Esther Bintliff

Irish President Michael D Higgins smiles during the official announcement of the Irish presidential election's results on October 29, 2011 (PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

(Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty)

On Thursday morning, a small storm erupted in Ireland over an interview given by the president, Michael D. Higgins, to the FT’s Dublin correspondent, Jamie Smyth.

President Higgins, who is 72 years old, a published poet and a former government minister, argued that EU leaders needed to rethink their “hegemonic” response to the crisis.

“There is a real problem in what was assumed to be a single hegemonic model… The unemployment profile in Greece is different from the unemployment profile in Ireland. You need a pluralism of approaches… We have 26m people unemployed… There are 112m at risk of poverty, a contraction in investment and falling demand.”

Higgins’ remarks were quite frank for someone whose role is largely ceremonial. Some members of the public commenting on the Irish Times website praised his candidness: “He may be small in physical stature, but he is not averse to standing up to the heavyweights of the EU”, said one; another wrote: “THIS IS THE KIND OF PRESIDENT I HOPED FOR WHEN WE ELECTED MICHAEL D. HIGGINS!!!”.

Not everyone was positive. “By speaking out on matters which don’t concern his office, he is skirting dangerously close to creating a constitutional issue – and he does not have a mandate for that,” said ‘PaulFlynn’. When a Sinn Féin representative mentioned Higgins’ remarks in the lower house of parliament (the Dáil) later on Thursday, the parliamentary speaker immediately warned: “Don’t go there with regards to the President, we don’t discuss the President in Dáil Éireann.”  Read more

Esther Bintliff

On Friday, South Korea advised the 175 workers left at the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea to leave for their own safety. Photographer Chung Sung-Jun captured part of the journey for Getty Images. In a set of striking photos, cars and vans are shown piled high with factory goods, to the extent that some of the drivers appear to have had no clear view through their windscreens. The workers joined compatriots who have left the zone since work was suspended earlier this month as a result of the escalating tension between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Seven South Koreans were held back on Monday, according to the BBC:

“Officials said the North insisted that some South Korean staff remain to negotiate unpaid wages. They did not believe the seven would be at risk.”

APRIL 27: South Korean workers arriving from the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea at the inter-Korean transit office on April 27, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The FT’s Song Jung-a reported on the start of the exodus a few weeks ago:

“Long lines of cars and trucks loaded with heavy luggage crossed the border gate into South Korea this week as South Korean workers brought raw material and half-finished products back to minimise losses.”

APRIL 27: South Korean workers arriving from the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea at the inter-Korean transit office on April 27, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Kaesong began operating in 2004 – the product of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, and a symbol of the potential for economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

According to a US congressional research note from 2011, products manufactured in the industrial park include “clothing and textiles (71 firms), kitchen utensils (4 firms), auto parts (4 firms), semiconductor parts (2 firms), and toner cartridges (1 firm).” Read more

Esther Bintliff

Fire at Albion Mill, Blackfriars Bridge, London, March 1791. Painting by T. Rowlandson

Fire at Albion Mill, Blackfriars, London,1791. Painting by T. Rowlandson

The history of mass manufacturing is stitched through with accidents and peril. The first factories, which powered the industrial revolution in 18th century Britain, brought death and injury to many workers, including children. Mill fires in the UK were so common that some industrialists bought their own steam fire-engines in an effort to bring down insurance premiums.

The factory model spread fast. By the 19th century, the word ‘sweatshop’ had begun to enter popular parlance, with Charles Kingsley referring to ‘sweaters’ – or garment workers – in his 1850 tract ‘Cheap Clothes & Nasty’ (“Men ought to know the condition of those by whose labour they live”, he warned). Meanwhile, in the US:

“The term ‘sweatshop’… was meant to describe “sweated labor,” work that a big clothing manufacturer contracts out to a smaller firm… The labor was “sweated” because of the conditions of the factories – cramped, crowded, and full of damp heat from the steam-driven pressers.” – Bill Buford, ‘Sweat is Good’, The New Yorker

How did things get better? Safety standards encoded in law, industrial design improvements, the growth of unions, and public outrage helped bring change to the factories of western economies. But all too often, the impetus for reform seemed to require the catalyst of a terrible accident.

Today, the majority of factory accidents (though not all) take place in the developing and newly industrialized world – places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and India. The death of more than 200 people this week in a factory on the outskirts of Daka is a challenge both to the Bangladeshi government, and to western retailers.

The cost of change, to some observers, seems prohibitive – but if passed on to western consumers, it might actually be tiny. Jason Motlagh and Susie Taylor report: “An analysis by WRC estimates the garment industry would have to spend some $3 billion over five years to bring Bangladesh’s roughly 4,500 factories up to Western standards. That amounts to less than 10 cents a garment.”

*****

Here are five of the worst factory accidents. There are many, many more. You will notice that we’ve focused on recent decades, but only because these were the best documented online. You may also notice that there are certain factors that the worst incidents have in common. The most frequent is locked doors.

1) May 25, 1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York

Firefighters at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, March 25, 1911. Photographer: Brown BrothersDeath toll: 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants, mostly women.

