Tuesday 31 May 2011

Up, Down, Side-ways?

Today Wednesday 1st of June, the ABS released its "Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, Mar 2011" report (cat. Number 5206.0), from where the following chart was extracted:

GDP, Percentage changes - Volume measures

"In seasonally adjusted terms, GDP decreased 1.2% in the March quarter, through the year GDP growth was 1.0%.
"On the expenditure side, the decline this quarter (in seasonally adjusted volume terms) was driven by Net exports (detracting 2.4 percentage points) and Changes in inventories (detracting 0.5 percentage points). Partially offsetting these falls were Private gross fixed capital formation (adding 0.7 percentage points), Household final consumption expenditure (adding 0.3 percentage points) and Government final consumption expenditure (adding 0.2 percentage points)."

The results were better than Goldman Sachs had expected yesterday:

"Investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted Australia's economy will have shrunk by as much as 2 per cent in the first quarter of the year, a big turnaround from the 0.7 per cent expansion in the final quarter of last year." (See here)
Other comments by observers:

"After today's negative GDP figure for the March quarter, and the recent spate of bad news and economic statistics pouring out, it isn't a big leap for Australia's so-called miracle economy to be staring down the barrel of a technical recession in the June quarter." (See here)
My comment: possible, but perhaps too pessimistic.

"Australia's economy has suffered its biggest quarterly contraction since the recession of the early 1990s." (See here)

My comment: see the chart above, for seasonally adjusted (light gray broken line).

And then, we find this:

"The domestic economy grew very strongly in Q1
"Well, for all the whinging and whining! (...) Today's GDP numbers show precisely why the RBA should have hiked in May, or if not May, in June. The more likely outcome is July. Here is Paul Bloxham's (HSBC) summary:
" 'If it weren't for the headline GDP number being severely hit by a sharp fall in coal exports, today's numbers would be universally judged as strong.'" (See here)

My comment: You be the judge.

Protests in Barcelona Turn Violent

"Lo mío ha sido como estar en una pastelería y no poder comer ni un trocico de pastel. Tanto hijoputa y ni una colleja he podido dar". Ferran T. F.  (in Facebook, Guardia Urbana agent) (See here, Spanish)

"It's like being in a patisserie and being unable to eat a slice of cake. So many sons of bitches[*] and I couldn't hit anyone". [my translation]

Last Friday 27th of May, the peaceful protests in Plaza de Cataluña, Barcelona, turned violent when police charged against the protesters.

According to some versions, acting by order of the PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, or by the authority of Felip Puig, Catalonian autonomic Interior secretary, the provincial Mossos d'Esquadra deliberately started to harass and strike at random protesters, as seen in the videos below

Ferran T.F. (apparently himself not a Mosso, but an agent of the Guardia Urbana, municipal police force) witnessed the incident, describing it as lasting up to six hours, and regretting not being able to take part in it. (See here, Spanish)

As a result, 121 were injured; according to Mr. Puig, 37 police agents included.

Faced with harsh criticism, from Spain and abroad, including the European Council (see here, Spanish), the Catalonian autonomic government decided to launch investigations.  So, who gets chosen for the dubious honor of perpetrating this aggression against a mob of teenagers?

And the winner is...

The thuggish imbecile who publicly boasted about other thugs beating kids, but did not beat anyone himself: Ferran T.F.

Not those in charge, or even the thugs themselves. As the saying goes: el diablo paga mal a quien bien le sirve.


[*] Hijoputa or more properly hijo de puta is a curse phrase that does not strictly translate as son of a bitch, but as son of a whore. But as such expression does not exist in English, I chose the closest available.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Precariously Proletarian

Protester in Madrid. Wikimedia

Last week's Spanish provincial and municipal elections ended with the ruling PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, Spanish Socialist Worker Party, nominally social democrat) soundly defeated by the rightist PP (Partido Popular: Popular Party or, more accurately, if ironically, People's Party).

