Monday, 30 January 2012

Who Votes?

Here is a fine piece of writing on why a new decision must be taken in the British Isles on whether to leave, or stay within,  the European Union. 

The use of referendums to capture wishes on major political issues is unattractive given the United Kingdom's  parliamentary democracy system.  But the referendum has become the rallying cry of the dissenters to continued membership of the EU, and arguably must be accepted as the best understood and, therefore, probably the most efficient way of reaching a national decision.

So it is with the issue of Scottish independence.

So who votes in these referendums?  Forceful arguments have been made for the whole of the electorate of the current United Kingdom to vote on Scottish separation from the Union.  The English have been particularly vociferous in declaring their wish to end the union with Scotland.

Mutatis mutandis, when the referendum is held on separation from the European Union of whatever remains of the United Kingdom,  the European Union member-states, too, should have a voice in deciding whether the UK stays or goes.

Looking at the Democratic Spread

European nation states that are facing financial tensions are those who most recently have had authoritarian regimes. Greece, the country in the worst position, has the weakest of democratic arrangements and was the most recently under the control of a military junta;  then Portugal, still feeling the after-effects of Salazar; Spain is coping better with its Franco hangover.

Italy has a rather different problem of central state weakness: it never has been able to fully assert its control of the criminal alternative governance that has held power in the South for so long and is now deeply entrenched in some northern regions.   Criminal governance is by definition authoritarian and outside the rule of law.  It doesn't have its own rule of law either, despite all the mystical novelettishness about rules of honour and shame and clan allegiances;  it is violence and arbitrary revenge that maintains criminal, authoritarian rule.

Risk, expressed through spreads and yields, is not measured by economic fundamentals alone, but by an inchoate response to democratic fundamentals - democratic representation, rule of law, constitutional arrangements and the institutions of their enforcement,  capacity to assert the will of the sovereign throughout the state.  In part this explains why Italy's yields and spread continue to fall less fast than those of Spain, despite the greater economic strength of Italy. 

Senator Monti has democratic consent to govern and enjoys constitutional propriety, but the rule of law is weak and under determined assault by criminals.  Moreover the consent of the political parties represented in Parliament is fragile.  Neither left nor right have competent or even charismatic leadership, nor sufficiently united objectives among coalitions of parties,  to wish to precipitate early elections.   Spain was fortunate that elections were due when they were, and the electorate was clear in its democratic delivery of a mandate.

The  suggestion that Greece should be commissariata is a crude response to Greece's post-colonels' political underdevelopment.  No-one could risk taking on Greek fiscal governance: apart from  the unlikelihood of being any more successful than the elected Parliament at imposing fiscal restraint measures,  there are no means to assert sovereign control for Greeks, never mind Germans.

It isn't just economic diversity and maturity  that makes the European Union - and specifically that more important part, the 24 nations of the eurozone -   a handful.   Our nation states have their own histories and political inheritances to integrate.     

Saturday, 28 January 2012

What a Schwab

'Davos' Schwab is given to presenting personally the most important speakers at the WEF in Switzerland.  Introducing one , if not the, of the most powerful bankers on the planet he went on and on:

"Italy is known for its cuisine, its fashion, " he maundered (in a week of all-round maundering that has bored everyone half to death with this failed 'meeting of the world's elite') "but not for its central bankers."

"Thank you, Klaus, for your kind words," said our hero crisply, with his usual impassivity of expression: and went on to deal with the financial crisis without further comment on the almost interminable drivel that was supposed to cover the discourtesy of  such stereotyping of Italian history and culture.

Italy does bankers really rather well, not to mention accountants, financial institutions, and money-lenders and manipulators various.

Friday, 27 January 2012

5.4 Richter. Liguria Trembles With the Northern Cities

Again the earthquakes have threatened the north of Italy.  (Milano, Parma, Venezia, Genova, Verona, Livorno, Bolzano, Torino, Perugia.)

It takes very little to fracture and shed the affreschi, to down the angels and the saints, the facades in marble and travertino, the stucco in all its elaborations and designs,   the physical expression of the Italian soul.

That soul has lent itself as the image of western culture. 

For some of us.

60-point Suicide Note by French Socialist Outstrips Even Michael Foot

Francois Hollande, socialist Leader, is gonna tax the rich until they squeak, he's gonna tax the banks and financial institutions till they flee France, he's gonna re-negotiate everything with Germany, possibly right back to ooooh - the nineteenth century, he's gonna make a lotta jobs for people -  young people - in the education system, he's gonna give everyone over 50 their pensions back, he's gonna tell the European Central Bank and Mario Draghi what's what and have European bonds, he's gonna stop austerity and usher in investment for growth and prosperity..... he says he's gonna 

..."do such things,
What they are yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth".

PS  It was like old times seeing photos of Gordon Brown at Davos with a strange, very wide, blue tie about his neck (rather than his collar) hanging down to below his knees.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Carnival Should Face the Music

"The US owner of the passenger liner wrecked off the Italian coast 12 days ago with the loss of up to 32 lives was accused last night of failing to take responsibility for the tragedy, as prosecutors shone a light on failed safety procedures.

Angry consumer groups are demanding to know why Micky Arison, the billionaire head of Costa Cruise's Miami-based parent company, Carnival Corporation, has failed to make an appearance on the island of Giglio, where passengers' bodies are still being dragged out of the wrecked Costa Concordia."

Chances are the Italian magistrates might drag him in front of them, and keep him safe until a lot of the questions about safety procedures, not to mention chains of command and responsibility have been answered.  Israeli-American citizens don't leave their hidey-holes  when lots of dead passengers, identified and unidentified, are filling the mortuaries of a country with a robust investigative and legal system, or floating in the polluted water inside a sunken ship.

On the Adriatic Plate

Most of northern Italy has been experiencing earthquakes since last night.  The strongest  so far was 4.9 on the Richter scale at 9 o'clock this morning, near Parma.  They're still going on.  The northern citta' d'arte (that's just about every northern city) have all been shaken; even Florence has been waving the upper floors of its taller buildings  today.

It's much more worrying than threats to the economy and the euro.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

To Lose Musicians is to Lose Part of Music Itself

Gustav Leonhardt, harpsichordist, organist and conductor, born 30 May 1928; died 16 January 2012

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

How to Speak Italian

  Capitano Gregorio de Falco telling the captain of the Concordia the difference between honour and dishonour  as he orders him back to his duty is exraordinary to listen to.

A Musician comments on the  previous post:

Dramatic text, eloquence of speech, impeccable pronounciation, force of delivery, variety in the speed of delivery to underline important moments, even beauty of tone: Capitain de Falco's call to Schettino contains all the ideals so dear to Count Bardi and the Florentine Camerata who aimed to restore the supremacy of speech over music, as in Greek tragedy, at the beginning of the 17th century.
Monteverdi developed the Genere Rappresentativo, more specifically recitar cantando (although there was not much variety in Capt. de Falco's tone so cannot really be called singing, still), taking it to great heights; there are moments when Capt. de Falco is reminiscent of Testo in the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda ("Salga a bordo..."), although of course he doesn't have the continuo instruments backing him.

Capitain de Falco gave the performance of a lifetime and he knew it ("Schettino sto registrando...").

For those who still haven't seen it this is the link with subtitles:

The text and interpretation are improvised, as is fitting with the style. His extraordinary performance has moved the whole of Italy: he is now being  hailed as a national hero.
18 January 2012 09:26

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Who Commands?

A ship at sea is commanded by its captain who has absolute power over those on board.  At least that's what underlies so many stories and adventures and, presumably, the concept of mutiny.  It is that absolute power and hence absolute responsibility that enables a dangerous environment to be effectively mastered.

That is what I'd always thought, if I thought about it at all.  But the reports of the shipwreck of the Concordia give another account of who commands.   There seems to have been a complete breakdown of responsibilities.   Having hit the Island of Giglio at 28 kilometres an hour, bringing the ship's speed instantly to 6 kilometres an hour (imagine being inside with no warning, not wearing your  seatbelt would take on forceful meaning) the captain is reported to have got on the phone to the director of marine operations of the company that owned the boat.  And stayed on the phone for three calls-worth plus a call from a retired former captain in Grosseto.  The Second Officer has gone down to the engine room and found it full of water - and all electrical power sources flooded - the only power was a small emergency generator elsewhere in the ship.  He tells the bridge that the ship is without any means of control.  And the captain gets on the phone again.

Time passes: the ship is still upright, it will remain so for nearly an hour, time enough to lower all the life boats.  After 40 minutes of drifting it is driven further onto  rocks and starts to tilt.  The other officers start the evacuation procedures although the captain is still   on the telephone, now denying to the Capitaneria di Livorno that the ship needs help.  He then leaves the ship with another (Greek) officer.

By this time the Carabinieri of Prato!!  (Prato is a few kilometres west of Florence, you couldn't get further from the sea in Italy if you tried) have declared the emergency.    The Capitaneria, having asserted their acquisition of authority over the ship, calls the captain of the Concordia  who is  now safely on the shore and orders him back onto the Concordia to take charge of the evacuation of the people on board.  He takes the first ferry to Porto Santo Stefano.

There seem to have  been two mutinies:  of the officers against the captain, and  of the captain against the Capitaneria.  And a ceding of authority to a commercial organisation, far from the shipwreck,  which was not helping with the timely provision of plans of the ship or accurate lists of those on board.  This is not just a matter of acts of bravado or cowardice or stupidity or  criminality.

Who commands a vessel in Italian waters, or any other waters, and to what laws are they answering?

AND (for those who understand Italian) here is the phone call asserting command (it starts a short way in).  The furious voice speaking in beautiful Tuscan is from the Capitaneria , the Neapolitan voice ordered to put its mouth in front of the telephone and speak up, is that of the captain of the Concordia

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Next Transition

Vienna can be regarded as the heart of 'old Europe'. The remarks made there by Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, seem to come with even greater weight, spoken in Vienna.    And when he is speaking of the political economy of introducing free markets, citizens of new and old Europe  pay attention.

The non-economic factors of economic reforms, as experienced in fundamental systemic change, create a multidimensional process.

"Politicians like me, who were actively involved in the Transition ...understood quickly that sophisticated theories of the optimal sequencing of reform measures prepared in the communist era both in our countries and in the West were practically of no use. ...complex systemic change couldn't be organised by a philosopher-king (nor by a group of academic economists)."

"...millions of finally free people... wanted to live without being planned and controlled by anyone and there was no way of stopping them doing so."

" was relatively easy to build a negative consensus..., to agree upon what we did not want, such as continue living under communism,... it was much more difficult to find a ...positive vision... where to go and how to get there. The genuine conflict of visions, a healthy process in a democracy...led to inconsistent, controversial and contradictory steps and measures ... overall systemic change is not an exercise in applied economics.
...changes started whether we wanted them or not, whether ... highly needed preconditions had been met or not... it was not possible to stop the spontaneous behaviour of millions of people... even had we wanted to.

...Our critics did not see that there were transformation measures with objectively different time requirements...The institutional framework and the rule of law have to evolve, they can't be "introduced". ... [Yet, at the same time] It was necessary to put forward at one moment a critical mass of reform measures in order to send a strong signal to the citizens of our countries that were ... determined to transform the country.   ...the rule was: whenever there was an opportunity -  to implement any measure ... [that was] prepared.

