Triumph of the eurocrats

This FT piece is making the Internet rounds today:

Stand by for the rise of the technocrats. Apparently, the answer to the huge problems of the eurozone is the replacement of elected premiers with economic experts – approved officials dropped from European institutions. In Greece, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, has been pushed hard for the job; in Italy, Mario Monti, another economist and a former EU Commissioner, is much mentioned. They may lack a democratic mandate but they’re fantastically well regarded in Frankfurt. It remains to be seen if either will clinch the role. But what exactly is the great attraction of technocrats?

If ever modern Europe needed brave, charismatic leaders to carry their nation through turbulent times, it would seem to be now. Instead, it is as if the crew of the Starship Enterprise had concluded that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is no longer the man for the job and that it is time to send for the Borg. Efficient, calculating machines driving through unpopular measures across the eurozone with the battle cry “resistance is futile” are apparently the order of the day. Faced with a deep crisis, once-proud European nations are essentially preparing to hand over power to Ernst & Young.

Good point, though as Matthew Yglesias points out, Picard being replaced by Data would actually be the more appropriate Star Trek analogy.

Papademos' appointment, which has now been confirmed, seems odder than the Italian case given that his predecessor George Papandreou -- a professorial, trilingual Minnesotan with degrees from LSE and Harvard -- was hardly some kind of fire-breathing Greek nationalist. Will an even more eurocentric figure be more effective at selling the Greek public on the notion that their way of life, as they knew it, is now over?

This past year's exposure of the flaws in the common currency model, combined with the fact that -- in the eyes of many -- Brussels now seems to be essentially appointing heads of state for sovereign nations, would seem to what were once seen as the most paranoid nightmares of euroskeptics. Did all those people freaking out about bendy cucumbers have a point after all?


Decline Watch: Disaster warning system -- kind of a disaster

The FEC and FEMA carried out an unprecedented nationwide test of the U.S. emergency alert system today, which was supposed to interrupt television and radio coverage at around 2 p.m. eastern time. Results of the test were mixed, as the New York Times's Media Decoder blog reports:

Many of the reported failures affected cable and satellite television subscribers, and some were quite head-scratching: Some DirecTV subscribers said their TV sets played the Lady Gaga song "Paparazzi" when the test was underway. Some Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York said the test never appeared on screen. Some Comcast subscribers in northern Virginia said their TV sets were switched over to QVC before the alert was shown.

In some cases the test messages were delayed, perhaps because the messages are designed to trickle down from one place to many. A viewer in Minneapolis said he saw the message about three minutes late. A viewer in Chattanooga, Tenn., said she saw it about 10 minutes late.

In Greensboro, N.C., a local reporter saw the alert on all the cable news channels but on none of the local broadcast networks. In Los Angeles, some cable customers said the alert lasted for almost half an hour.

Many other viewers and listeners reported that the alert arrived right on time at 2 p.m. Eastern. It halted digital video recorder playback in some households and surprised radio listeners in their cars.

The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were the two federal agencies in charge of the test. "We always knew that there would probably be some things that didn't work, and some things that did," a FEMA official said an hour after the test, acknowledging that some glitches had occurred. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agencies had not publicly acknowledged the glitches yet.

Perhaps this was all according to plan, and the government thinks Americans would prefer to spend their last moments before nuclear annihilation shopping for costume jewelry and fishing equipment while listening to Lady Gaga. But assuming this wasn't a coded message from the Illuminati and the glitches were accidental, it's not that encouraging. 

Decline-o-meter: As a side note, as someone who almost never turns on the radio and does a good portion of my "TV" watching online, it occurs to me that I would likely be blissfully unaware of the impending catastrophe my government was trying to warn me about. On the other hand, the idea of FEMA commandeering Gmail, Twitter, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, etc. feels pretty icky from a privacy point of view. 

I suppose we'll have to count on someone to be watching TV at the time to tweet at the rest of us so we tune in.