Greece vs Germany: A Tussle to the Death

February 12, 2015

by Avi Davis

Now that Greece has demanded additional reparations from Germany for that country’s WWII crimes on Greek territory, many other countries might well fall in line with their tin cups extended. Soon enough Russia will be demanding reparations from France for Napoleon I’s invasion of 1812 and India might make the same demands of Uzbekistan for Tamerlane’s brutal incursion of the 14th Century.  And lets not forget the Anglo-Saxons who might want some compensation for the 300 years of Norman occupation of  England from 1066 onward.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  The Germans committed heinous acts in Greece 1941-44, occupying that country for four very long years during the Second World War, deporting hundreds of thousands and exacting a terrible price from the Greeks.

But the Germans already paid and the Greeks accepted extensive reparations in the 1950s and 60s. That includes about $54 million to Greece and its citizens, an amount that would be roughly $450 million today when adjusted for inflation. No Greek public figure has made a claim for extra compensation from the Germans since that time and extra reparations have certainly not been a focal point of Greek/German relations in any sense in the intervening years.  But now some Greek politicians claim Germany owes the country more than €160 billion ($181 billion) in reparations.

Why now then? Because the Greeks need leverage to use against the Germans in attempting to restructure ( another word for forgive) their debt so that that they can climb out of the crater their new leftist government is presently digging them and from which there will be no way out except via a rope thrown down by the Germans.

To me this sort of reads like the kid who skips school for the entire semester and then blames his teacher and the school’s bias for his failure in the year’s final exams.

It should not be lost on anyone that three years ago the Germans rescued the Greek economy from certain collapse when Government debt – already at 180% to GDP  – was spiraling so far out of control that it looked like if the drain on Europe was not plugged it would empty the entire European economic experiment into the Aegean.  The Germans came to the rescue but demanded substantial reforms – and thus the imposed austerity measures about which so many Greeks are today complaining and which ushered in the leftist government of the inexperienced Alex Tsirpas.

But so far the Germans are having none of the Greek petulance and seem unlikely to yield on their demand that in order to renew loans due on February 28th the Greek government must absolutely commit to the same austerity measures which essentially brought down the last government.

Greece's new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visits a shooting-range site on the outskirts of Athens in January. Members of the Greek Resistance were executed by Nazi occupation forces at the site during World War II.

 

No one , however, should mistake this for a stalemate.  Tsirpas’ government may think that it has the upper hand because skittish EU bureaucrats in Brussels, looking down the long barrel of the rapid devaluation of the Euro, will not allow Greece to simply walk away from the currency – which would be the inevitable result of a massive default on government debt.

However the German central banks – which are the real power behind the Euro – have so far expressed remarkable determination and show no willingness to renegotiate Greek debt with Tsirpas’ envoys.

Which brings us to the issue of the reparations.  They are a clearly transparent and cynical means of building resentment against the Germans, adding fuel to a fire which had already caught ablaze among the Greek public and has enticed them into this present sleep walk over a very steep fiscal cliff.

And here’s what that fiscal cliff looks like:

Greece’s bailout from the eurozone runs out on Feb. 28. At that moment, without an extension, it will lose its last €1.8 billion disbursement from the currency union’s bailout fund, €1.9 billion in profits from Greek government bonds held by the European Central Bank and around €11 billion still sitting in Greece’s bank bailout fund. The fate of a €3.5 billion transfer from the International Monetary Fund is less obvious, since the IMF’s program for Greece runs until the end of 2016. What is clear is that Athens won’t get any money from the fund without an agreed aid deal with the eurozone.

Greek government officials have said that they could run out of money in early March, especially if tax revenues deteriorate further. At that point, the government won’t be able pay things like pensions and public-sector salaries. Crucially, for the eurozone and the IMF, it also won’t be able to repay its creditors, including the fund and the ECB. Between March and August, Greece has to repay €4.7 billion in old IMF loans and €6.6 billion in bonds held by the ECB and national central banks. Those numbers don’t include interest payments to private creditors, the fund and the eurozone along with a few smaller redemptions. They also don’t include €13.4 billion in short term debt, so-called Treasury bills, that Greece needs to roll over by the end of August.