"...economic transitions of the 1990s vintage are neither repeatable, nor necessary now ... There is however, another inevitable transition Europe: the transition from die soziale Marktwirtschaft to free markets.  To achieve it would require similarly deep and radical changes, similar courage and risk-taking."

"... die soziale Marktwirtschaft  prefers social policy based on income redistribution to productive work.  It prefers free time and long holidays to hard work.  It prefers consumption to investments, debts to savings, security to risk-taking.  All of it is part of a broader civilizational and cultural problem, deeply rooted in the European continent or in most of its countries.  It cannot be exterminated overnight, it can't be changed as a result of one or another EU summit, it can't be changed by painless cosmetic changes.  It requires a deep systemic change, something structurally similar to the task we had to accomplish two decades ago in the moment of the fall of communism."

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sailing Close to the Wind - or 150 Metres from the Shore

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again - and they'll be gone next day!
If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more!
If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you "pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!
Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie -
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!
If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.

BBB is the New Black

Any country flaunting themselves in last year's AAAs and even AAs is not looking good.  Lit up like the Ponte Vecchio (as the Florentines say of the over-dressed and over be-jewelled) these countries are most unattractive for long term investment.  You wouldn't, for instance, marry one, would you?

Printing money and buying your own bonds is not hard, but future generations won't like to be descended from such flash profligates.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Monti in Berlin

The Chancellor of Germany welcomed the Prime Minister of Italy to Berlin this morning.  (There's something echoic in those words but the past is another country).  Italy's prime minister, in office for fewer than 60 days, is taking up Italy's place in European Union deliberations that was lost by Silvio Berlusconi until he, in turn, lost his parliamentary majority.

Senator Monti  has raised pensionable age and removed the indexation of pensions that are above 1,500 euros a month, and reduced access to pensions before  a pensionable age rising to 67; raised valuations for land and buildings taxes and reinstated first home taxation; raised VAT;  there are other, less extensive measures.   The  fall in the Italian deficit currently being registered results from his predecessor Tremonti's measures, senator Monti is piling on even more pain.

Under discussion in Berlin is growth; no further cuts will be inflicted in Italy, though he is busy, even as he inspects soaking wet German soldiers in front of the German Chancery, removing ring-fenced privilege from trades unionists, professionals, and service providers of all sorts.

A maestro of the art of waffling,  (German speakers may prefer to go to Die Welt) senator Monti has been  unspecific on Italy's requirements from Germany but there must be on the agenda: 
 - Raising the capitalisation of the EFSF (European Financial Stability Fund)
 - Agreement to the issue at least on a limited scale and for special public investment purposes of European Union bonds
 - To allow formally or informally a greater role to the ECB (European Central Bank) in the financing of euro sovereign debt
 - Measures to reflate the German economy
 - A slowing in the rate of reduction of the Italian debt/GDP ratio
 - Soliciting more generous support for the financial transactions tax (he is Tobin's pupil, after all)

They have a lot to discuss - they were still talking when the One O'clock News finished. 


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

If Not Now, When?

Cries that a financial transaction tax can only function when it is a global tax are correct in economic terms but the ascendency of politics over economics is increasing.  The politics of a financial transactions tax imposed within the European Monetary Union (both full and candidate members) is compelling, particularly when it is combined with the requirement that clearing-houses handling euro-denominated derivatives are based in a euro country; politically compelling for the European Union, anyway, 

It may not be economically ideal but it drives the UK and its globalist rather than European agenda further from European decision-taking.

Never has it been more urgent for the UK to re-cast its relationships and obligations to the European Union. For while the threats to UK stability - grotesque debt levels, constitutional instability, European isolation, and reduction in the attractiveness of it financial activity climate are still just that - threats, the real bringing into being of uncertainty brings, as well, its fellows, low investment and lack of confidence.

