Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Swiss Left wins National vote against cuts in pension benefits

by whataboutbob Mon Mar 8th, 2010 at 03:50:21 AM EST

I was really wondering if the Swiss people would vote against their own best interests and do what ALL the politically Right and far-Right wing parties would told them to: To lower the amount of Social Security an old person will receive in retirement. (!!) The only parties to fight this referendum were the Social Democrats, Greens and the Labor Unions (UNIA, etl al).

BUT!! Much to my surprise and delight, the Swiss people slapped down the Swiss Parliament and Right Wing parties...HARD!


Swiss Left wins National vote against cuts in pension benefits

Voters have overwhelmingly rejected a reform of the occupational pension scheme in an upset for the government and a majority in parliament. (...)

Final results show nearly 73 per cent of voters (nationwide) dismissing a cut in pension benefits. Turnout was on average 45 per cent.

The proposed reductions, agreed by a majority in parliament last year, were challenged to a referendum by a broad coalition of consumer groups, trade unions and centre-left political parties.

"The verdict is a clear signal to the government and parliament to maintain a solid social security system," said the Social Democratic Party.

Paul Rechsteiner, president of the Trade Union Federation, said it showed that voters were not prepared to accept the expensive bureaucracy of insurance companies and excessive manager bonuses.

YES!! Thank you to the Left and the Labor Unions! And my hats off to the Swiss people who voted independently and for their best interests! Social justice wins the day!

Comments >> (4 comments)

Sahara Desert Greening?

by whataboutbob Fri Sep 4th, 2009 at 05:26:42 AM EST

I stumbled on this intriguing article published in the The National Geographic that reports there has been heavier than usual rainfall in parts of Northern Africa, with interesting results:

Images taken between 1982 and 2002 revealed extensive regreening throughout the Sahel, according to a new study in the journal Biogeosciences. (...)

The transition may be occurring because hotter air has more capacity to hold moisture, which in turn creates more rain, said Martin Claussen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, who was not involved in the new study. "The water-holding capacity of the air is the main driving force," Claussen said.

While satellite images can't distinguish temporary plants like grasses that come and go with the rains, ground surveys suggest recent vegetation change is firmly rooted. In the eastern Sahara area of southwestern Egypt and northern Sudan, new trees--such as acacias--are flourishing, according to Stefan Kröpelin, a climate scientist at the University of Cologne's Africa Research Unit in Germany. "Shrubs are coming up and growing into big shrubs. This is completely different from having a bit more tiny grass," said Kröpelin, who has studied the region for two decades.

In 2008 Kröpelin--not involved in the new satellite research--visited Western Sahara, a disputed territory controlled by Morocco. "The nomads there told me there was never as much rainfall as in the past few years," Kröpelin said. "They have never seen so much grazing land." (...)

"Now you have people grazing their camels in areas which may not have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years. You see birds, ostriches, gazelles coming back, even sorts of amphibians coming back," he said. "The trend has continued for more than 20 years. It is indisputable."

That's interesting news! There is actually a return of both plant and animal life! I wonder how this weather and environment change will impact Europe??

Comments >> (66 comments)

Dadaab Refugee Camp: My visit (2009 update)

by whataboutbob Mon Jul 27th, 2009 at 05:33:10 AM EST

Updated information: In August of 2008, I was offered an opportunity by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) - Refugee Sports Program, to go on a mission to visit the refugee camps of Dadaab, Kenya. UNHCR is mandated to supply shelter and food to people fleeing their home countries due to conflicts or disasters, and therefore financial support for sports and education programs for children and youth comes only after these basic life necessities are provided. Consequently, there is now a campaign to fund organized sports/play, education and vocational training programs independently, so that children and youth in refugee camp settings will be guaranteed sports and education activities, no matter what the latest crisis that UNHCR must respond to (to learn more, go to: www.Ninemillion.org). More below

Brought across with a slight edit by afew

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Solar power from the Sahara?

