Category Archives: Europe

And now for something completely different. . .


This time it’s a show of Norway’s leading television network, NRK, featuring a bunch of crusty older guys who love blowing shit up. Hence the show’s name: Never Ever do This at Home.

And we’re forced to admit that the little bit of little boy remaining under our own crusty visage just laps it up.

We begin a very small but spectacular blow-up.

From NRK Viten:

Explosive ice cubes

Program notes:

Rune and Torfinn needs ice in their drinks. Explosive specialist Roar fixes the problem.

Many of the segments are set on an abandoned farm, with massive mayhem resulting.

Consider their solution to cleaning an old farmhouse.

Washing the stairs with explosive chemicals

Next, a very complicated but thoroughly destructive way to add fuel to the fire.

Chopping wood with explosives

Next up, playing with projectiles.

XXL Water Rocket

Program notes:

You may have tried making a rocket out of a soda bottle filled with water, that you pump air into. Never Ever Do This at Home gives you the extra large version of that experiment.

Finally, it’s an Wild West showdown, except that rubbers bands and a watermelon are involved, rather than six shooters and high noon.

The Duel of The Watermelon

Program notes:

Rune and Torfinn are ready to duel. Armed with rubber bands.

The seven-year-old esnl is smiling.

Greek tragedy and dreams of a Star Trek future


Yanis Varoufakis is a political hybrid, perceived as so a dangerous radical by the financial powers of Europe that they forced his ouster as finance minister in the supposedly radical leftist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had be voted into power precisely to resist that Troika of European Central Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

His term in office lasted less that six months, from 27 January to 6 July of 2015.

Varoufakis now serves as Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens and as private consultant for Bellevue, Washington, video game  development and software distributor Valve Corporation. He’s also a prolific blogger and Twitterpater.

In a 3 August 2015 profile by Ian Parker of the New Yorker, Varoufakis described one incident during his brief tenure a Greek money manager:

At the White House, Varoufakis repeated a line that he had used at Brookings: “Mr. President, my government is planning, and I am planning, to compromise, compromise, and compromise, but we’re not going to be compromised.” (“He liked that,” Varoufakis recalled.) Varoufakis told him, “Mr. President, of course one has to suffer costs in order to get the benefits, but the question is the balance. There has to be a positive balance.” He went on, “We are being asphyxiated for trying to simulate what you did, right?”

Obama showed more solidarity than Varoufakis was expecting. “I know — austerity sucks,” Obama said. (“He used those words. Very un-Presidential.”) According to Varoufakis, the President was referring less to austerity’s unpleasantness than to its ineffectiveness. Obama meant that austerity “doesn’t work — it creates misery, and it’s self-perpetuating, and it’s self-defeating.”

Varoufakis told Obama that he hadn’t felt quite the same comradeship when speaking with the U.S. Treasury Secretary. “Jack Lew is not toeing the Obama line,” he said.

Lew’s views prevailed.

In the following interview for The Real News Network by Canadian lawyer, journalist, and environmental activist Dimitri Lascaris, Varoufakis details the pressure on Greece and the reasons he abandoned his office:

Yanis Varoufakis: How The Greek People’s Magnificent “No” Became “Yes”

From the transcript:

LASCARIS: Let’s talk a little bit about the future, what the future holds for Greece in particular. As you know, I’m sure all too painfully, the Syriza government has been implementing a series of so-called reforms at the insistence of the Troika, which many regard as being harsher than the terms previously dictated to the right-wing New Democracy-led government. And recently Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, expressed the view that 2016 would mark the beginning of the end of the economic crisis in Greece. Do you think that that’s a realistic assessment in light of the nature and harshness of the austerity measures being implemented?

VAROUFAKIS: Dimitri, a simple one-word answer: no. Look. This program that was agreed in August, and which I voted against in Greek parliament, was designed to fail. There is precisely zero probability that it will succeed. The prime minister himself, Tsipras, said so back in August. He described the treaty that he signed, the agreement that he signed on [I think] the 13th of July, as a document that was extracted from him by coup d’etat. These were not my words. These were his.

