Via Calculated Risk, tomorrow the Irish Finance Minister will explain, somehow, what Ireland's government will do with the €90 bn in real estate loans now crippling the country's economy:
In what may be the biggest financial gamble in 87 years as a sovereign state, the government will become the owner of loans for property developments that have plunged in value.
Ireland is suffering the worst economic slump of any developed nation since the Great Depression, according to the Economic & Social Research Institute in Dublin.
The National Asset Management Agency, known as NAMA, will buy 18,000 loans at a discount from lenders led by Allied Irish Banks Plc and Bank of Ireland Plc. The agency will manage the loans, which amount to about half of Ireland’s gross domestic product. Should any of the 1,500 borrowers default, the agency can seize the land or other security put up.
To put that in perspective, imagine if the U.S. government took over $8.5 trillion in loans. That's the equivalent.
U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday formally apologized to Alan Turing, the gay cryptogropher who broke the German navy's codes in World War II, saving the lives of thousands of British sailors:
Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of the Second World War could have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely.
In 1952, he was convicted of "gross indecency" – in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.
It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe's history and not Europe's present. So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work, I am very proud to say: we're sorry. You deserved so much better.
It's about bloody time. But good job, Prime Minister.
Lots of interesting (to me, anyway) items on the Intertubes today:
- Chicago really did have one of the coolest summers ever this year, complete with the longest stretch of sub-27°C temperatures in 124 years.
- Via The Expired Meter, Chicago ranked first in a list of the worst cities to drive in, because of our lovely red-light cameras paired with 3-second yellow lights. Before you get smug, the entire state of Florida made the list, too.
- The International Olympic Committee president said the vote will be close, and it's down to Chicago and Rio for the 2016 games. Meanwhile, the White House denies rumors that the President will go to Copenhagen to
lean on show support for Chicago.
- The Dubai Metro opened on Wednesday, but will it help? At least it goes to the airport, a feature whose importance the two largest U.S. cities have still failed to grasp.
- A story appeared in the Washington Post about a D.C.-area school that squandered a $50,000 grant, after squandering a $27,000 grant just a few years ago.
- Via Andrew Sullivan, a report that Margaret Thatcher told Mikhail Gorbachev in a secret meeting that the U.K. did not want German reunification because it would destabilize the U.S.S.R.
Whew. Back to accounting homework.
The Freakonomics blog interviews author Christopher Steiner about his book $20 Per Gallon:
[At $8 per gallon, predicted in 2019,] our restaurant world won't be terribly different from what we’re used to now. We'll always have Chinese food — or at least the Americanized version of it (batter it, fry it, smother it in sweet and tangy sauce). The tricky part of the question concerns foods like sushi. When gas is $8 per gallon, sushi will still be hanging around. Things get interesting, however, at $18 per gallon.
By the time gas has reached $18 [predicted in 2029-2039], most people will live in places where density dictates that schools be grouped closer together, putting them within an easy walk or a brief bike ride.
Q: What are some things you suggest people enjoy now before they’re gone?
A: Eat sushi. Drive the trans-Canadian highway (in summer). Go to Australia. Go see Tokyo and take notes — life will be more like that and less like, say, Omaha, in the future.
I wish I had time to read this book. Maybe if I get all my Duke reading done before next week. As if.
I'm going to be in London two weeks from now, so it saddened me to hear this on NPR's Morning Edition today:
The British Beer and Pub Association says an average of 52 pubs are closing each week. Changing consumer tastes, a two-year-old smoking ban and the deepening economic recession have hit pubs hard. But for thousands, the death blow has been dealt by rising government taxes on beer — up to 20 percent in the past two years. The traditional pint glass of beer now runs about $6, meaning few working-class Brits can afford that other British tradition: buying your friends a round.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has refused to reconsider further increases in the tax on beer. Industry leaders say that means thousands more pubs will close their doors.
"There is no alternative to the pub," [Fuller's Brewery's chairman Michael Turner] says. "It is the center of the community. And all the social interaction that goes with a pub is likely to be lost when the pub goes. I mean, you can go from three pubs to two pubs in a community, but when you lose the last pub — that's it."
Apparently the Duchy of Lancaster, which is essentially the property of the British Royal Family, has suffered a bit of a decline:
The Duchy of Lancaster - a portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Sovereign - saw a drop of £75m to £322m in the 2008-9 financial year.
But the income the Monarchy received from the Duchy, used to fund her public and private activities, increased by 5.4% from £12.6m to £13.3m.
During the last financial year, the total cost to the taxpayer of keeping the monarchy increased by £1.5m to £41.5m.
The Beeb notes, however:
[T]he Duchy of Lancaster is a body created under Charter, it is completely self-financing and does not rely on any taxpayers' money.
Foreign Policy adds:
This is further bad news for her Highness, who has had her many, many requests for increases to the royal budget rejected by parliament in the last year. The monarchy's annual expenses currently run at £41.5 million, excluding an estimated £50 million in security costs. Nonetheless, Palace officials continue to engage in talks with the Treasury to elicit more funding for the Crown for, amongst others, planned household refurbishment and the 2012 diamond jubilee celebrations.
The Queen recently dipped into her now-dwindling private funds to pay for a few royal expenses, including Prince Harry's latest trip to New York.
The most surprising thing to me, though, is that £90 million doesn't seem like a lot of money, given the income to the country the Royals may generate merely by existing. How much money from tourists comes in because of the Royals? Has anyone studied this? And how much do most countries spend on heads of state, to what benefit?
Two unrelated topics in one post? Preposterous. Unacceptable.
First: my previous post reflected the difficulties in typing on a tiny G1 keyboard, which magnified the annoyances in maintaining a blog in the first place. Two entries disappeared after unintentional finger sweeps, and don't even get me started on the difficulties of adding an actual hyperlink from my phone. On the other hand, I can post from my phone, which I find so cool it makes me giddy. I do feel like someone living 80 years ago complaining about air travel: yes, ocean liners are more comfortable, and yes, the thing makes a lot of noise, but wake up: you can get from New York to London in one night. At some point the coolness overcomes the annoyance, and a new technology goes critical.
Second, if you're either (a) unaware of the unfolding news from Iran, or (b) not following it on Sullivan, you need to do both. This is what Democracy looks like. I'm more and more hopeful that Iran will prevail, and its unelected dictatorship will fall. It won't look like the U.S., the U.K., or any other European-style democracy, but possibly before the end of this summer, Iran will have an elected leader, and a legitimate government, for the first time in 30 years. There will be a terrific cost, but again: the Iranian people will, ultimately, win this.
I think Thomas Jefferson put it better than I ever could:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Wear green this week if you agree.
The Guardian is reporting riots in Tehran following reports that the Iranian election monitors have declared yesterday's election fraudulent:
Iran is facing political turmoil after hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was confirmed today as the winner of the presidential election and outraged supporters of his chief rival took to the streets to protest against a "dangerous charade" after a record 85% turnout.
Tonight riot police in Tehran faced thousands of angry demonstrators shouting "death to dictatorship" amid shock and confusion after the official result backed Ahmadinejad's claim to have won, made barely an hour after the polls closed on Friday night.
...Ahmadinejad's crushing and contested victory by 63% to 34% is a grave setback for hopes for a solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions and for detente with the US now that Barack Obama is seeking dialogue with Tehran. Israel immediately reacted to the news by demanding intensified efforts to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Is Iran heading for civil war? And what's Israel's reaction going to be?
First, it's interesting to see young voters partying down on election night in Iran. Second, did you know about the 32 polling places in the U.S. where Iranian citizens can vote? Third, here's a helpful chart from the Beeb explaining how Iran is ruled: