Sep
20

Mr Juncker’s bottle party

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It seems like we really can’t catch a break these days.  First we have the 2013 defection to Labour that about slammed the door bang shut.  Then came the European Elections to splash against the door and leave a dirty puddle, only to be followed by the Come in but Wipe your Feet response from the European Commissioner, to Malta’s selling of citizenship scheme and now, to cap it all we have Mr. Juncker’s bottle party.  A kind of Bring Your Own, so that there will be no complaints about the cost or the quality of the wine.

There must be some wine glut, though, in Brussels, because it would appear that a little too much of it is being consumed with the effect that the jobs for the Commissioners remind us of some Pass the Parcel game.    It is not surprising to think of such games, because the whole charade that has just taken place in the doling out of the portofolios to the nominated Commissioners is totally petulant and childish.  It is difficult to see what can be achieved by this irresponsible off-loading of problems.

The game that has been played in allocating these portofolios, which as we now know,  were specifically chosen on a Reverse Psychology basis, has exposed the lazy thinking of the President of the European Commission.  It is said – “If you want to get a job done, give it to a lazy person because they will find the quickest and easiest way to do it”.  Well, in this case, Mr. Juncker’s desk must be quite clear at the moment. 

And so, any moral support on the serious issues that we currently face, that could have been expected from a like-minded Union, is gone to nothing.  Not only is the EU parliament populated by a growing number of far-right members but any confidence we sought towards a better future has gone the same way as Mr Moyes. 

A striker can complain about a poor defence but that does not make him a good defender.  Changing positions amongst the players only weakens the whole structure.  George Papandreou said:  How can a parliamentarian or a leader in a country say, on the one hand, that we’re going to support Greece but at the same time say that Greeks are lazy?  In the same way, how can we say that the EU is going to meet the needs of its citizens and then gamble with their future in this counter-productive way?

Yes, there are many member states in the EU that have criticized and complained about several issues.   Many adolescents complain to their parents about restrictions or perceived imbalances but that does not mean that the parents will abdicate responsibility to them and simply wash their hands of them.  I remember my mother telling me that when she was a young teenager, her father caught her having some puffs of a cigarette in the garden shed.  There and then he made her smoke the whole cigarette even though it was making her sick, so that she would remember how it made her feel.  Juncker wants the naggers to know how it feels to wear the shoes and walk the talk but in doing this he has departed from a sense of superbia (suppervja) rather than to lead conscientiously.  He seems to take some pleasure in hijacking the airplane and taking it right off course but expecting the pilot to take to its scheduled landing nonetheless.

It is important that the EU does not lose any more profile to those with hidden agendas and those who would like to see it fail.  Many countries too, like Greece, Italy and Spain have made huge sacrifices to meet the austerity programmes imposed on them.  People are struggling for work, for a living, for freedom and for the health of their environment and the legacy for their children.  To this very day the suffering people of Ukraine fight to have a right to choose which way they would prefer to go.  They need the sense and vision that they had, to survive or else they will truly feel let down.  And not just them, but each and every state that is a member of the EU or aspires to be.  The overall aim of the EEC/EU, since its foundation in 1958, is to promote peace; the values of human rights; democracy; equality; the rule of law; and the well-being of its peoples. These values are the bedrock of the EU’s work and its role in the world.

Or so they should be.  More and more they seem to be brushed aside and replaced with material and political self-serving interests. 

Who would have thought that after the electoral defeat, the PN would not only have to work to restore belief in the Party once again , but now, it also has to defend the values that the EU is meant to stand for in order to protect those same values for Malta and for  the Maltese.   I think Simon Busuttil may want to re-think his Do it like Brussels platform for the way forward for the PN.  Somehow, I don’t think that people are going to take too happily to that way of doing things.

We will be 50 years independent tomorrow.  I think we can look back and be proud of what we have achieved so far.  But there is still much more to do and so much more to learn.  We need to choose carefully and be very selective about the direction we take and investment we make.  It may become clear soon enough, that the direction taken by the people of Malta Gozo recently has not brought about the kind of management they were hoping for.  To add to their worry, we have this Russian roulette going on at the EU and the poor immigrants crossing on their sinking boats are not the only ones to get that horrible feeling.

