Tag Archive: Italy

Aug 10 2015

ACM: On attacks on women’s reproductive rights: budgets, no choices, and eugenics, oh my!

By NY Brit Expat

An incident at dinner in Italy during my vacation there and the subsequent discussion has driven me to prioritise this piece. Following a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant, one man decided that it was time for us to listen to his misogyny on women’s reproductive rights. I knew he was saying offensive things as the two English speakers at the table refused to translate what he was saying. Upon my insistence, he tried to speak in English, but what he was saying was so offensive I refused to believe he was saying it. I turned to my husband and the other English speaking friend and they shook their heads yes, that is what he was saying. This man argued that women have to the right to choice but if they get pregnant with a child they do not want, they must be forced to carry the child to term and to give it up for adoption. Those that know me would not be surprised at my angry response in which I spoke of women having the right of property in their own body, spoke of bodily autonomy and reminded him that we were not incubators, but human beings. I concluded by calling him a misogynist and telling him that this was not an opinion but hate speech.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 when Law 194 was passed. While not a perfect law, it was won after intense struggle by the women’s movement. This law not only guaranteed access to abortion, but access  to reproductive health care, contraception, and a whole range of rights for women and these were tied into public health provision. Like in the US (and this has been a failing in both countries), the conscientious objector clause has led to a decrease in the numbers of medical professionals willing to carry out the procedure on religious grounds (and in the US due to pressure from anti-abortion activists). So to hear someone (who is not religious) babbling this crap at me following dinner was way too much. So, who ruined dinner? Was it him or me?

This incident highlighted something that has become extremely obvious and this applies both to women’s rights and to racism. The days when someone who held these offensive positions knew to keep their mouths shut is long gone; instead they pose hate speech as opinion and demand their right to preach it.  Our response must be swift and strong so that these troglodytes are driven back to the primordial soup from which they have barely crawled out from.

In a follow-up discussion on the way to the car park, I told my English speaking friend what just passed the British parliament as part of the Welfare Bill. I told him that the Tories are changing the nature of the social welfare state which covered all women (child-tax credits, child benefits) to only cover the poor and working class. And then I told him about the limits to benefits only to 2 children in the future. I explained that the former made it easier to eliminate benefits totally (why should taxpayers take care of the working class – employed and unemployed — after all?). I explained the latter policy was a form of eugenics and was a neo-Malthusian policy. While he agreed with the former (he is a mainstream neoclassical after all), he was horrified at the latter (maybe because he has 5 children and has benefited from receiving benefits in several countries to help with covering the costs for all his children).

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When women talk about reproductive rights and justice they are not only speaking about women’s rights to not have children. This is an essential part of reproductive rights: the right to choose not to have children, to have access to birth contraceptives abortion and voluntary sterilisation. But we are also speaking of the right of women to have children and to determine when and how many. This right has been most often denied to working class women, disabled women and to women of colour. Sterilisation abuse and forced usage of birth control against working class women, disabled women and women of colour is part of a long-term agenda of eugenics and neo-Malthusianism.

Wealthier white women fought for the right to not have children and to choose when they had them and to demand sterilisation without the consent of their husbands. Eugenics law that promoted the “betterment of the human race” by forcing wealthier white women to have children also led to laws that demanded the use of birth control to access welfare benefits and forced sterilisation for working class women. These laws have been the tools of choice against working class women, women of colour and disabled women and have been used to prevent their choosing to have children and to limit the numbers that they had. In the US, to this day, eugenics laws are still on the books to be used against disabled women; Buck vs Bell (1927) in which the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilisation of the unfit did not violate the Due Process Clause of the US constitution.  This endorsement of negative eugenics has not been repealed and still stands as US law. So to say that to leave things of the past in the past doesn’t really hold up as these things of the past tend to revive. After all, patriarchy is still strong and these arguments are not only a position of patriarchy but of the bourgeoisie that does not feel the need to humour women in their bizarre beliefs that they, not the family, not the church and not the state control their own bodies.

