Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Value of a World

The world’s ecological and atmospheric infrastructure — from ocean currents to mango forests, the jetstream to wetlands — contributes at least $1.50 to human economic wellbeing for every dollar that we mark in the official economy of goods and services, new research has found. What does this matter? A lot, it turns out, as Chris Wood writes in his new Natural Security column. An excerpt: 

robert_costanza

Robert Costanza

If you have ever spent a night under the canopy of stars undimmed by city lights, in a place where the only sounds are those unmade by man that have whispered and lapped and knocked and called out through the dark hours in that place since the last big ice released its grip on the Earth, you may share the view of many who have been so blessed that the essence of our planet’s nature and worth cannot possibly be reduced to the grasping calculi of dollars or pounds or Euros.

You would be only partly right.

An American economist has done just that, sort of, for a second time. And while Robert Costanza doesn’t for a moment suggest that the planet’s service value to the human economy exhausts its rainbow of other values, he does say that we need to know that hard economic dollar value if we are to make wiser decisions about how we use the planet … read more (paywall).* 

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Wood’s column:

What’s a World Worth? We now have a very precise idea

Click here for Chris Wood’s’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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The Philosophy of a “Soccer Fanatic”

Sheldon 1

The Fernandez siblings in 2011. Image by Sheldon Fernandez © 2014

In  June, the largest global audience in history will tune in to watch the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, a quadrennial carnival rivalled only by the Summer and Winter Olympics. Many will live and die by the progress of their teams, with hearts-in-mouths and lumps in throats. Tears, shrieks and all the rest will combine into smorgasbord of emotion that only soccer can induce. What is it about the game that gives it such widespread appeal? Against the backdrop of club football, Sheldon Fernandez searches for the answer ….

An excerpt of his new piece in F&O’s Think-Magazine section – part memoir, part musing:

The dimensions of my Man United fandom frightens me at times, so intense and entrenched are the emotions. When my team wins the universe is vibrant and orderly and rays of sunshine shower my existence. But when they lose the cosmos is a morbid void and I feel like a helpless actor in an absurdist play. Quite often the scale of these emotions is tied to the scale of the triumph or failure. In the wake of a spectacular victory I devour the newspapers like a giddy parent as if the team’s accomplishments are my own. But after a crushing defeat I erect a firewall, a media blackout of therapeutic and existential necessity, though in the back of my mind I agonize over wrongful tactics and chances missed. 

Yes, this is absurd – so the detached philosopher in me, of years past, would intone to the fanatical version of himself today. Civil war in Syria, strife in North Korea, and trouble and tribulation elsewhere throughout the globe, but there you sit, raptured and transfixed, your happiness and wellbeing tied to an athletic scrimmage. The soccer enthusiast today would indeed mystify his more mature doppelganger of years past, but in-between these personalities there lies an interesting story, a gradual metamorphosis from soccer dabbler to footballing addict. 

It began on November 26th, 2006, a slow and slothful Sunday for me but monumental in Manchester … 

One day at Wembley: a soccer fanatic reflects. (This piece is published free, with public access, at the author’s request.)*

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What’s a World Worth? We now have a very precise idea.

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Economists have put a dollar value on ecoservices from wetlands, such as this pond in Vancouver, Canada. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY
Published May 31, 2014

If you have ever spent a night under the canopy of stars undimmed by city lights, in a place where the only sounds are those unmade by man that have whispered and lapped and knocked and called out through the dark hours in that place since the last big ice released its grip on the Earth, you may share the view of many who have been so blessed that the essence of our planet’s nature and worth cannot possibly be reduced to the grasping calculi of dollars or pounds or Euros.

You would be only partly right.

robert_costanza

Robert Costanza. Photo: Australian National University

An American economist has done just that, sort of, for a second time. And while Robert Costanza doesn’t for a moment suggest that the planet’s service value to the human economy exhausts its rainbow of other values, he does say that we need to know that hard economic dollar value if we are to make wiser decisions about how we use the planet. 

And about that Costanza is certainly right. You might even say ‘dead right,’ given the certainty that if we fail to heed his idea, that is how most of us will end up.

So here’s the deal on Robert Costanza. A brilliant American economist, he organized the academic team that first attempted in the 1990s to estimate, in the currency of the human economy, the true annual value of ecological infrastructure: everything from the cropland that feeds us to the photosynthesis that keeps us breathing. 