Support or not support, grilling or no grilling, the fact is that there are life-threatening issues at stake here.  We are not playing about with subsidies for farmers or how many tomatoes will be squashed.  The environment here in Malta and Gozo is undergoing massive abuse.  Even the roads are filthy and abandoned.  It is like nothing matters anymore and no one is accountable anymore.  And there is worse, much worse, to come.  There is a sinking feeling inside, getting heavier by the day and it grows more difficult by the day to emerge from this state and actually give a damn. 

There are war-stricken people clamouring for safety and shelter.  They risk seeing their babies die or losing their family but they must run from bombs and slaughter.  We are told that we must protect their rights and give them decent accommodation when they are rescued.  Those lucky enough to reach Italy do not even bother staying in the accommodation. They immediately leave and head to France and from there to the UK or other countries in Europe.  Yes, we do very urgently need the EU to understand what is going on at its borders and in the Mediterranean sea.  This cannot be done without looking at the rules and policies that limit the very rights for victims that the EU seeks to protect.  They are concerned about more than a bed at the moment.  Although, of course, such concerns should not be waived aside and are a part of the whole ongoing plight.

When it comes to the economy, most countries continue to perform badly.  Even Germany has seen a drop in its GDP.  Clearly, more political union is not going to be reached, especially seeing how regionalism is gaining strength at the moment.  That therefore leaves the Euro where it was, with some countries carrying more than their fair share of the burden and remaining locked in austerity.  True, the UK, who has the Financial Stability, Financial Services portofolio,  has advised against federalism of Europe but those countries who have the Euro and follow the rules are stuck in the middle and need a way out of this uncomfortable spot.

The way of idealism has gone the way of the banks and this play at realism is not well thought out.  It is risky to say the least and anarchic at worst.  It is the mad ploy of someone who has lost the plot completely and is using their imagination to make up an ending which suits them.  I wonder if those candidates who fought so hard to get elected last March realized what they were getting into and how much is going to depend on them to bring this ship home safely.  They may feel encouraged by a Poll which says 75% have higher expectations than the 2009-2014 Jose Manuel Barroso Commission and  25% have lower expectations than the 2009-2014 Jose Manuel Barroso Commission (total of 81 votes).  The devil is in the detail.

Article source: http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2014-09-20/opinions/mr-junckers-bottle-party-6649315328/

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If you’re steering a populist movement that needs some economic advice, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz is your man.

Seeking to end Scotland’s three-century union with the rest of the U.K., Alex Salmond was the latest leader to ask the Columbia University professor for guidance. Stiglitz told him an independent Scotland could keep the pound, and oil revenue could guarantee its fiscal future.

The Scottish Independence Vote: Breakdown of Results

“Independence may have its costs, although these have yet to be demonstrated convincingly; but it will also have its benefits,” Stiglitz said in an op-ed this month in the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald newspaper.

SLIDESHOW: Scotland Votes to Stay in U.K.

Fighting the mainstream is second nature to the 71-year-old former adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton. This year alone he’s attacked Europe’s austerity policies as a “dismal failure,” sided with Argentina in its fight with bond investors, suggested a tax on high-speed trading and repeatedly rallied against growing income inequality.

Such positions are in keeping with his use of the chief economist’s office at the World Bank in the 1990s to lambaste the crisis-fighting policies of the neighboring International Monetary Fund during the Asian financial meltdown. When he eventually quit the bank in early 2000, he did so “rather than muzzle myself, or be muzzled.”

Recognizes Grievances

“Joe has an enormous reputation in economics, but he’s also not a conformist,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who knows him. “He recognizes the grievances of different protest movements.”

Scotland’s Vote for Independence

As Scottish voters took to polling stations yesterday to decide their nation’s destiny, Stiglitz was at an economics conference in Italy and unavailable to comment for this article.

Salmond secured Stiglitz four years ago when he appointed him to the Council of Economic Advisers. “A Nobel Prize-winning economist backing Scotland,” he said at the time.

Salmond was able to boast of a world-renowned economist who shared his vision of a Scotland that could prosper on its own. In the end, the first minister’s campaign failed, garnering 45 percent of the vote compared with 55 percent support for the “no” side.

