Monday, June 18, 2012

You Don't Say...Monday June 18, 2012

I'm not saying I'm completely in favour of a religious-based party running the show in Egypt, but I am happy that they had free and democratic elections. I am also cautiously optimistic that the military will truly hand power over to the new parliament by the end of the month, which they have pledged to do. Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party appears to have won the vote with approximately 52% of the vote and, as I said, I am a bit wary of a relious party running a nation and what that means for freedom and progress, but a mostly well-run election is a big step forward for the large African nation, considering insidious dictator Hosni Mubarak had been running the show until last year.
Here is a news story from Al Jazeera on the election, the military's stance on giving up power and Ahmed Shafik's claim to have not lost the election yet (at least in his own mind).

I'm not saying I don't understand why the conservative New Democracy Party won the Greek federal election yesterday, but I am surprised that a country that has played host to major protests against austerity measures has voted for the politicians that will stay the course more than the others. new Democracy played on peoples' fears, claiming that the nation would be in shambles if they renogiated bailouts and risked being kicked out of the Eurozone. I would argue, however, that the nation hasn't actually been doing peachy keen with the Euro and going back to the Drachma might give them some economic control again: the chance to devalue their currency to attract manufacturing jobs, tourists and other outsiders that will slowly but surely boost the Greek economy. Oh well, fear is a powerful emotion to fight against and some days I just don't understand human behaviour.

Check out the video below for the Wall Street Journal's perspective on the election. They, like so many others (I really don't get why!!!) are relieved by the election results.

I'm not saying that I don't appreciate the government and border agents keeping undesirables (criminals and dangerous people) out of the country, but their new monitoring technology crosses the line from protecting people to infringing on our rights and freedoms. HD cameras and microphones are being installed at all border crossings and will soon be online. They will have the capability of picking up and monitoring every conversation that takes place in every car at the border: everything from serious debates to offhand jokes about bombs, drugs and other controlled substances that can't be taken across the border. Many of these light-hearted comments may be misconstrued as factual, which could lead to many innocent people being harassed and searched. The government has no right to spy on people in their cars like this and I have a feeling this new surveillance technology will be challenged in a supreme court and will be deemed in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Below is a link to the Toronto Star story on the issue:

I'm not saying I am a week late, but I still wanted to say congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings for winning the 2012 Stanley Cup finals over the New Jersey Devils. It is the first time in my life that the team I was cheering for since the start of the year has hoisted the cup in June. Now all I need to see is the Leafs win the big prize and my life will be complete...could be waiting a while.

Here is a clip of the last minute of the last game of the final.

I'm not saying I knew him, but my heart goes out to the drum tech who was killed while crews were setting up the stage for a RadioHead concert at Downsview Park yesterday. Scott Johnson was only 33 years old. RIP man!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Music Break...Social Distortion

Today on Music Break I am featuring one of my favourite and one of the longest surviving punk bands of all time: Social Distortion. They are fronted by Mike Ness on lead vocals and guitar, a man who is a little bit country, a little bit punk rock and 100% attitude. Their sound was influenced by legends like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Their music is catchy, yet the lyrics are poignant and are often tales that many can empathize with and relate to. Social Distortion has had success on indie labels and mainstream ones and have built a massive following since their formation way back in 1978.

If anyone is interested, Social Distortion is playing the Sound Academny in Toronto on October 20th. I will be there if I can afford it.

Without further adieu, here are videos of some of Social D's biggest hits:

Story of My Life

When the Angels Sing

Ball and Chain

Machine Gun Blues

Bad Luck

I Was Wrong

Mommy's Little Monster (Live)

Friday, June 01, 2012

On "The Great Euro Crash" BBC Documentary

The Great Euro Crash with Robert Peston (2012)

The BBC has been showing an insightful documentary on the current recession called The Great Euro Crash over the last couple weeks. It made some very valid and interesting points I hadn't considered before and I wanted to share my thoughts on some of them. Above is the doc in it's entirety and below are my comments.

*Germany seems to be an example of what used to work and what could work again. They became a European power again by bringing manufacturing and exporting jobs back to the country and by paying those workers very healthy wages. The exports are much higher than German imports now, thus allowing the country to make a ton of money off trade, and the workers receiving good wages further helps strengthen the German economy because it gives them spending power. That is an edge ze Deutch have over, say, the Chinese these days. Canada is trying to do something similar with the oil sands, but unfortunately that comes with a mighty environmental price. Other countries should follow Germany's lead and, instead of slashing wages and jobs and social programs, spend money to re-invigorate export sectors as well as pay healthy wages to employees so they can stimulate the economy by spending.

