The Watering Hole: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 – Environmental News and Food Politics

Traditional utilities may go broke sooner rather than later…

…as is happening now in Germany

“A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.”


Economics will drive the change. What, the wind is free? The sun is free? OK so I build with wind turbines and solar panels rather than coal or gas fired turbines with the same amount of investment? You mean my fuel is really, really free? Where do I sign?

The Watering Hole: Tuesday May 15th – Europe

A Storm is brewing over Europe in more than one sense…

There is the unsolved, so called debt crisis, which entangles Spain and Italy now and has, by all accounts all but devoured Greece already. 

The second one is a political storm. In France it has swept Sarkozy out of office, in the UK the Tories got to feel quite a blustery breeze. In Germany last weekend and the one before voters were giving Merkel’s austerity politics quite strong headwinds. Again, Greece is at the center of the disturbance. The last election brought a stiff breeze from the left, but some serious gusts from the right as well. The Captains of the coffin ship contemplate to test the waters again and that should bring a solid gale from the left and swipe them off board.

Then there’s the weather. It’s really gusty and nasty outside, so much for spring. Ugh.

No matter how it eventually ends, there is some turbulence ahead for sure.

This is our Open Thread. Talk about the Weather?


The Watering Hole: Tuesday, September 20th – Outside..

.. the US there’s politics, too.

Germany: Chancellor Merkel’s coalition Government is in hot water. The junior partner FDP, a strictly neoliberal party, has received the fifth and, if you ask me, final blow at last Sunday’s elections in Berlin, when they were down to 1.8% of votes. This bodes ill for the ruling coalition.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel dislikes putting her foot down to solve government disputes. She associates that form of exercising authority with ill-tempered men who use arrogance to make up for their lack of competence. And she thinks people who keep banging their fist on the table end up getting ignored in the long run. (read more)

I beg to differ with some of the article, however. The SPD (Social Democrats) would be ill advised to enter a coalition government in times of really unpleasant decisions about the future of the Euro. They’ll tolerate a minority rule and ask for new elections, is my guess.

Italy: S&P has now downgraded Italy. Italy, is one of the more important economies in Europe, so I expect the stock markets to go down significantly again today. (Update: With markets you never kow. The indices are up right now. Markets always know best. What do I know? ūüôĄ )

S&P’s downgraded its unsolicited ratings on Italy to A/A-1 from A+/A-1+ and kept its outlook on negative, sending the euro more than half a cent lower against the dollar.

The agency, which put Italy on review for downgrade in May, said that the outlook for growth was worsening and there was little sign that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s fractious center-right government could respond effectively. (read more)

But Berlusconi is dealing with more pressing problems:

The conversations, wire-tapped as part of a probe into an alleged prostitution ring surrounding Berlusconi, also suggested for the first time that he gave money to the women he allegedly slept with, contradicting his repeated insistence that he never paid for sex, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ reported.

The taped conversations revealed in extraordinary detail how parties involving dozens of young starlets and escort girls were organised for the Italian PM by a 36-year-old middleman, Gianpaolo Tarantini, a convicted cocaine dealer. (read more)

United Kingdom: Blair’s back, or did he ever go away? Cameron is taking advice from Tony Blair? Well here’s an expert. Watch out, you may end up with another war on your hands! The question is, how much are they paying for his consulting prowess? He likes the cash.

David Cameron is secretly receiving political advice on foreign affairs from Tony Blair ‚Äď most recently on how to resolve the international deadlock over Palestinian statehood, The Independent has learnt.

Mr Cameron has buried party political loyalties and privately invited the former Labour Prime Minister to Chequers to discuss the impasse, according to Foreign Office sources. (read more)

Hey Tony, there’s a warm cell in The Hague waiting for you (I hope)!

This is our Open Thread. This is my part of the world. What’s up in yours?

Across the Pond – What we are up to over here.

This post is far too late for morning coffee, but a nice afternoon tea maybe?

What is going on over here in Europe? Not really much, politically, most parliaments are in recess and backbenchers crowd to the microphones to get their 15 minutes until business as usual in politics resumes again. So both major news are not from politics, but from the Love Parade in Germany and, what else, BP.