The researchers did this by aggregating the results of a few score of other studies that had been done up to that time on the services provided by different types of biome. When all was added up for 16 biomes, after the distribution of results from various studies was examined and global averages reached as best was possible, they came up with the number of US$33 trillion in 1995—a year when the world’s gross economic product was estimated at US$30.5 trillion.

Costanza has now repeated his study, with the benefit of far more completed studies of far more of the earth’s critical ecosystems in far more places. In general, his team found that where its 1997 evaluations were founded on a significant number of studies, later research generally confirmed them. Where ecosystem services had been thinly studied, more recent research has revealed eye-popping underestimates of their value. 

Using their new data, Costanza and team reached a sum of US$125 trillion that the human economy reaped in benefits from the Earth’s functioning biomes and geophysical systems in 2011.

That compares to estimates of the world’s entire economic product as calculated by conventional (hugely defective, but that’s another story) methods, of between US$70 trillion and US$82.4 trillion — the latter figure courtesy of the CIA World Factbook.

In other words nature, our ecological and atmospheric infrastructure, is contributing at least $1.50 to our human wellbeing for every dollar that we book in the recorded material and service economy. 

Or again: the ecological services we leave invisible to national and corporate financial accounts which govern our lives, are worth one and a half times what’s shown in those books. 

This is fraud of economy-wide scale and system-shattering implications. But it is a fraud we are committing on ourselves. Its material losses are visible in the ongoing degradation and destruction of the ecological assets that produce that immense value.

To get just some idea of what it is costing us, Costanza’s team made a number of additional calculations. Now in possession of much more accurate and credible—and in many cases, sharply higher—estimates of what certain biomes contribute, they worked out what the Earth’s natural infrastructure inventory as it stood in 1997 might have been capable of contributing in 2011 at these new values. The figure was US$145 trillion a year.

This, you will note at once, is $20 trillion higher than was actually the case. The difference, that lost $20 trillion, represents ecosystems that have been repurposed, either to lower-value uses, or out of ecoservice production entirely: paved over or filled in or dug up.

Since 1997, our out-of-date conventional economic book-keeping says we’ve added $40 trillion to our annual global wealth production. Maybe. Costanza’s calculations show we’ve given half of that back in foregone ecoservices.

The team’s short, seven-page report (linked below) is a surprisingly rich capture of the erosion of global natural security, from tropical forests to coral reefs to tundra. And it marks an important advance toward a hotly contested goal: putting a price on the living Earth.

This idea deeply offends many people, so a word of placatory caution in advance. As Costanza is at pains to emphasize, his calculation of the value in monetary terms of more than a dozen critical-to-life biomes does not imply that all or any of these should, or even can, be turned over to the private marketplace to maintain and distribute their services.

The living ocean, not the plural of maps but the singular and embracing and borderless mother of us all, is the quintessential ‘public good’—even to economists. The circulation of water through atmospheric and terrestrial phases, its maintenance and purification in wetlands and creeks and broad rivers, is another. These ought clearly to be conceived of as the common property of all living creation (and not just the human part of it). 

But even that conception reveals its weakness when it meets the force and thirst of the human economy. Nations are loathe to concede that any actual obligation to others — people belonging to other nations, let alone other life-forms — arises from their shared absolute dependence on fluid and borderless natural systems.

And there is this brutal fact: vast expanses and key interchanges in our natural infrastructure have already long been commodified, nakedly exposed to the mostly unbuffered forces of the marketplace. The surfaces of the Canadian Prairies and American Great Plains are like skin to the human body: pivotal organs. They strongly mediate the hemispheric circulation and maintenance of water, the atmosphere’s balance of carbon, the movement of food energy through cycles of mouse to hawk to blowfly and back. The same is true for most of the planet’s other highly fertile regions.

What is also true is that most of those surfaces have already been commodified. The eco-services of North America’s plains and prairies proceed mainly from millions of hectares of privately owned farmland. The planet’s historically highest-return eco-structures, the deltas of great rivers, have largely disappeared under the property quilts of megacities like Shanghai and Rotter-Amsterdam.

This may be a regrettable thing to some, but it is not a reversible thing in any future that avoids the bloodletting of violent social breakdown. In any time frame short enough to make a difference to how our century goes, private property and markets will define the landscape—both literally and figuratively — on which our struggle to survive ourselves will be won or lost.

Costanza and the many other researchers whose work he synthesized are laying the groundwork for an accounting that not only must be done, but that will accomplish its most vital usefulness as it becomes granular, local and specific enough to put a price on the eco-value of each field-edge and ploughed-over slough on the Great Plains, of each meadow encircled by a freeway loop, of your backyard and mine.

