50,000 march against austerity in London, BBC doesn't notice

Joly writes, "It seems the BBC are capable of tracking down a single Scot in Brazil who cheered a goal against England but fail to notice 50,000 demonstrating on their doorstep." The Guardian noticed. There's much bigger stuff -- likely too big for the Beeb to ignore -- coming in October.

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U of Saskatchewan fires tenured dean for speaking out against cuts

A reader writes, "Robert Buckingham, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan since 2009, was fired last Wednesday for critical comments about the university's restructuring plans. When he showed up for work Wednesday morning, two campus security guards escorted him off campus. The university not only fired him as dean, but also stripped Buckingham of his tenured faculty position. The termination letter signed by Provost and VP Academic Brett Fairbairn said that by speaking out against the school's restructuring plans, Buckingham had 'demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination' and was in breach of contract."

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Brazil rises up: 2M march across 80+ cities, 110,000 in the streets of Rio

The street protests in Brazil have gained momentum, with huge crowds in the streets. At issue is a kind of corporatist corruption symbolized by two upcoming football tournaments that are to be held at enormous public expense, even as poor Brazilians find themselves struggling with substandard infrastructure and price-hikes for public services. As in other BRIC nations, Brazil seems like a place where the economic future is here, it's just not evenly distributed -- not by a long shot.

The Brazilian president has praised the protesters for demanding justice but the state's spies have ramped up their social media surveillance, and the Brazilian police have met the protesters with extreme use of force, including gas, rubber bullets, and shotgun-toting cops on horseback and motorcycles:

Simultaneous demonstrations were reported in at least 80 cities, with a total turnout that may have been close to 2 million. An estimated 110,000 marched in São Paulo, 80,000 in Manaus, 50,000 in Recife, and 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and Salvador.

Clashes were reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in Campinas north of São Paulo and in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

Thirty-five people were injured in the capital Brasilia, where 30,000 people took to the streets. In São Paulo, one man died when a frustrated car driver rammed into the crowd. Elsewhere countless people, including many journalists, were hit by rubber bullets.

The vast majority of those involved were peaceful. Many wore Guy Fawkes masks, emulating the global Occupy campaign. Others donned red noses – a symbol of a common complaint that people are fed up being treated as clowns.

Brazil protests: riot police scatter crowds in Rio [Jonathan Watts/The Guardian]

Brutal police crackdown on protesters in Sao Paolo

Diego sez, "Protestors - mainly students - are taking the streets of Sao Paulo. The problem: the government just raised the bus fare from R$3 to R$3,20. The protests are getting a really violent reception from the police. You can see a video of the police action. The problem isn't the 20 cents. I think the real problem is that we are having so many issues of inflation, very high taxes, corruption - 2014 World Cup stadiums being built with public money, costing about $1 billion each pop - so future looks really bleak here. Everything seems to be boiling after this 20 cents. If you ask me, Brazilians are getting tired of being treated as clowns. Tonight (6/13), there's going to be a new protest. People won't stop until they get what they want. Hopefully, with some international attention, Sao Paulo's police may stop hitting students with their batons and tear gas."

European Broadcasting Union steps in to keep the Greek national broadcaster on the air after police shut it down

Yesterday, the Greek government forcibly shut down the state broadcaster, ERT, sending in the police to drag journalists away from their microphones. The government claimed that the shutdown was the result of inescapable austerity measures. In response, the European Broadcasting Union -- an umbrella group representing public broadcasters across Europe -- has set up a makeshift mobile studio where ERT broadcasters can continue to work and stay on air.

This is being fed around Europe on an EBU satellite as part of its European news exchange operation and can be picked up by commercial stations in Greece but not the general public.

A spokesman for the EBU, which is headquartered in Geneva, said a "high-level meeting with a conference call" with the director general of ERT would take place later on Wednesday to decide on next steps.

Roger Mosey, the BBC's editorial director, who is on the EBU board told the Guardian: "We're watching events in Greece with great concern. When countries are in difficulty, there's an even bigger need for public service broadcasting and for independent, impartial news coverage. I hope that's restored in Greece as soon as possible."

The EBU spokesman said ERT staff in contact with the organisation have told them the power has not yet been cut by the government, but email servers have been taken down. They are now contacting the EBU through smartphones, using Facebook and personal email accounts.

