Tag Archives: Germany

News That’s Fit To Punt – 01/Feb/2012

Citizen Rinehart

The richest woman in Australia, Gina Rinehart has set her mind on buying into Fairfax, the company that owns the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Age, amongst other mastheads. The response coming out of the Fairfax stables has been interesting.

Here’s Michael West:

The Murdoch press is already favourably disposed to the Minerals Council view of the world while Rinehart’s politics are said to be strenuously ideological in the fashion of her late father Lang Hancock. Rinehart control of the Fairfax mastheads could have a dramatic influence on politics in this country.
Any tussle, then, for the venerable Fairfax mastheads would entail not just economic considerations, but community and political issues too. These issues would play into the hands of the institutional shareholders who would no doubt demand recompense for parting with the major mastheads and the effect this could have on the attendant Fairfax transactional businesses, which feed off the enormous online traffic.

Apart from matters of price, then, there would be much focus on the likely direction of Fairfax editorial. And some ideas from Lang Hancock in his book, Wake Up Australia, provide some hints, such as how “we can change the situation so as to limit the power of government”.

“It could be broken by obtaining control of the media and then educating the public,” he wrote.

There were several ideas on how to gain control of the press. One was for Australian retailers to refuse “to give advertisements to any paper which did not support a change in the constitution to reduce government to an absolute minimum”.

“Control of the press could also be obtained by several of the big mining groups banding together with a view to taking over one or more of the present giant newspaper chains which control the TV and radio channels, and converting them to the path of ‘free enterprise’,” he said.

That’s pretty sobering. the SMH might be transformed into a broadsheet with even sillier, shallower, more fascist tendencies than a Murdoch rag. I think it would be the end of public discourse in Sydney.

Here’s a link to what politicians think:

Political reaction to the news of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart’s increased stake in Fairfax Media has been mixed with Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey saying he is “comfortable” with the move.

But the Australian Greens have described the trend towards a handful of individuals owning swathes of the media as “dangerous”.

Communications spokesman Scott Ludlam says concentrated media ownership by individuals means Australia is unhealthy for democracy.

Senator Ludlam says the national laws against concentration of ownership in the media are now far too weak after being “gutted by the Howard government”.

The Greens Senator claimed Ms Rinehart has “indicated a desire to have more influence over national affairs” and that she had “campaigned against Labor’s mining tax to protect her own commercial interests.”

Interesting how Joe Hockey is merely comfortable. You’d think he’d jump up and down with joy at the thought that a right wing nutjob is trying to seize editorial control of the SMH.

For the record, this is Gina Rinehart’s view on several subjects:

Mining tax:
“[The Minerals Resource Rent tax] damages investor confidence and renders formally attractive and value-adding projects less viable”.
“One of the issues that needs to be tackled is the cost, risk and time lost on approvals, permits and licences before revenue can be earned, [which] has very greatly increased in Australia, making it almost impossible for small companies to carry and comply with such burdens,” Mrs Rinehart said.
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“If our costs get out of kilter through excessive taxation or excessive regulation on top of our other high costs we already have, this is just making it more difficult.”
Carbon tax:
“We must drop these taxes or we risk the bureaucracy becoming the only growth industry in Australia.”
“After this unnecessary shock to investment and exploration the carbon tax (and MRRT) is causing, we should also demand from our politicians that they introduce legislation that requires a majority by referendum before they can introduce any new taxes or tax increases.”

God help us all from this woman’s political views.

Anyway, I note all this because it was interesting how the SMH kept spitting out bits and pieces about Rinehart today as the story unfolded. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings and at the moment she’s busy buying up shares.

Between An Angry Devil And A Poison Deep Blue Sea

It just gets worse and worse over in Greece and by extension, Europe.

All leaders of the euro zone are insisting that forcing private creditors to take a hit on Greek bonds constitutes a “unique” event, for fear of causing contagion. But spreads on Portuguese bonds are rising to alarming levels, and the outlook for Italy and Spain is still wobbly.