Sep 08 2012

Eurozone Bailout, Not So Fast

Last Thursday Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, won almost unanimous support for an unlimited bond purchase that would relieve the pressure on financial troubled countries by spreading the repayment of debt to Euro Zone countries as a whole:

The central bank’s program will not solve the deep structural problems of the euro, Europe’s common currency. But it will buy time for the political leaders of the 17-nation euro zone to follow through on their past promises to discipline each others’ spending more closely and work harder to relax labor regulations and barriers to business creation that are regarded as impediments to growth.

The central bank will buy bonds on open markets, without setting any limits, in contrast to an earlier bond-buying program that proved too hesitant to be effective. The bank said it would act only after countries agreed on certain conditions with the euro zone rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism. That fund, known as the E.S.M., would buy bonds directly from governments, taking responsibility for imposing the conditions, while the central bank would intervene in secondary markets. [..]

The one dissenting vote came from Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, that was cast by Jens Weidmann despite Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for the plan.

But no so fast. The plan relies heavily on Spain and Italy to ask for help from the ECB. Both governments expressed reluctance for fear of political back lash at home and the harsh policy changes that they would have to accept. Spanish  Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took the stance that Spain would not be forced into asking for assiatance from the ECB until the conditions were made “crystal clear”:

After Mario Draghi, European Central Bank governor, made clear that any assistance from the central bank to reduce Spanish borrowing costs would come with “strict and effective” conditionality, the Rajoy government remained steadfast in its view that a request would only be made if, and when, it is ready. High quality global journalism requires investment.

“There is no urgency,” a Spanish official said following a joint press conference between Mr Rajoy and Angela Merkel, where the German Chancellor deftly avoided a series of questions over possible new conditions for Spain. [..]

The Spanish prime minister is aware of the disastrous political consequences a direct request for a bailout would have on a nine-month-old government that was elected on a pledge to avoid the fate of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

At the FDL News Desk, David Dayen gives his analysis:

Basically, Rajoy is saying “do your worst.” And he has some leverage. The Eurozone might be able to survive without Greece, but Spain is too big to fail. Draghi is adamant that he will not rescue the bond yields of any state that does not comply, but that has not been confirmed by events. So we have a game of chicken. And Rajoy, who campaigned on avoiding the fate of Ireland and Greece and Portugal, has political reasons to remain steadfast. He wants to keep the troika out of Spain; it’s political suicide if they come in and tell him how to manage the Spanish economy.

The knowledge among bondholders that Rajoy could at any time sign up for aid may be enough to keep them at bay relative to Spanish debt, and the debt of other sovereigns. That’s my hope, anyway. Because forcing Spain into more brutal austerity will turn out just the way it has turned out in Britain and any other country with a fragile economy.

From the annual Ambrosetti Forum at Lake Como on Friday, economist Nouriel Roubini gave his assessment:

“The ECB move is helpful but is not a game-changer. The eurozone is still in crisis,” said Nouriel Roubini, head of Roubini Global Economics.

“Unless Europe stops the recession and offers people in the peripheral countries some light at the end of the tunnel – not in five years but within 12 months – the political backlash will be overwhleming, with strikes, riots and weak governments collapsing.”

Professor Roubini said the German Bundesbank and will insist that “severe” conditions are imposed on Spain once the country requests a rescue from the eurozone EFSF/ESM bail-out funds and signs a memorandum ceding budgetary sovereignty.

“Plenty of accidents can still occur. There is austerity fatigue in the periphery and bail-out fatigue in the core. Eveybody is restless,” he said [..]

This current plan only kicks the can down the road. There are structural problems of the Eurozone system that must be addressed to adequately resolve this crisis:

There is a structural contradiction within the euro system, namely that there is a monetary union (common currency) without a fiscal union (e.g., common taxation, pension, and treasury functions). In the Eurozone system, the countries are required to follow a similar fiscal path, but they do not have common treasury to enforce it. That is, countries with the same monetary system have freedom in fiscal policies in taxation and expenditure. So, even though there are some agreements on monetary policy and through European Central Bank, countries may not be able to or would simply choose not to follow it. This feature brought fiscal free riding of peripheral economies, especially represented by Greece, as it is hard to control and regulate national financial institutions. Furthermore, there is also a problem that the euro zone system has a difficult structure for quick response. Eurozone, having 17 nations as its members, require unanimous agreement for a decision making process. This would lead to failure in complete prevention of contagion of other areas, as it would be hard for the Euro zone to respond quickly to the problem.

