Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I GUESS IT'S BETTER it's ending: "Spain's EU presidency will be remembered for its "messy" foreign policy and the invisibility of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero."

THROW A SHOE at Bush and you'll be hailed around the world as a hero. But don't you dare throwing it at Erdogan, because the Spanish courts will put you in the slammer for three friggin' years. (link in Spanish)

UPDATE. A link in English at Monsters & Critics.

UPDATE II. Welcome, Instapundit readers; make yourselves at home; if you likes this post, take a look at the main page, or consider subscribing to the RSS feed; come back anytime you want!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NO MERCY whatsoever in this merciless putdown of Spain's semester in the EU presidency by Julio Ponce @ Café Babel: "The Numantians burnt their own city down when they lost a thirteen-month Roman siege. There are references to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s similar resistence with the current Spanish presidency of the European Union, which ends on 1 July. The term has limped along with more grief than glory, despite propaganda efforts in Brussels."

Read the rest, much harsher than this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A GREAT DAY for civil rights in the US:
The Supreme Court ruled for the first time that gun possession is fundamental to American freedom, giving federal judges power to strike down state and local weapons laws for violating the Second Amendment.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right that binds states.

"Self defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day," wrote Justice Samuel Alito. He was joined in reaching the result by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Michael Moore, call your office...

A UN summer camp for children in Gaza was vandalized by two dozen masked men early Monday.
The vandals burned and slashed tents, toys and a plastic swimming pool. It was the second such attack in a month.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Islamic extremists have accused the main UN aid agency of corrupting Gaza's youth with its summer program of games, sports and human rights lessons for 250,000 children.

The UN's main competitor in running summer camps is Hamas, which says it has reached some 100,000 children. The Hamas camps teach Islam and military-style marching, along with swimming and horseback riding.

In Monday's attack, about two dozen armed and masked men targeted a seaside camp in central Gaza, one of dozens of UN sites across the Palestinian territory.
Yo creo que enviando una flotilla de la libertad se arregla todo, sí.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

SPAIN DOESN'T HAVE ENOUGH CASH for the maturity wave hitting next month? The picture is highly, er, symbolical.

SCENES FROM GAZA (which would be real paradise if not for the Israeli blockade, no?)
The slim owner of Gaza City's Gallery cafe has sharp eyes and a sharp tongue. It's easy to imagine him conversing with artists and actors — he is also a theater director — far into the night. But he crossed a line. He allowed female patrons at his cafe to smoke hookah pipes and to talk with men. He ignored demands by plainclothes police to rein in "immoral" behavior. In early May, police interrogated and accused him of having extramarital affairs. To persuade him to confess, they beat him with a 2-inch-thick, leather-covered bamboo rod for 50 minutes, and later forced him to stand on one leg for two hours.

The blockade of the Gaza Strip — brought into focus by Israel's deadly interception of blockade-busting ships May 31 — is not the only problem faced by that territory's besieged and impoverished population. As Human Rights Watch documented during a trip to Gaza in May, severe violations of personal freedom and repression of civil society groups that defend that freedom appear to be sharply on the rise. The Hamas government, trying to shore up its image as an Islamic reform movement in the face of challenges from more radical Islamist groups, is consolidating its social control by upping its efforts to "Islamize" Gaza.
Keep reading.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

SOME CHANGE, HUH? "The NYT is reporting what has been obvious for some time:  the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will be remaining open indefinitely."

GREAT MOMENTS of the police state:
Police Tasered an 86-year-old disabled grandma in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she couldn't breathe, after her grandson called 911 seeking medical assistance, the woman and her grandson claim in Oklahoma City Federal Court. Though the grandson said, "Don't Taze my granny!" an El Reno police officer told another cop to "Taser her!" and wrote in his police report that he did so because the old woman "took a more aggressive posture in her bed," according to the complaint.
Looks like a The Onion story, doesn't it. Alas, it's not.

GOOD LUCK COLLECTING THAT, KIM: "Cash-strapped North Korea has demanded the United States pay almost $US65 trillion ($75 trillion) in compensation for six decades of hostility."