“An inability to tackle a problem the size of Greece inspires little confidence in the ability of the EU to tackle Italy and Spain,” says Sony Kapoor, head of Re-Define, a financial think-tank in Brussels.

Germany parried demands, from Mr Monti and others, to enlarge the firewall by merging the existing temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the permanent new European Stability Mechanism (ESM). This would enlarge the fund from €500 billion ($659 billion) to €750 billion. Mrs Merkel said the matter should be discussed in March, as decided in last December’s summit.

March, says Angela Merkel. The Economist suggests the investors should take more losses.

What is the best way out of this mess? Step one is to force private bondholders to take more losses. They have been treated with kid gloves so far because European governments insist the debt deal must be voluntary, thanks in part to a misplaced fear of triggering credit-default swaps. That must change. Discard the veneer of voluntarism and Greece can be tougher on its creditors. It should pass a law that retroactively introduces collective-action clauses into all domestic-debt contracts (making it easier to impose debt deals on recalcitrant bondholders). If it does this now there is still, just, enough time to organise a big, coercive, but orderly, restructuring of Greek bonds by March 20th.

So mark that date down as the date hell will break loose on the markets again. 20th March.

While I’m at it I think it’s worth linking to this little thing from Boris Johnson.

Now in the old days, before the euro, there was a simple solution that allowed the Italians to keep producing cars of the same quality and to keep unit costs down. It was devaluation, and if you look at the postwar career of the lira (and just about every European currency) against the Deutschmark, you can see how it worked. As the mark appreciated, it was more expensive for Italians to buy a German car; and as the Italian currency fell, Italian cars remained a good buy in Germany. The tragedy now is that this option is closed off for the euro-zone members – and look at the Italian car industry.

Manufacturers can no longer use the lira to compete on price, and they are being utterly stuffed. Italian car sales fell 15.3 per cent in December, while sales of German cars grew 8.8 per cent. The Italians now produce fewer cars than the British do, and their markets are being relentlessly gobbled by Audis and Beemers and other beautifully engineered machines from Germany.

It is worth pointing out again that the Germans get a great deal out of the Euro for being the Euro in that it lowers the prices of their exports significantly; which is exactly why Angela Merkel is running around trying to save the Euro because the Germans stand to lose a lot if and when the Euro breaks up and they have to reissue the Deutsche Mark, and it appreciates like the Yen and suddenly nobody on the planet can afford German products except “the 1%”. It might be cheaper to buy all of Greece than to keep haggling over its debt.

Property Bubble Babble

I know this blog has gone in weird directions at time in pursuit of interesting tidbits to do with the GFC, and I have to say one of the weirder aspects of the GFC has been the sustained property bubble in Australia. It’s so weird, people are used to this bubble but as I pointed out yesterday, there’s no real reason for Australia’s real estate to be so much more pricier than other parts of the world. yes, it’s really nice here in parts, but so are Greek Island Villas that come in cheaper than some flats in long-established suburbs in Sydney.

Anyway, I got this link from Skarp today which points out 4 reasons why there is a bubble going on, tangential to what the other fellow Professor Steve Keene says. Embedded in it is this link here, which is sort of prequel to the other link. The take away message is that it wasn’t the non-recourse lending in America that led to the subprime problem, it was the extreme lending. Housing prices don’t always go up, and in the long view of history, any tie that it does is an anomaly. There is no housing shortage as claimed by the peak bodies, and Australian banks have not lent conservatively as claimed, which feeds back into the recourse lending argument.

I do want  to point to this bit:

Rational discussion about the state of the property market is fraught. Many outspoken bubble deniers are conflicted by their interests in industry and government. Many – not all – are employed by, consult for, manage, and/or own organisations with a direct interest in maintaining the status quo of an overvalued property (land) market. These institutions are primarily commercial lenders, investment banks, real estate intelligence firms, insurance, real estate agents, Treasury, the RBA, vote-seeking politicians, and the mass media.

Skilled and intelligent specialists, trained in neoclassical economics in leading US institutions, did not see their enormous housing bubble until it burst in front of them with horrendous consequences. What makes Australia’s “experts” any more competent?

As investor Jeremy Grantham has noted: “Bubbles have quite a few things in common but housing bubbles have a spectacular thing in common, and that is every one of them is considered unique and different.”

All this is to say it’s worth looking at the Australian housing market with a good deal of scepticism. Even if prices don’t collapse, it’s hard to make a case that it’s going to keep going up. If I were an investor, I’d be looking at another asset class.

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Dreaming Of Greek Island Villas

Different Spin

Just a weird, weird thought for today. Would you move to Greece?

I don’t know if you’ve ever looked, but today Mrs. Pleiades showed me a bunch of photos of Real Estate available in Greek Islands. Hey, I’m no millionaire or anything, but you can dream. What caught my eye was the price tags on some of these gorgeous places. Take this one here in Ithaca, home of Odysseus. Or this seaside villa for 850k Euros. How about this 270k Euro cottage in Corfu? They’re absolutely beautiful places. I know Greece is in a lot of turmoil but consider this for a moment. If you had a bit of money and you could own one of these sorts of places, and wouldn’t starve and had all the amenities of a good life available, would it really matter to you that the Greek government is insolvent?

Apparently wealthy Germans flock to the Greek Islands.  guess it’s their equivalent of the Gold Coast. You can see why. So it is hard not to imagine that the Germans get something out of Greece being a member of the European Union and by extension, a member of the Euro.

I’ve been pondering this tangle of facts all afternoon. People are busting a gut buying a 2 bedroom flat in Sydney. For the same money, you could theoretically buy an amazing piece on some Greek Island and just stare at the beauty all day and all night. Okay, I know you’d need some cashflow but the point is how good is a 2 bedroom flat in Chatswood or Pyrmont, let’s say, compared to a villa on a Greek Island? If you need evidence that the Greeks really are in trouble, this has to be it; and in turn if there’s any evidence that Australian property is way, way overpriced, then this must be it.

But it cuts in all sorts of different ways. Imagine being a poor Greek person. If all this was around you and you couldn’t buy in because foreigners came all the time to buy it out, why the hell would you stay? No wonder they like the European union where they can get to work anywhere. If they got kicked out of the Euro zone, they would still have their real estate bought up by foreigners, but they would lose that freedom to go work anywhere in the Eurozone. No wonder the polls in Greece say they don’t want to quit the Eurozone.

It would be a shame if the Euro were to implode as a result of all the debt woes and bad faith negotiations. The fall out from that is going to be awful. But maybe all those Island properties would become even more affordable – then what are you going to do? 🙂

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China In The Spotlight

More Than Reading Tea Leaves

Okay, non-movie related entry today. Sorry guys, but this stuff keeps being so interesting, so bear with me.

Time Magazine had this article today, pondering the likelihood of China being able to help out Europe as the global financial crisis part 2 unfolds.

China certainly has the cash on hand ($3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves) to make a difference. It also seemingly has a strong interest in keeping global markets afloat. But that wasn’t the take I got at a lunch this week in Hong Kong with a regional banker, an economist, and a Hong Kong politician.

For one thing, frugal Chinese citizens aren’t keen on spending their country’s savings to bail out profligate Europeans, they said. Beijing is already under enough pressure to spend more of its export cash on its own people. The government and China’s sovereign wealth funds also aren’t sold on the idea. That’s partly because China doesn’t feel as vulnerable to Europe’s debt crisis as we might think.

That sounds oddly familiar. For one thing, the Germans don’t want to spend the money to bail out the profligate Greeks but in their instance it can be argued that they should seeing that the Euro actually keeps Germany sheltered from a much more fluctuating and volatile currency. Some have done the sums and think that a re-issued Deutschmark would appreciate 30% above where the Germans are trading, putting a massive dent in their exports.  So an argument can be made that the lazy Greeks are in part keeping the Germans in business, even if they owe too much money.

Furthermore, there’s this interesting article here.

The concerns about Europe’s banks have been simmering in the background for some time. Economists have warned that at the core of the euro zone crisis is an unstable support system: Poorly capitalized banks were holding up poorly financed governments, which in turn were expected to back the poorly capitalized banks. As the sovereign debt crisis has escalated, sucking in giant Italy, those fears have only inched closer to becoming reality. Many influential voices have proclaimed that Europe’s banks just don’t’ have the level of capital necessary to withstand a one-two punch of slowing growth and widening debt crisis. They could end up taking a massive smack from losses on their holdings of European sovereign debt.

Right. And when the European banks start really failing, what is that going to do to Europe which is China’s great export market? Hot on the heels of that article is this article here in Yahoo7.

“Everyone is getting more concerned about risks accumulating domestically (in China)” said Ju Wang, a fixed income strategist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

The implications for Australia are huge. Although BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have both issued bullish statements about demand from China for our natural resources booming for at least another decade, experts say that producers such as our miners are often the last to know when demand from customers falls off a cliff.

If China’s property market continues to fall, building will stop abruptly and demand for Australian iron ore will plummet because most of our goods go towards building China’s infrastructure.

“This is certainly a big issue and one we cannot afford to be complacent about” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.

“The biggest concern are the loans from outside the banking sector that fuelled the property boom. But there are risks across the economy and it could have a big impact on our exports. China needs to look at loosening monetary policy sooner rather than later to help stop so many investors borrowing from unregulated lenders.”

In other words, China actually needs Europe to sort out this Greek sovereign debt mess because if it doesn’t, it has as much to lose in the ensuing global recession. One can’t say with any confidence that wise heads will prevail in the Euro debate or the US policy debate, let alone who-know-what that passes for policy setting in Beijing. So strap yourselves in for the double-dip recession and hope like hell it doesn’t devolve in to wars and destroy the world.

The Dark Crystal Ball Says…

This one is from Pleiades, and everybody who is vaguely interested in where things are likely to go should have a read of it.

Unless Germany moves quickly to reverse its current account surplus – which is very unlikely – the European crisis will force a sharp balance-of-trade adjustment onto Germany, which will cause its economy to slow sharply and even to contract. By 2015-16 German economic performance will be much worse than that of France and the UK.
If Germany does not take radical steps to push its current account surplus into deficit, the brunt of the European adjustment will fall on the deficit countries with a sharp decrease in domestic demand. This is what the world means when it insists that these countries “tighten their belts”.

If the deficit countries of Europe do not intervene in trade, they will bear the full employment impact of that drop in demand – i.e. unemployment will continue to rise. If they do intervene, they will force the brunt of the adjustment onto Germany and Germany will suffer the employment consequences.

For one or two years the deficit countries will try to bear the full brunt of the adjustment while Germany scolds and cajoles from the side. Eventually they will be unable politically to accept the necessary high unemployment and they will intervene in trade – almost certainly by abandoning the euro and devaluing. In that case they automatically push the brunt of the adjustment onto the surplus countries, i.e. Germany, and German unemployment will rise. I don’t know how soon this will happen, but remember that in global demand contractions it is the surplus countries who always suffer the most. I don’t see why this time will be any different.

About a week after I set down these “predictions”, and two days after I finished this point, I saw in the Financial Times that German growth has already hit a wall. Expect to see a lot more articles like this over the next few years.

The rest of the article makes for fascinating reading.

I was thinking the other day that there is far more debt than there is money in the economies all combined. So at some point somebody is going to be stuck with the un-payable debt, and that will lead to all kinds of conflict. There’s really nowhere to run in the markets or even outside of it. The money you hold might evaporate in policy-led inflation; the assets you hold might devalue severely. The governments you vote in might have to tax you harder than you thought. And none of this would add up to what would be enough.

Ultimately we’re going to end up like Argentina in the late 1990s. You wouldn’t be able to insure anything because insurance companies will die back. All those Woody Allen jokes about insurance salesmen will sound quaint on that day. It’s all in the cards. We live in interesting times, that’s for sure.