Now, the great disagreement we had, we had this personally, as well, in a very comradely and friendly way, but it was nevertheless a strong, intellectual disagreement, was this. He said to me, and he said to the parliament, and he said to the public, that we have to accept this toxic, failed program that is never going to work, because if we don’t then the banks will never open again, and we’ll then have blood on the streets, more or less.

Well, what he intended to do was to introduce a parallel program, legislative program, comprising his own, his own government’s agenda for looking after the weak, sustaining those on very low pensions and income. A parallel program, he called it. So there is the [proposed] failed program, which is the price we have to pay according to Prime Minister Tsipras, for the surrender, the defeat. But we introduce a parallel program which justifies why you are staying in power to implement the toxic program.

Now, it is indeed the case that Prime Minister Tsipras and his government tried to do that. In early–late November, early December, they did table in Greek parliament the parallel program. Two days later, the president of the Euro Working Group, which is the effective functionary of the Troika, it came out and said, uh-uh, you have to withdraw that. And a Greek minister humiliated himself and the Greek government by making it sound as if it was his own idea that they should withdraw this parallel program. So this parallel program now has been withdrawn by the Greek government itself, at the behest of the Troika.

So even by the logic of the prime minister, the answer to your question is no.

If you’re curious about Varoufakis’s political and economic beliefs, here’s a December TED talk in which he expounds of a set of ideas that he believes is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian, via his post on Social Europe:

Why Capitalism Will Eat Democracy

Program notes:

Have you wondered why politicians aren’t what they used to be, why governments seem unable to solve real problems? Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the former Minister of Finance for Greece, says that it’s because you can be in politics today but not be in power — because real power now belongs to those who control the economy. He believes that the mega-rich and corporations are cannibalizing the political sphere, causing financial crisis. In this talk, hear his dream for a world in which capital and labor no longer struggle against each other, “one that is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian.”

A transcript of the talk is posted here.

Headline of the day II: Usual suspects, usual things


From The Independent:

Government has been allowing UK firms to sell invasive spying equipment to countries including Saudi Arabia, records show

The licenses include tools that can listen in on an entire country’s internet network, and others that can pinpoint and tune into phone calls

Headline of the day IV: Fears of Spanish Left turn


From El País, fears of a left-populist Spanish government:

Brussels warns that “political risk” in Spain is eroding market confidence

European Commission lays out views of current situation in its draft ‘Spain 2016’ report

Violence, blockades erupt in France over Uber


Uber is the epitome of the “sharing economy,” a world in which unionized jobs with guaranteed pay and benefits are replaced by “independent contractors,” workers deprived of any form of benefits and reduced to piecework pay, which corporate intermediaries skim off the cream.

And then there’s the whole lack of protections for consumers.

Because private sector unions have been gutted in the U.S., companies like Uber are able to rise to dominance with little resistance.

Not so in Western Europe, where private sector organized labor is much stronger and, well, organized.

Consider today’s events in France, first via in a video report from from RT:

Violent clashes in Paris: Tear gas & burning tires as anti-Uber protest grips French capita

Program notes:

Taxi drivers in France are blockading roads with burning tires in protest at the low-cost Uber app, resulting in at least 20 arrests. Air traffic controllers are also staging a demonstration, leading to dozens of canceled flights.

More from the New York Times:

The police in Paris said that about 2,000 taxis had blocked or delayed traffic around Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, as well as Porte Maillot, a major intersection in western Paris, and near the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Some taxi drivers set fire to tires and tried to block the highway that circles the French capital, but the police pushed the demonstrators back with tear gas.

Twenty-four people were arrested, including the driver of an airport shuttle who had tried to force his way through a taxi roadblock near Orly, injuring two people, the French news media reported.

And still more from the Atlantic:

Demonstrators claim that drivers for Uber, the American company that recently reached 1 billion rides, and their ilk are breaking rules that prohibit them from cruising the streets for fares and also hold an unfair advantage against taxi drivers who must pay for costly licenses. In what one might characterize as the French flair for the dramatique, signs were spotted that proclaimed “Je Suis Taxi” or otherwise accused Heetch, another maligned ride-sharing app, Uber, and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who has publicly supported Uber, of “economic terrorism.”