by whataboutbob Wed Jul 22nd, 2009 at 05:52:54 AM EST

A few years back here on ET, someone wrote a diary about how we could power Europe through solar collection in the Sahara (who are you out there??). I thought it was a great and smart idea at the time.  Well a few days ago the Financial Times posted an article about how this idea is now being officially developed:

FT: Solar power plants planned for the Sahara

Around a dozen companies are set to launch a renewable energy initiative on Monday that its backers claim could within a decade provide Europeans with electricity generated from the Sahara - at a cost of €400bn ($557bn). Munich Re, the German insurer, Deutsche Bank, utilities RWE and Eon and industrial conglomerate Siemens are among the bluechip names that will form a company to explore the technical and geopolitical challenges of peppering the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East with solar mirrors.

By joining together hundreds of solar thermal power plants and wind farms with high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission cables under the Mediterranean sea, the founders of the Desertec Industrial Initiative hope one day to supply 15 per cent of Europe's electricity needs.

Concentrating solar power plants use the sun's heat to generate electricity. Hundreds of mirrors focus the sun's rays on to a receiver containing a heat transfer fluid, such as oil. This heat energy is used to produce steam which drives a turbine, much like in a traditional power station. Unlike photovoltaic solar cells, CSP plants are able to generate electricity at night or on cloudy days, by storing the heat they produce.

And today comes the news, from WSJ:

Group of 12 European companies agreed to push forward on a solar-power project intended to feed electricity to Europe from the Sahara.

You heard it here at ET First (I'll try and track down that prescient diary...)

Update: Our original writer about Desertec stepped forward - the article was World Energy 2.0 by Melo written on June 25th, 2007. (h/t to Melo!!)

diary rescue

Comments >> (52 comments)

A developing Goldman-Sachs scandal?

by whataboutbob Mon Jul 13th, 2009 at 09:53:05 AM EST

From one in a recent series of Daily Kos diaries by bobswern

DKos Diary Reverberates Throughout Wall St. (w/update) there is this eye-catching quote:

While the Street is percolating with anger and curiosity about "High Frequency Trading" there is also frustration and astonishment that the media, regulators and our duly elected are not addressing what could be the biggest financial abuse story of our times, if not history.

Kind of catches ones attention, don't it?

Not being well versed in things regarding the economy and the stock market, I defer to the resident wizards here at Eurotrib to better elaborate what this means in the discussion section, but I for one am watching to see if anything happens with this one, of if the masters of the universe put this down before it explodes.

See below for a more detailed description:

Read more... (49 comments, 502 words in story)

Roubini: 2009 Global Economic Outlook - so far

by whataboutbob Fri Apr 24th, 2009 at 04:28:51 AM EST

I'm not sure if this is Roubini's blog, but he posts here at the RGE Monitor regularly, and I think this is a good economic resource for us (especially as Roubini has predicted most of the financial crisis accurately). From today:

The global economy is in the middle of a synchronized contraction that will push global growth into negative territory in 2009 for the first time in decades. This will be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the worst global economic downturn in decades.  Global trade volumes face their sharpest contractions of the postwar era - trade is expected to contract 12% in 2009 due to the severe and prolonged global demand slump, excess capacity across supply chains and the continued crunch in trade finance.

Many analysts and commentators are pointing out that the second derivative of economic activity is turning positive (i.e. economies are still contracting but a slower rather than accelerated rate) and that green shoots of an economic recovery are blossoming.  RGE Monitor's analysis of the data suggests that the global economic contraction is still in full swing with a very severe, a deep and protracted U-shaped recession. Last year's economic consensus forecast of a V-shaped short and shallow recession has vanished.  While the rate of economic contraction is slowing compared to the free fall rates of Q4 of 2008 and Q1 of 2009, we are still a long way away from the economic bottom and from a sustained recovery of growth.  In particular, in Europe and Japan there is little evidence of a positive second derivative of economic activity. (copyright 4-23-09, RGE Monitor)

Another voice of hard reality...

