Thursday, 27 September 2012

Guess Book

A Musician sent a note to Angels:

This week is international book week. There is a game going round in internet:

take the book nearest to you, open it at p.52 and post the 5th sentence, without indicating author or title. (if you google international book week 2012 you'll see)
I would add, can anyone guess what the books are?

I got:
He gave himself utterly to whichever composer happened to have made the most powerful impact on him at any given moment, sometimes getting under the skin of his model to such an extent that it is virtually impossible to distinguish the work of the pupil from that of the master.

Also, from my current story book:
Sometimes the isle was thick with savages, with whom we fought; sometimes full of dangerous animals that hunted us; but in all my fancies nothing occurred to me so strange and tragic as our actual adventures.

My friends have guessed the first, but not the second (which is easier!)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Political Elites and the Crisis in Democracy

'Palermo prosecutors are to examine the budget of the Sicilian regional assembly and documents pertaining to spending by party caucuses as part of a probe opened on Tuesday. The investigation comes in the wake of funding scandals involving parties from both sides of the political fence in Milan, Rome and other cities.', reports the Italian news agency Ansa.

Italian prosecutors have extensive powers -  to open investigations, search for evidence, require witnesses to testify, and require co-operation from public bodies and private individuals -  equally, the Sicilian mafia has a long record of murdering them, and officers of the police and Carabinieri, if they try to use them.

The extent of the corruption and misuse of public funds by political parties and by political elites, laid bare in current, similar investigations in the regions and nationally,  has rendered political parties in Italy  almost paralysed by their inability to explain themselves to the general public.

Despite very high levels of public approval of his leadership during his premiership,  Mario Monti consistently states he will not stand at the general elections in May next year.  He has not said he would refuse any invitation to form an administration and,  as he himself has pointed out, he doesn't need to be elected to Parliament: he is a senator for life. 


Chief Inspector Jason Tingley said: “What is being played out is a romantic contact. There is nothing to say we or her family should be concerned about the level of safety from him.” (reported in the Sun).

Imagine being 15 years old, in a country where you cannot speak the language, with a man you barely know (despite whatever relationship he has imposed upon you) without money or contact with any part of your family and everyday life support system.  You are completely dependent for your well being on someone who has removed you from every means of support and protection.

This is not 'a romantic contact' and there is everything to say and 'be concerned about  the level of safety from him', and the circumstances  this child is in.  If the local authority, the school, and the police view are represented by Tingley's understanding of the seriousness of all this perhaps parents might consider if they want to send their children to school at all.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Good-Looking Gucci

Isn' it lovely?  She looks like a provocative cardinal.

And this is the  everlasting outfit.  Years and years of happy wearing here. I wouldn't give it up until it fell into holes.

The others at Milan  are OTT but Gucci, without chains or initials,  was  covetable beyond dreams. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

Watching Them Putting Themselves About a Bit

Face to face meetings seem to be fashionable.  European member-state prime ministers and presidents are popping in to talk to one another with an assiduity rarely seen before.  Merkel, Monti and Hollande are visiting or being visited by Greece, Spain, the UK,  Ireland, various high-ranking ECB and Brussels figures - and  the impression is that it is Germany, France, Italy who are initiating all the activity.

The American Ambassador to Italy remarked last week that President Obama calls Monti regularly for updates on the EU and Eurozone affairs; the President regards Mr Monti as a reliable and expert source, according to the Ambassador.  They - the Italian prime minister and the US president - are to meet on the margins of the upcoming UN General Assembly it has been announced (which is not to say that the Italian prime minister intends to pursue the American president through the UN building till he has him cornered in the kitchens, as did the United Kingdom prime minister a couple of years ago).

None of these discussions seem to be possible by phone or some other remote link.  One wonders who they think will be listening. Of course all states have deviant sectors and services - Italian post-War history is riddled with them and their terrible doings - so there's no reason not to assume other nation states are not equally heterogeneous in their power structures.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


'Female soldiers should take pregnancy tests before heading to war, military experts said tonight, as a British servicewoman who unknowingly gave birth prepared to fly home from Afghanistan'

Short of being unconscious, no woman has unknowingly given birth.  Ever.

The inability to spell, punctuate, place words in the correct order and the lack of command of standard English generally is rendering English language media laughable. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Supreme Court Judgment

Italy's Supreme Court has confirmed the convictions of dozens of US and Italian officials who were tried, in Milan in 2009, for the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric, shortly before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The victim was kidnapped in the street in broad daylight, bundled into a van, taken to Aviano airforce base where he was brutalised, then rendered to Egypt where he was tortured in various disgusting ways.

Twenty-three US officials were convicted, the most high-profile being former CIA officers Robert Seldon Lady and Sabrina de Sousa, as well as Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano. Lady was given the heaviest sentence of nine years imprisonment, while de Sousa, Romano, and the other Americans—Monica Adler, Gregory Asherleigh, Lorenza Carrera, Drew Channing, John Duffin, Vincent Faldo, Raymond Harbaough, James Harbison, Ben Amar Harty, Cynthia Logan, George Purvis, Pilar Rueda, Joseph Sofin, Michalis Vasiluou, Eliana Castaldo, Victor Castellano, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Anne Lidia Jenkins, and James Kirkland—got seven years. The agents' terms were lengthened from 5-8 years to 7-9 years in December 2010.

 The  court found three US officials not guilty because they had diplomatic immunity: the CIA’s former Rome station chief Jeff Castelli ( the abduction and rendition was his “brainchild”) the former first secretary at the US embassy in Rome Ralph Russomando, and former second secretary Betnie Medero.

Some agents of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI were not convicted. The officials, including the former head of SISMI Nicolo Pollari, had evidence against them suppressed on the grounds of state secrecy.  Their retrial was ordered.  More junior officers had their convictions confirmed.

The CIA agents were tried in contumacia. Their defence lawyers argued that they were not guilty as they were only obeying orders.

Should they be found in Europe again they will be arrested under European Arrest Warrants that have been issued for them all. The convicted have been ordered to pay over a million euros of damages to the victim of the extraordinary rendition. Properties in Italy of those convicted have been ordered to be confiscated.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Judging for Ourselves

Here is what the German Constitutional Court actually said.  Levels of bad faith/ignorance/misrepresentation/lies in the media and its representations of the European Central Bank's actions/ intentions/hubris etc.,  can be measured directly.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Starting to Froth at the Mouth

The media, particularly the English-speaking media, are becoming faintly insulting in their repeated suggestions that only the German Constitutional Court ruling on the ESM has prevented the European Central Bank from overstepping its mandate.

As Mr Schaeuble (reported in Bloomberg) remarked:  the German court’s decision has not limited the ECB’s power to buy bonds,  its mandate does that. “There is no doubt” the ECB is holding to its independent mandate and there is no reason to assume it will overstep that. 

Brush Up Your German

The German Parliament must have access to all information feeding into decisions by the ESM on bail outs.  The Deputies must sanction such bail outs and thus need all the information covered by Article 34 of the ESM treaty; Article 34  defines what are the  'professional secrets' of the negotiators and  constrains  ministers, ex-ministers, present and past members of the ESM to uniformly keep mum.  The Court finds this  unacceptable. So we can all go to the Bundestag website and have a look at what went on.   That is if the Bundestag chooses to vote to reveal what it learns.  And they do, so far.

They published details on Ireland's bail outs, and on Spain's banks,  that both countries' political elites were hiding from their electorates.  As the Corriere della Sera notes, the Constitutional Court underlines that this is  the people's money, not governmental largesse, and its uses must be open to scrutiny.

Sooooo attractive, a codified constitution and a constitutional court to interpret and enforce it.  They were looking good in red, too.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

What will the Constitutional Court's "But' entail?

Second-guessing the German constitutional court, or discussing what they 'ought' to rule is a scary thought.  Much of the discussion in the English-speaking  media has been very down on a ruling that finds the ESM in keeping with the German constitution.  At best there seems to be a demand for an overbearing 'But' added to a grudging 'It just squeaks by'.

Angels would like to hear proposals for constitutional changes, both in the EU and in Germany.  That would be much more constructive.

The German Consitutional Court has given a 'Yes' to the ESM.