Friday, June 25, 2010

PALESTINIANS, second-class citizens... in Lebanon:
The Arab world is rife with hypocrisy when it comes to the Palestinian issue. Arab leaders frequently and rightly cite the chronic human rights violations in which Israel engages, but fail to address the marginalisation of Palestinians within their own societies.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I DON'T KNOW THE PLANET, but Al Gore certainly does seem to have warmed up. A lot. If what the National Enquirer reports is true (ask John Edwards), the former VP allegedly assaulted a masseuse in 2006. As Drudge says, "Developing..."

UPDATE. The full, 72-page police report which includes the masseuse statement is a fun read (pdf version)

NOW THAT'S what I call to love animals -- too literally for my taste, but hey, whatever floats their boat. An it must be tough to be a taliban, up in the mountain all day...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DAVID HARRIS at the Huffington Post:
I am not Jewish. Ideologically, I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not as anti-Israel as my colleagues? Because, as a non-Jew, I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of Jews; it is the duty of non-Jews.... As a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed, too.

What's particularly striking is that, though relentlessly pilloried by their adversaries, Aznar and Rahola have remained steadfast over the years.
When Aznar took the reins of power in 1996, no one would have described Spain as close to Israel. In fact, fearful of jeopardizing its extensive commercial ties with the Arab world, Spain only established full diplomatic links with Jerusalem in 1986. Together with his intrepid foreign minister, Ana Palacio, Aznar moved closer to Israel. That policy shift was on display in our many get-togethers with him and in his remarks, in Washington, at the 2003 AJC Annual Meeting.

To be sure, there was no domestic political mileage for Aznar in this new posture. Zero. It wasn't going to score him any points with the electorate. And there certainly was no major political "lobby" in the country urging him on. Rather, he did it for a reason that the "realists" can never quite fathom - he believed it was the right thing to do.

The same with Rahola.
Read the resr.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A MESSAGE to greens and fans of organic farming: stop damaging the environment!
Advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere – the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – according to a new study led by two Stanford Earth scientists.

The yield improvements reduced the need to convert forests to farmland, a process that typically involves burning of trees and other plants, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The researchers estimate that if not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world's total output of greenhouse gases since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.

THIS IS THOMAS ALVA EDISON'S VOICE, discovered and reconstructed from -how else- a bin in a basement.

Background here.

SPAIN not learning the lesson:
Spain has one of the world's most-troubled housing markets, yet some buyers are suddenly able to get mortgages with 100% financing, and developers are building new homes on empty lots despite a huge glut.

The reason: Spain's banks took possession of a large inventory of homes, buildings and land two years ago, forgiving the debt in hopes of heading off defaults. The plan was to resell the properties when the market bounced back and evade the worst impact of the looming housing crisis.
But Spain's housing market has only gotten worse, and now the bill is coming due as the banks labor under the weight of an estimated €59.7 billion ($73.8 billion) in real-estate assets on their books. Under pressure to make further markdowns on the assets by their main regulator, the Bank of Spain, many banks are now scrambling to unload the properties as quickly as possible.

In some cases, that means offering deals to consumers that are suspiciously like those that got the global housing market in trouble in the first place. The tactics include not just 100% loans, but also low initial teaser rates for buyers or initial payment deferrals for as long as three years.
At the same time, banks that own big plots of unbuilt land are announcing plans to build new houses to give the illiquid lots more value, despite the country's estimated glut of one million empty homes.
UPDATE. Also at the WSJ, Irwin Stelzer writes: Zapatero's State of Denial Will Be Felt Far Beyond Spain as Pain Spreads.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Members of the South Africa Vuvuzela Philharmonic Orchestra, widely considered to be among the best large-scale monotonic wind instrument ensembles in the world, told reporters Friday they were furious over the recent outbreaks of international soccer matches during their traditional outdoor concerts.

"I cannot imagine what is getting into these football teams that they would suddenly begin full-scale international competition just when we are beginning our 2010 concert series," said Dr. Stefan Coetzee, the Philharmonic's program and concert director. "It is disrespectful to the performers, it is disrespectful to the music itself, and by extension, it is disrespectful to the great nation of South Africa."