Forget the arguments about nation statehood, links with the rest of the world, atlanticist  and Commonwealth ties.  Europe is not good for an off-shore state dependent upon its financial services industry and the UK government should be abandoning its dated attempts to influence European policy and doing far more to build a road to the exit.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Another European Union Threat: Scottish Independence

The fragmentation of federalised member-states is not acceptable to European Union policy.  Certainly there is a regional policy that breaks nation-state borders: bits of England subsumed into northern France; bits of north-eastern Europe grouped together regardless of borders....

Until more stable political union, though, individual member-states may not, ever, be encouraged in break-up into their constituent parts and thus thwarting the regionalisation policies of the EU.

Scotland is an enormous threat to all this.  The UK is unique in having proper countries as its regions; and Scotland presents the most challenging and realistic advance towards independent statehood (and might even seek independent EU membership).  This is not what the European Union is for.  The EU is for administratively convenient and historically destructive zones - not the re-affirmation of local identities, unapproved policy goals, and  democratic responsiveness.

As the dead Labour Party marshalls its House of Lords zombies to disrupt Scottish expressions of individuality (finding themselves without the mass of Scottish Westminster MPs is to be dead and buried for Labour), the Conservatives conform to their EU directives - no nationalist-rooted fragmentation - and to their own EU sustenance rules - no referendums of any kind, ever, in case an example is established for all of the UK voting to leave their noxious relationship with the European Union, and as the Liberal Democrats wonder how to stop losing the very few seats they have managed to retain on the edges of the UK, we have temporary  common cause.

A cross-party consensus, no less,  using the undemocratic and brownian-Labour  stuffed House Of Lords (sniggers, Lords indeed) has risen from the stagnant pond of political after-life that is the UK democracy's Upper House of Parliament, to take the high ground (more sniggers) against  Scottish freedom to choose how it is ruled and settles its affairs democratically.    The EU wants none of it; the Labour party wants none of it; the Conservative and Liberal coalition wants none of it; doubtless the hereditary (this is 2012 but feudal structures reign) monarchy wants none of it.  But the greatest of these is the European Union.  There will be no encouragement to Catalonia, Corsica, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Brittany, the Basques or any other, least of all Northern Ireland, attempt to set up alone or rejoin a lost future.

It will all be cast in the language of UK constitutional practice  but Scotland is not going to get away with disturbing ever-closer union.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Hungary: the Real Threat to Europe

Angels  refers readers to the horror that is developing in Hungary.

Returning to Vienna, on 13 January, it will certainly be worth asking also about the effects of Hungary's moral meltdown (which is causing its economic disaster) upon the Polish and Czech economies.   Because the governance of Europe is expressed through the nation states of which it is made, necessarily regional cultural and historical links cause the 'contagion' that has dominated the media over the Mediterranean member states in the  run up to Christmas.  Now it is the turn of eastern Europe and, once again, without justification of economic fundamentals in some of the affected states.   Investors are afraid of some kinds of politico/cultural and historical identities.

Which only goes to show that Marx is again - sigh - wrong.  Politics is not a superstructure generated by the economic base.  Politics is the public face of private morality.  And as Hungarians have demonstrated so horribly, democracy springing from a vile cultural mindset can instal quite evil regimes.

Fortunately democracy's means of expression range further than just  voting: from the withholding of civil consent to civil  war, with every stage in between.   Currently  Hungary is enjoying the democratic expressions of media outrage, letters of protest, mass demonstration, hunger strike, appeals to external democratic support from other European democratic states, and international economic pressure.  Nevertheless,  from Hungary rises a terrible miasma of  the central European  past that we had thought to bury in the cataclysm of 1945.

Primarily the European Union is not the imposition of a single European order: more importantly it is a bulwark against the atavistic European racialism that led to the Holocaust.  England, by the grace of God and its own determined morality,  is free of guilt for what was done to millions and millions of fellow citizens in the countries of continental Europe; but in the English rejection of the Union into which they have been tricked by their own politicians for their politicians' gain, they should have the greater grace to be aware of what that Union  stands firm against, and which in Hungary  is trying to rise again.