The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of manslaughter a few weeks after the fire. You can read a transcript of the proceedings of the case via Cornell University. The chief prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Charles S. Bostwick, pulled no punches.

“Others ran to the Washington place door. One of these was Margaret Schwartz, now dead. And it is for her death that these defendants are now on trial.

Gentlemen of the jury, that door was locked. Those who ran to that door cried out ‘That door is locked. My God, we are lost.’ They were lost. That locked door barred their escape.”

 Read more

Esther Bintliff

A kind of digital shiver went across the internet on Tuesday, after the Associated Press sent out a message saying two explosions had taken place at the White House, and that Obama was injured. Several things were suspicious about the tweet, and within minutes, AP announced that their official account had indeed been hacked:

Tweet from AP: "The @AP Twitter account has been suspended after it was hacked. The tweet about an attack on the White House was false."

While markets recovered their losses almost immediately, the incident leaves troubling questions about the capabilities of the group that claimed responsibility for the hack: the so-called ‘Syrian Electronic Army’. As one former US official involved in cyber security told the FT’s Michael Peel and Geoff Dyer on Wednesday:

“When you start to do things that have a big impact on the stock market, you are getting away from hacking and moving much closer to something that resembles an actual cyber attack on the US – which takes things into a different area altogether.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the SEA have become good at what they do. They were already in full swing two years ago, when Max Fisher and Jared Keller looked at their efforts for The Atlantic.

“The SEA has aggressively engaged in a wide range of online activities to punish perceived opponents and to force the online narrative in favor of the Assad regime… their primary means of attack has been to overload the social networking profiles of government institutions and Western media outlets…”

 Read more

Esther Bintliff

Boston

♦ Overnight, one of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings was killed during a car chase. Officers have mounted a manhunt to find a man believed to be the other suspects, reports Robert Wright. The FBI has issued photographs of the suspects and details are beginning to emerge about their background. Updates throughout the day on FT.com

Gun control and a captured Senate?

♦ The US Senate on Wednesday voted down two measures that would have imposed tough new rules on who can buy guns. The Guardian reports this morning that all but three of the 45 senators who voted ‘No’ received money from firearms lobbyists.

♦ Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011, lambasted the senators in an Op-Ed for the New York Times. “Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets… These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.”

Elsewhere

♦ The FT’s Guy Dinmore visited L’Aquila, four years after it was devastated by an earthquake. Reconstruction there has all but ground to a halt, through lack of money and paralysing politics – making the city “the ultimate symbol of Italy’s great stagnation.”

♦ Tom Feiling writes for the new digital magazine, Aeon, about why Colombia’s FARC guerrillas are still resisting the coming peace. “Is it drug money or the romance of revolution that’s to blame?“ Read more

Esther Bintliff

Reinhart-Rogoff Redux

♦ The FT’s Robin Harding and Chris Giles look at the perils of austerity theory, and argue that “the essential problem is limited data.”

♦ To catch up on the debate thus far, check out our reading list.

♦ Over on Counterparties, Felix Salmon has helpfully summarised a long blog by an econometrician, Arindrajit Dube. As Salmon puts it: the causation here seems about as clear as causal analysis can ever be: low growth causes high debt, rather than high debt causing low growth.

Elsewhere

♦ The FT’s Tom Mitchell, a Bostonian, writes about his response to the bombs at Monday’s marathon – “An attack on much more than a race.”

♦ A new Israeli guidebook “offers maps, tips, and tours through 18 areas of Israel where Palestinian villages once stood”. The Economist reviews it.

♦ Obama’s administration appears to hold varying views on the Syrian opposition, something that became obvious on Wednesday when Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made separate appearances before Congress, reports the New York Times.

♦ The European Central Bank’s newest game [wait, they do games?] was released on Wednesday. Alphaville’s Lisa Pollack has played it.

♦ Silicon Valley is welcoming a new kind of business pilgrim – “itinerant company executives who come from the benighted analogue world”, writes Richard Waters. Read more

Esther Bintliff

Want to make your own mind up over Reinhart-Rogoff? Here are links to the original working papers that gave us the mother of all economic dust-ups, the responses of the two sets of authors, and some great secondary sources.

PRIMARY sources:

The working paper by Carmen M Reinhart and Kenneth S Rogoff, published in January 2010:

The critique of the Reinhart-Rogoff research, by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, published on April 15 2013:

Reinhart and Rogoff respond:

Ash and Pollin respond to the response:

And a selection of SECONDARY sources:

Here’s the post by Rortybomb blogger Mike Konczal that brought the critique to the attention of the masses. Konczal notes that the episode is “good evidence for why you should release your data online, so it can be properly vetted.”

Over at Slate, Matthew Yglesias asked:

FT Alphaville’s Cardiff Garcia and Joseph Cotterill shared their thoughts on the debate:

Paul Krugman has been busy:

 Read more

Esther Bintliff

The Boston aftermath

♦ Police in Boston said they had found fragments of nylon bags, shrapnel and the remnants of a pressure cooker at the site of Monday’s bombing, report Geoff Dyer and Robert Wright. Time’s Swampland blog put together a short history of pressure cooker bombs.