A VERY -I mean very- politically incorrect map of Spain (click to enlarge):


WHY IT'S A PROBLEM FOR SPAIN to have such a rigid labor system, with too much labor protection and expensive layoffs:
The airport café was typical of my entire journey in Spain. Only one person often staffed hotel front desks. I spent two days at a small hotel in Seville and never saw anyone at reception. Unable to check out, I had to leave without paying. (Thus that hotel comes highly recommended.) I learned to ask for a check at a restaurant at least 20 minutes ahead of when I needed to depart. With one waiter often responsible for 15 or more tables, getting his attention felt like winning the lottery. And at rush hour on a busy Friday evening in Madrid, the high-speed rail line had a mere handful of ticket windows open, creating endless lines and more delays. So much for the benefits of high speed.

Everywhere I went in Spain, I seemed to be wasting 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there due entirely to understaffing. That may not sound like much, but add that up over the course of a week and I lost tons of time that I would rather have applied elsewhere, to writing my articles, or enjoying my time in Spain, or spending more money. The dearth of staff also lowered the quality of the services provided throughout the country, something I found surprising for an economy so dependent on tourism. People in Spain don't seem to mind the delays and bottlenecks. They consider them just an inevitable part of daily life. But there is an economic cost to all of this inefficiency. If I didn't have to wait to pay for my chicken sandwich at the airport, maybe I would have gone off to buy a magazine or something else. But no time for that.

It's not that there aren't enough available workers in Spain. With an unemployment rate at a staggering 20%, there's no shortage of people who hotels, restaurants and other companies could hire. But they don't. And that isn't just a factor of the current economic downturn. Unemployment in Spain is traditionally higher than in the U.S. Even during the so-called boom years of the mid-2000s, the unemployment rate never sank below 8%.

The reason is that employers don't want to create jobs. It's simply too costly. Blame the country's overly strict labor laws. Mandated severance payments – of as much as 45 days per year of service – make laying off employees prohibitively expensive, and that makes firms reluctant to hire them in the first place. Managers do have the option of taking on temporary staff on fixed-term contracts. If those workers get dismissed, they don't receive the same giant severance payments as permanent employees, allowing companies to downsize at reduced cost. But that choice has its own downside. With workers around for only a short time, they have little commitment to their jobs, and employers have even less reason to train them properly. That affects company performance and competitiveness.

LOS ANGELES SKYLINE, 1908 vs. 2002.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

NEW YORK subway rat myths.

BIG PLACES HAVE SMALL BEGINNINGS: fascinating ancient maps of Manhattan.

SOME SEMI-SANITY from Europe regarding Gaza, Iran:
Remember what I told you: if you want to know what policy is going to be, watch the governments, not the media. While the results of the EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg were far from perfect, they also show the difference between decision-makers and opinion-makers on the Middle East.

SPAIN, the new crisis in Euroland, writes UK's The Independent:
[I]t is proving hard to shake off persistent market fears about Spain, which, if it needed a lifeline, would swallow up a large part of the emergency fund. Worryingly for the EU, the doubts about Spain – whether real or driven by speculation – are eerily similar to the gradual seeping away of confidence that sent Greece into a financial death spiral in March and April. The Spanish government's cost of borrowing hit a new record yesterday. The interest rate gap, or spread, between 10-year Spanish bonds and their German equivalents, rose by more than 0.10 of a point to 2.23 percentage points.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WOW. It reminds me how I sounded like on a weekend morning back in the time when I was a party animal...

Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett are asking the nation's billionaires to pledge to give at least half their net worth to charity, in their lifetimes or at death. If their campaign succeeds, it could change the face of philanthropy.
Read it all. That's the way it should be: voluntarily and to accountable projects, not extending a sort of blank check to the government so that it spends in whatever it wants which is almost always in the wrong way. And it doesn't matter which party is in government, they're almost the same.

Forced solidarity, via taxes, is no solidarity. A good message for those who think that taxes should be higher, forgetting that there's nothing that prevents them from extending a check on top of their tax return.

YOUR DAILY DOSE of bad news on Spain's economy:
Renewed talk of a bailout for fiscally strained Spain weighed on financial markets ahead of a key labor-market reform the government will present later Wednesday.

