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Journal Archives

This may be a good time to drop this here:

Maggie Chapman: How a dodgy spreadsheet and a bad joke created the Tory austerity lie

FOR the last five years, an argument has raged. On one side, you had almost all living Nobel Prize winning economists, the evidence of history and organisations representing almost all of the less well off in society. On the other side, you had a few powerful journalists, a cluster of billionaires, a dodgy spreadsheet, and a bad joke, scrawled on a piece of paper by a minister from a defeated government.


These were the people who argued that you needed to rapidly cut government spending to reduce the deficit caused by the 2008 financial crisis. In the world of universities, serious research, and evidence, their case rested on a study by two economics professors called Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

These two American academics had produced a famous spreadsheet of economic data from across the world. They said it proved that if a government borrowed more than 90 per cent of the value of their country's Gross Domestic Product, then that slowed the country's economy down, making it harder to pay back the debt.


In 2013, though, something happened which would have altered the course of history, if government policy was decided by reasoned argument. A young economist went back to the original spreadsheet and spent some time looking at their basic sums.

It turned out that Reinhart and Rogoff had made a simple copy and paste error. Correct their mistakes, and their Excel spreadsheet added up very differently. The justification for austerity literally disappeared in the click and swoop of a mouse.


Maggie Chapman's the Scottish Green Party Co-convener, so obviously her ravings are easy for the likes of Osborne to dismiss. And he's done such a sterling job of shrinking the deficit that he must be taken seriously. (He's also reportedly about to unleash a little tax lovebomb for the better-off funded off the backs of those suffering from disability welfare cuts etc., but that's by the by.) She also doesn't link to the debunking by this "young economist."

But Bloomberg Businessweek gives more details:

FAQ: Reinhart, Rogoff, and the Excel Error That Changed History

Harvard University economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have acknowledged making a spreadsheet calculation mistake in a 2010 research paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt” (PDF), which has been widely cited to justify budget-cutting. But the authors stand by their conclusion that higher government debt is associated with slower economic growth. Here’s what you need to know:

How big is this mistake?
Reinhart and Rogoff wrote in their 2010 paper that average annual growth was negative 0.1 percent in countries with episodes of gross government debt equal to 90 percent or more of GDP between 1945 and 2009. Liberal economists have been critical of their work for years (just economists being their usual cranky selves), but now three economists at UMass say Reinhart and Rogoff made several mistakes and omissions. According to the UMass scholars, the “corrected” number is positive 2.2 percent—which means GDP still grows, even when debt levels are very high.

Do Reinhart and Rogoff admit they got it wrong?
They admit they accidentally excluded five rows from an average in their Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but not the other charges. Fixing the spreadsheet error would lift growth in those high-debt countries to about 0.2 percent annually (still not that good). Adding country data that wasn’t available when they did the 2010 paper would boost growth further, to perhaps 0.5 percent (ditto). The UMass economists get all the way up to 2.2 percent by using a counting method that gives more weight to a few countries that experienced long periods of high debt. Reinhart and Rogoff insist that their method is better.

Yes, and Reinhart and Rogoff argue that it’s beside the point anyway. They put more weight on other data covering longer time periods, which finds that growth is about 1 percentage point lower in episodes of high debt compared to when debt is below 90 percent of GDP. (U.S. government debt is over 100 percent of GDP when you include debt owed by one part of government to another, such as the Social Security trust fund.) They say that even the UMass researchers found that high debt and low growth go hand in hand.

You mean that high debt causes low growth?
Not necessarily. Reinhart and Rogoff are careful in their academic work not to claim causation. It’s possible that slow growth leads to high debt rather than high debt causing slow growth. (Or maybe the causality runs in both directions.) One complaint of their critics is that in Op-Eds, interviews, and other non-academic work, Reinhart and Rogoff have sometimes flatly asserted that high debt leads to slow growth when other explanations are possible.


So many British people live abroad that now the ‘immigration debate’ is about us

Despite what Ukip would like us to think, most European migrants are British.

According to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK actually has a much greater proportion of citizens living overseas than any other European country.

That means we are the ones going over there, ‘tekkin thurr jahbs‘.

Around 3.97 million UK citizens were living abroad in 2010-11, and since then the numbers have grown.

Globally, Britain was second only to Mexico – which had 12million citizens living in other countries.


This article was published last November, but only grows more relevant.

Three regional elections have radically changed Germany’s political landscape

Source: The Economist

ON A day when three German states held elections that will allow their incumbent premiers to stay in office, it might seem that German politics is boringly stable. But that is deceptive. The elections of March 13th—the first state ballots since chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders to refugees half a year ago—suggest that Germany's political landscape is changing dramatically. As the country heads towards a federal election in 2017, its politics will become more fragmented and polarised as a result.

The role of local personalities in these elections makes it tricky to find nationwide trends. In Baden-Württemberg, an industrial powerhouse in the south-west, Winfried Kretschmann, the governing premier of the Green party, had won (judging from early figures) a little over 30% of the vote, the first time ever the party came in first overall in the state. Since Mr Kretschmann backs Mrs Merkel’s refugee policy, this also suggests that the chancellor's "welcome culture" has widespread support.

In the neighbouring state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Social-Democratic incumbent, Malu Dreyer, had also won decisively, with 36.8%. Here, too, a big factor was her personal charm. Like Mr Kretschmann, she stood by Mrs Merkel over the refugee crisis.


Angela Merkel has little to fear from these results. With more splintering and more complicated coalition mathematics, she remains secure in her office. But the trend suggests other problems. The Left and the Alternative draw support away from the centre parties, forcing them into coalitions between centre-right and centre-left. But this makes them ever harder to distinguish. Christian and Social Democrats had already been growing so similar to each other that many voters cannot tell the difference and tune out. The Alternative, in its assault on what it decries as the reigning political correctness, will then gleefully pull political debate to the right. The populist politics sweeping over America and much of Europe has, it seems, come to Germany.

Read more: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21694704-good-night-incumbents-and-xenophobes-three-regional-elections-have-radically-changed?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/three_regional_elections_have_radically_changed_germany_s_political_landscape

A different narrative to some of the other coverage of these elections.

How David Cameron’s PR team duped newspapers across the country with generic ‘love letters’

THE Yorkshire Post could have published a bylined article this week from David Cameron in support of English Tourism Week, a well-intended promotional initiative which began with Prince Charles urging families to holiday in flood-hit areas.

The Prime Minister’s piece began with the words “I love Yorkshire & the Humber” and was designed to highlight some of this region’s attractions and why this is the UK’s premier visitor destination.


And then, when the column did arrive, doubts quickly surfaced – it appeared very formulaic, lacked empathy and only made passing reference to the misery caused by the Yorkshire floods.


And then the insincere – some would say sham – nature of this media operation became clear. The Herald, Plymouth’s newspaper, published a piece from Mr Cameron which began with the words “I love Cornwall and Isles of Scilly”.


The same generic love letter was also carried by papers in Northumberland and Lincolnshire with minor tweaks to give it local colour.

The Post article then moves on to take George Osborne to task over the muddled and stalled "Northern Powerhouse" scheme in advance of next week's budget.

My Year Ripping Off the Web With the Daily Mail Online

Ex-MailOnline "freelance news writer" James King recounts his experiences working in the world's most successful clickmill:


MailOnline—which has since changed its name to DailyMail.com in order to "make deeper inroads … with ad firms on Madison Avenue," according to the Wall Street Journal—has been widely hailed as a blueprint for the future of online journalism. It reaches hundreds of millions of readers, and it has hired former BuzzFeed COO Jon Steinberg to help turn those gargantuan traffic numbers into profit. Earlier this year, DailyMail.com acquired U.S.-based site Elite Daily, the so-called "Voice of Generation Y."

The eager paradigm-proclaimer Michael Wolff used his USA Today media column last August to praise the Mail's business model as having succeeded where other, better-funded and more prestigious publications have failed. Under the headline "Daily Mail Solves Internet Paradox," Wolff lauded the publication's "180 million unique visitors a month" and suggested that if other publications want to survive the "digital migration" they should adopt a model similar to that of the Mail's.

What Wolff failed to acknowledge: the Mail's editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.

Yes, most outlets regularly aggregate other publications' work in the quest for readership and material, and yes, papers throughout history have strived for the grabbiest headlines facts will allow. But what DailyMail.com does goes beyond anything practiced by anything else calling itself a newspaper. In a little more than a year of working in the Mail's New York newsroom, I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications' work lifted wholesale. I watched editors at the most highly trafficked English-language online newspaper in the world publish information they knew to be inaccurate.


King's experiences are borne out by accounts from other ex-freelancers:

James King's account of his experiences working in the Mail Online office in New York has been rejected by the Mail, which has answered his allegations point by point. {The Mail's rebuttal can be found at the link above.} Two other journalists who worked as writers in the same office at the same time have meanwhile contacted SubScribe to offer their insight on the way the operation works. Both have since moved on.


Alex writes: In my memory, there wasn’t a single story out of the hundreds I wrote that didn’t come from another news site. You were assigned a story from a rolling list of links to other publications and then you rewrote it. You could do a little extra googling for other news sites to see if there were any extra facts, if you wanted. If there was a story without pics we’d rarely do it, but if a news site such as a local ABC affiliate had a story on it, we’d just take grabs from their videos.

The worst was when, as King described, you’d be assigned to rip off a really great article from say, The New York Times. A long form piece of exclusive journalism like that - it’s hard to make it your own, especially when you’ve got about an hour and a half in which to do it.

My headlines were frequently changed (often to include typos) to make them more salacious, and, as King wrote, often made factually incorrect. I was once berated for neglecting to include the words ‘cheerleader in bikini’ in my headline. Anything involving race or breasts is a big hit with the Mail editors and getting ‘Drudged’ (linked on the Drudge Report) was the ultimate compliment.

As far as I’m concerned, everything James King wrote is true. I worked at the Mail at the same time he was there and I think he let them off easy!

M writes: I worked there from spring 2013 to July 2014, first as a freelancer and later as staff.

James gives a pretty accurate account of how the newsroom works. Once you become staff you are expected to put in the occasional call to a police press officer or the actual subject of a story. However, with a high turnover of stories there was never time to wait for a call back - you normally have an hour and half to get the story link, rewrite it, add pictures and file.

The more senior reporters do more traditional reporting and if there's a big story they will go out and cover it.


Daily Mail Slammed by Swedish Embassy for Running "Propaganda Campaign" Against Refugees

The Swedish Embassy in Britain has taken the extraordinary step of condemning the Daily Mail for its ‘propaganda campaign’ against refugees by misusing Sweden as an example.

A report by the embassy sent to the government stated:

Sweden is being used as a deterrent and an argument against allowing more refugees into the UK… The tabloid Daily Mail has launched a campaign against Swedish migration policy.

The Daily Mail characterises Sweden as naive, and an example of the negative consequences of a liberal migration policy.

The Daily Mail has been accused of running several misleading stories about the refugee crisis in recent months.

Last month the Daily Mail blocked Swedish users from accessing several articles for legal reasons, which was misreported by other outlets as Swedish authorities blocking the Daily Mail for ideological reasons.


The Tories systematically cheat in elections, says their own campaign manager

In an extraordinary investigation for Channel 4, Michael Crick has uncovered repeated electoral fraud by the Conservative party in the run-up to the 2015 general election. While the rest of the broadcast media largely ignores the story, the party’s own workers are speaking out, calling for an investigation into the Tories’ “systematic” breach of election rules.


It was 2014, the year before the general election. David Cameron was fighting off “the Ukip threat”. He had already pledged to hold an EU referendum to keep eurosceptic voters happy. Then one of his MPs resigned, triggering a by-election in Newark – which Ukip thought it could win. Within months, two more by-elections were triggered when the Conservative MPs for Clacton and Rochester & Strood, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, both defected to Ukip.


Channel 4 has uncovered hard evidence that the Conservatives spent more than the legal £100,000 limit in each of the three by-elections. Not just by a few pounds, or by a few thousand pounds, but by well over £90,000 across the three elections.

Then, instead of declaring their overspend, the party submitted misleading expense returns to returning officers – a criminal offence. It kept well over 1,200 nights of local hotel accommodation off the books. Many of those nights were signed for in a personal capacity by Conservative HQ Campaign Specialist Marion Little, who was later awarded an OBE for her by-elections work.


Guardian long read - Trident: the British question

The debate is not simply about submarines and missiles. It touches almost every anxiety about the identity of the United Kingdom. The decision may tell us what kind of country – or countries – we will become

by Ian Jack

At this moment, a British submarine armed with nuclear missiles is somewhere at sea, ready to retaliate if the United Kingdom comes under nuclear assault from an enemy. The boat – which is how the Royal Navy likes to talk about submarines – is one of four in the Vanguard class: it might be Vengeance or Victorious or Vigilant but not Vanguard herself, which is presently docked in Devonport for a four-year-long refit. The Vanguards are defined as ballistic missile submarines or SSBNs, an initialism that means they are doubly nuclear. Powered by steam generated by nuclear reactors, they carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

The location of the submarine – both as I write and you, the reader, read – is one of several unknowns. Somewhere in the North Atlantic or the Arctic would have been a reasonable guess when the Soviet Union was the enemy, but today nobody could be confident of naming even those large neighbourhoods. Another unknown is the number of missiles and warheads on board. Each submarine has the capacity to carry 16 missiles, each of them armed with as many as 12 independently targetable warheads; but those numbers started to shrink in the 1990s, and today’s upper limit is eight missiles and 40 warheads per submarine. Even so, those 40 warheads contain 266 times the destructive power of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Vickers (now BAE Systems) built the submarine hulls at Barrow; Rolls-Royce made the reactors in Derby; the Atomic Weapons Establishment produces the warheads at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire. All these inputs are more or less British (less in the case of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which is run by a consortium of two American companies and Serco), but the missile that they were built to serve and without which they would not exist is American: the Trident D5 or Trident II, also deployed by the US navy, comes out of the Lockheed Martin Space Systems factory in Sunnyvale, California.

MORE: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/11/trident-the-british-question

Barack Obama plans intervention in Britain's EU referendum

Barack Obama is planning to make “a big, public reach-out” to persuade British voters to stay inside the European Union, the chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee has revealed.

The plan emerged amid fears in Washington that the UK’s EU referendum is a dangerous gamble that could unravel with disastrous consequences for the entire continent.

His “reach out” is likely to focus on the need for the EU to stick together to combat the migration crisis and the growing threat of Russian aggression in the Baltics, Ukraine and Middle East.

But there are concerns in both Washington and London that an intervention by the US president has to be handled sensitively and could backfire unless it is pitched at the right geopolitical level.


British media 'most right-wing' in Europe, YouGov survey finds

The British press is regarded as the most "right-wing" and "biased" in Europe, according to new research by YouGov.

The company polled people from seven major European nations to find out how they perceived the press in their own countries. They found that 26 per cent of Britons viewed their newspapers, TV and radio as "too right-wing", more than in any of the other nations surveyed.

By contrast, only 17 per cent of British respondents felt their media was "too left-wing". The other countries in the survey were France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Respondents to the survey were asked whether they felt their country's media coverage of five key issues was too left-wing, too right-wing, or balanced. The five policy areas analysed were immigration, housing, health, economics and crime.


A mere 18 per cent of Britons felt that the media was reasonable in its presentation of the refugee crisis, with 29 per cent feeling the media was too right-wing when dealing with questions of immigration.


The YouGov poll results are here (sampled late January 2016): https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/02/07/british-press-most-right-wing-europe/
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