The German constitutional court has reserved the right  to an assessment of the implications of OMTs at a later, unspecified date.  Much more important than exceeding the 190 billion euros needing a vote in the German parliament.  At 191 billion euros Angels would want oversight and voting too.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

I Don't Want to be Saved

What is it we are supposed to being saved from?  The climate?  It's truly marvellous: cool evenings, hot, sunny days, occasional outbursts of heavy rain that bring out the mushrooms of every kind of deliciousness.  Which brings us to the food.  Any complainants about Italian food are seriously under-informed about what is on offer.  The state education system?  Students flocked back to their clean classrooms, well under thirty to a class, equipped with the latest fashion in satchels, digital diaries, carefully chosen exercise books and folders with this year's designs, text books available in either printed format or online with hyper links and constant updating, with highly qualified teachers in one of the most sought-after jobs in the country (despite their endemic complaints about wages). The health service is running production lines for the most in-demand operations like heart bypasses and other conditions resulting from widespread smoking in the over 60s (now avoided without any of the elf'n'safety bullying that goes on in the UK) and is otherwise keeping us all ticking along nicely.   Everyone has come back from the sea or the mountains remarking that they've had a great time and thank Goodness they didn't have to go to Thailand or Timbuctu this year because there is greater charm and restfulness in  villeggiatura than in white-water rafting or conquering Everest.  Young Italians are leaving for their gap year in London before taking up their place in some of the best universities in Europe (despite the rankings handed out by the Chinese - yet another example of ill-informed rating  agencies -  La Sapienza and the Bocconi are delivering world movers and shakers more than most).  [New paragraph? ed.] Takes another deep breath.

The bank at the bottom of the hill has even made the Sole 24 Ore for its helpful lending policies  to middle-sized and family businesses and rings up to offer advice on what to do with the reinvestment of funds from maturing bonds - and the profits, there is a good side to high returns.  The whole place has lumpy mattresses from the gold bars tucked under.  And, purely anecdotally, the factories re-opened in July and we've lost the gardener and the drystone wall builder which is nice for them but what about my garden?  Rebuilding the terraces is going at a snail's pace now and I haven't got enough pickers recruited for the harvest. 

Factories that should have closed years ago have closed, but new ones are opening and new markets recruited for in-place skills and machinery.  Where once they manufactured gold chains for eastern markets now they manufacture baser chains for every kind of fashion use.  You'd be surprised at how much worked metal there is on cutting edge fashion items from hats to boots.

And it was packed in Siena cathedral when we went to look at the floors; wisely a booking had been made for lunch or we'd have been outside on the pavement with the strolling guitar-players encouraging us to sing Volare.

So what exactly is this Utopia we are being denied, this nightmare of economic and social degradation and collapse from which we need rescue?

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Only Way is Monti if Italy Takes a Bailout

Italy will need  a bailout argue the doomsayers and superficial analysts of the economic media. Actually Italy has always had debts.  Large debts, but stable.  After all, it has to carry the under-developed South and it can hardly divest itself of half its own terrain - that would be geopolitical madness even if it would instantly get rid of the debt problem.  Same with Greece vis a vis Europe.  Debt is the cost of territory, essential territory for European security.
Italy doesn't really need a bailout but it would be a political game-changer if it used these superficial economic arguments to take one.  The conditionality demanded by the European Central Bank would wipe out the entire political programme of the Partito Democratico, that unpleasant alliance of aging communists and their trade union masters,  socialists and  Shirley-Williamsy former Christian Democrats, LGBT activists, and social pressure groups with partial and idiosyncratic agendas.

After the bailout there would be no anti austerity programme, no alternative route to growth, no going back to the berlusconian free for all  and no holds barred (sorry, didn't mean to be vulgar).  Italy has already been given an outline of what is required, in August 2011, by Trichet,  countersigned by the incoming ECB president.  Monti has concentrated on putting public finances in some sort of order.  He has already said that next must come the 'social forces' and the reconciliation of their demands with economic necessity.  A bailout would be the ideal backdrop to dealing with 'the social forces'.