*This documentary and other commentators have suggested that many of the powerful nations in Europe, like Germany and France, have forgotten one of the fundamental compromises that was agreed upon when the European Union was formed. That was that Europe economically was to become almost like 1 ginormous nation, with the "haves" and areas with money and resources helping the "have nots" and areas with few resources. This is clearly not what is happening in reality, as France and Germany are demanding massive and devastating austerity measures and cuts from Greece, Ireland, Hungary and the other countries that are struggling most. Austerity, while it may cut the deficits of these nations for one year, will have tremendous negative effects down the line: widespread unemployment, a lack of an educated work force and a majorly slumping economy.
These effects have already begun to be felt in Greece and others, showing that austerity is cleary not the way to go. Part of the problem was that EU leaders decided to go for an economic union before a political union, where 1 finance minister or a small group could make decisions for the entire group and where agreements as to how economic support to struggling nations would be undertaken.

*I didn't know that the seeds of the EU were planted shortly after World War II, as France and Germany were looking for ways to prevent the continent (and the world) from being engulfed in another catastrophe. Unfortunately, they had no economic backgrounds and didn't fully appreciate the long-term economic effects that this union would have. Modern leaders made the same mistake to a degree, allowing countries like Italy and Greece to lie their way into the Eurozone without considering what the consequences might be. EU rules state that a country's debt to GDP ratio must be 60% to gain entry, but Italy and Greece were allowed in with higher ratios because they "were lowering their ratios to get closer to that number" (on falsified papers anyway). Also, it would have been difficult to have an EU without Italy and Greece, as they are the heart of Europe. Sadly, no one has figured out how to support and stabilize the these economies without having to consistently bail them out.

*I thought it was very interesting to hear that the German government and population have always been better at saving and controlling spending, while Greece and Italy have been the exact opposite. The immediate surge in their economies led the Greek and Italian parliaments and citizens to spend miles above their means, as they traditionally like to spend. People were buying Porsches and houses like they were going out of style, for example. When they fell back to earth and subsequently fell into a recession, a lot of people lost everything and the government was buried in an incredible hole.

*It's not surprising that soon after the economic rules were relaxed, the whole continent suffered several major crises. Host Robert Peston pointed out that the EU had a rule that said "annual deficits should never exceed 3% of GDP," but in 2003 France and Germany fought for that rule to be taken out of the Stability and Growth Pact of the EU and countries started borrowing and spending way more than they could afford or ever dream of paying back. Then in 2008, just 5 years after the rule change, the outrageous spending caught up with Europe and the whole thing went tits up. It was also made cheaper and easier to borrow money in the United States around the same time, so governments and citizens went crazy borrowing money for things like houses. When interest rates went up in Europe and America, people and governments could no longer afford their debts, leading millions to abandon/be thrown out of their homes and caused governments to lose their shirts. Thus, the great housing crisis and recession of 2008/9 was born! I can't believe that all the world's brilliant and well educated bankers and economists didn't see this coming and couldn't have warned the world about what was coming.

*The fact that taxpayers had to pay for bank bailouts has always been impossible to accept for me. The quote of the documentary was by Irish property developer-turned activist Mick Wallace, "The notion that the taxpayers should actually be taking care of the problems of badly run, failed, useless banks has been a bitter pill." Amen. Banks played games and tried to make more well than I can imagine by keeping interest rates low and relaxing borrowing limits and it came back to bite them in the arse. We shouldn't pay for their greed and we certainly shouldn't have allowed any of them to keep their golden parachutes on the way down!

*I was unaware that EU rules actually prohibit bailouts, as many nations have had to find ways around that agreement and have asked for hundreds of billions in support.

*There is no doubt, as Robert Peston points out, that major economic reform is needed to save the EU and economies of most countries in the world and make those economies competitive again. On the other hand, I'm not sure that slashing prices and wages to be competitive is the way to go. Governments and households can live within their means, granted, and spend a bit less on things they can't afford. But how about stimulating your economy by targeted job growth and putting more money in peoples' pockets through creating more and better jobs? And how about protesting and refusing to buy products from countries who pay their workers embarrassingly low wages (eg. China) and make them work in unfair conditions (Again, China, I'm looking at you)? Then, at least, every country would start with an equal playing field.

*If countries can't get back on their feet within the EU, then maybe the huge organization needs to be disbanded until someone comes up with a way to prevent these major economic problems from happening again.