So in order top restructure that debt, the Greeks desperately need time – or else the trains, which rarely run on time anyway, will really stop running altogether.

So what happens now?

Almost certain default. Cut off from rescue funding, Greek banks would suffer dramatic cash outflows as depositors worried about Greece being forced out of the single currency region. Currently, the European Central Bank’s emergency liquidity assistance program, operated by the national central bank, ensures that Greek banks have enough cash to cover depositor outflows. Because depositors know this, there hasn’t been a stampede of funds out of the banks.

Yet.

But without the ECB, the flight of funds would cascade, threatening a Greek banking collapse. Greece would be forced to put up capital controls, limiting withdrawal of funds, and force the banks’ creditors to take losses.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote there are two stages to going bankrupt: “Gradually, then suddenly.” He could just as easily have been referring to the process of being ejected from the eurozone.

Greece’s sudden banruptcy will hurt everyone – even us here in the United States.  But it might be preferable to have a temporary electric shock than a long painful death from a million minor cuts.

Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and  the editor of the Intermediate Zone

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Beware of Greeks Returning Gifts

January 27, 2015

 

by Avi Davis

On Monday morning, the Greek people awoke to find themselves confronted by a new reality.

 

 

In a landslide, the anti -austerity party, Syriza, won a decisive victory in national elections, positioning its tough-talking leader, Alex Tsipras, to become the next prime minister.

Appearing before a throng of supporters outside Athens University late Sunday, Mr. Tsipras, 40, declared  the era of austerity over and promised to revive the economy.

He also said his government would not allow Greece’s creditors to strangle the country.

 

Such a victory was hardly unexpected.  Since  Germany and other northern European countries had forced Greece to swallow the bitter pill of austerity in 2011,

the country has groaned under the dramatic cuts in government spending, the loss of public sector jobs ( at one time the public sector made up nearly 45% of the workforce)

and the evaporation of the once booming housing market.  The Greeks could not become accustomed to a situation in which  their future was controlled by other countries

and  there has been increasingly loud rallies calling for an end to the Euro mandated austerity regime.

But Tsipras’ plans to end austerity and grow the economy quickly will immediately encounter some insurmountable hurdles to which  the economists

in his party have not given sufficient attention.

 

For lets be clear about one thing:  Greeks economic pain is not due to the austerity measures forced upon it by the Eurozone.  It came about because of years of profligate

spending, irresponsible budgets, a debt to GDP ratio that was the highest in Europe and a country that failed to produce anything much at all that the rest of the world wanted.

Greece joined the Eurozone in 1999 flush with the expectation that the high valued Euro would bring with it a rush of international investment

which would power the economy into the 21st Century and contribute to widespread prosperity.

 

But in those giddy years, the people of Greece neglected to affirm the one value that they would need to enshrine in order to grasp their new golden egg:

they still needed to work and work hard.

 

That was not to be.  Given to years of lassitude, the Greeks, and most Europeans have no stomach for the kind of effort it takes to sustain a modern economy.

Profligacy, social welfare, neoptism, corruption, an over loaded and under-worked bureaucracy and a vibrant, fairly open black market, has produced a country where people don’t work much, retire young

and take long vacations. Add to this severe institutional problems – such as the fact that a third of the country doesn’t pay tax and a quarter of the economy operates

under the table and you have a recipe for economic catastrophe.

 

The Greek model actually describes the bulk of Europe, where the work ethic has given way to the pleasure ethic and the

lambent idea that government can always be counted on to bail out failed enterprises.  But what happens when the government has no money to bail out anybody

and the source that it must rely on – namely foreign investment, remains skittish and uncertain about the country’s future?  What happens when no one – not the European Union,

not the United States and not China – is prepared to say we believe in your future and we will continue to fund your debt?

That is exactly what  the new prime minister will face in the coming days and weeks when  the EU stands its ground and tells the Greeks that if they

welsh on their commitments then their debt will be called – leading to a pain unlike the people of Greece have ever known before.

 

For the EU, Greece and the austerity regime imposed upon it has represented the plug that has prevented them from hearing that sound of the wealth of Europe

gurgles down the drain and emptying into the Aegean.

Would detaching Greece from the Euro and letting it drift back into the drachma bring great pain to the heart of Europe?  Almost certainly, but it would not be fatal.

Will the Greek revolt against austerity encourage other countries under the same austerity regime – Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy – to follow their example and

buck their benefactors?  Almost certainly not.  The difference is that these countries have mature statesmen who have been able to convince

their populations that a  temporary belt tightening and fiscal discipline could lead to a far more prosperous future.

Unfortunately in Greece that kind of leadership has been absent and that absence is now even more pronounced with the ascension of  a new leader who eschews

the kinds of sacrifices the Greeks have needed to make for years

 

In 2011 the European Union – and most particularly its wealthier countries in Germany and France – handed Greece a gift.   Now the Greeks wish to

return that gift with contempt, thinking that the EU has more to lose than they do.  They could not be more mistaken. The Northern European countries

will rather let Greece sink into the Aegean before opening the floodgates to other fragile economies demanding the same accommodation.

 

A titanic tussle is about to take place.  But lets set it in perspective:   In this Olympian wrestle for dominance,

it is the Europeans who hold the Greeks by their vulnerable parts and not the other way around.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

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Scotland Takes the Morning After Pill

September 22, 2014
On Friday morning the Scottish people must felt like the failed suicide who awakes in hospital the next day and wonders to himself: ” Now why in the hell did I do a stupid thing like that? ”

The convincing drubbing that the independence movement took on Thursday should have made most Scots aware of how facile and threadbare were their ideas of separation.

Without a solid financial structure, with the threat of the U.K. withdrawing the usage of the English pound and with the EU ‘s own President declaring how difficult it would be for Scotland to gain entry into the European Union, there was, in the end, really no doubt about the result. Secession would have brought  economic and political pain beyond endurance.

Suicide averted and now life can move on.

But the foolish Scottish secession movement may be a harbinger of more drastic things to come.  Put simply, the drive to break up great nations has not ended; it has only just begun.

Catalonians and the Basque in Spain, Quebecois in Canada, the Flemish in Belgium, the Faroe Islanders in Denmark, Venetians in Italy and Bavarians in Germany have all contracted something of the same secessionist bug.
Which is not to mention  Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland in The United Kingdom, Silesia in Poland, Frisia in Netherlands/ Germany, Corsica in France, Aaland in Finland and Kashmir in India .  These countries all sport incipient movements that call for breaking away from the motherland.  And over time, the movements will only gain in strength as the nation state as we know it comes under relentless pressure to fragment.

One of the causes of this process of dismemberment is the resistance to the intense globalization which has affected the economies, social structures and political climates of all Western oriented nations.  As these countries see more of their jobs outsourced to Asia; as they feel their own wealth drained by supra-national entities or else by heavy taxation from a central government which sends back very little in return or as their distinctive cultural identity is eroded by an invasive English language- based  culture , there is a tendency to wish for the days in which one could claim to actually belong to something other than a nominal state, whose political  and economic frontiers are fast disappearing to the point of invisibility.

There is also no doubt that the emergence of the European Union has significantly sliced away at the distinctive cultural identities of Europe’s nation-states.  In the effort to meld 28 European states into a cohesive economic unit, the Brussels based bureaucracy has gingerly skipped over the significant cultural, political and historical differences that divide its constituent members, imposing a rather bland and impersonal ” “European” identity to which few can truly connect. There is, after all, no distinctively European language  ( the experiments in Esperanto having miserably failed) ; nor is there a universal cultural affiliation which is

uniquely European – and no significant effort to create one either. There is, in short, no such thing as a ‘ European’ – and nor is there likely to be in the near future.

The decline of nationalist spirit, evident throughout the West, is really an issue of collapsing identity.  I discovered this first hand in a walk through southern England in the summer of 2008.  There I met villagers who complained to me that they were mystified about who they were supposed to be – were they British, European or world citizens?  Their pubs were now served by Polish barmaids who barely spoke English;  their cars serviced by Czech mechanics who knew very little about their British made cars and even their parks and wild lands managed by immigrants from Bangladesh.  England, I discovered, was a place where multiculturalism and an attempted integration into Europe was eating into the very fiber of British identity, stripping away centuries the view of Great Britain as one of the great civilizing forces in world history. .

I write these words, of course, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict spurred, in large part, by escalating, unfettered nationalism.  The Europeans’ answer to the ‘nationalist’ problems of the 20th Century was to de-emphasize the nation-state in favor of the collective. The irony, of course,  is that in doing so, they have tampered with the basic human need  for paternalistic symbols – whereby one shapes his or her identity – and perhaps even existence – by reference to a defined sovereign entity, which reigns over our individual lives beyond family and beyond our immediate communities.

The problem of failed identity in a world without frontiers will bedevil the citizens of the 21st Century.  The governments of western countries must therefore recognize that the utopian drive towards integration and collective identity – and the inherent emptiness of that enterprise-  will necessarily stir to life the dormant, but very real attachments citizens have to their language, culture and history.  There can be no surprise then when a country such as Scotland, for 300 years a peaceful, if not exactly placid, constituent member of the United Kingdom, suddenly rebels against British dominion and demands independence.  Strengthening the spirit of nationalism, drawing on a nation’s rich history and collective memory, emphasizing national uniqueness and pride as well as the nation’s special mission, is a task worthy of any Western leader.  The question remains whether we have any leaders left worthy of the task.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles , the coordinator of the AFA  Identity Crisis Conference in Rome in 2008 and the moderator of the Outbreak of the First World War and its Consequences conference held on September 21, 2014.

Greek Drama Has Lessons for the Western World

November 7, 2011

As Greek prime minister George Papendreou submitted his resignation to the president on Saturday, there were no cheers of exaltation rising from the streets of Greek cities.  Instead, there was only a palpable sense of dread, as the future looked  more grimly uncertain than ever. 

Papendreou, the scion of the country’s most prominent political family- whose father and grandfather had both served as prime ministers – became the latest victim of  the sentient notion that  Europe would be a harbinger of a new era for mankind – a place where conciliation would replace confrontation and where amity would replace division.

But the Greek political class on Saturday demonstrated that the new Europe would be a far more divided place than any European leader could have imagined sixteen years ago following the signing of the Maatricht Treaty.  One can only gasp in wonder as a country roiled by a one trillion euro debt and confronted with the snarling contempt of other major European countries, could not bring itself to recognize that without a unified voice which accepts the austerity plan imposed upon it by the European Union, the entire country could be engulfed in an economic cataclysm that would make German stagflation of the 1920s look like a Saturday afternoon game of Monopoly.

For what had collapsed by Saturday night in Athens was not only the prime minister’s center-right coalition but  the very idea of a unified Greek nation, one that believed that as a people and a country it possessed a common destiny and common purpose.  The failure of the two major parties to forge an alliance to stave off the worst financial crisis in the country’s history, is a telling sign of what will become of other European countries as they pass through exactly the same crisis in the coming twelve months. It is very difficult to fathom how a democratic country, faced with such unflinching and demanding partners – who control the very monetary lifelines necessary to keep their economy alive, could be so conflicted on what is the only possible course for it to take. 