♦ Within hours of the attack, some US media outlets were discussing the possible involvement of a 20-year-old man seen running – along with almost everyone else who could – from the scene. He was later declared to be only a witness, but not before his apartment had been searched. So why was he singled out? Probably because he’s Saudi, says Amy Davidson.

♦ “There’s not much to say about Monday’s Boston Marathon attack because there is virtually no known evidence regarding who did it or why,” writes Glenn Greenwald. “There are, however, several points to be made about some of the widespread reactions to this incident.

♦ David Kenner muses on the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood’s official response to the bombs, and the message posted by a senior Brotherhood leader, Essam el-Erian, on his facebook page. El-Erian condemned the attack — but also linked it to the French war in Mali, the destruction in Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere

♦ A senior Chinese auditor told Simon Rabinovitch that local government debt is “out of control” and could spark a bigger financial crisis than the US housing market crash. But don’t worry – there won’t be any sudden collapse in China’s financial system, says Jamil Anderlini in today’s Global Insight column – it’ll be slow.

On the theme of accountancy in China, Simon Rabinovitch and Adam Jones looked at how homegrown auditors are eroding the influence of established western firms in China.

♦ India’s first major theme park opens on Thursdsay. Among its rides is “a gigantic six-armed animatronic Hindu god, standing astride a trio of curly-horned fire-breathing rams”. Yes you should go – but in the meantime, read James Crabtree’s report.

♦ The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography has been awarded to five photographers from the Associated Press – Rodrigo Abd, Manu Brabo, Narciso Contreras, Khalil Hamra and Muhammed Muheisen – for their “compelling coverage of the civil war in Syria, producing memorable images under extreme hazard.” You can see the images on the Pulitzer website (warning: some are graphic).

♦ InsideClimate News may be the leanest news start-up ever to be presented with a Pulitzer, says Brian Stelter – and they don’t even have a newsroom. Read more

Esther Bintliff

♦ JP Rathbone looks at the fading of Chávez’s political dream in Venezuela, arguing that the results of Sunday’s election represent “no kind of mandate for [Nicolás] Maduro or the radical socialism he espouses.

♦ “Either I bought [the lumber], or I stole it. But I can’t have done both. And actually, I did neither.” Russian blogger Alexei Navalny talks to the FT’s Charles Clover, ahead of the start of his trial on Wednesday.

♦ The Washington Post has the story of a mysterious Iranian-controlled factory in Germany which closed its doors last month. Could it have been involved in a scheme to aid Iran’s rogue nuclear program?

♦ The debate around whether women can have it all has been swirling for a while now, but today psychotherapist Naomi Shragai considers the other side: men who struggle to balance their work with family time.

♦ Guinea-Bissau is considered one of the world’s leading narco-states. Adam Nossiter writes about a long-running US sting operation that managed to snare a former chief of the country’s navy.

♦ Young Turkish people living in Germany are being asked to choose between German or Turkish nationality because they don’t have the right to hold onto both once they reach the age of 23, reports Judy Dempsey in the New York Times.

♦ “The finish line at a marathon is a small marvel of fellowship,” writes Ezra Klein. “Today, the final line of the Boston Marathon is a crime scene.” Also on the subject of yesterday’s tragedy in Boston, the New Scientist has a post on what clues the bomb fragments may yieldRead more

Esther Bintliff

Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s nowhere left to hide! The champagne socialists have been outed, their secret extravagance and hypocritical lives of luxury exposed once and for all!

At least, that’s what critics of François Hollande’s government must have been hoping.

What actually emerged from the enforced declaration of assets by French cabinet ministers on Monday was somewhat less exciting.

Ok, so there are a few millionaires – foreign minister Laurent Fabius is officially the cabinet’s richest member, with assets of around €6m; minister for the elderly Michèle Delaunay has about €5.4m, including two houses and €15,000 in jewellery.

And yes, Arnaud Montebourg, that famous leftwing fireband, owns an Eames chair that he bought for €4,300. But who said socialists weren’t allowed to covet icons of modern design?

You can peruse the documents yourself, minister by minister, on a special website courtesy of the French government. We found the section marked: “Véhicules terrestres à moteur, bateaux, avions, etc.” of particular interest. From it, we have learned the following.

Clio Expression Eco - 94g/km CO2 (image courtesy Renault)

This is the most popular car in the French cabinet

1) This is not a cabinet of petrolheads or luxury car enthusiasts. With a few exceptions, these ministers like cars that are French-made, sensible, easy to park, and inexpensive. Thus, the most popular car in the French cabinet is the Renault Clio, a vehicle described by WhatCar magazine as a chic supermini [that] offers low running costs”.

2) Most, though not all, are patriotic in their car-buying. We counted 4 Citroens, 9 Peugeots, and no fewer than 19 Renaults. Of the Renaults, after the Clio, the Twingo and the Megane were particularly favoured. Only a few ministers broke from French brand names – including minister of defence, Jean Yves Le Drian, whose cars include a Suzuki Wagon R from July 2004 and a Lancia Ypsilon from 2012. Read more