Germans are looking in horror at reports of the stampede that happened during yesterday’s Love Parade in Essen.

Der Spiegel: (for those who rather not torment themselves with details, I copied only the mere facts below, so please read on at your own discretion)

By early afternoon, the techno party was already “desperately overcrowded,” Tim says. “The only entrance was through the tunnel, there was no other way to get to the site.” At the beginning, he said, the shoving “was almost fun.” Everyone was singing and chanting together, it was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere,” he reports. “That’s the point of the Love Parade, isn’t it?”

But then, things began to get more aggressive. “It was tight, hot, unbearable. Everyone wanted to get to the party, or just out of the crowd.” Some tried to find their own way out, slithering up poles or climbing a narrow staircase out of the crowd. Dehydrated, exhausted partiers where handed out over the heads of the masses. Some of those trying to climb out fell back into the crowd. When that happened, say police, mass panic broke out. (read more)

The Love Parade is the biggest techno party worldwide, the Zurich Street Parade, scheduled for August 14th, is competing for the title of the biggest techno event. There are concerns about the safety of the partygoers here, too. Increased of course by yesterday’s events. The Love Parade has been cancelled for good after the tragedy. It makes me unspeakably sad to think about all those young people who were setting out for a night of fun and had to witness or even get hurt or died in that horror.

Other headlines include the F1 Grand Prix in Hockenheim and Ferrari (spoiler alert), Franck Rib√©ry’s return to Munich after the dismal French World Cup adventure and the hooker scandal and Bayreuth greets the Rich, the Powerful and the Ugly for their annual Wagner opera festival. I would love to have tickets for Jonas Kaufmann‘s debut in Bayreuth, but the great unwashed must stand in line, or better not show their faces in any case.

The BBC has today’s story for the UK:

BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward has been negotiating the terms of his exit, with a formal announcement likely within 24 hours, the BBC has learned.

Mr Hayward has been widely criticised over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said it was likely he would be replaced by his US colleague Bob Dudley, now in charge of the clean-up operation. (read more)

Now, what does “negotiate” mean? Huh? We’re not talking golden parachutes, are we? What? A measly ¬£ 10 millions ($ 15 million) package? Poor sod.

Hayward, 52, is today locked in meetings with the rest of the BP board about the final details of his financial leaving package, but he is expected to go under basic contractual terms. That means a one year’s ¬£1m pay package but a giant pension pot of over ¬£10m, capable of paying out more than half a million pounds a year from the formal retirement age of 60. (read more)

And, while we are talking about BP, the environment comes to mind. The Independent reports on the British water industry and what privatization means really:

Ofwat, the water industry watchdog, faces calls for it to be overhauled amid accusations that it is not doing enough to remedy leaking drinking water while privatised water companies enjoy soaring profits and consumers face high bills (read more)

So, enjoy your reading and have a nice Sunday all of you!

Across the Pond: Austerity, Losers and Football

French Team Plotting (source:l'équipe)

In the United Kingdom there are only two newsworthy items today. One is the return to fiscal austerity of the new government:

Public sector workers face cuts in their pay and job prospects worse than anything they have seen for a generation as George Osborne tries to cut spending in the way that Margaret Thatcher did ‚Äď but in half the time. (read more)

The list of cruelties in this “bloodbath budget” is impressive (discussion can be found here). I’m, for my part, shudder at the implications, Britain will come to an economic standstill IMHO.

The second is: Football. At least until this afternoon. Should you do business with the UK, hurry up. After 3 p.m., if you are really lucky, a polite utterance of incomprehension will be all you get. Don’t try it after 6 p.m. either, they’ll be eithere grieving or celebrating collectively.

In Germany you have time until 8.30 p.m. and you will encounter similar reactions.

The football mania is probably a welcome relief for some in Germany who are losing their match in the politics business:

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, head of Chancellor Merkel’s junior coalition partner the Free Democrats, is facing mounting criticism from his party. Falling poll numbers and limited political leverage have led many to believe it is time for a change at the top.

One can be forgiven for having forgotten, but Germany’s foreign minister still does exist. (read more)

The current coalition is down to 35% approval and won’t last the whole four years, if you ask me.

France is already grieving collectively. Their team has managed to go out of the World Cup in utter disgrace and it starts to have consequences:

PARIS РSponsors are starting to distance themselves from France’s scandal-hit soccer team.

Credit Agricole said on Monday it had cancelled its television campaign with the team, which on Sunday boycotted a training session in support of expelled striker Nicolas Anelka.

‚ÄúWe are suspending our advertising campaign on insurance products that features the French team,‚ÄĚ a spokeswoman for the French bank said.

The campaign was initially slated to end on June 25.

They only got in on a foul and I don’t believe the Irish, who have been cheated out of participating, would have dared to behave like this.

The Italians? Don’t get me started on them. Luckily, this time the unspeakable Umberto Rossi of the fascist Lega Nord, insinuated bribery himself:

Federal Reforms Minister Bossi reportedly said two to three Slovak players would surface in the Italian league next season, responding to a question about which team would win.

They are the worst divers ever and I adamantly refuse to recognize a penalty for them unless the player is bleeding profusely. Everything else is a dive!

So what is really going on in Europe these days? Well, Football! Never mind the Euro is still in trouble, we can take care of that after July 11th.

Across The Pond: Elections, Euros, Emotions

This is going to be a long weekend for Angela Merkel. First of all she and her fellow European leaders had to get the Eurozone under some kind of control until Asian stock markets open late tonight, our time.Their solution: Add another ‚ā¨ 70 bn to defend the Euro, and the Germans are already supposed to sign the fattest check in history:

EU leaders have agreed a financial defence plan in an attempt to protect the eurozone countries from speculative attacks in the wake of the Greek debt crisis.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said today that an “intervention unit” designed to preserve financial stability in the 16 eurozone countries would be in place by Monday when the markets reopen. (read more)

The Euro-Crisis can be followed at nakedcapitalism, they have a couple of interesting posts on that.

Secondly, she is facing the voters’ wrath in North Rine Westphalia the biggest of Germany’s states, where state elections will not be going good for her, that much is certain.

The UK has been so immersed in political fever that another highly significant election has gone almost unnoticed. When Germans go to the polls in state elections today, at stake will be not only the future of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition in Berlin, but also the direction of Europe’s biggest economy. (read more)

THE voters in D√ľsseldorf‚Äôs central square were waiting patiently in the rain for Angela Merkel to appear last Friday when the loudspeakers suddenly announced that she was too busy dealing with Greece‚Äôs financial crisis to join them.

Their spirits already dampened, many were clearly in a mood to punish the chancellor for her contribution of more than £19 billion to the Greek bailout. They had gathered to hear Merkel make her pitch for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in today’s state election in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s industrial powerhouse with a population of 18m. (read more)

A detailed article on the state election can be found at the International section of Der Spiegel.

But it’s not a good day for Gordon Brown either, he has lost his elections already and will lose his post, because even if the Liberal democrats should opt for supporting Labour, I very much doubt they will do it if¬† Brown’s at the helm.

And opt for Labour they still could, because the Tories are adamant when it comes to electoral reform. Big NO.

Nick Clegg was urged by senior figures in his party last night to back a “traffic light coalition” with Labour, Green and smaller parties amid signs that David Cameron’s proposed deal to the Liberal Democrats has triggered an angry backlash among Tory and Lib Dem MPs.

The Lib Dem and Conservative leaders met last night for “constructive” face-to-face talks to try to reach a deal before markets open tomorrow morning. Earier, after a crucial meeting with his party in Westminster to gauge reaction to a Lib-Con coalition, Mr Clegg addressed a 1,000-strong crowd protesting in favour of electoral reform to insist that proportional representation was still key to the talks. (read more)

I am not really surprised that the “senior bankers” are already putting pressure on the parties:

FEARS of a market slump mounted this weekend after British politicians failed to form a government and senior bankers warned that the eurozone crisis might cause bank lending to seize up. (read more)

This is blatant blackmail. The banks don’t want electoral reform, they like the status quo just fine. Electoral reform would only serve to give the great unwashed more say, and we can’t have that, can we?

And finally, here’s the New Mr Switzerland, what an emotional moment, which I didn’t watch and will never regret not having watched.

Have a good Sunday and especially a Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. I’ll head back now to my boys and spend a little quality time with my family.

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The Watering Hole: February 4 – Swiss Banksters

I’ve rarely had so much fun when watching news and tv-discussions as during the last two days. Switzerland already has had a bad 2009 and 2010 seems to start even worse.

Germany’s biggest post war tax evasion scandal is centered around…you knew it, didn’t you…a Swiss Bank.¬† So now, why would the Swiss be so touchy about Germans, living in Germany, having committed the offense of tax evasion in Germany, being prosecuted by means of a (admittedly stolen)¬† Data-CD obtained in Germany by German authorities? Because German Tax Authorities are going to buy that stolen CD.

The real reason behind the Swiss upset is not legality, they are using unlawfully obtained data themselves, if there is a higher gain at stake. It’s the estimated ‚ā¨ 300 bn sitting in Swiss bank accounts (sorry german link only) a large part of which will maybe be repatriated to Germany. A huge blow to the Swiss Banks.

To be fair many Swiss nowadays know fully well, that the banking secrecy laws of the country are designed mostly to attract wealthy customers and their money, nevermind the tax laws in other countries, and are for abandoning the banking secrecy. Some loudmouths beg to differ. Believe me, it’s interesting to watch.

For the German tax frauds shivering in their shoes about this CD I feel only Schadenfreude. They felt so glib and superior when they told us taxpayers how stupid we were to pay taxes, that I can’t help but wallow in their panic.

This is out Open Thread, so please feel free to comment on this and on what else is on your minds.

Big Pharma Wins – You lose I&II

There have been two stories in the Swiss newspaper “Tagesanzeiger” lately, which get my goat. I do not deny the benefits of modern pharmaceuticals. Compared to my childhood days, modern medicines are way more efficient and ailments, that constituted a death sentence then, can now be cured or at least made more bearable. But I refuse to think of the pharma industry as a big benefactor of humankind. Here’s why.

Big Pharma wins, you lose I

Medicines are there to cure you.

Wrong. Medicines are there to treat your chronic condition for as long as possible for a prize as high as possible. Thousands suffer from neurodermatitis here in Switzerland and millions more, of course, elsewhere. The affliction goes from mild to almost unbearable. From small ulcers if you eat the wrong stuff to inflamed excema that cover most of a patient’s body. I have a very mild form, which can easily be controlled by good skin treatment products and avoiding food such as shellfish or nuts. I’ve seen other cases much worse.

There is a cure. Two students Karsten Klingelh√∂ller and Thomas Hein have developed a skin cream made from Avocado oil and vitamin B12. A pink coloured ointment, which has no side effects and was successfully tested in clinical tests. The product has been patented and even given a brand name “Regividerm” the patent’s worth is estimated at 936 Mio US Dollars.

Those two have made it! Helped the suffering!


Not a single parmaceutical company contacted was interested in taking the cream into their product portfolio. The thing is: You don’t earn money by healing the chronically ill at a low price.

Big Pharma wins, you lose II

If you want to put health reform under the microscope, why not use Europe. We all have a public health care scheme, but to different degrees. And the differences show. Take today’s headline on one of Switzerlands most popular newspapers the “Tagesanzeiger”: “The Swiss pay thirty times the price for generic medicine as the people in the Netherlands do.”

So why would that be?

Switzerland’s public health system mandates insurance for everybody, but is run through private insurance companies. There is no public option, however and the control of drug prices is not in the hands of the insurers.

The Netherlands’ system is not so very different today, but they have reformed it only three years ago from a public option system.

What is the difference now?

Switzerland is the home of pharmaceutical industry giants Novartis and Roche. The fact that Switzerland is a small country makes two giants like that huge contributors to the GDP.