But this is the face of the New Europe.  Given to years of lassitude, the Greeks, and most Europeans have no stomach for austerity.  Profligacy, social welfare, neoptism, corruption and a vibrant, fairly open black market, has produced a country where people don’t work much, retire young and take long vacations. 

The Greek model actually describes the bulk of Europe, where the work ethic has given way to the pleasure ethic and the lambent idea that government can always be counted on to bail out failed enterprises.  But what happens when the government has no money to bail out anybody and the source that it must rely on – namely foreign investment, remains skittish and uncertain about the country’s future?  What happens when no one – not the European Union, not the United States and not China – is prepared to say we believe in your future and we will continue to fund your debt?

What then happens is a complete collapse of confidence and a fatalism that grips everyone from the prime minister to the local fruit vendor.   That is what was on display in the streets of Athens on Saturday night.  No matter what happens with the dissolution of the government or new elections in the not-too-distant future, the crushing weight  of debt will be the overriding, ever present concern of whomever takes over the running of the Greek Republic.  

The Greeks have good reason to wonder who will ultimately control their fate.  Angeliki Martaki, a retiree quoted in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, summed up what many ordinary Europeans must be feeling about their future:  “All the Euro has bought us has been pain.  At least with the drachma, we were what we were: Greek.  Now, I don’t know what we are and who is in charge of our national destiny.”

I heard the same sentiments expressed to me in villages in England and coffee shops in Madrid.   A collapse of national purpose; the absence of great leaders who can rouse the population to work and save; the lack of a pervasive national sentiment boldly declaring” we are all in this together.”  Instead, as countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal progressively unravel, the citizens of these once great, independent countries will find themselves having to fend for themselves, with no one but the Gods to hear their cries of pain.

That idea – that soon there actually may be no one willling or able to come to the rescue – is a lesson that every citizen in the West should take to heart.


The Index of Economic Freedom

January 12, 2011

This week the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation jointly released the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom which measures ten components of economic freedom – from business freedom to trade freedom to monetary and investment freedom, emerging with an index for each country.  As was expected, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand  top  the chart with ratings in the mid to high 80s.    What is always sobering about the figures, however, are the countries that consistently wallow near the bottom:  Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Burma, Venezuela, Eritrea, Cuba, Zimbabwe and North Korea – all take up the last ten places.   It is no accident that the least politically free countries on earth are also the least economically advanced.

As the Wall Street Journal eloquently stated in an editorial yesterday, the dignity of a human being in our modern world is very much dependent on his ability to control his own destiny.  That is tied to the dominion he is able to exert over his property and his livelihood.  The 20th Century exampled disastrous experiments in controlled economies which did not allow for the kind of individualism which spurs economic growth.  The remnants of those failed experiments can now be viewed in the catastrophic economies of places such as Cuba, Burma and Zimbabawe.

And less you feel that the economic volcano that is  China offers a rebuttal to the argument, note that it sits in a middling 135th position on the list, with an index just over 50.  No one should be surprised that this burgeoning economy will eventually feel increasing pressure from its prosperous citizens who will demand more control over their private property and more say in how government regulates their lives.  It is an inevitable consequence of strong economic growth, reflected as long as ago as July,1789 when the French middle class demanded and took for themselves exactly the same power at the beginning of the French Revolution.

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A Greek Tragedy

March 28, 2010

Germany’s decision yesterday to impose tough measures in order to bring the Greek economy into line, was one more statement about the difficulties Europe is finding in cementing its Union.

Since the Greek economy began to tank in October, the other members of the European Union have expressed extreme nervousness about what this might mean for the future of the Euro.  For if the Greeks default on their debt, the Euro’s value will plummet, taking with it the economies of many weaker member states and having a decisive impact on the economies of the stronger nations. For default could have a debilitating effect, sparking sharp swings in the euro and investor panic in other hard-hit nations.