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Come And See

Been A Long Time

Back in the day, one of the most traumatic films you could watch about the experience of World War II was ‘Come And See’ directed by Elim Klimov. This wasn’t just any movie about the war, this was a film so graphic in its portrayal of the Einsatzgruppen – the SS paramilitary death squads – and their hideous modus operandi during their campaign in Byelorussia.

The first time I even heard about this film was in the late 1980s when a friend of the family told me about with much excitement. He described to me the climactic montage, which hardly made any sense because I don’t think he understood what he was trying to describe, but it sounded really good. Later on, when i finally saw it, I understood it as well as the shear intellectual excitement of the family friend who just had to tell me all about it.

The film has a way of staying with you forever and for a long time I’ve wanted to get hold of this film on DVD so I can just watch it again and digest it; see if it matches up to the way I remember it.

What’s Good About It

My old film school Screen Analysis teacher used to like talking about misc en scene and sense of place. Well, this film is dripping with a sense of what Byelorussia is like and the sorts of life they had in the 1940s as the Germans came in. As a Soviet era film, the film works through some interesting technical moves as well as a dialectical montage towards the end.

There is plenty of good old social realism to go around as we survey the Byelorussian village and roll around in the mud and laves, dance in the rain, as well as wade through the bog with the main character. The film conveys a fantastic tactile quality with the images on the screen, which later on turn to freak you out. It’s got good directing and cinematography and you’re never at a loss to understand the situation.

In one sense, the film remains a high watermark of films made under the auspices of the old Soviet regime even while Klimov may have struggled greatly in convincing the Soviet powers-that-be to let him make the film. It’s an immensely ideological work as well as a very prosaically – almost pedantic – film that sets out to show what the Einsatzgruppen operation would have looked like. Put it this way, it’s nothing like an American movie. This thing was not made to entertain you. It was meant to seer into your very consciousness the frightening terror and horror of the war on the Eastern Front.

What’s Bad About It

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film and I’ve possibly had too much time to digest the film. Watching it on DVD for the second time in my life had nowhere near the impact as seeing it the first time. Oddly enough there were whole sequences in the film that I’d forgotten about towards the beginning that are really tedious scenes to set up the central action of a boy going to war.

I probably shouldn’t say it’s bad as such but in the this viewing, I felt tedium. This is bad. Or maybe I’m just craving for more action on screen, but at the core of it I think Klimov is disinterested in what interests the audience, but very interested in what interests him. This results in a film whose emotional arc is so jagged that the crucially traumatic scene seems to pass over the main character early on all the while leading on to the church burning. It’s an odd choice as to what Klimov wants to show up close and what he chooses to only glance at.

It’s also not clear what happens to Glisha, the girl. I wasn’t sure that the victim of mass rape actually was Glisha or the young mother who escaped from the church, leaving behind her child and then carted off on a “pack rape truck”. The screenwriter in me sort of went, “hang a minute, what is this denouement?” The director in me actually went, “hang a minute, this is worth establishing, if you’re going to be so prosaic about he rest of the war crime activity?”

What’s Interesting About It

Quite by coincidence I saw this article in the Economist. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll see a spirited exchange of opinions as to whether Russia could have beaten NAZI Germany on its own.

I have no doubt that what the Russians endured in fighting NAZI Germany was much worse than anything else her allies had to live through. That’s just the fact of it. The Einsatzgruppen didn’t exactly tour an occupied New York or Washington DC, hunting for Jews and Romani and commissars. The film paints a fairly stark portrait of that very struggle by partisans facing off against the might of the German war machine.

What’s interesting about it today is that in light of all the things that happened in the Balkans with their death squads and death camps, the film has actually lost something of its power through the intervening years. The two Gulf Wars by the two Bush Presidents have also changed the nature of how wars are conducted to the point where it seems quaint that the Germans would bother to round people up and burn them in a church. The contemporary American simply sends out a tomahawk cruise missile or carpet bombs a whole city.