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Toots & the Maytals in Zurich!!

by whataboutbob Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 12:12:13 PM EST

For those of you who were not lucky enough to be in Zurich, Switzerland last night...AND inspired enough to get your butt out the door and go hear some truly great music - well, all I can say is go see TOOTS & THE MAYTALS as soon as he comes near to your town!! You are really missing something special - one of the OLD MASTERS!!


Toots first started playing and recording in the middle 1960s (see link to discography below), and is actually credited with first publicly calling the music we all now know as REGGAE. But what is particularly special about Toots is energy and intensity, which is really a mix of Memphis Soul and Reggae - think of a Jamaican Otis Redding - PLUS, the MAYTALS are a GREAT BAND!!!

Funny, I have been hearing Toots songs for years (you have too, and may not even know it!), but he really only came more clearly into my consciousness in the 1990s, so since then I have been trying to synch up my schedule with his and catch one of his shows. All I can say is DAMN!! What took me so long?? Too much great music missed...

Anyway, I neglected to bring a note pad with me last night, so will construct a partial setlist and a few comments - below:

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A Prelude to Disaster - Galbraith

by whataboutbob Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 07:22:14 AM EST

Over at Talking Point Memo, in their TPMbook club section, there is a book review by Galbraith that was posted yesterday:  Prelude to disaster - By James K. Galbraith. He ends his article with this statement on the current status of the world financial situation, about those who are running it, and about the potential dangers we are facing:

The situation today resembles the early 1930s in one other important respect: the incredible complexity of international financial relations. The interwar world crumbled because it could not cope with the renegotiation of German reparations, a merry-go-round that went from American creditors to German cities and towns, to the German state, to the French and British, and back to the Americans. Something very similar, but infinitely more complex, is happening today in the rapidly unraveling world of credit default swaps and the carry trade from the United States, through the UK, Eurozone and Switzerland, and onward to Central and Eastern Europe, and back to the US via the currency swaps through which we are presently keeping the entire, precarious European financial system afloat. (Iceland was just the canary in the coal mine on this.)

Where it will end, is anyone's guess. But the potential for a disaster that cannot be handled by quirky, limited people chosen from insular clubs, and given vast and unaccountable power, is clearly with us again.


Comments >> (10 comments)

Farting Ice - arctic methane!!

by whataboutbob Fri Apr 10th, 2009 at 04:14:53 AM EST

Perhaps someone here at ET has already posted this, but I just got shown this at a conference last weekend, and the ramifications of melting permafrost is downright scary: the release of methane could quickly speed up global warming. Check this little video out showing two people lighting methane coming up under arctic lakes:

Farting Ice

What do you think?

from the diaries - afew

Comments >> (19 comments)

Greider: prevent institutionalization of the corporate state

by whataboutbob Sat Mar 28th, 2009 at 06:49:16 AM EST

H/T to Marco from last night's Salon...

From interview of William Greider on Friday's Bill Moyers Journal (video of the interview also available on this page):

Greider: prevent "institutionalization" of the "corporate state"

BILL MOYERS: A corporate state?

WILLIAM GREIDER: A corporate state. And by that I mean a rather small but very powerful circle of financial institutions the old Wall Street banks, famous names. But also some industrial corporations that bought banks. Or General Electric, which is already half of big financial capital, GE Capital. And that circle will be our new Wall Street club. Too big to fail. Yes, watched closely by the Federal Reserve and others in government, but also protected by them. And that's a really insidious departure. To admit that and put it into law. And then think of all those thousands of smaller banks. How are they going to perform against these behemoths that have an inside track to the government spigot? And for just ordinary enterprise in general? Before you even get to the citizens. How are citizens supposed to feel about that? And I-- my point is, in this situation, with if the leading banks and corporations are sort of at the trough, ahead of everybody else in Washington, they will have the means to monopolize democracy. And I mean that literally. Some of my friends would say, hey, that already happened.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, the corporate state is here.