"This is unprecedented, stations have closed and re-opened for a number of reasons, but never with such abruptness," said a spokesman for the EBU.

ERT shutdown: European Broadcasting Union sets up makeshift studio [Lisa O'Carroll/The Guardian]

Greek government shuts down state broadcaster, police force journalists out of the building

Michael sez, "The Greek government forcibly shut down transmissions of all TV and radio stations operated by the state-owned broadcaster ERT, with police ejecting journalists and other employees who were occupying the buildings."

A few hours ago, the Greek government announced that state television and radio channels would be silenced at midnight. No public debate, no debate in Parliament, no warning. Nothing. ERT, the Greek version of the BBC, will simply fold its tent and steal into the night. As probably the only Greek commentator to have been blacklisted by ERT over the past two years, I feel I have the moral authority to cry out against ERT’s passing. To shout from the rooftops that its murder by our troika-led government is a crime against public media that all civilised people, the world over, should rise up against.

ERT (Greek state tv-radio) is dead: A blacklisted person’s lament

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Austerity: the greatest bait-and-switch in history

Mark Blyth, a delightfully sweary Scottish economist, talks for about an hour to Googlers about the stupidity of austerity as a means of recovering from recession, describing it in colorful, easy-to-grasp language. This is brilliant, accessible and important economics:

Governments today in both Europe and the United States have succeeded in casting government spending as reckless wastefulness that has made the economy worse. In contrast, they have advanced a policy of draconian budget cuts--austerity--to solve the financial crisis. We are told that we have all lived beyond our means and now need to tighten our belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer.

That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget. The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn't work. As the past four years and countless historical examples from the last 100 years show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all we do is shrink the economy. In the worst case, austerity policies worsened the Great Depression and created the conditions for seizures of power by the forces responsible for the Second World War: the Nazis and the Japanese military establishment. As Blyth amply demonstrates, the arguments for austerity are tenuous and the evidence thin. Rather than expanding growth and opportunity, the repeated revival of this dead economic idea has almost always led to low growth along with increases in wealth and income inequality. Austerity demolishes the conventional wisdom, marshaling an army of facts to demand that we recognize austerity for what it is, and what it costs us.

Mark Blyth: Austerity - The History of a Dangerous Idea (via Memex 1.1)

Meet austerity's millionaires

Britain's harsh austerity measures have produced a sharp decline in real income and quality of life for the majority of the country; but the number of people earning £1M+ has doubled and is at an all-time high.

Official figures reveal that 18,000 people now earn at least £1m – the highest number recorded by HM Revenue & Customs. In 2010-11, 10,000 earned more than £1m, and in 1999-2000 there were only 4,000 earning such a salary.

There is also growth further down the salary brackets, with 5,000 more earning £500,000 to £1m in 2012-13 compared with 2010-11, an extra 31,000 earning £200,000 to £500,000, and 7,000 more earning £150,000 to £200,000.

The figures will increase concerns that the trends of the 1990s and early 2000s are continuing, with a growing disparity between the top-earning 1%, many of whom work in finance, and the rest of the workforce. In sectors such as manufacturing, construction and hospitality salaries have been squeezed in recent years. A recent report showed that if low to middle earnings were to rise by the 1.1% a year above inflation achieved in the past, average annual household incomes in this group would take until 2023 to reach £22,000 – the equivalent of where they stood in 2008.

Super-rich on rise as number of £1m-plus earners doubles [Daniel Boffey/The Observer]

Northern Ireland builds a Potemkin Village for the G8

The G8 Summit is coming to Fermanagh, a county in Northern Ireland that has been devastated by austerity. To spruce things up and maintain the fiction that austerity will get us out of the global economic depression, the county has spent £300,000 giving local businesses "a facelift" -- including installing a fake butcher-shop window full of imaginary meat in a derelict storefront.

Two shops in Belcoo, right on the border with Blacklion, Co Cavan, have been painted over to appear as thriving businesses. The reality, as in other parts of the county, is rather more stark.

Just a few weeks ago, Flanagan’s – a former butcher’s and vegetable shop in the neat village – was cleaned and repainted with bespoke images of a thriving business placed in the windows. Any G8 delegate passing on the way to discuss global capitalism would easily be fooled into thinking that all is well with the free-market system in Fermanagh..

