Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 22nd, 2018

Portugal Dared to Cast Aside Austerity. It’s Having a Major Revival.

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Liz Alderman reports in the NY Times:

Ramón Rivera had barely gotten his olive oil business started in the sun-swept Algarve region of Portugal when Europe’s debt crisis struck. The economy crumbled, wages were cut, and unemployment doubled. The government in Lisbon had to accept a humiliating international bailout.

But as the misery deepened, Portugal took a daring stand: In 2015, it cast aside the austerity measures its European creditors had imposed, igniting a virtuous cycle that put its economy back on a path to growth. The country reversed cuts to wages, pensions and social security, and offered incentives to businesses.

The government’s U-turn, and willingness to spend, had a powerful effect. Creditors railed against the move, but the gloom that had gripped the nation through years of belt-tightening began to lift. Business confidence rebounded. Production and exports began to take off — including at Mr. Rivera’s olive groves.

“We had faith that Portugal would come out of the crisis,” said Mr. Rivera, the general manager of Elaia. The company focused on state-of-the-art harvesting technology, and it is now one of Portugal’s biggest olive oil producers. “We saw that this was the best place in the world to invest.”

At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland — and for a stretch, Portugal itself — toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade.

The renewal is visible just about everywhere. Hotels, restaurants and shops have opened in droves, fueled by a tourism surge that has helped cut unemployment in half. In the Beato district of Lisbon, a mega-campusfor start-ups rises from the rubble of a derelict military factory. Bosch, Google and Mercedes-Benz recently opened offices and digital research centers here, collectively employing thousands.

Foreign investment in aerospace, construction and other sectors is at a record high. And traditional Portuguese industries, including textiles and paper mills, are putting money into innovation, driving a boom in exports.

“What happened in Portugal shows that too much austerity deepens a recession, and creates a vicious circle,” Prime Minister António Costa said in an interview. “We devised an alternative to austerity, focusing on higher growth, and more and better jobs.”

Voters ushered Mr. Costa, a center-left leader, into power in late 2015 after he promised to reverse cuts to their income, which the previous government had approved to reduce Portugal’s high deficit under the terms of an international bailout of 78 billion euros, or $90 billion. Mr. Costa formed an unusual alliance with Communist and radical-left parties, which had been shut out of power since the end of Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974. They united with the goal of beating back austerity, while balancing the books to meet eurozone rules.

The government raised public sector salaries, the minimum wage and pensions and even restored the amount of vacation days to prebailout levels over objections from creditors like Germany and the International Monetary Fund. Incentives to stimulate business included development subsidies, tax credits and funding for small and midsize companies.

Mr. Costa made up for the givebacks with cuts in infrastructure and other spending, whittling the annual budget deficit to less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product, compared with 4.4 percent when he took office. The government is on track to achieve a surplus by 2020, a year ahead of schedule, ending a quarter-century of deficits.

European officials are now admitting that Portugal may have found a better response to the crisis. Recently, they rewarded Lisbon by elevating the country’s finance minister, Mário Centeno, who helped engineer the changes, to president of the Eurogroup, the influential collective of eurozone finance ministers.

The economic about-face had a remarkable impact on Portugal’s collective psyche. While discouragement lingers in Greece after a decade of spending cuts, Portugal’s recovery has pivoted around restoring confidence to get people and businesses motivated again.

“The actual stimulus spending was very small,” said João Borges de Assunção, a professor at the Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics. “But the country’s mind-set became completely different, and from an economic perspective, that’s more impactful than the actual change in policy.”

The brighter outlook has lifted companies like Elaia, the olive oil producer. Its parent company, Sovena, opened Elaia as a start-up on a vast agricultural plain in southern Portugal in 2007, just before the downturn. Its timing could hardly have been worse, but managers persisted, paving the way for a surge in production when the crisis ebbed.

Elaia says it generates 14 percent of Portugal’s olive oil today, contributing to a renaissance in Portuguese exports, which now constitute 40 percent of economic activity. Drones buzz over vast olive groves, precision-planted with 2,000 trees per hectare, or roughly 2.5 acres, compared with around 150 trees for a traditional farm, monitoring crops for insect infestations, water levels and optimum harvesting time. Olives are picked by machine. Instead of field hands, the company hires technicians to operate the robots, and it has teamed up with universities for research.

“Portugal has benefited a lot after the tough years we had,” said Jorge de Melo, Sovena’s chief executive. “The mood is much better than it was before, and that’s important for the economy.”

Yet Portugal’s success is still vulnerable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 4:45 pm

Pork belly at last. Next frontier: Steaks in Argentina

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I have longed to eat pork belly for almost a decade, even since blogging this post. Five years ago, I took a stab at it with this effort (damn you, Nigella Lawson!) One problem that led to the delay was that in the US, all pork bellies seem consigned to bacon and you just can’t buy a pork belly in a store. (I should have tried a butcher shop, but in the US they are uncommon.)

I just was at the Farm & Field Butcher Shop here, and lo! they did have a small piece of pork belly, which I bought at once. Yesterday, I roasted it sensibly: on a rack in my large sauté pan with water covering the bottom of the pan, 300ºF for two hours and then 15 minutes at 400ºF to crisp it.


I’m not sure how good leftover pork belly will be, since the piece I bought was a small piece. Still, I’ll try a larger piece, and probably eat it leftover with Harvy Scarvy. (Note this easy approach to making Harvy Scarvy.)

The next goal, which has been hanging for a dozen years, is to eat some steaks in Argentina. This post explains why.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 3:33 pm

Bach on Bandura and Button Accordian

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Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Music, Video

Trial runs for fascism are in full flow

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Fintan O’Toole writes in the Irish Times:

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

Moral boundaries

But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

‘Devious’ infants

And the results are quite satisfactory. There is good news on two fronts. First, Rupert Murdoch is happy with it – his Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness: making animal noises at the mention of a Down syndrome child, describing crying children as actors. They went the whole swinish hog: even the brown babies are liars. Those sobs of anguish are typical of the manipulative behaviour of the strangers coming to infest us – should we not fear a race whose very infants can be so devious? Second, the hardcore fans loved it: 58 per cent of Republicans are in favour of this brutality. Trump’s overall approval ratings are up to 42.5 per cent.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 2:12 pm

In Helsinki, Trump Shows He Is Indeed Guilty of Collusion

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David Corn writes in Mother Jones:

Since being elected president, Donald Trump has vociferously claimed he engaged in “no collusion” with Vladimir Putin’s attack on the 2016 US election and that the investigation of any interactions between him and his associates and Russians was a “witch hunt” or a “rigged witch hunt.” Yet his historic Helsinki summit with Putin—and particularly the unsettling joint press conference they held—provided a clear indication that Trump is indeed guilty of one form of collusion: colluding with Putin to cover up Moscow’s criminal assault on American democracy.

I’ve been making this case for over a year, noting that “Trump actively and enthusiastically aided and abetted” Putin’s plot against the United States by supporting Moscow’s denial that it mounted information warfare that undermined the election and helped Trump. Put aside the notion of whether Trump or anyone in his crew schemed with Russians on how to pull this off. Once the attack became public, Trump and his lieutenants continuously maintained it was nothing but a hoax. When the Democratic National Committee in June 2016 revealed it had been hacked by Russian operatives, the Trump campaign issued a statement huffing, “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.” After WikiLeaks released over 20,000 DNC emails right before the start of the Democratic convention the following month, the Hillary Clinton campaign tried to make the point this was Russian sabotage. Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort hit the cable news shows to call this claim absurd. (Yet just weeks earlier, both had attended a secret meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian emissary, after being told this woman was bringing the campaign dirt on Clinton as part of a secret Kremlin plot to assist Trump.)

Trump led the denial charge himself. After being briefed in mid-August by US intelligence that Russia was behind the hack-and-dump operation against the Clinton campaign, he repeatedly declared that there was no reason to suspect Moscow was the culprit. He did this in speeches. And he did this in the debates with Clinton. At their first face-off, he said the perp “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” And following the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of a statement in early October 2016 stating that intelligence showed Russia was indeed behind this attack, Trump still vigorously insisted there was no reason to believe Moscow was involved.

Throughout this period, Russia, of course, was denying it was doing anything untoward. So Trump was echoing Putin’s disinformation. He was pushing Moscow’s line and dismissing the US government’s official finding. That made it easier for Russia to get away with the covert operation. With Trump very publicly challenging the notion that an attack was underway, Republican leaders—most notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—were disinclined to join the Obama administration in any effort to challenge or thwart Putin’s assault on the US political system. Trump provided Putin cover.

He continued to do so after the election. When the US intelligence community in January 2017 released an assessment confirming Russia had engaged in this information warfare and noting that this had been done in part to boost Trump’s chances, Trump refused to acknowledge the conclusions or to take clear action against Russia. Rather, he assailed the intelligence community, comparing it to Hitler’s regime. (“Are we living in Nazi Germany?” he tweeted.) And he stuck with this course through the first year of his presidency. After meeting with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November 2017, Trump told reporters on Air Force One, “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times.” Trump added: “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that’, but I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” Trump continued, “I think he’s very insulted by it.”

Even though his administration has taken some actions against Russia—such as expelling Russian diplomats after the nerve agent attack in England—Trump has not stopped amplifying Putin’s assertion that Russia is innocent. And he tells his base—all those Fox News watchers—that the investigations are bunk and that the Deep State has manufactured this scandal to nail him. That is, Putin and the Kremlin are not the villains; the enemy is within.

As Putin has tried to cloak Russian culpability, Trump has been an eager helpmate. In the run-up to the Helsinki meeting, Trump  tweeted, “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”

And at a campaign rally a few days later, he declared that Putin was “fine.” Trump was legitimizing both Putin and his disinformation.

Then came the meltdown in Finland.  Shortly after a 90-plus-minutes private meeting with Putin—no aides were present—Trump stood next to the Russian autocrat at a press conference, as Putin once more denied Russian intervention in the 2016 election. Trump then noted he had discussed with Putin “the issue of Russian interference in our elections,” without challenging Putin’s denial. He allowed the denial to stand. By saying nothing—just days after the Justice Department had indicted 12 Russian military officers for the criminal scheme—Trump was providing the Russian strongman a platform for continuing the cover-up.

It got worse. Once again declaring there was “no collusion,” Trump attacked special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as a “disaster” and “ridiculous.” When he was asked whether he believed the US intelligence community or Putin, first Trump criticized the FBI and prattled on about the phony issue of the DNC server, yet again purposefully distracting from the core elements of the Trump-Russia scandal. Next, he said, “My people came to me. [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Trump said he had “confidence” in both sides, meaning both Putin and his intelligence team. He continued: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Here was Trump drawing an equivalence between his top intelligence advisers and Putin, the former KGB officer. It was a stunning moment. What more could Putin want? The president of the nation, which, according to its own intelligence and law enforcement agencies, was attacked by Russia, was giving Putin’s denial as much credence as Mueller’s indictments and the findings of various spy agencies, as well as the Republican-led intelligence committees of the House and Senate (which each confirmed the intelligence community’s assessment).

Trump was toiling (and trolling) hand-in-hand with Putin to advance Moscow’s deceit. And here’s a key question:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 2:07 pm

I assume Putin requested this: State Department deletes a statement condemning Russia over MH17 downing right after Trump’s Putin summit

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Sinéad Baker reports in Business Insider:

  • The US State Department has issued a statement criticizing Russia every year since the 2014 attack on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 which killed 298 people — but not this year.
  • The silence came just one day after Trump was accused of siding with Putin over US intelligence agencies at a press conference in Helsinki.
  • Russia has long believed to be behind the attack, but this year is the first anniversary since international investigators concluded that the missile that downed the plane came from a Russian base.
  • The State Department was silent this year – and Foreign Policy reports that a draft statement criticizing Russia was never made public.

The US State Department pulled a statement that criticized Russia’s involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 just one day after President Donald Trump held a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that appeared to show him siding with Russia over US intelligence agencies.

The State Department created a draft statement that was critical of Russia over the 2014 attack that killed 298 people, but it was never released, Foreign Policy reported.

A cached version of the US embassy’s website in Moscow shows that a critical statement of Russia appeared briefly on the homepage on Tuesday before being taken down, according to Foreign Policy. A US official confirmed this account to the magazine.

“Four years after the downing of MH17, the world still awaits Russia’s acknowledgement of its role,” the draft statement read.

“It is time for Russia to cease its callous disinformation campaign and fully support the next investigative phase … and the criminal prosecution of those responsible for the downing of flight MH17.”

The MH17 flight was downed in Eastern Ukraine as it traveled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing 283 passengers and 15 crew members.

The State Department has issued a statement every year on the anniversary of the attack since it occurred in 2014. This year’s anniversary was particularly significant – the first since a Dutch-led international investigation into the incident concluded that the plane was taken down by a missile from a Russian military unit based near the Ukrainian border.

“This should be very pro forma in the US government. The evidence is overwhelming. Just to be on the record on the right side of history is very prudent.”

A State Department spokesman declined to comment to Foreign Policy on an allegedly leaked document. “The United States’ position on the MH17 catastrophe has not changed,” he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did sign a joint statement with G7 foreign ministers that condemned Russia’s role in the incident. According to Foreign Policy, Canada and Britain’s governments quickly published the statement on their foreign ministries’ websites, but the US State Department did so only the news organization contacted them on Wednesday.

Russia has denied its involvement in the shoot down.

The State Department’s silence came just one day after Trump’s press conference with Putin, in which he played down Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and faced a barrage of criticism for appearing to endorse a foreign power over the US’s own intelligence agencies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 1:36 pm

Closing the Factory Doors: When automation and AI wipe out low-wage jobs

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Christina Larson writes in Foreign Policy:

Chea Leakhena and Ou Thyda were in their late teens when they began working in Canadia Industrial Park, on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, stitching T-shirts and jeans for global brands including Adidas, Puma, Gap, and H&M.

The two women hailed from the same tiny village in rural Prey Veng province, a three-hour bus ride away. Back home, Chea Leakhena’s wages from the factory had funded the installation of a new solar panel, providing enough electricity for the family’s first small TV and two fans. Several other dwellings in the village had similar additions, all paid for the same way. The factory work was hard and could be dangerous, but the women’s relatives in the village praised them as go-getters who had ventured far from home to improve their lives and those of their families.

Such stories have been repeated millions of times over the last century throughout the developing world. As poor countries have transformed the focus of their economies from agriculture to industry, one crucial early step has been the expansion of light manufacturing. In many cases throughout Asia, the process has started with the building of textile industries and the creation of vast numbers of low-skilled, labor-intensive factory jobs, which draw workers from the countryside into cities. In 2016, the Cambodian garment and footwear sector accounted for 78 percent of the country’s merchandise exports, and garments alone accounted for nearly 80 percent of its manufacturing output. Many other countries, of course, have long since moved up the economic ladder into more complicated, higher-value manufacturing, such as electronics and automobiles, and then into services and finance. But virtually all of the recent success stories started the same way.

Today, however, the advent of new technologies has made the ladder a lot shakier. Recent advances in computing power and artificial intelligence are making it possible to automate much of the work of moving, folding, and stitching fabrics. Such automation has advantages — speed, lower prices, and so on. But for poor countries, the automation of garment work now threatens to eliminate a crucial economic opportunity. A 2016 study by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization found that more than half the textile factory jobs in five Southeast Asian countries were “at high risk of automation” — 64 percent of the workforce in Indonesia, 86 percent in Vietnam, 88 percent in Cambodia. The research doesn’t predict when machines will supplant these workers, but in some places the process is already underway. The Mohammadi Fashion Sweaters plant in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for example, has replaced about 500 workers with industrial robots since 2012. In other cases, retailers are coming to rely on high-tech factories closer to their customers: Walmart has worked with U.S.-based producers to churn out robot-made bathmats and towels for sale in U.S. stores, and Adidas is experimenting with 3D printers to make sneaker soles in Germany.


Work in today’s garment production hubs — including the poorer countries of South and Southeast Asia — is often referred to as sweatshop labor. But as Sanchita Saxena, the executive director of the Institute for South Asia Studies (ISAS) at the University of California, Berkeley, explains, the reality is more complicated. “These jobs can be precarious and dangerous. But at the same time, given the choices available in many developing countries, the textile sector is one of the better options,” she said. According to Joe Studwell, an economist and the author of How Asia Works, low-skilled textile work, such as stitching T-shirts and ironing decals on jeans, lays three crucial foundations for industrialization: “basic worker training in the rigors of industrial life; essential foreign exchange for the developing country; and jobs, which tend to be the critical currency at the outset.”

In his book, Studwell traces how Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan each followed a similar path over the past century or so: After . . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. Later in the article:

. . . if automation prevents other poor nations from developing the kind of manufacturing that would allow them to increase urbanization, train low-skilled workers, and accumulate capital, the long-term economic impact could be disastrous, said Dani Rodrik, a Harvard University economist. Rodrik has used the phrase “premature deindustrialization” to describe the phenomenon whereby low- and middle-income countries shed manufacturing jobs before they’ve fully industrialized. When countries lose factory jobs before having acquired enough technology and trained workers to shift into post-industrial enterprises, including banking, marketing, and research, their economies can stall.

In place of armies of “factory girls” — a phrase made famous by Leslie Chang’s 2009 book on China’s migrant workers — future textile hubs may be filled with Sewbots, which are produced by the Atlanta-based start-up SoftWear Automation. Sewbots can stitch a complete T-shirt in 22 seconds, twice as fast as a person operating a machine, according to Pete Santora, the company’s chief commercial officer. “Overall computing power has seen such dramatic growth. It just wasn’t possible to do this kind of thing 10 years ago,” he said. Fabric, which is soft and malleable, has traditionally been difficult for robots to manage. But better sensors and artificial intelligence have helped overcome obstacles. “Machine vision maps the fabric, then robotics moves the needles,” Santora said.

The company, which emerged out of labs at Georgia Tech University, started focusing on automating textile production about six years ago, thanks to an initial grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which wanted the ability to manufacture military clothing in the United States. Later, a grant from the Walmart Foundation allowed the team to continue research and expand its commercial horizons. Today, Sewbots produce bathmats and towels for Walmart in the United States, with “Made in the USA” labels. The machines replace human labor and speed up product cycles. Currently, just shipping apparel across the Pacific Ocean from Asian factories takes about three weeks. “Where you’ll start to see rapid change is when apparel designers start to work within the capabilities and limits of automation,” Santora said. . .

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 12:35 pm

Green Ray with Alt-Eleven, the Stealth, and Creed Aventus

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A very good shave followed by a very good walk. I do like how my skin feels when I use Phoenix Artisan soaps, and their Alt-Eleven made a very nice lather with their Green Ray synthetic brush.

The Stealth continues to be one of my best razors, and today’s shave was a marvel of smoothness with no problems encountered at all. A splash of Aventus, and I was primed for the walk.

I’m aiming at a one-hour route, so I trimmed a bit from yesterday’s 1 hr 10 min walk, but not quite enough: today’s walk was 64 minutes. OTOH, if I keep walking my speed may gradually increase enough to eat the 4 minutes. We’ll see.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2018 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Nordic walking, Shaving

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