpayers, I mean the working class and any remaining middle class. The elites use their control over governments to make sure they don’t pay.

The interview with Kouvelakis makes it clear that this was purposeful. He tells us how it looked from the standpoint of the Left Platform, the leftist element of Syriza. He thinks that in June it became clear that the Troika was not negotiating in good faith, and were out to humiliate the people of Greece. Tsipras used the referendum to get himself out of the negotiating trap. He expected the referendum to win, not, as it did, to lose. The decisive factor was the decision by the ECB to force closure of Greek banks, which panicked people.

Kouvelakis says that the rightist wing of Syriza argued that the referendum would be perceived as a serious provocation by the Troika, and they were right. Syriza lost all its leverage, and was forced into humiliating surrender. Even so, Kouvelakis doesn’t have harsh words for Tsipras.

What I think actually happened was that Tsipras honestly believed that he could get a positive outcome by putting forward an approach centered on negotiations and displaying good will, and this also why he constantly said he had no alternative plan.

In this Kouvelakis agrees with Varoufakis. He also agrees that their approach was logical and lucid, to use his words. The weakness was their belief in Left Europeanism. Tsipras and Varoufakis both thought that this was a negotiation between partners in the European project.

But what actually happened was akin to a fight between two people, where one person risks the pain and damage of losing a toe and the other their two legs.

So it is true that there was a lack of elementary realism and that this was directly connected with the major problem that the Left has to face today — namely, our own impotence.

Kouvelakis tells us that this was a class vote. The working class supported the no vote, and the wealthy supported the yes side. The age group 18-24 voted no overwhelmingly. These groups see the EU as hostile, and they are anti-European. They were betrayed by the people they elected.

Kouvelakis says that the yes supporters, the old guard in Greek politics, collapsed in the wake of the loss. But then Tsipras revived them with his call for a council of political leaders. These people decided to treat the referendum as a vote to continue negotiations, even for capitulation. Kouvelakis feels betrayed by this reversal. After a discussion of internal Greek procedures, Kouvelakis says that the Left Platform will leave Syriza, and that the rightist wing and the rest of the group will more or less unite with those rejected parties to form a party of national unity.

That’s so depressing it’s hard to write. One of the EU demands was replacement of the elected government of Greece. It is a direct rejection of democracy. The EU refuses to work with anyone outside the neoliberal consensus, meaning leftist parties. Syriza was never a revolutionary leftist party, more of a highly reform oriented leftist group, and that’s how Kouvelakis sees the Left Platform. So, by removing the Left Platform, Syriza is now nothing more than the Third Way Democrats: economic destruction of human beings with a nice smile. Large groups of Greeks were willing to do battle with the neoliberals, but they were betrayed, and their misery will go on indefinitely. The destruction of human lives is just the way things are in neoliberal lands. Greece’s young people and its working class are losers, the markets have spoken, and they will be sacrificed. It’s enough to gag a maggot.

Minority Report on Ukraine, or What’s Venezuela Got to Do with It?

I freely admit to being the oddest of the quadruplets in the Emptywheel sensory deprivation pool, producing the quirky minority report from time to time.

Which may explain the following graphic with regard to current geopolitical tensions.

[Source: Google Trends and Google Finance]

[Source: Google Trends and Google Finance]

 As you can see, not every trending burp in the news about either Venezuela or Ukraine produced a corresponding bump in the fossil fuel market. Some trend-inducing news may have nothing at all to do with energy. It’s quite possible I may not have captured other key businesses as some of them don’t trade publicly, or are don’t trade in a manner readily captured by Google Finance.

But there are a few interesting relationships between news and price spikes, enough to make one wonder what other values may spike with increased volatility in places like Venezuela (which has the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the western hemisphere), and Ukraine (which lies between the EU and the largest natural gas deposits in the world, and the world’s eighth largest oil reserves).

Of course there’s an additional link between these two disparate countries. Both of them have already seen similar upheavals in which the U.S. played a role — Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.

When someone made noise about an Afghan Muslim being a key locus of the latest unrest in Ukraine, I couldn’t help but think of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline for natural gas which has yet to be realized, primarily for a lack of adequate political will among nation-states with a vested interest in its success.