Film As Ideological Artefact

Elim Klimov struggled mightily to make this film. I can’t understand why, but then Tarkovsky struggled mightily to make his films as well. The Soviet film production approvals committee were apparently against making obscure films or difficult films. They wanted that old social realism, which of course goes back to Stalin. Stalin probably wasn’t interested in the entertainment value of film but he sure was interested in propaganda value, so he wanted Soviet cinema to be the perspicacious to the extreme.

Now, I can understand Tarkovsky running into some flack with films like ‘The Mirror’ but Elim Klimov is nowhere near an obscurantist director as Tarkovsky. Watching the film today, you can get a pungent dose of the Soviet Realist school of film making. You just can’t miss it. 20 odd years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Perestroika, the ideological garb of the film stands out more today than perhaps it did in 1986. The film it reminded me of the most was in fact Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will‘. Maybe these films are mirror images of one another – one film about the glory of NAZI Germany, Klimov’s film about the absolute hell it created. In other words, as fine a film as it is, today we can see it for the propaganda film it was.

Which is all the more reason why I wonder why Klimov struggled so much. He was certainly pitching fastballs high and inside just as he was meant to.

The Mosfilm Legacy

We used to get a steady diet of Mosfilm stuff at AFTRS. Such heavily ideological works as ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ and ‘Alexander Nevsky’ would get a screening and the student body would all sagely nod and say how wonderfully moving these films were. They’re great films and I’m glad they got made, but to get them made, these film makers had to twist themselves to the yoke of Soviet ideology. You’d think AFTRS thought Mosfilm productions were the way to go in cinema.

In a world of global commercial cinema with America at the epicentre, it’s very quaint how AFTRS was feeding this stuff to its students who would have to write essays about a deeper cinema. I dare say it contributed greatly to unrealistic expectations about the craft as well as the business. I think this strand of thinking has influenced the funding bodies that took on these graduates as its assessors and film bureaucrats. It has collectively contributed to the decimation of the Australian Film industry in the 1990s as well as the 2000s. It is as if the film bureaucrats who came out of AFTRS essentially locked up the film makers of this country in a church and burned them all down.

I remember piping up at the time ‘Terminator 2’ came out and asking how these Mosfilm films stood in relation to a US$120million action spectacle. I got frowned at and ridiculed, but really, where is Mosfilm now? On the other hand, Arnie’s the governor of California and James Cameron did ‘Avatar’. Looking back on it now, it seems really quaint that so much value was put into studying Mosfilm movies.

I like ‘Come And See’, but it fills me with a weird kind of angst that has nothing to with its content.

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All Greek To You?

It’s All Greek To The Greeks Too

This business of the Greek debt crisis is a bit disturbing. Markets are all lining up to kick Greece’s rear should it default on its debt. The markets around the world slid today as people anticipated that the Euro Bailout would not be enough. Here’s an article that just adds fuel to the fire.

A nationwide general strike has gripped Greece in the first major test of the socialist government’s resolve to push through unprecedented austerity cuts needed to avert fiscal meltdown.

Protest fever swept the country with public transport paralysed, ferries not leaving the docks and air traffic grounded as unions went on the warpath against the latest wave of spending cuts and tax hikes.

Hundreds of thousands of civil servants kicked off the protests on Tuesday and a group of about 200 communists also stormed Athens Acropolis, unfurling banners reading “Peoples of Europe, Rise Up.”

Wednesday’s walkout, the third general strike in as many months, comes as the government races to push the austerity drive through parliament, looking to its comfortable majority there to pass the package on Thursday.

Greece’s main unions were to mass in central Athens at 11am (1800 AEST) before moving through the streets of the capital in protest marches.

They’re really angry in Greece because of the austerity measures to come and there’s nothing that can cause demonstrations than taking away perks and entitlements; especially if some Socialist Government is going to do that, then you’re sure to see much anger.

The fury of the Greek protests are quite intense. Just reading the description above, it reminded me of the passage in Thucydides covering the aftermath of the failure of the Sicilian campaign. At least that event had more drastic consequences for the city of Athens. The Spartans would eventually go on to press their advantage an defeat Athens in the Peloponnesian War.