(All links to Spanish sites, except where explicitly stated)

According to El País (see here), PSOE lost about 1.5 million votes, in comparison to the results of the 2007 elections. PP gained some 0.6 million and IU (Izquierda Unida, United Left), gained 0.2.

At the provincial level, out of 13 provinces, PSOE gained in one, leaving PP with 11 and Bildu (a basque local party), with another.

Although under opposition pressure to call for early elections, PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero doesn't need to form a new national government: the national elections are scheduled for 2012.

Why did PSOE (that ruled Spain for 21 of the 36 years of post-Francoist period) lose these elections so badly?

Whatever their personal ideological stances, the consensus among pundits is that the catastrophic economic situation faced by Spain (21.19% general unemployment and 44.6% unemployment among under-25s) explains this defeat:

"Voters are also taking out their anger on those politicians inflicting euro-zone policies. The ruling Socialists in Spain, who have actually done a pretty good job pushing through tough - but unpopular - reforms, got smacked in local elections this month." (See here, in English)

Some two weeks before the election, the so-called 15-M movement (a spontaneous, broad-base social protest movement) threatened to make the elections difficult.

However, the elections did not seem particularly affected by the movement: in Spain, where voting is not compulsory, abstention (the number of voters that did not vote) actually diminished from 36.73% in 2007 to 33.77%. Blank votes (also interpreted as possible protest votes) did increase, but modestly, from 1.94% to 2.54%. (See here and here).

What are the short term consequences of this defeat? The Rodríguez Zapatero Government, for all their understandable concern with the upcoming national elections, seems intent on maintaining the current policies, while offering to consider only a few of the 15-M's demands (like the Tobin Tax), should they remain in power. (See here)

Under these circumstances, one may be forgiven to speculate that the next elections could see a repeat of the PSOE's defeat, now at the national level, at the hands of the PP. And, given the financial constrains imposed on the Spanish economy by its euro zone membership, it's unlikely an eventual Rajoy Government would be able to undertake adequate social policies, even if their ideological stance allowed for that.

What about the 15-M (a.k.a. Los Indignados - The Outraged Ones)?

According to the respected Spanish journalist and commentator Rafael Díaz-Salazar (see here) that movement represents a subsector of the Spanish working class, quickly mobilized through the new social media, ironically referred to as the "precariado" ("precariat"), in a pun for "proletariado precario" (precarious proletariat): the "unemployed, low-wage workers, young without access to housing, low income pensioners, exploited migrants, unemployed or low income graduates, couples [financially] incapable of forming families, near pension-age workers, poor working and rural area inhabitants" [my translation].

Always according to Díaz-Salazar, the Spanish society has divided itself between a satisfied and integrated group, represented by the mainstream parties, and the precariado.

Again, one may also be forgiven to speculate they're there to stay.

Further reading:

2011 Spanish protests. Wikipedia. (English).
The Pain in Spain. (English),
La chispa del Movimiento 15-M. El País.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Speaking of the precariat, last night SBS's Dateline contained a report on a section of this subsection of the working class: the salad slaves.

Disclaimer: Any similarity with foreign student, working-holiday visa and 457 and 456 visa holders in Australia is merely coincidental... Yeah, right.

Friday 27 May 2011

Wisconsin: Walker BRB overturned

From Journal Sentinel (Madison, 26-05-2011): "A Dane County judge Thursday struck down legislation repealing most collective bargaining for public employees, but the measure could still gain new life from the state Supreme Court or a fresh vote by lawmakers." (See here)

Since I last reported here, several events have taken place in Wisconsin: the (contested) re-election of Justice David Prosser to another 10-year term in the Wisconsin Supreme, Court after a strange counting error (see here); and the passing and signing of a voter ID bill requiring voters photo ID as a requisite for voting (see here) seem to be the most important ones (see here).