In addition, as of June 2012 there was no “banking union” meaning that there was no Europe-wide approach to bank deposit insurance, bank oversight, or a joint means of recapitalization or resolution (wind-down) of failing banks. Bank deposit insurance helps avoid bank runs.

So countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal, who find themselves in a financial crunch, must rely on the not so “goodwill” of countries like Germany who are reluctant to share the pain.

Jul 09 2012

The Dragging US Economy

Austerity is not going well for Europe or the US.

U.S. Stocks Post Longest Slump in 1 Month on Europe Woes

by Rita Nazareth and Julia Leite

U.S. stocks fell, giving benchmark indexes the longest slump in more than a month, after a jump in Spanish bond yields above 7 percent intensified concern about Europe’s crisis and as investors awaited Alcoa (AA) Inc.’s results.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slid 0.2 percent to 1,352.45 at 4 p.m. New York time, according to preliminary closing data, paring an earlier loss of as much as 0.6 percent. The benchmark index dropped 1.6 percent over three days.  [..]

Stocks joined a global slump as the yield on Spain’s 10- year bond rose above the threshold that prompted bailouts in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble dismissed a rapid move toward direct bank recapitalization by the European rescue fund, limiting the tools for shoring up Spanish banks as the euro-area crisis simmers.

Stocks Retreat as Spanish 10-Year Bond Yield Exceeds 7%

By Stephen Kirkland and Rita Nazareth

U.S. stocks fell for a third day as Spain’s 10-year debt yield topped 7 percent, fueling concern the debt crisis is worsening, and investors awaited the start of the earnings season. Corn and soybeans surged on forecasts for more dry U.S. weather. Treasuries rose.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 0.2 percent at 4 p.m. in New York and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 0.4 percent. Ten-year Spanish yields jumped 11 basis points to 7.06 percent after rising as high as 7.108 percent. The euro climbed 0.2 percent to $1.2319, rebounding from a two-year low of $1.2251. Corn rose as much as 5.8 percent and soybeans jumped to a four-year high. Oil added 1.8 percent to $85.99 a barrel and natural gas rallied as a strike threatened supplies from Norway.

E.U. Seeks to Dispel Doubts About Bank Bailouts

by Paul Geitner and Stephen Casstle

BRUSSELS – With borrowing costs for Spain and Italy climbing again to critical levels, European officials sought Monday to dispel doubts about a deal struck last month to break the “vicious circle” between shaky banks and weak governments.

Spain, suffering through its second recession in three years, was also expected to win more time to rein in its budget deficit even as euro zone finance ministers haggled in Brussels over terms of a bailout for its troubled banks.

Amid the unrelenting market pressure, the European Central Bank reaffirmed that it stood ready to do more to stem the crisis – within the limits of its mandate – while urging euro zone governments to press ahead with closer integration.

Even here in the US, the Federal Reserve admits that they may be reaching there limits on their ability to fix unemployment and are at odds as to what to do next.

Fed’s Lacker Says U.S. May Be Close to Maximum Employment

By Kathleen Hays and Jeff Kearns

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker said the U.S. may already be close to maximum employment from a monetary policy standpoint and that policy makers can’t do much more to cut the jobless rate.

“Given what’s happened to this economy, I think we’re pretty close to maximum employment right now,” Lacker said today in a Bloomberg radio interview on “The Hays Advantage” with Kathleen Hays and Vonnie Quinn. “That might be shocking. That might be surprising.”

Fed policy makers believe the U.S. central bank has limited control over the jobless rate because the employment level is driven by “non-monetary factors that affect the structure and dynamics of the labor market,” according to the January statement from the Federal Open Market Committee. The jobless rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent in June.

Lacker, who has dissented from all four FOMC decisions this year, is at odds with colleagues on what the Fed should do to boost the economy. He said in a June 22 statement that he opposed the FOMC’s $267 billion extension of its Operation Twist program because it may spur inflation and won’t give the economy a significant boost.

San Francisco Fed President John Williams said today the U.S. central bank must maintain “extraordinary vigilance” to see if the slowing economy requires additional monetary stimulus. “If further action is called for, the most effective tool would be additional purchases of longer-maturity securities, including agency mortgage-backed securities,” Williams said in a speech in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

While all the PTB debate how to save banks and the markets, the 99% are getting poorer putting an even bigger drag on the economy. For most the recession never ended.