The Health Ministry is in charge of drug prices and asks for prices of generic medicines to be 40% – 50% lower than the listed prices of the originals. But: The listed prices are a phantom. No insurance company in the Netherlands, nor in Germany or in Denmark, nor France or England accepts those prices, they have long since negotiated much lower ones with the drug industry. They either get a rebate on the originals or mandate the use of generics, unless the doctor prescribes the original. They got there (The Netherlands, too in the recent past) by using the power of a public option. Which affects, of course the price of healthcare.

The Swiss authorities refuse to change their method of determining  prices and we are paying the higher insurance premiums.

The thing is: No public option, you pay the price!

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General elections in Germany

This is Super Sunday over here in Germany. Apart from the general elections two states, Schleswig-Holstein and Brandenburg, are heading for the polls, too.

The ruling grand coalition between chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is not expected to be continued. Merkel has clearly stated that the Christian Democrats are planning to come together with the FDP a libertarian group headed by Guido Westerwelle. Westerwelle himslef has clearly stated that the Christian Democrats and nobody else is worthy of his party’s attention. Social Democrats, however, stated that “The Left” will never be considered as a partner in a ruling coalition and “The Green Party” is not willing to enter a coalition with Westerwelle and Merkel. Confused yet?. Well, bottom line is: If the Christian Democratic Union and the FDP cannot get enough votes for a coalition, the shit has hit the fan.

Eventual spoil sports will be “The Left”. Demonized by almost all others as a remainder of the old SED (Socialist Unity Party) of the communist German Democratic Republic, they are considered to be the untouchables. Bollocks really, when you think that former chancellor Willy Brandt, Social Democrat and Peace Nobel Prize laureate, was governing considerably left of todays Left Party’s agenda. What remained of worker’s rights after the likes of England’s Thatcher and Germany’s Kohl were done with them, had been further trampled on by Blair’s “New Labour” and Schroeder’s “Agenda 2010”, so what calls itself The Left these days is a fairly Social Democrat movement.

We’ll see what it’ll be in about three hours from now and I will keep you informed here when the first results come in.

Voter turnout up to now seems to be poor. This is generally helping smaller parties, because mainly the truly disgruntled will go out and vote. We’ll see.

MSNBC: World Euphoric Over Obama’s Election

America is cool again.¬† Nov. 8: Political leaders and citizens from countries around the world are applauding U.S. voters for electing Barack Obama as president. NBC’s Jim Maceda reports.

CNN: Global Celebrations Over Obama Victory

The world reacts to the news that Barack Obama is elected the 44th President of the United States.

Time Heals All Wounds

What a difference a few years make.

Bush Overseas

Bush Overseas

Obama Overseas

Obama Overseas

An estimated 200,000 people turned out in Germany to listen to Obama. America has such an influence in world events it is quite apparent that many Europeans are as eager for change as we are. And the right is, again, going apoplectic. Apparently, Rush Limbaugh had a coronary because Obama started his speech to Germans by saying:

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen ‚Äď a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

Methinks that someone needs to remind Mr. Limbaugh that his hero, Ronald Reagan began his remarks before the United Nations General Assembly Special Session Devoted to Disarmament with:

I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world. I come with the heartfelt wishes of my people for peace, bearing honest proposals and looking for genuine progress.

Classic case of IOKIYAR.

Good Morning from Europe – 353 days and still no impeachment in sight

Good Morning to our news-roundup. And there are news, the ones I dread most. More violence across the globe.

The¬†surge¬†is¬†working?¬†Many¬†doubted¬†that¬†in¬†the¬†first¬†place.¬†Now¬†recently¬†the attacks and the violence¬†have¬†gone¬†up¬†again. There were 19 beheaded bodies found in a field close to Baghdad on Tuesday. A day earlier five US soldiers lost their lives in a single attack in Mosul, Northern Iraq. Today two female suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in Baghdad’s pet market.