NSW News
In NSW this week, Premier O'Farrell has given steps towards what promises to be a conflict between unions (particularly state employee unions) and the State Government (see here).

Although all state unions are affected, police, nurses and teachers unions in NSW are affected twice: (1) because the State Government decided to strip the NSW unions of their powers to initiate prosecution of employers on breaches of safety legislation; and (2) the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission will be stripped of its powers to decide on wage levels for State employees (see here).

However, in a surprising development, the legislation, steamed rolled by the Coalition in the Lower House of the NSW Parliament, was stopped at the Upper House, thanks to the votes of the Shooters and Fishers Party (see here).

I will do my best to keep readers posted on these subjects.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Spanish Elections and Protests

Well, the world ended, but we're still here and life goes on.

And today Sunday 22nd of May is election day in Spain.

Since last week tens of thousands of protesters, mostly young, are encamped at Madrid's historical Puerta del Sol, and some 50 other locations around Spain, plus a number of other European cities (see here, in Spanish).

According to the selective information provided this morning by Sky News:
"Tens of thousands of Spaniards angry over high unemployment rates have taken to the streets in a seventh day of protests before Sunday's local elections."
And indeed, according to Deutsche Welle, Spaniards young and old have every right to be angry over high unemployment rates:
"As [the] ban came into force at midnight, some 25,000 protesters in Madrid's Puerta del Sol Square began to whistle and cheer, shouting 'now we are all illegal.'
"But in spite of the apparent festivities, the predominantly young crowd clearly expressed their frustrations.
"The economic crisis pushed Spain's unemployment rate to 21.19% in the first quarter of this year, the highest figure in the industrialized world. In February unemployment for under-25s, stood at 44.6%."
So angry they are, that they declared themselves in civil disobedience, de facto if not formally, as hinted above.

You see, in Spain, as is often the case in other countries, there is a legal ban on political manifestations and publicity during the days immediately preceding an election.

"Faced with growing criticism of the two-party system and claims that neither the ruling Socialists nor the opposition Popular Party (PP) truly represent the people" (see here), the initial reaction of deputy PM Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (with support from Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative so-called Popular Party) was to order Madrid police to disband the initial groups of protesters.

After initial tensions, and widespread support for the protesters, the Government decided to allow the protests:
"Police walk past but do not intervene. They are cheered by the crowd, in scenes hauntingly similar to anti-government protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square during Egypt's revolution in February." (See here)
What Sky News and Deutsche Welle didn't quite say is that Spaniards are angry over other things, as well.

According to El País, the protesters demand (in Spanish here, and this is my translation and summary):
  1. Abolition of unjust laws.
  2. Divided support for a (1) republican referendum or (2) direct transition to a Republic.
  3. Tax reforms: progressive taxation and a Tobin Tax; rescued banks nationalization.
  4. Transport: to promote public transportation.
  5. Reform of politicians' working conditions: abolition of life-time earnings, politicians' performance revision and auditing, purge of electoral lists of those accused of corruption.
  6. Complete Church-State separation and division of public powers.
  7. Direct and participative democracy: political power decentralization; operation of citizens' assemblies.
  8. Industrial relations improvement and regulation, euro 1,200 minimum wage, a State job guarantee and equal wages.
  9. Environment: immediate closure of nuclear power plants and support for sustainable economy.
  10. Recovery of privatized public enterprises.
  11. Military: Defense spending cuts, closure of weapons factories, non-intervention in foreign conflicts.
  12. Historical memory recovery: condemnation of Francoism.
A little more that anger at being unemployed, I'd say.

Thursday 19 May 2011

End-Times Survivalist Wisdom

We were warned that this would happen.

Jacob de Backer.
Last Judgement. 1580.

Now, the US Centres for Disease Control issued post zombie-apocalypse survival tips (See here, and with some luck, here).

So, the thing is serious.