Following an emergency meeting with taxi and transportation officials, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls issued a statement in which he promised to “put an end to unfair behavior and guarantee the conditions of loyal competition.”

The scene was similar to previous anti-Uber protests that swept across France in June of last year. (Last year alone, protests against the company took place on six different continents.)

Note also that the minister for economics in President François Hollande’s Socialist Party [snicker] government is all in favor of the “sharing economy.”

What a farce.

Headline of the day II: Spooks behaving badly


From The Independent:

Shankill Road bombing: MI5 failed to act on IRA tip-off that could have prevented Belfast atrocity, investigation claims

Highly-sensitive documents suggest terrorist who plotted attack that killed nine civilians in 1993 was British agent

German far-Right party racks up new gains


First, some telling numbers from Deutsche Welle:

The German daily “Bild am Sonntag” reported on Sunday that the populist right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has reached 10 percent for the first time in a recent poll.

According to the article, 17 percent of men would vote for AfD while only 2 percent of women would do so.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, saw its support fall by 2 percentage points to 36 percent. The Social Democrats (SPD), the CDU’s coalition partner, came in at 25 percent.

That ten percent figure is twice the percentage points needed to win seats is the national and state legislatures.

The AfD began as a party of Merkel’s more conservative opponents who sought to distance the country from the European currency and loans to indebted nations of the common currency zone.

But the founders were ousted in an internal coup by those on the party’s far Right extreme, who then added a hefty dose of xenophobia to the party’s financially conservative agenda.

The party’s rise in the polls is linked to the increase in violence and sexual abuse associated with nation’s rising number of refugee immigrants from war torn nations of the Mideast and North Africa.

More from TheLocal.de:

Katja Kipping, chairwoman of Die Linke [Germany’s major Left party — esnl], told The Local that the Christian Social Union (CSU), a junior party in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, was to blame for the rise of the AfD, accusing their leadership of making “xenophobic slogans socially acceptable.”

The CSU, which are the single largest party in Bavaria, Germany’s wealthiest and southern most state, have in recent weeks called for the erection of border fences to stem the flow of refugees arriving in Germany.

“The AfD is also profiting from the impression that people in need could overwhelm a rich country like Germany – but this is a fictitious emergency: the relevant authorities at the federal level didn’t react quickly enough to the predictable rise in refugee numbers,” Kipping added.

And still more from the European edition of Politico:

Since World War II it was taken for granted that Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian partners, the Christian Social Union, would not allow a democratic party to permanently exist further to their right. For decades, they lived up to that principle. But in early 2013, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was founded as a home for conservative critics of Angela Merkel’s policies for saving the euro. The AfD narrowly failed to enter the Bundestag that same year by only 0.3 percentage points, then the party suffered a split one year later — but it came back.

As of today the AfD is a nationalistic, anti-establishment party which capitalizes on xenophobia and the ongoing refugee crisis. Opinion polls put its support at an amazing 10 percent, and it is on its way to entering the regional assemblies of the three Bundesländer scheduled to hold elections in March 2016.

That should be enough to send shivers down Merkel’s spine. But it will not. Instead, in the short term it promises to be a tactical win for the chancellor and her party. And in the long run, the AfD will either vanish as a political threat by splitting one more time, or it will turn into a potential partner to secure what would be a structural majority right of center — something entirely new to Germany’s political system.

The conclusion reached in that last paragraph betrays an astonishing ignorance of German history. Adolf Hitler assumed the chancellorship as part of a coalition government with the conservative and monarchist Deutschnationale Volkspartei [DNVP]. In other words, a government with “a structural majority right of center.”

Hitler came to power under the 1919 Weimar Constitution, which forms much of the basis of the current constitutional document, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.

While the new post-World War II document contains provisions designed to enhance civil rights and block a would-be dictator, Germany remains, as before, a parliamentary system.