Our ecological life-support system is a vast, infinitely interconnected unity of motion. But it is also intimately vulnerable at the scale of this ditch or that copse of trees. What should be unthinkable at the scale of the living Earth entire — or in many cases at much lesser ones — is, under high-resolution in key physical parts, the only way to stem its loss.

Failing to make ecologically productive assets and their dividend flows visible to a human economy that perceives its entire universe, from cotton to a human life, in the scale of commodity value, leaves those assets invisible to that economy’s appetites. That is why we are rapidly exhausting them. It is the big white lie we tell ourselves to justify the ecological fraud at the heart of our economy.

There are many ways to render our natural infrastructure more brightly visible to the economy, that do not rely on signing over title to the atmosphere and oceans to private shareholders. Costanza himself is among the authors of one especially innovative idea that I’ll describe in a future column.

For now, his team has made an important start to raising the light level on our shady human accounting.

Copyright © 2014 Chris Wood

Contact: cwood@factsandopinions.com

Further reading:
Changes in the global value of ecosystem services, by Robert Costanza et al, can be read or downloaded at: https://sites.google.com/a/idakub.com/www/CV/publications/2014_Costanza_GlobalValueUpdate.pdf

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Japan Responds to China — Manthorpe

Japan

Shinzo Abe. Japan government photo

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week launched a challenge of China’s increasing assertiveness in Asia, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. It’s a significant departure  for Abe, who became Prime Minister for the second time in 2012 with a mandate to reform Japan’s moribund economy and reassert the country’s international status. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column: 

Japan this week launched a three-pronged response to China’s growing military and diplomatic shadow over Asia.

In Singapore today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged his country’s “utmost support” for the countries of Southeast Asia that are locked in increasingly tense confrontations with China over Beijing’s claims to ownership of most of the South China Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking this week at a meeting of Japan’s House of Councillors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. Government of Japan photo.

On Thursday, Tokyo announced a breakthrough in talks with the North Korean government that could give the Japanese government a significant renewal of its political influence in the Far East, a status that has waned in recent years.

And on Tuesday, a parliamentary panel of members of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and their New Komeito party allies put forward suggestions for revisions of Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution … read more*

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Japan deals itself in to the Asian poker game.

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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Japan deals itself in to the Asian poker game

JONATHAN MANTHORPE
May 30, 2014 

Japan this week launched a three-pronged response to China’s growing military and diplomatic shadow over Asia.

In Singapore today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged his country’s “utmost support” for the countries of Southeast Asia that are locked in increasingly tense confrontations with China over Beijing’s claims to ownership of most of the South China Sea.

Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking this week at a meeting of Japan’s House of Councillors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. Government of Japan photo.

On Thursday, Tokyo announced a breakthrough in talks with the North Korean government that could give the Japanese government a significant renewal of its political influence in the Far East, a status that has waned in recent years.

And on Tuesday, a parliamentary panel of members of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and their New Komeito party allies put forward suggestions for revisions of Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution. The changes would allow Japan’s military, now limited by narrow definitions of national self-defence, to use lethal force in United Nations-mandated operations and in the aid of allies, especially the United States.

Taken together, these three initiatives mark a significant departure for Abe, who became Prime Minister for the second time in 2012 with a mandate to reform Japan’s moribund economy and to reassert the country’s international status in the face of Beijing’s mounting ability to dominate the Asian agenda.

The better-than-expected results so far from the Prime Minister’s so-called “Abenomics” reform program have given him the political backing to pursue his nationalist agenda. However, he must tread carefully because memories linger in much of Asia about the horrors of Japanese military imperialism in the 1930s and 1940s. For the moment those doubts are overshadowed by the more immediate concerns over China’s evident territorial ambitions. But that could change.

Abe must be equally sure-footed at home where a large percentage of the population supports the pacifist Article Nine of the American-imposed constitution.

Today, Abe became the first Japanese Prime Minister to address the annual Shangri-La Dialogue on regional security issues held in Singapore. The conference comes at a time of mounting tension as China aggressively pushes its claims to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and the maritime exclusive economic zones of Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

For months, Chinese warplanes and ships have been brushing up against the Japanese military over and around the five uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call the Diaoyu. Japan says that Chinese warplanes have sometime come within a few meters of its own aircraft, heightening the possibility that an accident or misjudgement could lead to a military clash.