The butcher’s business has been replaced by a picture of a butcher’s business. Across the road is a similar tale. A small business premises has been made to look like an office supplies store. It used to be a pharmacy, now relocated on the village main street.

Elsewhere in Fermanagh, billboard-sized pictures of the gorgeous scenery have been located to mask the occasional stark and abandoned building site or other eyesore.

Recession out of the picture as Fermanagh puts on a brave face for G8 leaders [Dan Keenan/Irish Times]

(via The Atlantic)

Usury in the UK


A UK Parliamentary committee blasted the Office of Fair Trading -- a consumer watchdog agency that is supposed to regulate moneylenders -- for doing effectively nothing to curb the growth of usurious, predatory moneylenders who attack poor and vulnerable people. There are 72,000 consumer credit firms in the UK, some chargin annual interest rates of 4,000%, but the OFT has never fined a single firm for breaking lending rules. On some rare occasions, it did shut down firms, but did nothing to stop them from reopening immediately under another name.

This week the charity Citizens Advice said it knew of cases where loans had been given to under-18s, to people with mental health issues, and to people who were drunk at the time of securing the loan. One client who took out a £50 loan was targeted with emails and texts offering more cash and ended up with debts of £800.

"Some of these lenders use predatory techniques to target vulnerable people on low incomes, encouraging them to take out loans which when rolled over with extra interest rapidly become out of control debts," the committee's chair, Margaret Hodge, said. "Meanwhile, the OFT has been ineffective and timid in the extreme. It passively waits for complaints from consumers before acting."

PAC's report said the OFT lacked information on how much lending was being done by each firm, and about how different people used consumer credit. A study commissioned from the National Audit Office suggested the scale of consumer harm was at least £450m a year, but the OFT was accused of lacking detailed information on the types of harm suffered by different groups of borrowers.

OFT criticised over 'ineffectual' payday loans policing [Hilary Osborne/The Guardian]

(Image: La Danse macabre, Guy Marchant/Wikimedia Commons)

Documentary on hidden victims of Greek austerity that's crowdfunded, free & CC-licensed

Into the Fire writes, "Into The Fire is a film with a difference. Besides being a hard hitting documentary which shows the plight of refugees and migrants amidst a collapsing Greek economy, it's also an experiment in new film production and distribution techniques. A year ago, we made a first, crowd-funded trip to Athens. We filmed shocking levels of racism, police brutality, and right-wing extremism - as well as the courageous and inspiring people who are organising against it.

"Into the Fire will be released on 21st April on the internet. We crowd-funded the film and crowd-sourced the subtitles: it's been translated into eight languages using the open subtitler Amara. We are also using crowd-sourcing as the release and distribution strategy for the documentary: anyone who signs up to participate will receive embedding details ahead of time, and the film will be released on various websites simultaneously. The audience becomes the distribution network."

Austerity economics only works if you make an Excel formula error

A new paper called Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin from UMass Amherst tries and fails to replicate the classic work on austerity, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's 2010 Growth in a Time of Debt.

Reinhart-Rogoff is the main research cited in favor of cutting public services and spending in bad economic times. It's a big part of why the local library is shutting down, why they're kicking people out of public housing, shutting down arts programs, slashing education and public transit, and laying off public employees. It purports to show that countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios of 90 percent or more are a "threat to sustainable economic growth."

In the new Amherst paper, the authors reexamine Reinhart-Rogoff's original data and conclude that the numbers don't add up. They show that Reinhart-Rogoff cherry-picked which years of high-debt GDP they measure, that they put their thumbs on the scales with "unconventional weighting" and made a "coding error" that "entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark." This last error -- literally the wrong formula in a spreadsheet cell -- badly skews the outcome.

Here's the tl;dr: "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]."

Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year. In their data set, there are 110 years of data available for countries that have a debt/GDP over 90 percent, but they only use 96 of those years. The paper didn't disclose which years they excluded or why.