To contribute to the collective well-being and safety, I will also issue my own advice:

  1. If you have been a good believer and you estimate you have good chances of "going up", don't fool yourself into over-confidence. You can do more. Tomorrow morning, first thing, wash yourself thoroughly and make sure you're wearing clean underwear. When the moment comes, and if you ascend scantily clad, you want to give the best possible first impression...
  2. If you haven't been much of a believer, let's face it, your chances of "going up" are poor. So, you don't need to worry that much about first impressions and personal cleanliness. However, excessive negligence will do you no good, either. So, make sure you wear appropriate diapers. You know, with all the noise, trumpets, and supernatural visions... Let's just say that shit happens.
  3. You want to take advantage of life to the full and decide to have a last sex with that complete stranger. Go for it! Just make sure you carry good quality condoms and do it quick. This way you don't have to worry about the Rapture or rupture.
Anyway, those are my pearls of end-times survivalist wisdom.

Have a nice End-Of-The-World, everyone!

And I'll see you Monday!

...Or, will I?


Super-Cannes, Now!

"In the hills above Cannes, a European elite has gathered in the business-park Eden-Olympia, a closed society that offers its privileged residents luxury homes, private doctors, private security forces, their own psychiatrists, and other conveniences required by the modern businessman." Wikipedia

Super-Cannes is the name of a 2000 J.G. Ballard award-winning novel.

I won't tell you the details of the novel, as I highly recommend it: no one reads a story after knowing the details of its plot or how it ends.

Still, I will advance that it's a story about violence, crime, madness and highly unusual suspects. You know, the pillars-of-society kind of suspects.

If you have read the novel, you'll understand why Ben Stein's piece on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, is powerfully evocative of Super-Cannes.

Being fair with Mr. Stein: he reminds his readers that "in this country, we have the presumption of innocence for the accused."

Fair enough. Mr. Stein is right on that: Mr. Strauss-Kahn has the right of being presumed innocent. He also has the right to have his human rights protected, and to be placed in safety. Mr. Strauss-Kahn's health must be a concern for his custodians.

Although less clear, Mr. Stein might also have some reason asking why Mr. Strauss-Kahn was sent to Rikers Island, instead of "been given home detention with a guard".

But if Mr. Stein intentions were only to advocate for moderation and impartiality, then why cast doubt on the hotel chambermaid?

And this is what Mr. Stein does here:
"People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman's word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker's is serious business. Maybe more than a few minutes of investigation is merited before it's done."
I'm no professional writer, but as a reader, Mr. Stein's protestations of love and admiration for hotel chambermaids, when paired with denunciations of lunacy, dishonesty, and irresponsibility sound not only dubious and disingenuous, but also cumbersome and unconvincing. It sounds like Mr. Stein is trying really hard to appear sympathetic to chambermaids, in spite of their unworthiness.

So, even if I am no professional writer, I will try to help Mr. Stein with this awkward problem. The first thing he needs to realize is that no law requires him to love and admire chambermaids or anyone else.

I've known personally chambermaids and on occasion I had to work with them. And I have no difficulty saying that I don't love each and every one of them. Neither do I believe they all are wonderful human beings, or beautiful, or smart or anything, for that matter.

Some of them are alright, some others are not.

See? No need to feel guilty about that.

But if Mr. Stein is ineffectual pretending a sympathy he can't feel, he's much more ineffectual hiding his true sympathies:

"In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind."
 "In what possible way is the price of the hotel room relevant except in every way: this is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that's what it's all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He's got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine." (My underlined in both paragraphs)
So, what Mr. Stein appears to be desperate, but unable, to say is that it's the word of a chambermaid, a has-not, a nobody, against the word of a big time economist, a has-a-lot, someone who is one of a kind. And that should be enough for you.

So, again, it's not difficult to say, Mr. Stein.

What you seem to believe is simply the logical conclusion of the notion of meritocracy: you get what you deserve, and if you get little, you're fucked, and it's your own fault. Isn't that what inequality is all about?