Greece is one sick baby.  The Greek national debt, put at €300 billion ($413.6 billion), is larger than the country’s economy, with some estimates predicting it will reach 120% of gross domestic product by the end of 2010. The country’s deficit — how much more it spends than it takes in — is 12.7 percent which is almost four times what is allowed by the strict Euro-zone rules.

Desperate to stave off economic collapse, the Greeks have looked to their European partners for a plan to emerge from potential   bankruptcy.

Although Greece saw a long economic boom during the 2000s, analysts say successive governments failed to tackle an inefficient public sector in which wages and benefits ballooned. When the Socialist government came to power in October, its leaders discovered that their predecessors had doctored Greek financial data and that the deficit actually was 12.7 percent of the gross domestic product, double earlier figures. The realization sparked downgrades by rating agencies that triggered the sell-off in Greek bonds, as well as a sharp drop in the euro.

Add to this severe institutional problems – such as the fact that a third of the country doesn’t pay tax and a quarter of the economy operates under the table and you have a recipe for economic catastrophe.  Corruption, venality of office, an over loaded and under-worked bureaucracy and the fact that there is no history of accommodation between the political class and labor unions at all, have all added to the sense of hopelessness.

Greece is already in major breach of euro-zone rules on deficit management and with the financial markets betting the country will default on its debts, this reflects badly on the credibility of the euro. There are also fears that financial doubts will infect other nations of lesser economic worth.  These smaller economies  – Portugal,  Italy, Ireland , Greece and Spain (dubbed  somewhat colorfully as the PIIGS)  are coming under increasing scrutiny.  If Europe needs to resort to rescue packages involving bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, it would further damage the euro’s reputation and could lead to its  substantial fall against other key currencies.

The Greeks, laboring under high 6% interest rates for international loans need to meet governmental obligations, have pleaded with their other member states to provide them with cheaper money so that the road ahead is not so difficult.  But Germany, with Europe’s strongest economy, is having none of it.

With so much at stake, why are the Germans being so hard nosed?

Its quite simple really.  It refuses to pay for other members’ irresponsibility.    According to a joint statement on the EU Web site, in the event of a Greek default and failing to access funds in the foreign bond market , a “majority” of the euro zone States would have to contribute an amount based on their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and population.

This means Germany will be the main contributor, followed by France. Although the announcement did not mention any specific figure, a senior European official quoted by Reuters said that the potential package may be worth around 20 billion euro (US$26.8 billion).

Perhaps that is why Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, this week made it clear that in the event of a Greek  default, the International Monetary Fund would be required to participate in a Greek bailout.  With an economy almost twice the size of its nearest competitor, Germany has the muscle to force its European partners to squeal “yavol.”

The decision to involve the IMF in Europe’s first real test of its faith in its currency’s sustainability, has got many E.U. enthusiasts gulping with uncertainty.   Germany’s apparent reluctance to play ball, they feel, is an expression of a lack of confidence of the regional economic hegemon in the Euro’s future.  And if it has so little confidence in the Euro, how does it feel then about the European Union itself?

There has always been a problem of maintaining a common currency among a diverse group of countries.  When the Euro was introduced in 1999, many skeptics asked how it would be possible to uphold the currency’s value  and stability without a firm united fiscal policy or overall budgetary framework.    With each of the participating countries  permitted to determine their own economic future, what was to happen when one of the countries defaulted on its debts?

Well that scenario was deferred for nearly a decade as the euro displayed extraordinary strength, buoyed by a robust continent-wide housing boom and  investor  confidence.   When Greece, for example, dumped its own currency, it gained unprecedented footing in financial markets. With Greek debt backed by the powerful euro, Athens raised billions from foreign pension funds and global banks at interest rates nearly as low as those offered to Germany. Flush with easy money, government spending soared and the economy boomed.

But the global recession has pummeled the continent with a force of a tidal wave, revealing, in its wake,  some of the true institutional susceptibilities of the entire European enterprise.