Stable Transition

In an interview last month, Stiglitz said the U.K. government’s refusal to grant a currency union with an independent Scotland was a bargaining chip and would be dropped if voters backed a split.

“Countries can work with many different monetary arrangements,” he said. “The concern here really is, can they achieve a stable transition? I think it’s in the interests of the U.K., of England and everybody to have that kind of stable transition. And I think that can be accomplished.”

As for what to do with the oil that lies off Scotland’s coast and whose future was one of the contestable issues of the campaign, Stiglitz helped write a report last October that suggested the resulting revenues be used to set up a short-term stabilization fund and a Norway-style long-term wealth fund.

And for those worried a small state would be buffeted by the vagaries of global financial markets, Stiglitz pointed to Hong Kong, Singapore and Sweden as potential models.

While such arguments were promoted by Salmond on the campaign trail, they earned Stiglitz barbs from other economists including Adam Posen, a former Bank of England official and now president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Wishful Theorizing

“The claims that Stiglitz makes about the economics of Scottish secession are a jumble of wishful economic theorizing (assume what I want to be true, is, and what I don’t want, isn’t), social democrat idealism (only selfish special interest nastiness keeps the world the way it is, we can easily do better), and 60s hippiedom (act local, we can set up our own community not subject to the Man),” Posen wrote in a Sept. 16 op-ed.

“While Stiglitz’s willingness to buck conventional wisdom has been often been insightful in the past, this is not one of those times,” he added.

The son of a schoolteacher and an insurance salesman, Stiglitz grew up in Gary, Indiana. He won the Nobel Prize in 2001 for work showing that markets are inefficient when all parties in a transaction don’t have equal access to critical information, which is most of the time.

Such an analysis clashes with that of 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith. His “invisible hand — the idea that free markets lead to efficiency as if guided by unseen forces — is invisible, at least in part, because it is not there,” Stiglitz wrote in a 2002 article in The Guardian.

Prophetic Views

His long-held views on the drawbacks of unfettered markets proved prophetic when the world suffered its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. That came a decade after he had clashed with then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and other policy makers over how to battle Asia’s economic woes. Stiglitz said the IMF was hurting poor countries by demanding they cut budgets, raise interest rates and open capital markets.

His writings and criticism of the IMF prompted an open letter from Kenneth Rogoff, then research director at the fund and now a professor at Harvard University.

“Joe, as an academic, you are a towering genius,” Rogoff wrote. “As a policy maker, however, you were just a bit less impressive.”

Occupy Movement

More recently, he urged President Barack Obama to deliver more fiscal stimulus in the wake of the crisis. A study of his showing the top 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of U.S. wealth was seized upon by protesters around the world including the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“An economic system that only delivers for the very top is a failed economic system,” Stiglitz said in a May speech in Washington.

Outside of the U.S., he’s fought against Europe’s use of fiscal austerity to fight its debt crisis, saying in an interview last month the policy was the cause of economic stagnation. Stiglitz advised Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou during his country’s economic turmoil and sought to enlist the European Union to help the nation avoid “speculative attacks”

In March, his lawyer said he planned to file a brief in support of Argentina’s bid for a U.S. Supreme Court review of an order to pay holders of defaulted bonds in full.

Stiglitz is “iconoclastic,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economic adviser for Vice President Joe Biden. “More than almost any other highly prominent economist, he is unbound by the set of ideological rules that too often dominate the profession in the face of contrary evidence.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Simon Kennedy in London at skennedy4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net Mark Rohner, Fergal O’Brien

Article source: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-09-19/stiglitz-gave-idea-of-solo-scotland-credibility-as-nobel-winner

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

It’s a wonder that anyone drives a car on Powell Street in Union Square. Yet along the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare this side of the United States, you’ll typically see the perplexing scene of drivers, sitting in a line heading down the hill, all seemingly going nowhere in particular and certainly not very quickly. These private autos block bustling crosswalks, jam up Muni’s world-famous cable cars and its busiest bus line, and make an overall shameful display out of what many see as San Francisco’s gateway.