WILLIAM GREIDER: The corporate state is here. And I'd say, let's not argue over that. The fact is, if the Congress goes down the road I see them going down, they will institutionalize the corporate state in a way that will be severely damaging to any possibility of restoring democracy. And I want people to grab their pitch forks, yes, and be unruly. Get in the streets. Be as noisy and as nonviolently provocative as you can be. And stop the politicians from going down that road. And let me add a lot of politicians need that to be able to stand up. Our President needs that to be able to stand up.

This is just a shock for me to read this...it scares the shit out of me, actually

Comments >> (27 comments)

No Return To Normal - the Galbraith article

by whataboutbob Mon Mar 23rd, 2009 at 10:33:58 AM EST

A few days ago this amazing article was printed by the political blog
Washington Monthly (which is well worth reading for US and international politics).

 It is entitled:
No Return To Normal by James K. Galbraith

It is has a US economics focus, but I am also particularly interested to hear the comments from our astute European economists here at ET, as to how you think this relates to the European and international economy: Here's one quote that caught my eye (out of many):

...in 1994, after a long period of credit crunch, banks and households were strong enough, even without a stimulus, to support a vast renewal of lending which propelled the economy forward for six years.

The Bush-era disasters guarantee that these happy patterns will not be repeated. For the first time since the 1930s, millions of American households are financially ruined. Families that two years ago enjoyed wealth in stocks and in their homes now have neither. Their 401(k)s have fallen by half, their mortgages are a burden, and their homes are an albatross. For many the best strategy is to mail the keys to the bank. This practically assures that excess supply and collapsed prices in housing will continue for years. Apart from cash--protected by deposit insurance and now desperately being conserved--the American middle class finds today that its major source of wealth is the implicit value of Social Security and Medicare--illiquid and intangible but real and inalienable in a way that home and equity values are not. And so it will remain, as long as future benefits are not cut.

In addition, some of the biggest banks are bust, almost for certain. Having abandoned prudent risk management in a climate of regulatory negligence and complicity under Bush, these banks participated gleefully in a poisonous game of abusive mortgage originations followed by rounds of pass-the-bad-penny-to-the-greater-fool. But they could not pass them all. And when in August 2007 the music stopped, banks discovered that the markets for their toxic-mortgage-backed securities had collapsed, and found themselves insolvent. Only a dogged political refusal to admit this has since kept the banks from being taken into receivership by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation--something the FDIC has the power to do, and has done as recently as last year with IndyMac in California.

Geithner's banking plan would (only) prolong the state of denial.

Let me emphasize his stunning point: The big banks are insolvent and  pumping more money into them will only prolong and worsen the crisis.  So my question to our resident economists: how does this situation effect Europe and Europeans? And are there European banks that are insolvent (besides British banks, that is)?

Anyway, I highly recommend you read this excellent article, and while you are reading it, think about how it relates to Europe - I am most interested in your comments.

Comments >> (96 comments)

US dollar falls below Swiss Franc today

by whataboutbob Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 11:57:12 AM EST

Wow! This is news...how low will it go??

Dollar drops below Swiss Franc!!

ZURICH, Switzerland - The U.S. dollar fell below the Swiss franc for the first time ever Friday. The dollar briefly dipped to 0.9996 francs in international trading before rising above parity again.

The U.S. currency's decline against the franc mirrors its fall against the euro. The 15-nation euro reached a new record of US$1.5651 Friday on news of financial woes at U.S. Bank Bear Stearns Cos. (...)

Hettinger said in a recent interview that the dollar would likely stabilize versus the franc, which has seen a revival of its status as a "safe haven" currency since the start of the global financial turmoil last year. (...) The rising value of the franc against the dollar has worried Swiss exporters, and market observers have closely monitored the exchange rate as it approached the psychologically important mark of one-to-one. In 1971, the U.S. dollar was worth four francs.

Well, I don't know what else this means for America or Europe financially (hopefully some of our more knowledgeable types will have something to say), but it sure means we won't likely be seeing as many US tourists in Europe this year (although, watch out America, here come the Swiss!!).