Herndon-Ash-Pollin find that they exclude Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949), and Canada (1946-1950). This has consequences, as these countries have high-debt and solid growth. Canada had debt-to-GDP over 90 percent during this period and 3 percent growth. New Zealand had a debt/GDP over 90 percent from 1946-1951. If you use the average growth rate across all those years it is 2.58 percent. If you only use the last year, as Reinhart-Rogoff does, it has a growth rate of -7.6 percent. That's a big difference, especially considering how they weigh the countries.

Unconventional Weighting. Reinhart-Rogoff divides country years into debt-to-GDP buckets. They then take the average real growth for each country within the buckets. So the growth rate of the 19 years that the U.K. is above 90 percent debt-to-GDP are averaged into one number. These country numbers are then averaged, equally by country, to calculate the average real GDP growth weight.

In case that didn't make sense, let's look at an example. The U.K. has 19 years (1946-1964) above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with an average 2.4 percent growth rate. New Zealand has one year in their sample above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with a growth rate of -7.6. These two numbers, 2.4 and -7.6 percent, are given equal weight in the final calculation, as they average the countries equally. Even though there are 19 times as many data points for the U.K.

Now maybe you don't want to give equal weighting to years (technical aside: Herndon-Ash-Pollin bring up serial correlation as a possibility). Perhaps you want to take episodes. But this weighting significantly reduces the average; if you weight by the number of years you find a higher growth rate above 90 percent. Reinhart-Rogoff don't discuss this methodology, either the fact that they are weighing this way or the justification for it, in their paper.

Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff, and There Are Serious Problems. [Mike Konczal/Next New Deal]

Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff

(via Techdirt)

Spanish locksmiths won't help banks evict people from their homes

As the subprime bubble continues to burst in Spain, locksmiths find themselves complicit in putting families out on the street. In Pamplona, the local locksmiths have banded together and will not accept work from the banks changing locks or opening doors, even though it's costing them business:

Tired of accompanying court officials to evict unemployed people as banks foreclosed mortgages, De Carlos consulted his fellow Pamplona locksmiths before Christmas. In no time at all, they came to an agreement. They would not do the dirty work of banks whose rash lending pumped up a housing bubble and then, after it popped, helped bring the country to its knees.

"It only took us 15 minutes to reach a decision," says De Carlos amid the racks of keys in the family's shop in the centre of this small northern city best known for its annual bull-runs and the adoration heaped on it by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. "We all had stories of jobs we had been on where families had been left on the street. When you set out all you have is an address and the name of the bank, but I recall an elderly, sick man who was barely given time to put his trousers on."

The logic behind their decision was clear and simple. While Spain's banks mop up billions of euros in public aid, they are also busy reclaiming homes that in some cases they lent silly money for. At the height of Spain's housing madness, banks were, in effect, offering mortgages of more than 100%. They aggressively chased clients – especially among the immigrants who arrived from Latin America in their millions to build new homes – creating an uncontrolled spiral of self-fulfilling, but ultimately doomed, demand. Complex networks of guarantors were pieced together by middlemen among immigrants who often barely understood what they were doing.

Pamplona's locksmiths join revolt as banks throw families from their homes [Monica Muñoz and Giles Tremlett/The Guardian]

(via We Make Money Not Art)

Best-of Canadian Conservative government blunders for 2012


Dave sez,

This little blog is my attempt to keep track of all of the comings and goings of Canada's Conservative government. Every week I spend an hour or two putting together a weekly round-up of the bad things done by the Conservatives in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and "family values". Honestly, there's always so much material to work with that it practically writes itself. I figured it would take no time at all to put together a nice little list of my favourite Conservative moments/people/events of 2012. But there was just so very much to work with I very quickly became sad, angry, confused, overwhelmed and then sad, all over again. There's a few holes and a few things missing, but this list should provide a nice little primer for anybody that wants to know about the fantastic accomplishments of Canada's Government in 2012! Highlights include:

- A Conservative MP who keeps falling asleep at work and then gets really angry when people ask him about it
- An incompetent energy company attempting to hack a pipeline through the wilderness of British Columbia
- A Conservative Minister who attempted to destroy Internet privacy but threw a hissy fit when the details of his divorce were made public (spoiler: he may-or-may-not have slept with the babysitter!)

24 Percent Majority: 2012 Best Of - Week 87 - Dec 25-Jan 1 (Thanks, Dave!)