Allowing cars on the three-block stretch of Powell, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has made even less sense ever since all street parking, except for loading zones, was removed in 2011 for the Powell Street Promenade, a “mega parklet” that extended Powell’s sidewalks using temporary materials.

Powell doesn’t connect drivers to Market Street either, since the southernmost block was turned into a plaza for people and cable cars only in 1973. The vast majority of drivers drive down the street only to turn off of it, squeezing through busy crosswalks and taking up a disproportionate amount of street space along the way.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

“Powell deserves to be the best possible street that San Francisco can make it,” said Andres Power, who managed the Powell Promenade project at the Planning Department and is now an aide for Supervisor Scott Wiener. “It’s in many ways an entry point to the city. Pretty much every single person who visits San Francisco walks along those blocks at some point.”

Power said the promenade project was “seen as an initial first step to start a longer conversation about what Powell Street should be,” and that ideas like extending the pedestrianized zone and adding car restrictions have long been discussed. The promenade project itself required extensive coordination with merchants and property owners, notably to move deliveries from Powell to side streets.

Karin Flood, president of the Union Square Business Improvement District, said the organization doesn’t have a position yet on further car restrictions. She said the organization is open to studying the idea, although maintaining car access to hotels and parking garages is a concern. “There still are people that prefer to drive, and need to drive, for whatever reason,” she said. “A lot of our luxury retailers are really wedded to their clients that do come in by car.”

The 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line, regularly struggles to make it through cars blocking intersections on Powell. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Powell, through the Union Square area, is packed with upwards of 100,000 pedestrians on an average weekend. A study conducted by the transportation design firm Fehr and Peers showed that 85 percent of all trips that pass through the intersection of Powell and Ellis are on foot.

Peter Tannen, a retired SFMTA traffic engineer who oversaw the Valencia Street road diet, said the idea of restricting cars on Powell “looks good to me, just based upon the times I’ve been on Powell Street.”

Photo: Aaron Bialick

SFMTA officials said they currently aren’t looking seriously at car restrictions on Powell, but that they could in the future, once the Central Subway is completed.

The SFMTA is currently planning car restrictions on and around Market Street to divert private autos off of that thoroughfare, starting early next year. Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director for strategic planning and policy, said the agency will look at diversions on “natural spurs off of Market Street,” but couldn’t name any specific plans yet.

But the SFMTA has stalled on trying out short-term ideas like traffic diversions or a pedestrian plaza on Ellis, between Powell and Market, citing traffic complications created by subway construction through the area.

“The Central Subway is moving things around every couple weeks,” said Jerry Robbins, the SFMTA’s interim director of the Sustainable Streets Division until Tom Maguire takes over on October 14. Maguire will comes from New York City’s Department of Transportation, which pedestrianized much of Times Square.

Robbins said he thinks “it’s a little premature to propose any particular solutions at this point,” but that they “should be looked at” once subway construction detours have ended.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Stockton, south of Geary, is closed to motor traffic until 2016, and has been since 2012. Robbins confirmed that many of the drivers heading southbound on Powell may just be lost, as many who exit the Stockton Tunnel “just seem to ignore” signs detouring them onto Sutter or Post Streets. Instead, many drivers continue straight until they’re forced to turn right on to Geary, and many then turn left on Powell. Because of this pattern, Robbins said Powell has been especially congested with cars in the last couple of years. To mitigate the problem, he said the SFMTA installed protected turn signal phases to let more cars through the crowds of pedestrians crossing at Powell and Ellis, near the cable car turnaround.

On an average day on Powell, cable car operators can be seen haplessly stuck behind aimless drivers trying to edge through crosswalks, a stop-and-go pattern that wears significantly on the cables. If Powell undergoes a major redesign, it’s expected to happen in conjunction with a cable overhaul that was originally expected this year.

Flood, of the Union Square BID, said she sees how the concept could work. “I just returned from Europe, and they have walking streets everywhere,” she said. “I know that other cities have large pedestrian-only areas, so I know that works well.”

New traffic signal phases were installed to move cars through Powell more quickly. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Article source: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/09/19/auto-clogged-powell-street-could-be-a-car-free-haven/

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