It also made me think of news reports from this past summer when Turkmenistan, sitting on the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, expressed a readiness to export gas to Europe. This would cut into Russia’s sales, but not for a few years, requiring continuation of existing relationships for the next three to five years. Note the pipelines, existing and planned on the following U.S. State Department map (date unclear, believed to be post-2006).*

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Future Forecast: Roundup of Scattered Probabilities

[The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, c. 1902]

While thinking about forecasting the future, I collected a few short-term predictions for the year ahead worth kicking around a bit. After gazing deeply into my crystal ball, I added a few predictions of my own.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center at NOAA forecasts below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest along with higher than average temperatures in the Southwest through Summer 2013. Looks like rainfall across areas stricken by drought in 2012 might be normal, but this will not overcome the soil moisture deficit.

My prediction: Beef, pork, and milk prices will remain high or increase — and that’s before any weirdness in pricing due to changes in federal regulations after the so-called “fiscal cliff.” And the U.S. government, both White House and Congress, will continue to do even less than the public expects when it comes to climate change.

The European Commission predicted the UK will lead economic recovery in the EU with a meager 0.9% growth rate anticipated in 2013. The southern portion of the EU is expected to continue to struggle while the rest of the EU stagnates.

My prediction: More mumbling about breaking up the EU, with just enough growth to keep at bay any action to that effect. Silvio Berlusconi will continue to provide both embarrassment and comedic relief to Italy and the EU. (What are they putting in that old freak’s pasta? Or are they doping his hair color?)

In September, the Federal Reserve Bank forecast slowish growth in the U.S. through 2013. Did they take into account the lame duck status of an already lethargic and incompetent Congress in this prediction? Did the Fed Reserve base this forecast on a Romney or an Obama win? This forecast seems oddly optimistic before November’s election.

My prediction: All bets are off now, since the over-long backbiting and quibbling over the so-called fiscal cliff has eroded public sentiment. Given the likelihood of increased food prices due to the 2012 global drought, the public will feel more pain in their wallet no matter the outcome of fiscal cliff negotiations, negatively affecting consumer sentiment. The only saving grace has been stable to lower gasoline prices due to lower heating oil demand–the only positive outcome of a rather warm winter to date.

An analyst forecast Apple sales of iPads will equate nearly 60 percent of the total tablet market in 2013. As an owner of AAPL stock, I rather liked this. Unfortunately, that prediction was made in October, before the release of the iPad Mini. The stock market had something entirely different to say about the forecast–more like a bitchslap to the tune of nearly $200 decline per share between October and year-end. *Ouch!* Not all of that was based on the market’s rejection of the forecast on iPad Mini sales, though; much of that fall was related to the gross failure of Apple’s map application launched alongside the iPhone 5.

My prediction: I will continue to bemoan the failure to sell some AAPL stock in September 2012, while many of you will continue to buy Apple products. I thank you buyers in advance for trying so hard to boost my spirits and bolster my kids’ college fund in the coming year. Oh, and Google Maps will continue to eat at market share; it’s going to be a while before Apple recovers from its epic map failures. Conveniently, there’s GOOG stock in the kids’ college fund, too.

What about you? Are any of these predictions worth the pixels with which they’re presented?  What do you predict for the year ahead? Do tell.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @DougKahn I don't go there often either, every now and then from a Twitter link. It is just a hot mess of bullshit mostly
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bmaz @DougKahn Daily Kos
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bmaz @DougKahn Deal. It's been too long.
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bmaz @DougKahn Well, if and when you come back, let me know. we shall have drinks and food.
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bmaz @DougKahn You in Scottsdale any more?
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bmaz @watertigernyc A tweet from the elusive HydroKitty!!!!
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bmaz @DougKahn Heh, well there are always the 76ers. Oh, wait....
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bmaz @DougKahn Hey Doug! How you been?
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bmaz @JWGOP @cspanvl Good luck tomorrow
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emptywheel @RobertJMccoy1 He did, in the January debate, as I was reminded.
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