Meanwhile in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims to own right down to Indonesian waters over 1,500 kilometers from the nearest undisputed Chinese landfall, China is building military outposts on islands and islets claimed by the Philippines.

In the last two weeks, Beijing has sent an oil exploration rig, protected by about 100 military vessels, into Vietnam’s maritime exclusive economic zone. This highly provocative intrusion has led to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese warships, and the sinking of one Vietnamese fishing boat. So far these clashes have not involved the use of weapons.

Beijing has been adept at foiling attempts among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fashion a united response to China’s aggression. China has twisted the arms of the inland ASEAN members with whom it has strong economic ties and no territorial disputes to ensure no consensus is possible.

But Japan is already enhancing its relations with ASEAN by significantly increasing its investment and commercial relations with the region. Abe’s message that Japan and ASEAN have common cause in resisting Beijing’s expansionism will bolster the resolve in several regional capitals.

“Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight,” Abe said.

One of the most emotive issues in Japanese politics for over a decade has been how to respond to Pyongyang’s admission in 2002 that in the 1970s and 1980s it kidnapped several Japanese — often plucked by submarine-borne special forces from beaches and streets of seaside towns — to use as language and cultural trainers for North Korean spies.

Soon after Pyongyang’s admission, five abductees and their families returned to Japan, and North Korea said another eight kidnapped Japanese had died. This satisfied neither public opinion in Japan nor the government, which has identified another four abductees, and which believes the true number could be as many as a hundred.

Relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang soured. And as Japan imposed almost total sanctions on North Korea, Tokyo’s influence and ability to function shrank as members of the group of six nations attempting to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

However, after months of talks in Sweden, North Korea has agreed to conduct a full investigation into the number and fate of the Japanese abductees. In return, Tokyo says it will restore ferry links between the two countries and, if Pyongyang continues to live up to the agreement, to give humanitarian aid, technical assistance and investment.

Pyongyang is never a reliable partner, but if this deal holds, it puts Tokyo back in the centre of efforts to deal with the rogue regime of leader Kim Jong-un, a file that has become dominated by China.

Abe has had to sidle up carefully on the issue of Japan’s constitutional pacifist status, which allows the country’s so-called “self-defence forces” to be used only to confront a direct military assault on the country. Instead of attempting to remove Article Nine, which would arouse significant opposition at home and abroad, Abe is moving to “re-interpret” the clause. This will allow Japanese forces to support Tokyo’s allies and to deploy it military in support of United Nations and other international missions.

These moves are being welcomed in Washington, which for years has been urging Tokyo to assume more of the burden of maintaining security in Asia. The changes are also being applauded by Australia, which despite its heavy reliance on trade with China, is involved in several efforts with allies to contain Beijing’s evident drive for regional power and territorial expansion.

Canberra hopes, too, to buy submarines from Japan after the limited success of its own building program and its failure in the 1970s and 1980s to get any interest from Ottawa for a joint submarine construction project.

Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2014

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com 

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Who Did In the Republic of Doyle?

Doyle

Republic of Doyle cast. CBC Photo

Charles Mandel writes about the end of the Republic of Doyle, a television series that captured the essence of Canada and Newfoundland. A production of Canada’s public broadcaster, the Doyle family was well-loved — but apparently, in a time of severe government cutbacks, not sufficiently loved. An excerpt: 

These are damn sad days in the Duke of Duckworth. The Doyles have announced they are hanging up their detective badges – and such a statement must have sent fans in the droves to drink at the Duke.

As any Republic of Doyle fan worth his or her salt knows, that pub – in a side alley in St John’s, Newfoundland – is home base for the Doyle TV series dynasty. That’s where the East Coast family of detectives supposedly operate from: the family owns the pub, and maintains their offices on the second floor. The latter, of course, is a bit of television fiction … read more*

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European ground shifts beneath supporter’s feet

Nigel_Farage_MEP_1,_Strasbourg_-_Diliff

Nigel Farage. Photo: Diliff

When all is said and done following the European Union elections, the person who really counts is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. Is Merkel correct in believing that surging support for rightwing parties stems from economic insecurity — and not a fundamental objection to EU powers? Still, EU supporters are treading with care. Excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

There is no comfort for Europe’s band of supporters of a bigger and more powerful political union that their side won nearly 64 per cent of the vote in last weekend’s election.

That victory cannot override the reality that parties that want to either radically reform or abandon the 28-member European Union (EU) doubled their support from the 2009 election to 36.4 per cent of the vote.