Angels expects the advancing of the German model of the Grand Coalition, in Italy as well as in Germany, for  next year's parliamentary elections.   And the German model integration of trade unions into business and government; but if so, it's the death knell for the wilder shores of Italian politics and practise. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Childhood's End

Karellen has stepped out of the European Central Bank, the mother ship and, despite the webbed wings, cloven hooves, tail and horns,  his analysis of, and actions in, the eurozone have been accepted.  (Italian spread is now below 380.)

Article 18 of the founding treaty of the European Central Bank permits the purchase of the bonds of sovereign states;  such purchases will be unlimited, at the discretion of the ECB; the ECB will require the application of fiscal constraint in states seeking bond purchases; and any back-sliding on state undertakings will lead to no more bond purchases.  What happens then was not spelled-out but, as Karellen remarked:

Even before the Overlords came to Earth, the sovereign state was dying. They have merely hastened its end: no one can save it now--and no one should try.

In order to restore confidence, policymakers in the euro area need to push ahead with great determination with fiscal consolidation, structural reforms to enhance competitiveness and European institution building. 

Earthly, global institutions such as the IMF are more than welcome to join the ECB in its guidance of sovereign, member-states of the eurozone.

In the meanwhile growth will be slow to non-existent, inflation rising but contained.  It is up to the earthly [ie member-states, ed.]  powers to adjust their economies, and economic and financial institutions  to avoid the need for, or meet the requirements for, a bailout.

As You Were

Nothing unexpected will come from the press conference on measures to halt unjustified (by the underlying condition of their economies) spreads.  As the Bank of Italy has noted, the spread should be 200 not 400 (or worse).  Spain?  a bit shakier but not a lot.

It was settled at the beginning of August: the objectives are to end speculative frenzy centred on the collapse of the euro - it really is irreversible in terms of institutions, political settlements and contracts, it's not going to go away short of wholesale meltdown far beyond financial,  and economic, sectors in its effects -  and to deliver the ECB's monetary policy to all parts of the eurozone in something approaching equal measure.

Italian spread at under 400 now; the Euro rising strongly.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Real Conservatives

The Member of Parliament for Welwyn and Hatfield has been appointed chairman of the Conservative Party. 

Grant Shapps, who enjoys a well over 17,000 majority in a working people's constituency, represents the aspirational, meritocratic conservatism that is the answer to the sanctimonious authoritarianism of the modern Labour party.

Monday, 3 September 2012

It's the Politics, Stupid - not the Economics

At a closed session of the European Parliament Mario Draghi has stated that ECB bond purchases of 3 year bonds do not count as direct government assistance.

'Gli acquisti di titoli di Stato "fino a tre anni non costituiscono un finanziamento monetario agli stati", perché si tratta di un finanziamento "troppo breve per essere classificato come creazione di moneta"' (La Repubblica )

Draghi also underlined that "gli acquisti dei titoli di Stato sul mercato secondario da parte della Bce rispettano "interpretazioni dei trattati". [the acquisitions of bonds on the secondary market by the ECB respect interpretations of the treaties.]

It has been remarkably unusual to hear the slightest gossip about the work that has been going on in the ECB this summer.  Part of the reason is that what is to be announced is already provided for in the Treaties, as has been repeatedly pointed out.  Media assertions that there would need to be fresh treaty provision which would be subject to member-state veto has been impervious to this reality and wholly falsely-based expectations of what might be going to be  attempted have been  raised.

The only comment heard here has been that we are in the hands of a remarkable politician and highly skilled diplomat: this is not really a financial problem but a political and sequencing problem. Mr Draghi is a fine economist but those are not the skills currently in use as the Eurozone negotiates the recession.


A winter reading list

Angels will start with:

Thomas Nagel (1974) ‘What is it Like to be a Bat?’

Not the faintest what it might deal with but the title is irresistible; followed by - if Nagel doesn't take all winter:

Wiggins  'Truth, Invention, and the Meaning of Life'

which would seem to cover just about everything. 

Of course, they might be making up all these titles.  Here on Angels,  we have a list of books waiting to be written.  Two of the better titles are:

'My Body as an Envelope and Other Stories'

 which falls under philosophy, and:

'Leave My Tears Alone'  a novel.