Spain's risk premium, as measured by the yield spread on Spanish bonds over German bunds, hit its highest level since the creation of the euro after El Economista reported the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the U.S. Treasury are preparing a EUR250 billion liquidity facility for Spain.

Spain's government, banks and companies have faced increasing difficulties financing themselves in recent weeks as investors fret over the country's double-digit budget deficit, 20% unemployment rate and lengthy economic downturn.

The Spanish government called a press conference in Madrid Friday with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Government officials said the IMF chief is traveling to Madrid for general talks on the economy but denied some sort of financial support package was in the works.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

STUPIDITY ABOUNDS: a London museum has airbrushed the cigar from one of Winston Churchill's most iconic pictures.

A former life insurance salesman has "sold life" to scores of people trying to end it all at Australia's most notorious suicide spot.

In nearly 50 years Don Ritchie, 84, has saved at least 160 people at The Gap, a rocky cliff at the entrance to Sydney Harbour - and he is still on suicide watch.

Lost souls who stood atop the cliff, wondering whether to jump, say their salvation was a soft voice breaking the sound of the wind and the waves, asking: "Why don't you come and have a cup of tea?"

And when they turned to the stranger, they say his smile made them want to live.

Mr Ritchie, who lives across the street from The Gap, is widely regarded as a guardian angel who has shepherded countless people away from the edge.

What some consider grim, Mr Ritchie considers a gift.

"You can't just sit there and watch them," he said, perched on his beloved green leather chair, from which he keeps a watchful eye on the cliff outside.

"You gotta try and save them. It's pretty simple."

Since the 1800s, Australians have flocked to The Gap to end their lives, with little more than a 3ft fence separating them from the edge. Local officials say around one person a week commits suicide there and in January, Woollahra Council applied for nearly £1.2 million government funding to build a higher fence and tighten security.

In the meantime, Mr Ritchie keeps up his voluntary watch. The council recently named him and his wife of 58 years, Moya, 2010's Citizens of the Year.

Spanish officials acknowledged that the country's banks and companies are having difficulty finding credit, underscoring the pressure Madrid faces to pursue deep structural changes to win back investor confidence.

Investors are particularly concerned that Spain would be unable to supply its banks with more capital, if needed, without emergency aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Spain has been scrambling in recent weeks to convince markets that it can repair both its ballooning deficit and its troubled banking sector. Spain's Socialist government plans on Wednesday to begin pushing through a controversial labor-market overhaul that seeks to address a problem that many economists say is at the heart of Europe's economic malaise: rigid labor markets that dissuade companies from investing.

One big worry has been the increasing difficulty Spanish banks have faced borrowing from other banks in the so-called interbank lending market, an important source of funding that banks rely on for short-term liquidity needs. Spanish banks—including its savings banks, or cajas—have suffered massive losses amid a steep downturn in the country's real-estate market.

Spanish officials have largely been quiet on the issue but on Monday Treasury Secretary Carlos Ocaña, speaking at an economics conference, said tightness of credit for Spain "is a problem."
"Obviously we do need for the markets to loosen," he added.

At the same conference, Francisco González, chairman of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, the country's second-largest bank, said credit markets remain "closed" for many companies and urged the country to accelerate the pending reforms. "It's a priority that we restore market confidence," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to speculation that Spain may be forced to follow Greece in seeking aid from the EU and the IMF, said late Monday that Spain could tap the EU's rescue fund if necessary. "If there should be problems—and we shouldn't talk them up—the mechanism can be activated at any time," Ms. Merkel said at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Berlin.
UPDATE. 9 Reasons Why Spain Is A Dead Economy Walking. Also, this at Marginal Revolution.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

THE CASE FOR OPEN BORDERS: very well put, particularly the economic arguments.

WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE? Egypt closes Gaza to Algerian aid.

DIGGING A LITTLE into who was behind the Flotilla: a German nationwide TV network, ARD, investigates (English subtitles):

Saturday, June 12, 2010

NOW THAT'S some mean pencil drawing (click to enlarge)

Yes, it's real. It's Hong Kong genius Paul Lung. (via)

GREAT MOMENTS in nanny-statism:
Clear Creek sheriff's deputies on Thursday arrested a rafting guide for swimming to a stranded young rafter who had tumbled from his boat on Clear Creek.

Ryan Daniel Snodgrass, a 28-year-old guide with Arkansas Valley Adventures rafting company, was charged with "obstructing government operations," said Clear Creek Sheriff Don Krueger.

"He was told not to go in the water, and he jumped in and swam over to the victim and jeopardized the rescue operation," said Krueger, noting that his office was deciding whether to file similar charges against another guide who was at the scene just downstream of Kermitts Roadhouse on U.S. 6.

Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, said Snodgrass did the right thing by contacting the 13-year-old Texas girl immediately and not waiting for the county's search and rescue team to assemble ropes, rafts and rescuers.

STEVEN PINKER writes on the hysteria about the effects of new media in society:
NEW forms of media have always caused moral panics: the printing press, newspapers, paperbacks and television were all once denounced as threats to their consumers’ brainpower and moral fiber.

So too with electronic technologies. PowerPoint, we’re told, is reducing discourse to bullet points. Search engines lower our intelligence, encouraging us to skim on the surface of knowledge rather than dive to its depths. Twitter is shrinking our attention spans.

But such panics often fail basic reality checks.
Keep reading.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

WHEN BP SPILLS COFFEE (via Spanish blog Guerra Eterna):

The European interbank market is not lending to smaller Spanish banks partly due to concerns the country could be heading for a debt crisis along the lines of EU partner Greece, an international bank source said on Wednesday.

The restrictions did not appear to be aimed at specific institutions so much as the country, the source said, and market access could ease if Spain's Socialist government announces further austerity measures.

Another source cited by Cinco Dias paper said the bigger Spanish banks appeared to be fine.

"Only the biggest Spanish banks are managing to get funding, but backed by bonds from other countries such as Germany. With our national bonds they are not managing to get anything," an executive at a Spanish savings bank was quoted as saying.

There have been signs for some weeks that Spanish banks were having to pay a premium to borrow in their domestic repo market as the broad repricing of euro zone sovereign credit risk raised lenders' concerns over the liquidity of the banking sector.

A credit analyst source told Reuters the issue was not one of liquidity, as the banks have the ECB to rely on, but that it shows that in the current risk-averse climate smaller banks are being ostracised.

"The markets are almost shut for Spain," the international banking source said.
Meanwhile, labor reform talks between the administration, unions and business ended in stalemate.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Ever since ancient Rome, emperors and kings have relied on bread and games to keep their people content.
Nowadays, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the prime minister of Spain, is having a hard time satisfying the public’s economic demands as he struggles to reduce a mountain of debt and unemployment that has soared to 20 percent.

So he is putting his hopes in the World Cup that begins in South Africa this week, where Spain is one of the two favorites to win.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Five Israeli businessmen were attacked on Monday by pro-Palestinian activists during a conference at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

During the incident, stones and paint were thrown at the businessmen. No serious injuries were reported, but one Israeli sustained light wounds to his head.

[...] According to Spanish media, the organizers, who feared acts of protest over last week's deadly Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, changed the conference's venue at the last minute. However, the activists discovered the new location and stormed in while chanting, "Murderers, murderers. Get out of Gaza" and "Freedom to the Palestinian people."
Here's video.

Shame in Spain, take two:
Organizers of Madrid's pride parade, scheduled for the beginning of next month, have announced that they are cancelling the invitation of Israeli representatives slated to appear there.
UPDATE. More on take two, by Richard Landes.

Monday, June 07, 2010

UGLY MILESTONE: the spread between Spanish bonos and German bunds has crossed the 200 threshold for the first time since the Euro was introduced (link in Spanish). It's twice what it was mid-May.

UPDATE. This is in Spanish, but the charts are pretty self-explanatory.

SCENES FROM Gaza strangled by the blockade, in a Palestinian website.