As leaders gathered in Brussels on Tuesday evening for an informal post-mortem dinner, the mood was markedly downbeat. Even the most avid EU supporters were displaying an unusual lack of certainty about the group’s immediate future.

French President Francois Hollande, for example, can, like all his predecessors, usually be depended on to respond to any crisis within the EU by issuing demands for more centralized European control and power.

Not today … read more*

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Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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Revolt against Brussels rattles European leaders

JONATHAN MANTHORPE 
May 28, 2014

There is no comfort for Europe’s band of supporters of a bigger and more powerful political union that their side won nearly 64 per cent of the vote in last weekend’s election.

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The hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo credit: Alina Zienowicz, Wikimedia (Creative Commons licence)

That victory cannot override the reality that parties that want to either radically reform or abandon the 28-member European Union (EU) doubled their support from the 2009 election to 36.4 per cent of the vote.

As leaders gathered in Brussels on Tuesday evening for an informal post-mortem dinner, the mood was markedly downbeat. Even the most avid EU supporters were displaying an unusual lack of certainty about the group’s immediate future.

French President Francois Hollande, for example, can, like all his predecessors, usually be depended on to respond to any crisis within the EU by issuing demands for more centralized European control and power.

Not today. The Eurosceptic, hard rightwing National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, won over 25 per cent of the vote overall and about 30 per cent in France’s main industrial regions. The total vote for Eurosceptic parties in France was a little over 35 per cent.

President Hollande’s social coalition clung on to just over 30 per cent of the vote, and his personal popularity is in recession. So even he felt the necessity to comment that in the face of the anti-EU movement, the organization should “concentrate more on its priorities, show more efficiency where it is needed and not to add things where it is unnecessary.”

But it is for British Prime Minister David Cameron that the results of the election to the 751-seat parliament have delivered both a massive challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is that the wave of anti-EU sentiment that has been gathering in his Conservative Party, and propelling defections to the rightwing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), has finally broken.

Nigel_Farage_MEP_1,_Strasbourg_-_Diliff

Nigel Farage. Photo credit: Diliff, Wikimedia (Creative Commons licence)

UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, finished first among all British parties in the EU elections with 27.5 per cent of the vote. Labour, the opposition party at Westminster, came second with 25.5 per cent and Cameron’s Tories were third with 24 per cent.

A quick look at those numbers suggests that come the election due next year Labour, led by Ed Miliband, could reap the benefit of the divide among conservative voters and sneak through to win power by default.

A closer look, however, suggests that the UKIP threat to the Tories is not as strong as it might seem. The turnout for the EU election in Britain was only 34.2 per cent. This means UKIP won less than 10 per cent of support of eligible voters. UKIP’s supporters are highly motivated and vote at every opportunity. The wider British voting public is Ho Hum about European ballots, but comes out in much larger numbers for general elections. UKIP won 3 per cent of the vote in the last Westminster election in 2010, and even if it doubles that next time around, it is still going to be insignificant.

Even so, the European results will force Cameron to respond. He is currently in an increasingly uneasy coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party, which is likely to rush to the left after getting trounced in the election even by the Greens. If Cameron has any hopes of forming a majority government, they rest on clarifying his policy towards Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

As he arrived at the Brussels dinner on Tuesday evening, Cameron accurately reflected the caustic attitude of many Britons when he said the EU bureaucracy has become “too big, too bossy and too interfering.”

Cameron’s response to these feelings, on which UKIP has fed and prospered, has been to say he will renegotiate Britain’s relationship to the EU, with the implication this will involve Westminister trying to grab back powers that have been handed over to the Brussels’ suits. He has also pledged to hold a clear “in or out” referendum on continued EU membership in 2017 after the next election and after these negotiations are complete.

The surge in support for UKIP, even though it is more apparent than real, will put pressure on Cameron to be more assertive in his negotiations with the EU and to be explicit with the British public about what powers he wants to repatriate to Westminster. He may also have to move forward the date of the planned referendum.

Until now, Cameron has been waging a lonely campaign to negotiate loosened EU control over British domestic policies. This latest EU parliamentary election has shifted that ground.

There are now several EU member states where local rightwing, Eurosceptic parties made gains that will be more sympathetic than they have been to Cameron’s position.

In Austria, Denmark and Greece, far right parties made substantial gains and delivered serious shocks to the governing parties. And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was already persuaded that there should be “fewer rules and less fuss from Europe and for Europe to focus on where it can add value.”