Comments >> (14 comments)

Iranian Parliament election thread (!!)

by whataboutbob Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 11:52:48 AM EST

I was curious about this...

Parliamentary elections in Iran

Conservatives tipped to win in Iran election

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranians voted on Friday in a low-key election likely to keep parliament in the grip of conservatives after unelected state bodies barred many reformist foes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the race.

But the next assembly may not give Ahmadinejad an easy ride, even if conservatives dominate. They include not just his allies, but critics of his economic policies and politicians looking beyond this election to the presidential poll in 2009.

Reformists favouring more political and social freedom had hoped to capitalise on public discontent about inflation, now at 19 percent. But the vetting process and a government crackdown on dissent have muted their challenge. They may struggle to keep the 40 or so seats they held in the outgoing 290-seat assembly.

Anyone hearing the results of this election?

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What's a European to do?? (a friendly discussion)

by whataboutbob Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 07:08:57 AM EST

This is from a...well, I am an American...but I live in Europe (now 3.5 years), like it here a lot and hope to live here a long time (knock on wood)...and so  I count myself as a European too. Anyway, this is not to bash my dear American brethren, or anything like that. However...let me stir up a friendly discussion:

What is a European to do, when all he or she is/has been/and will be hearing in the news is about the <takes a deep breath> American Presidential election, the American-caused world financial crisis, the war...uh, am I leaving anythng out? It is just dominating.

My point being, this IS a European blog, and there ARE plenty of other important and interesting pieces of news, science, sports, arts, etc. etc going on here and elsewhere in the (non-US) world, and I just want to encourage us (including in "us" is our regular American contributors) to keep trying to put up diaries on...Europe and the rest of the World!

That doesn't sound so bad does it? And it is out of no disrespect to or discouragement of US articles...but I for one would just like to see and read more regularly about what is going on here. Any ideas or suggestions about how to encourage this?

Comments >> (109 comments)

Not all who wander are lost...

by whataboutbob Thu Jan 17th, 2008 at 04:55:52 PM EST

Hi everybody! Let's see, well...while good ol` ET keeps rolling along, I have been out wandering in the wilderness. As many of you know, I stopped doing the front-pager thing last summer, because...well...after two + years of being pretty heavily involved with the community and trying to keep things moving on the front-page on an almost daily basis, I was just empty. I had no more energy for the job. Anyway, In Wales and Migeru are doing a great job as the ,,new" front-pagers.

And as for me, it was high time for me to pick up the pace and get more serious in my getting job stuff together, so I could finally get through this interminable middle-aged career change transition I have been going through for the last 3 years. And I have good news to report! I have a new contract as a ,,senior researcher" for a long established (60+ years) research institute, being brought in to help boost an international project studying ,,risk-vulnerability-resilience", with me being the resilience expert. It is only a 6 month position at this point, but if I work hard and produce some good results, I have a good opportunity to parlay this into something more long-term. And not only that, I am finally making progress in my German, and enjoying that too! So things are looking up! (Fingers crossed!!!)

Which is all to say...I'm really  doing okay, and hope this finds all my old ET friends doing well too. And I'm still around, though I am mostly like a ghost these days, drifting in and out of ET on occasion to see what is going on. Life goes on...

Not all who wander are lost...surely there are others like me out here! Cheers all, and lets see what 2008 brings us!! Take care!!

PS:  How about everyone write at least one diary a month for 2008!!

Comments >> (27 comments)

New Hampshire Primary - early prediction thread

by whataboutbob Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 07:41:59 AM EST

Well, tomorrow (Tuesday Jan 8th) is the New Hampshire Primary, and so I thought I'd throw up an early thread for your predictions on  the Democratic (and the Republican side, if you care to). To make it interesting, give your best guess on percentages too.

And I'd be keen to hear what you all think may be the strategies of the main candidates going into this vote...what do the main players hope to accomplish (for example, I think both Obama and Edwards would like to see Clinton finish third...). Your thoughts?


With updated poll

Comments >> (92 comments)

Travelblogging Tanzania & Zanzibar

by whataboutbob Tue Dec 25th, 2007 at 10:26:30 AM EST

The allure of Tanzania (travelblogging)

In late November my wife and I had an opportunity to travel to Tanzania, and though we had to break our piggy bank to do this, it was definitely for a good cause. Our trip consisted of 2 nights in the Selous Wildlife reserve, 2 nights in Stonetown, Zanzibar, then a week on the Northeast coast of Zanzibar. Below are some photos we took during this trip...we hope you enjoy them!

Diary rescue by Migeru

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The upcoming National Swiss Parliament vote

by whataboutbob Thu Oct 18th, 2007 at 01:51:09 PM EST

Apparently this cartoon ran in the New York Times International Magazine last weekend suggesting that the Swiss are becoming fascist, and it seems to have ruffled some feathers here in Switzerland (according to interviews I am reading in the local papers here, anyway). Are you hearing anything in your countries about the Swiss vote?

The official national parliamentary vote is this weekend, although you can vote by mail here now, and many people are doing that. I will be curious to see how the Swiss finally vote...if they do vote heavily for the far-right SVP, or if there is a bigger turnout of the middle and left (which I hope). Plus, a wild card in this year's vote: there are over 100,000 Swiss living in other countries who are allowed to vote by mail...and if there is a big response, that could really turn the outcome to a different direction. We will see what happens.

Any Swiss voters out there? What do you think will be the outcome?

Comments >> (24 comments)

A heart of darkness?

by whataboutbob Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 08:38:56 AM EST

I guess I'm kind of beating the drum on this topic, but...what the heck, it's news! From Stormy Present in today's Salon, via The Independent: Switzerland: Europe's heart of darkness?

Switzerland is known as a haven of peace and neutrality. But today it is home to a new extremism that has alarmed the United Nations. Proposals for draconian new laws that target the country's immigrants have been condemned as unjust and racist. A poster campaign, the work of its leading political party, is decried as xenophobic. (...)

A worrying new extremism is on the rise. For the poster - which bears the slogan "For More Security" - is not the work of a fringe neo-Nazi group. It has been conceived - and plastered on to billboards, into newspapers and posted to every home in a direct mailshot - by the Swiss People's Party (the Schweizerische Volkspartei or SVP) which has the largest number of seats in the Swiss parliament and is a member of the country's coalition government.

With a general election due next month, it has launched a twofold campaign which has caused the UN's special rapporteur on racism to ask for an official explanation from the government. The SVP party has launched a campaign to raise the 100,000 signatures necessary to force a referendum to reintroduce into the penal code a measure to allow judges to deport foreigners who commit serious crimes once they have served their jail sentence.

I find myself wondering, now that the news is spreading out into Europe, just how the Swiss people will respond to this. I hope the Swiss vote decisively against the SVP and their racist campaign. Will enough people care about this to vote?

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Peak wheat!!

by whataboutbob Thu Sep 6th, 2007 at 10:08:16 AM EST

Devilstower has a good article up over at Daily Kos   "Wheat feels the heat" worth checking out. I went and looked at the Dow Jones link and found this:

NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Wheat futures bolted to fresh record highs Tuesday and closed limit-up in many contracts amid fears that drought may slash Australian production for the second year in a row, analysts said.

Unexpectedly large purchases from India also boosted wheat prices, analysts said.
Nearby Chicago Board of Trade September wheat traded as much as 43 cents higher during the day session and set an all-time high of $8.10 a bushel. That exceeded the previous intraday high of $8.05 a bushel. The contract, exempt from the typical 30-cent trading limit because it is in delivery, closed up 40 cents at $8.07 a bushel.

Most-active CBOT December wheat closed limit-up, or 30 cents higher, at $8.05 1/2 a bushel.

Hmm...peak wheat! For many countries, this could be seriously bad news...

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