Sunday, September 20, 2015

Syriza back in power in Greece; Italy upgrades growth forecasts; Honey, they shrunk the world

1 Syriza back in power in Greece (Helena Smith & Graeme Wearden in The Guardian) Greece’s leftwing leader Alexis Tsipras has emerged triumphant from a snap general election after securing a dramatic victory over his conservative rival, despite a turbulent first term in office.

There had been predictions that the race was too close to call after he accepted a crushing eurozone-led austerity programme during his first term in office, but the charismatic leader looked set to be returned to power with a near repeat of the stunning win that catapulted his Syriza party into office in January.

Speaking in Athens, Tsipras declared: “This victory belongs to the people and those who dream of a better tomorrow and we’ll achieve it with hard work.” Tsipras told supporters that he would tackle endemic corruption in the country. “The mandate that the Greek people have given is is a crystal clear mandate to get rid of the regime of corruption and vested issues,” he said.

The small anti-austerity right-wing Independent Greeks party, the leftists former coalition party, was prepared to enter a power-sharing arrangement with Syriza, said its leader, Panos Kammenos, joining Tsipras on stage as both men celebrated.

Tsipras fought an uphill battle following his spectacular U-turn on previous promises to tear up the excoriating bailout agreements successive Greek governments had signed with international creditors.

The 41-year-old leader went to the polls in January promising to roll back austerity measures imposed by the so-called troika of international lenders – the European commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – but was instead forced to accept even harsher terms in July after Greece teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and a eurozone exit.

2 Italy upgrades growth forecasts (James Politi in Gulf News/Financial Times) Italy has upgraded its economic forecasts for 2015 and 2016, in a sign of growing confidence within the government of Matteo Renzi, the reformist prime minister, that a recovery is taking hold after three years of recession and stagnation.

Ahead of next month’s budget law, Italy said output would rise by 0.9 per cent this year and 1.6 per cent next year, compared with earlier forecasts of 0.7 per cent growth in 2015 and 1.4 per cent in 2016. “In 2015 we turned the corner, and in 2016 we have to accelerate,” Renzi said at a press conference in Rome

The improved economic outlook — boosted by external factors such as a lower euro and lower oil but also a bump in domestic demand — will also affect Italy’s budgetary picture, which has long been a source of concern because of the country’s high levels of indebtedness.

Pier Carlo Padoan, Italy’s finance minister, said he expected Italy’s debt to gross domestic product ratio, which is forecast at 132.8 per cent in 2015, to begin declining from 2016, for the first time since 2007. Italy’s budget deficit this year is forecast at 2.6 per cent, which is well below the European Commission’s threshold of 3 per cent and is due to decline further to 2.2 per cent in 2016.

3 Honey, they shrunk the world (Darrel Bristow-Bovey in Johannesburg Times) This week a small aircraft - a specially modified twin-prop Beechcraft King Air 200, to be specific, flying from Johannesburg and refuelling in Angola - landed for the first time on a tiny island in the south Atlantic, and the world became vastly smaller and less interesting.

When Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo he was like a super-villain in the setup for a Marvel movie: the Allied powers needed to send him somewhere so remote and godforsaken, so fortress-like and impenetrable that he could never again escape, so they banished him to St Helena, a tiny volcanic speck in the endless ocean. Napoleon never made it off St Helena alive, because the English had chosen well.

Even today, or at least until this week, the fastest way on or off the island was five or six days on the last working British mail ship, the RMS St Helena. She was strong but not especially stable - she could make a barnacle seasick or a whelk unsteady on its feet. I've visited St Helena several times, so I've spent about a month of days cursing Poseidon and praying for death, but I still loved that voyage and now that the airport is built and the ship almost decommissioned, I mourn her passing.

The island was like a Devonshire village in the 1800s: people were polite, wary of strangers, slightly incurious. I met a woman in her seventies who had never left the island but also never visited Blue Hill or the Gates of Chaos in the southern part of the island. Why would she want to go all the way over there? Those weren't her people over there. (The island is 16km long and 8km wide.)

Ten years ago there was a referendum on the island about building an airport. I was opposed. It would tear apart the unique fabric of a unique community, I declared, but really what I feared was it would change the world I lived in from one that had space for a time-travelling ship to one that didn't. Those who voted for the airport - they narrowly won - voted to be a part of the world, to join a modern global community.

If the Saints are happy about the airport, I'm glad, because they deserve to be happy, and I hope they don't mind that when those wheels touched down on Tuesday afternoon, a small part of my heart silently broke.

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