For all their disagreements on matters like women’s rights, gay rights and abortion, Islam and the Left are in harmony on big-picture matters: They are authoritarian, totalitarian in the sense of wanting to control all aspects of human existence, virulently anti-capitalist, and regard the individual as existing merely to serve the collective. Consequently, they have the same obstacle in common: our freedom culture.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A JET ENGINED STORK (found at this Spanish blog)

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON on Turkey's hipocrisy:
Turkey currently quite illegally and against world opinion sponsors the occupation of Cyprus. Nicosia is a far more divided city than Jerusalem. The Turkish government has killed far more Turkish Kurds than the Israeli government has Palestinians; it has zero tolerance for foreign human rights organizations that have wished to investigate the treatment of Kurds in Turkish prisons. Turkish fighter aircraft are not always so careful to stay on their side of the Aegean.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

YOU CAN'T GET more spirit-of-the-timesy than this:
In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default.
I'd apply the same rule to elections: whoever wins by more than 5 votes, loses...

A ROUNDUP of articles on Europe's and Spain's economy:

Fortune: How the Union Made Europe's Weaklings Even Weaker
In the late 1990s, as the European Union touted its grand plan for a single currency, I called Milton Friedman at the Hoover Institution to ask the 20th century's most influential monetarist for his view of how the euro would transform Europe. It was no surprise that the frugal Friedman called me back collect. He always did.

But I was amazed when his answer seemed to deny the inevitable. After the operator chirped, "Will you accept the charges from Milton?" Friedman chuckled, then turned darkly serious. "There will be no single currency in Europe," intoned Uncle Miltie. "The U.S. is an appropriate zone for a single currency. Europe is not, because its countries are far too different in terms of productivity and inflation. The euro would be such a disaster that it will never happen."

Of course, Friedman's prediction that the euro would expire as a utopian dream proved spectacularly wrong: On December 31, 1998, the euro effectively replaced the deutschemark, franc and lira, and it now reigns in 16 countries from Austria to Ireland to Portugal.

But Friedman was right on the economics.

Wall Street Journal: Spanish, Belgian Bond Issues To Draw Attention In Massive Supply
After a subdued week, government bond supply will pick up in the euro zone next week as sovereigns still have to complete about half of their 2010 bond funding.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy will issue up to EUR26 billion of bonds next week. The absorption of this amount will be cushioned by around EUR16 billion of German redemption and coupon payments.

The markets will closely watch Spain's launch of the new 2.50% October 2013 bond Thursday in its first test since Fitch Ratings cut the country's rating to AA+ from AAA in late May on expectations that Spain's debt load will slow its economic growth.

Spanish yield spreads over German bunds have widened nearly 0.40 percentage point since then, reaching a new high of 1.92 percentage points by Friday, as the bonds benefit less from the European Central Bank's bond purchases.

If a country's debt rating is downgraded, it faces higher financing costs. This is especially important now that many countries are seeking to lower their budget deficits and debt-to-gross domestic product ratios.

Wall Street Journal: Spanish Banks' CDS Widen, Sector Under Pressure
The price of insuring Spanish banks against default rose Friday as investor anxiety continued to escalate over the fallout from the ongoing restructuring of the country's savings banks.

Attention has focused on the Spanish banking sector in the past 10 days since the rescue of regional savings bank CajaSur, and the news that other cajas have agreed to merge.

Credit analysts say the high level of uncertainty about potential further losses in the country's banking sector is adding to investor nerves.

BusinessWeek: Spain, Italy ‘Candidates’ for ECB Bond Purchases
Spain and Italy are “potential candidates” for government bond purchases by the European Central Bank as yields increase, BNP Paribas SA said.

Spanish 10-year bonds fell for the fifth day today, pushing the yield four basis points higher to 4.58 percent as of 2:27 a.m. in London, the most since Feb. 4, 2009. The extra yield investors demand to hold the debt instead of benchmark German bunds widened 12 basis points to 196 basis points, the most since 1996, according to generic data compiled by Bloomberg. Italian 10-year yields rose two basis points to 4.30 percent.

“If the current situation persists, the ECB will have no choice but to support these countries, initially with a small buying amount ” Ioannis Sokos, a London-based interest-rate strategist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research note today. “If this is not enough to prevent selling pressures, then the ECB could proceed with larger purchases. This means that the current situation will have to get worse before it becomes better.”

Friday, June 04, 2010

HUNGARY, the next Greece? The markets are in turmoil today.