Part of those problems relate to fertility rates and rapidly aging populations.   The inability of many European countries to produce a work force to meet the needs of growing economies is exacerbated by the weight of pensions that the state is required to dole out to its retirees.

No wonder public sector unions  strikes are occurring all over the country.

The government also has drawn criticism from university students who now doubt that there will be enough jobs for them. Angry posters fill the walls of the entry hall at Athens University’s economics department.   Students there are skeptical that the government will be able to jump-start Greece’s economy.

Valia Floridis, 21, for instance, is looking for work abroad. She says many young Greeks feel they have no future here.

“It depends on their dreams. If they just want to have a job and salary to eat and sleep and live without prospects, it’s OK. But if you want more, if you want something great, if you have big dreams.”

To date, the Greek prime minister, Georgios Papandreou, has stated that Greece does not need any immediate financial aid.   But he admits that it does need the confidence of its partners, for without such a display of continental solidarity, it will lose access to the cheaper money it needs to finance its short and long term obligations.

The situation of this Mediterranean country has many declaring it an isolated case of a country gone wrong.   Yet no one should mistake the tragedy playing out in Athens as a peculiarly Greek one. This playbook gives us an alarming view of the true state of Europe’s finances, with smaller countries and their huge debts threatening to drag the large,  richer ones into a whirlpool of financial collapse.

Blame it on the over ambitiousness of the Euro enthusiasts,  but back in 1999 the likely truth is that the continent, without some kind of political union which provided an overall budgetary framework, was not yet ready for a united currency.   As the succeeding Portuguese, Irish Italian and Spanish crises may  begin to make clear,  countries with much to protect may begin to resist the demand to bolster weaker economies in their continental partnership.

In such a case,  sovereignty will almost certainly trump both ideology and sentiment as northern European countries, fearing a spiraling vortex of economic collapses,  slowly begin to reduce their commitment to the union they worked so hard to establish.


A Political Death in Massachusetts

January 21, 2010

No one can say that history doesn’t have  a sense of humor.  Twelve months ago you would not have found an American alive who believed that the senior Senate seat in the State of Massachusetts would remain anything but eternally Democratic.    Afterall, it had been occupied for nearly 50 years by the same man -a liberal lion who happened to be the scion to the family that had dominated Massachusetts politics since the early 1950s.

To say that the Democrats owned Ted Kennedy’s senate seat, is to understate the matter.  Most of us believed that to dislodge a Kennedy or any Democratic successor would  require the  political equivalent of a comet striking Boston.

Republican Scott Brown’s victory yesterday, which  upended more than 70 years of Democratic rule, was therefore not just historic;  it was proof that  American politics are never static, that change can come as quickly – and as brutally- as the time it takes to fashion a political agenda that is out to lunch on the way most Americans think and feel.

For Barack Obama this could not be a more depressing indication of the degree of national outrage and disappointment about his young Administration.  Coming at exactly the one year mark of his accession to power, this voter statement was not a rejection of  the Kennedy legacy per se, as much as a deliberate  swipe at the big government, welfare programming and economic naivete of the current Administration.

Yet nor should it be read as an endorsement for the Republicans.  The election of  Scott Brown should rather be understood as a warning to them that the electorate will no longer tolerate politics as usual,  nor will it give latitude to candidates who are out of touch with the basic concerns of life – jobs, housing economic stability and national security   – or  to those who prefer to gamble away the country’s future on health care reform,  global warming obsessions or deficits that will saddle their children and grandchildren with onerous obligations for years into the future.

The lesson of Masschusetts, ultimately, is that Americans – liberals and conservatives alike, are fed up.   They are not looking for a Messiah, as some wanted to paint Barack Obama;   nor are they looking for big government, as both Bush and Obama presented to them.   They are looking for common sense and stability. 

Those are not qualities that our political system seems to produce in abundant quantities.  But maybe, just maybe, an emerging leader in one of the parties will get the message and bring back to the White House  those elements with enough time to stave off a true national disaster.


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