Jun 28 2012

Bailing Out Europe

The heads of state of the EuroZone countries met in Brussels today for a two day summit to  try to come to an agreement on how to bail out two of its biggest members, Italy and Spain:

The 27 government chiefs will discuss buying Spanish and Italian government bonds to bring down borrowing costs that are near euro-era records, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said. He also proposed that bailout funds buy collateralized government debt in primary markets.

“I’ve come for very rapid solutions to support countries in difficulty on the markets,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters as he arrived in Brussels. Without specifying Spain or Italy, he said they “have made considerable efforts to deal with their public accounts.”

Leaders will consider short-term measures to stem the sovereign debt turmoil as EU President Herman Van Rompuy’s road map to strengthen the bloc’s common currency and financial oversight ran into immediate opposition from Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become increasingly isolated as Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy unite to push for quicker action to ease the crisis that emerged in Greece in late 2009.

Apparently all did not go German Chancellor Merkel’s way as she canceled her scheduled evening press conference. Or maybe she was watching her country’s football team get trounced by the Italians.

Euro 2012 Live Blogging: Italy 2 Germany 0

Nov 16 2011

The EuroZone Bubble

I’m no expert on the bond market but I do know that when a bond interest rates rise, it is more expensive for the holder of those bonds to borrow money. That’s an over simplification as it pertains to the situation that has been developing with the Eurozone that is possibly on the verge of collapse due to the economic instability of Greece and, now, Italy. Of course, it is affecting market around the world. On Tuesday there was a massive sell off of all Eurozone bonds that is threatening the stability of the Eurozone. David Dayen explains:

Under current arrangements, the Eurozone doesn’t even have the money to save Italy. If the core countries start to lose their credit ratings and cannot afford to borrow, we’re really just done here. Spanish debt is also above the level where they would need a bailout, another troublesome sign.

About the only country on somewhat solid footing is Germany, and this has sowed resentment, particularly because of their domineering response to the crisis. Austerity for thee and not for me is bound to create a backlash.

This is all happening because the European Central Bank refuses to honor the “central bank” part of its name. This is dragging down all of Europe. Edward Harrison works through the issues in Italy, which is ground zero here.

   Italy needs to run a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of about 5 percent of GDP, merely to keep its debt ratio constant at present yields. It won’t ever be able to do so.

   Therefore, yields for Italian bonds must come down or Italy is insolvent as it must roll over 300 billion euros of debt in the next year alone.

   Austerity is not going to bring Italian yields back down. First, Italian solvency is now in question and weak hands will sell. Moreover, investors in all sovereign debt now fear that they are unhedged due to the Greek non-default plan worked out in Brussels last month. As Marshall Auerback told me, any money manager with fiduciary responsibility cannot buy Italian debt or any other euro member sovereign debt after this plan.

   Conclusion: Italy will face a liquidity-induced insolvency without central bank intervention. Investors will sell Italian bonds and yields will rise as the liquidity crisis becomes a self-fulfilling spiral: higher yields begetting worsening macro fundamentals leading to higher default risk and therefore even higher yields.

Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, mostly agrees with Harrison’s assessment of how the euro will end if the ECB doesn’t step in with a massive bail out and adds his thoughts:

I might place greater emphasis on the immediate channel through which falling sovereign bond prices force bank deleveraging, but we’re picking nits here.

And this is totally right:

   If the ECB writes the check, the economic and market outcomes are vastly different than if they do not. Your personal outlook as an investor, business person or worker will change dramatically for decades to come based upon this one policy choice and how well-prepared for it you are.

Crunch time. If prejudice and false notions of prudence prevail, the world is about to take a major change for the worse.

There are a number of factors here. Without the backing of Germany, the only Eurozone country with money, the ECB doesn’t have enough money to cover Italy’s debt and Germany’s participation hinges on their demand for austerity measures. The the elephant of a question then becomes what happens if the ECB doesn’t write the check? What if the ECB let’s Italy default, what then?

Harrison’s article at naked capitalism on the Italian default scenarios is long but well worth reading for the suggestions for investors on how they can protect themselves in either event.