There¬†is¬†this¬†other¬†war:¬†Afghanistan.¬†The¬†danger¬†of¬†Afghanistan¬†falling¬†back¬†into¬†the hands of the Taliban is known to the Pentagon. To counter the ongoing insurgency there, the Pentagon unilaterally decided on military force as a solution. Defense Secretary Gates has written an eight pages letter to his German counterpart Jung in which he tries to coerce Germany into sending combat troops into the South. To tell you a secret: Jung can’t. There are¬†constitutional restrictions,¬†which¬†require¬†a parliamentary¬†vote on military missions. And the Germans are holding their constitution in high esteem. Given Germany’s violent history in the 20th century and the lessons learned from that, there is no way that Jung could get Parliament to agree to combat operations, even if he wanted to and Gates knows that.

Officials at the German defense ministry have called the Gates letter an “outrage.” The Americans, they say, are fully aware of the special circumstances — conditions imposed by the German parliament — under which German forces currently operate in Afghanistan.

If¬†a¬†personal¬†word¬†is¬†permitted.¬†I¬†would¬†never¬†hesitate¬†to¬†support extension of the peace-keeping¬†mission¬†in Afghanistan. It helps the people there. But I will be damned, if I agree to our young men and women to shoot and maim or to be shot at and maimed, just because the Bush Administration wants to keep some of it’s legacy from looking like the mess it is. It may just¬†be an¬†idea¬†to¬†look¬†at¬†the¬†US politics and change that, instead of coercing other countries into taking part in a failed strategy.


Hello from Europe – 358 Days of Bush left

The Sunday papers today know but one headline: Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama and Obama.

Wait¬†a¬†minute:¬†Here’s¬†something¬†interesting,¬†a¬†must-read:¬†“The¬†Sunday¬†Times” again covers ¬†the Sibel Edmonds story.

AN investigation into the illicit sale of American nuclear secrets was compromised by a senior official in the State Department, a former FBI employee has claimed.

The official is said to have tipped off a foreign contact about a bogus CIA company used to investigate the sale of nuclear secrets.

The firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, was a front for Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent. Her public outing two years later in 2003 by White House officials became a cause célèbre.

The State Department official denied the story:

The State Department official said on Friday: ‚ÄúIt is impossible to find a strong enough way to deny these allegations which are both false and malicious.‚ÄĚ

From the look of it, the allegations are worth a hefty jail sentence, I’d deny it too. The Zoo’s¬†“nwmuse” has posted on this story very early on and you can find more coverage here.

Germany is holding elections in two states today. They are considered a litmus test for the ruling grand coalition in Berlin. Hesse is particularly of interest, because of a dirty campaign by the ruling governor Roland Koch, which appealed mostly to the baser instincts like xenophobia.

Have¬†you¬†ever¬†heard¬†of¬†J√©r√īme¬†Kerviel?¬†Well¬†he’s¬†the¬†young¬†man¬†who¬†helped the Soci√©t√© G√©n√©rale to lose $7 Billion.¬†What¬†a¬†villain?¬†Not¬†if¬†you’re¬†French:

¬†‘He was your ideal son-in-law,’ said 62-year-old Martine Le Pohon, who remembers J√©r√īme helping his mother out on Saturdays at Un Monde Imagin’ Hair. ‘And if it turns out that he has stood up to the system to the tune of ‚ā¨5m, well, as far as I am concerned, that makes him even more ideal.’

By¬†the¬†way,¬†President¬†Sarkozy¬†and¬†his¬†minions¬†learned¬†about¬†the¬†¬†fraud only three days after the bank’s management was aware of it. Sarkozy was livid, for not being informed. Well, maybe taking care of your job instead of your “singer-model-wife-mistress” would help you along in getting taken serious Monsieur Le Pr√©sident!

And¬†here’s¬†another¬†“conservative” poised to return to power and, in his case most importantly, immunity from prosecution, Silvio Berlusconi.

Did you think businesses are concerned about global climate change? Think again!

And there may still be one day when the world’s weakest are not subject to abuse anymore, but that will still be a long time from today.

This is what struck me a interesting or important in the Sunday Papers. I wish you all a peaceful and happy Sunday. Take care!