So who are thr Spartans this time? I think it might be the Germans. Yes, the Germans who have to shoulder the most of the bail out costs and they’re watching these demonstrations on the streets in Athens thinking, “hang a minute, these Greeks want our money AND keep pulling down those perks and entitlements that we don’t get, that they couldn’t afford in the first place?” You can imagine Angela Merkel is getting an earful on that.

The Economist had this take:

Although the move to ban short-selling steadied Greece’s stockmarket somewhat on Wednesday, the chances of the country defaulting on its debts were still perceived by the bond markets as high. Spreads on Greek government bonds (the risk premium compared with German bonds) reached a 13-year high as investors worried that the proposed rescue plan for Greece could stall. Talks between Greece, the European Union and the IMF got under way last week.

Greece was initially seeking up to €45 billion ($60 billion) in emergency loans from euro-zone governments and the IMF this year, the first chunk of which will be needed by May 19th, when the Greek government must refinance a €8.5 billion bond. But as the crisis has worsened it has become clear that Greece could need much more. On Wednesday it was reported that the EU and IMF were preparing a package worth up to €120 billion over three years—if so, the biggest sovereign rescue yet attempted. Nevertheless, even aid on this scale might only postpone an eventual default, if Greece’s economy fails to grow faster than its debt pile.

Investors do not seem convinced that euro-zone governments will be able to muster the political will to hammer out an agreement. Germany, as the largest euro member, is vital to any effort to save Greece, but it is wavering. German public opinion is firmly set against dipping into the public purse to help the profligate Greeks. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, is in a tight spot. If she agrees to extend aid quickly to Greece a voters’ backlash back home may send her party crashing to defeat in regional elections set for May 9th. But if she sits back and watches Greece slide towards default, the contagion is sure to spread rapidly to other, bigger EU countries with debt problems—Mrs Merkel could then end up being blamed for triggering a far worse conflagration across Europe, including a fresh banking crisis.

A fresh banking crisis? Oh great. Here we go again

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It Was 70 Years Ago Today

Corporal Hitler Taught The Band To Play

And it’s definitely gone more out of style than in, but all the same, today marks the 70th Anniversary of WWII, which commenced with Hitler’s Germany invading Poland. Naturally there haven’t been that many good jokes about it since then.

Bette Midler said about her marriage to a German: “at nights I dress up as Poland and let him invade me”

Then there’s the ‘Fawlty Towers’ “Don’t mention the war” gag that culminates in:

“You mentioned it first.”

“You started it!”

“No, you started it”

“No, YOU started it when you invaded Polant in 1939!”

Then there’s my favorite “Not the Nine O’ Clock News” gag where they declared: “In 1982 Germany became the first nation to win the Eurovision Song Contest with a song about love and peace, having started two world wars.”

In that spirit, I bring to you some interesting headlines.

This one’s from the BBC.

This is Poland’s take.

Relations between Poland and Russia are currently thorny, partly because of differing historical interpretations of events at the start of the war.
Mr Putin added that the pair should “rise above the problems of the past… and solve the problems of the future”.
He went on to talk about trade and energy co-operation between the two.
Earlier, Mr Kaczynski and his prime minister Donald Tusk joined war veterans beside a monument to the heroes of Westerplatte at 0445 (0245 GMT).
The ceremony marked the exact time on 1 September 1939 when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire at point-blank range on the fort.
At the same time, the German Wehrmacht invaded Poland from east, west and south. The attacks triggered Britain and France’s declaration of war against Germany two days later.

Poles, though, have long seen the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty, signed a week before war started, as the starting gun for the German invasion, says the BBC’s Jonny Dymond in Gdansk.

It’s just as John Cleese thundered. Putin for his part condemned the Nazi-Soviet Pact. I don’t really know what that does for anybody today, but there you go. A gesture by the man who tranquilises tigers.

“Our duty is to remove the burden of distrust and prejudice left from the past in Polish-Russian relations,” said Mr Putin in the article, which was also published on the Russian government website.
“Our duty… is to turn the page and start to write a new one.”