That said, Cameron still faces the reality that the two Big Beasts of the EU, France and Germany, are dead set against any fundamental re-negotiation of the terms of membership. They want no departure from the goal of turning Europe and its over 500 million people into a centrally-governed federation matching the United States, China, and India on the world stage.

France’s President Hollande may have been made queasy by the parliamentary election results, but he remains opposed to treaty changes. Statements from his Elysee Palace say his administration believes EU reform should involve “reorganizing working methods and approach.”

When all is said and done, the person who really counts is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is still the vibrant German economy that has sustained the EU through the post-2008 recession, and the Berlin treasury that is the main support of the common currency, the euro.

Merkel believes that the surge of support for rightwing parties stems from economic insecurity, and not a fundamental objection to the number and type of national powers that have been handed over to Brussels.

An economic revival, Merkel believes, will see support for the hard right disappear in a flash. But she too appears to understand that after this election the philosophical divisions within the EU are more substantial than ever.

How, if at all, she intends to respond will probably be seen in the election of the President of the EU Commission – the group’s top political figure. The favourite at the moment is the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Junker, who is supported by Merkel and her allies.

But Junker is the classic EU insider for whom there is no alternative but further and faster European political integration. If Merkel, as some of her comments have suggested, now sees EU harmony as paramount and Junker as a divisive figure, then the political ground within the group will have shifted significantly. 

Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2014

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com 

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Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers who buy asubscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. Sign up here for email notices of new work with the subscribe form on Frontlines, where we also post small stories.

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On Rachel Carson’s birthday

Rachel_Carson_Conducts_Marine_Biology_Research_with_Bob_Hines

Researchers Rachel Carson and Bob Hines, 1952

Rachel Carson, the American scientist and environmentalist who wrote the classic Silent Spring, was born 107 years ago today. Charles Mandel, who reported on Carson’s life and the impact she made, writes:

I believe if she were still alive, she’d be singularly unimpressed with the progress – or lack thereof.

Governments are still wrestling over bans to cosmetic pesticides. When Manitoba enacts a ban in 2015, it will bring to six the number of Canadian provinces shunning the use of such products. It seems like a hard-won, slow process overall. More contentious still is the controversy over pesticide-coated corn and soybean seeds, which are being blamed for the demise of bees. Europe has banned the use of neonic pesticides, but according to the CBC, Bayer CropScience – the company that developed the seed – and Health Canada maintain proper planting practices minimize risk to the bees. 

Twelve years ago, Edmund O. Wilson wrote in the afterword to a new edition of a book about Carson that if she were alive she would have given America a mixed-grade.

These days I suggest the writer and environmentalist would be less generous given all the time we’ve had to correct the errors of the past.

Read Mandel’s archived story, Pesticides prevail decades after Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” here. (Public access) 

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Flash Boys: Nathan Rothschild redux

McNiven for F&O bio

Jim McNiven

Michael Lewis’s latest book, Flash Boys, is the 21st Century version of the story of those British financiers who lost out to Nathan Rothschild in 1814, and of their attempts to figure out how Rothschild did it, writes Jim McNiven in ThoughtlinesToday, semaphores and carrier pigeons have been replaced with fibre optic cables and microwave towers. There is nothing illegal in getting to the market microseconds ahead of the other guy by using up-to-date technology. And yet, in the aftermath of the trauma of the crash of 2008, the unethical and the illegal easily flow together, especially when the risk is of another crash. An excerpt of McNiven’s new  column: 

“I Stole It Fair and Square.” I have sometimes used that quote to describe what went on in much of the United States’ land policy with respect to Native Americans. An awful lot of land was acquired from various ‘chiefs’ who were deemed by the American authorities to have the legal right to sell property presumably owned by their tribes. Often the ‘purchase’ was made for a pittance, especially from chiefs who were largely unaware of the import of what was being discussed, since in their world view no one could own the land. Treaty in hand, the ‘buyers’ would then move in and evict the tribe from the land, survey it, and sell it off in parcels to eager settlers, all legal and proper-like.

Cross this with another story: that of Nathan Rothschild in London in 1814. Two hundred miles away, across the English Channel, British and Allied forces were meeting the French army at Waterloo, near Brussels. The outcome would affect the British financial market. Rothschild had operatives in Brussels who reported the outcome to him, not with the standard technology of the time, of fast horses and Channel sailing ships, but through semaphores and carrier pigeons. He got advance information, and did well out of it.

Now, ratchet these two early 19th century stories forward 200 years and we arrive at Michael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys.  … log in to read I Stole It Fair and Square.*

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