And there's an even easier way to say it. As Mark Taibbi, from Rolling Stone, put it admirably: "crime is defined not by what you did, but by who you are". Which sounds a lot like Super-Cannes.

As for me, I'll say it simply: I don't know what happened between the chambermaid and Mr. Strauss-Kahn. And Mr. Strauss-Kahn has rights.

But to the chambermaid I'll say: if you feel you were the victim of a crime, fight for your rights, because you have rights, too. And you have also earned my admiration, not because I love all chambermaids, like Mr. Stein, but because it takes guts to stand against the powerful.


Some bloggers took the trouble of answering Mr. Stein's question ("can anyone tell me any economists who were convicted of violent sex crimes?"). See:

Answering Ben Stein's Question.


Saturday 14 May 2011

Dodgy Recovery and Pundits

So, a terrifying labour/skilled labour shortage is strangling Australian businesses and driving soaring wages, uh?

I'd say nope (in fact, I did so before), but you don't need to take my word for it.

According to the latest ABS employment figures, released today:

"The ABS reported the number of people employed decreased by 22,100 people to 11,436,500 in April [seasonally adjusted]. The decrease in employment was driven by a decrease in full-time employment, down 49,100 people to 8,056,800. The decrease in employment was partially offset by an increase in part-time employment, up 26,900 people to 3,379,700.

"The number of people unemployed decreased by 9,800 people to 583,000 in April, reported the ABS.

"The ABS monthly aggregate hours worked series showed a decrease in April, down 14.7 million hours to 1601.6 million hours.

"The ABS reported labour force participation in April of 65.6 per cent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points from March."

For American readers: a similar result in the US would have shown a loss of 308 thousand fulltime jobs, after discounting part-time jobs. [*]

But the great loss is in hours worked: -0.9%.

Barring any perturbing factor (statistical error, external positive shock, miracle, etc.) I'd say Australia's economic recovery looks dodgy, right now.

And our esteemed pundits, experts, journos, bloggers and others still claim Australia desperately needs either higher interest rates, imported workers or both. See here.


[*] Australia had (midyear 2009) a population of 22 million people, according to World Bank/Google figures; the USA had (same time) a population of 307 million (US Census Bureau/Google figures).

Foolhardy and Ill-Advised?

Here is Rolling Stone's coverage of the "ill-advised" and "foolhardy" US intervention in Afghanistan, as Nick Dyrenfurth called it, while accusing the Left for bringing progressives into disrepute.

(WARNING: A separate link in the page linked below leads to a photo gallery. Before the reader gets the idea of seeing those photographs, I advise to take Rolling Stone's warning seriously.)

Mark Boal. The Kill Team. 27/03/2011. Rolling Stone.

I am sure equally gruesome photographs can be presented as genuine evidence of the Taliban/Al Qaeda savagery and barbarism against innocent people, committed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

But I haven't seen those photographs, yet. If the reader has, do as I did: post a link to them.

However, unlike the Taliban and Al Qaeda, aren't we supposed to be the "good guys", the civilized ones, in this movie? If "we", too, perpetrate the same kind of atrocities, what makes "us" different from the "bad guys"?

Can we dismiss this as just a matter of being "foolhardy" or "ill-advised", as Mr. Dyrenfurth seems to do? Is this just a matter of creating suitably neutral-sounding euphemisms? "Collateral damage" instead of "victim of murder", "police action/pre-emptive strike" instead of "war of aggression", "captured enemy combatant" instead of "prisoner of war"?

No, Mr. Dyrenfurth, and I say this with regret, it is "progressives" like you who bring the Left into disrepute.


After posting this message, I remembered the particularly gruesome murder of the American/Israeli journalist Daniel Pearl, by Al Qaida terrorists.

Mr. Pearl, reporting for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted in Iraq and beheaded in 2002.

Although I haven't seen the video, it can be easily found on Google videos.

Incidentally, that search also points to other beheading incidents.