Memories of the 1939 pact – in which the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany essentially agreed to carve up Poland and the Baltic States between them – have long soured Moscow’s relations with Poland and other east European states.

Within a month of the pact being signed, Soviet troops had invaded and occupied parts of eastern Poland.
“It is possible to condemn – and with good reason – the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact concluded in August 1939,” wrote Mr Putin, referring to the two foreign ministers who signed the pact at the Kremlin.
It was clear today, he said, that any form of agreement with the Nazi regime was “unacceptable from the moral point of view and had no chance of being realised”.

“But after all,” he added, “a year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism.”

Yes, yes, peace in our time and all that guff. What a load of Bollocks. It all rankles with somebody at some point in the story. WWII must be one of the most gripes-galore moments in human history, some of which are still being worked through in the Middle East. This next bit, caught my eye:

Mr Putin added that Russian people understood “all too well the acute emotions of Poles in connection with Katyn”.
In 1940 Soviet secret police massacred more than 21,000 army officers and intellectuals on Stalin’s direct orders in the Katyn forest near the city of Smolensk.
Moscow only took responsibility for the killings in 1990, having previously blamed the massacre on the Nazis.

That’s very grand of him, I think, but I imagine Poles still think the Russians are assholes who sold them out to the Nazis and then fucked them up the ass. At least if not in that language, we find these sentiments:

Speaking at the ceremonies, Polish President Lech Kaczynski called the actions a “stab in the back.”

“This blow came from Bolshevik Russia, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” Kaczynski said.

That view, widely held in Poland and elsewhere in Europe, has produced fury in Moscow.

In a newspaper interview on August 31, Putin called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact “immoral.” But he said Moscow had no choice but to sign the agreement to postpone war after Western powers concluded their own agreement with Germany. He said the 1938 Munich Agreement ended “all hope of creating a united front against fascism.”

In Moscow on September 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out against a recent resolution by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, equating Nazism and Stalinism, calling it “lies” and a “rewriting of history.”

“Even during the Cold War no one ever tried to put the Nazi regime and Stalin’s dictatorship on the same footing,” he said. “It never occurred to anyone to equate the Nazi threat, which meant the enslavement and annihilation of entire nations, and the policy of the Soviet Union, which was the only force capable of standing up against the war machine of Hitler’s Germany and in the end ensuring its defeat.”

You know what? I don’t think the Russians are ever going to get a pass out of the Poles on that one, just as the Japanese are never going to get a pass out of the Koreans and Chinese (and everybody else they fucked up), just as the Germans won’t ever get a free pass from most of Europe (even though Hitler was Austrian – Austrians get an easier time of it, really), just as the Americans are never going to live down Vietnam, and England’s never going to be let off the hook for her Colonial rule in India and Hong Kong, and so on.

There’s a joke about a guy called Kosta who says, “I built all those ships in the bay. Do they call me Kosta the shipwright? No. I built all those houses on the hill. Do they call me Kosta the carpenter? No. I built all the tall spires in the town. Do they call me Kosta the architect? No. (pause) I fuck one goat!”

Well, I think these countries all fucked  at least one goat, and that’s the story of WWII. It’s really not as edifying as all the heroic tales you see and hear and read.  All those heroics are in the service of fucking metaphorical goats.

Speaking of fucking goats, you might be amused by this entry in the SMH today.

Opposition leaders have historically struggled to get on the front pages of newspapers.

Why else do you think they undertake listening tours, sit down with toddlers for cups of pretend tea, go on cabbage soup diets and go on Rove Live?

But in NSW, Barry O’Farrell’s profile problem is a little more boutique.

He can’t get on the front pages because he can’t think of a human behaviour venal enough to displace the members of the Government.

Think about it.

What would O’Farrell have to do, exactly, to get a gallop in the media these days?

Intimacy with a goat probably wouldn’t even do it.

Yup. WWII sure helped forge the world we live in today. Either that, or it’s just that kind of day.

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