Imam Fethullah Gülen, a controversial and reclusive U.S. resident who is considered Turkey's most influential religious leader, criticized a Turkish-led flotilla for trying to deliver aid without Israel's consent.

Speaking in his first interview with a U.S. news organization, Mr. Gülen spoke of watching news coverage of Monday's deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and Turkish aid group members as its flotilla approached Israel's sea blockade of Gaza. "What I saw was not pretty," he said. "It was ugly."

HOW MUCH should financial markets really fear Spain?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

SEPARATED AT BIRTH? This blog about celebrities lookalikes is hysterical.

THE ROYAL SOCIETY, UK's premier scientific institution, will review its position on climate change:
The Royal Society has appointed a panel to rewrite the 350-year-old institution’s official position on global warming. It will publish a new “guide to the science of climate change” this summer. The society has been accused by 43 of its Fellows of refusing to accept dissenting views on climate change and exaggerating the degree of certainty that man-made emissions are the main cause.

The society appears to have conceded that it needs to correct previous statements. It said: “Any public perception that science is somehow fully settled is wholly incorrect — there is always room for new observations, theories, measurements.” This contradicts a comment by the society’s previous president, Lord May, who was once quoted as saying: “The debate on climate change is over.”

GREAT PIECE by Amit Varma about homeopathy:
I won't do a detailed debunking of homeopathy here. For that, I refer you to books like Ben Goldacre's Bad Science and Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst's Trick or Treatment, as well as this classic talk by James Randi. To summarise, the methodology of homeopathy makes no sense whatsoever, and scientific trials, when carried out with proper rigour, have shown homeopathic medicine to be no better than placebo, the standard for judging the efficacy of any new medicine.

The most bizarre thing about its methodology is the composition of the medicine itself. In homeopathic medicine, the substance being used to treat a patient has to be so diluted that there is generally not a chance that a single molecule of the substance remains in the medicine a patient is taking. In Randi's video, for example, he displays a homeopathic sleeping aid that contains, as its active ingredient, caffeine. (Homeopaths believe that the substances that cause a particular condition should be used to treat it. Go figure.) The dilution of the caffeine in the medicine: "10 to the power of 1500."

Randi asked the maths writer Martin Gardner if there was a way of explaining to the layman how much that really was. Gardner explained, "That's equivalent to taking one grain of rice, crushing it to a powder, dissolving it in a sphere of water the size of the solar system, with the sun at the centre and the orbit of Pluto at the outside, and then repeating that process 2 million times."

In Bad Science, Goldacre offers another analogy: "Imagine a sphere of water with a diameter of 150 million kilometers (the distance from the earth to the sun). It takes light eight minutes to travel that distance. Picture a sphere of water that size, with one molecule of a substance in it: that's a 30c dilution."

By these standards, there are so many impurities in regular drinking water that we are probably being treated for every major disease anyway.
Read the rest. And if you have 15 minutes to spare, don't miss the video of Randi's conference linked above. It's worth it.

BRITISH AIRWAYS touted its new mobile-boarding pass system in its magazine with a faux pass for... Osama bin Laden:

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

TOM FRIEDMAN can get a little reiterative lately, but his column on the Flotilla incident is superb.

HOW COULD IT BE, if there's no right to bear arms in the UK?
British police say a taxi driver went on a shooting spree across rural northwestern England, killing 12 people and wounding 25 others before turning the gun on himself.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

THE BEST PARTY wins in Iceland's capital. And it's not a description, it's really its name:
A party that calls itself "the Best" has won local elections in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.

According to Iceland Review Online, several local races saw parties that were in power ousted in the polls.

The Best Party, founded by comedian Jon Gnarr, secured 34.7% of the vote, ahead of the Independence Party's 33.6%.

Its campaign video featured candidates singing to the tune of Tina Turner's "Simply The Best".

Key pledges included "sustainable transparency", free towels at all swimming pools and a new polar bear for the city zoo.

The party also called for a Disneyland at the airport and a "drug-free parliament" by 2020.
I think you can expect more things like this in other countries soon.

A GOOD SUMMARY of the Spanish economy and its structural problems, particularly in labor.

HOW MICROSOFT FRANCE avoids employees lingering in the bathroom.