Thursday, February 19, 2015

Grexit, schmexit: It ain’t gonna happen

For sale? Owner must sell ...
Right now a battle of Homeric proportions is being waged for the future soul of the European Union.

On one side are the Teutonic bookkeepers of the EU, led by Merkel of Germany and Cameron of Britain. On the other side is the tiny, profligate, bankrupt state of Greece, the home of Western civilization.

Caught in the middle are the other EU states, with the citizens of most of them not too sure that tightening the screws on Greece with renewed – or continued – austerity steps is the wisest thing to do.

Siding with the Teutons are many commentators, who are convinced that the whole thing is a tragedy, with a dire ending already cast in Olympia. Here is one example of such doomsayers:



My view? There won’t be a Grexit from the Eurozone or the EU.

Why not? Because the interests of the Greeks and the Teutons are not that different, and any interest-based negotiations rather than position-based negotiations should lead to an agreement that meets the most important requirements of both sides.

To start with, we need to discount the statements coming from politicians that a deal is a deal and has to be carried out. That’s nonsense. When you are in a workout situation, deals are signposts along possible routes to resolution, and not resolution itself.

If you strip the arguments of the Teutons and of the Greeks down to their essence, you come up with something like this:

Greece:   Our people are hurting; we have 50% unemployed young people; people are struggling to put food on the table; we need hope, not despair, if we are going to take steps to reform our political system; austerity has not worked as people thought it would. So give us a bridging loan, let us agree on immediate and mid-term goals, and let us inject some cash into the economy to give jobs to people who need them.

Germany:  Your country is bankrupt; your government owns large whacks of the economic assets, and runs them very poorly; your labour is cossetted and lazy and over paid and over protected; your pensions are too high and are paid too soon; you borrowed money to fix your problems and agreed to reform your system, but have not carried out concrete steps to do so. And above all, your tax system is broken: people do not pay their taxes and nobody bothers to throw them in jail for such crimes.

What’s the essence of the problem?

Greece lived beyond its means (as did America); Greece borrowed too much to spend on the wrong things; labour and other economic reforms need to be faced up to, agreed upon, and laws passed to implement them; but everyone wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone and in the EU.

So where’s the difference?

My guess is that the Germans want a public confession by the Greek political leaders of the reality of and magnitude of the problems facing them; they want concrete steps to be taken in accordance with an agreed timetable; and they will then pump more money into Greece – one way of another, and most likely through the face-saving money-printing quantitative easing steps of the European Central Bank.

So what will happen in the next week or so?

Some senior Germans are rattling sabres publicly, but Merkel is keeping her powder dry. However, the new Greek government is trying to come up with some ideas that can bridge the gap between the Teutons and the Greeks, but are somewhat trapped by their promises made to be elected.

So, I expect a Third Force to emerge, aiming at reconciling the Greek and German positions, fleshing out the main objectives, laying down the tracks for the solution-train to trundle along, and putting a price tag on various things. Just like the Germans, French, and Russians did to arrive at the Minsk agreement.

I put my money on the president of France to step forward to form the Third Force and broker a deal.

And then we can all sit back and wait for the Europeans to crank up their printing presses and print gazillions of Euros, like America did with its QE solution.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Legacy of Ottawa: The Gutting of Canada

When Stephen Harper’s spinners start pontificating about his steady hand on the tiller over the past decade or so, think on this: Is Canada’s economy really that much better off under his watch? Or has he presided over a country whose financial and economic muscles had continued to waste away.

Sometimes the facts get the way of a good story, and the facts about the sinews of our country’s economy are bleak indeed.

As Eric Reguly summarizes in today’s Globe & Mail:

Entire Canadian industries – steel, brewing, mining, forestry – got hollowed out, leaving a few sorry subsidiaries behind. Today, the biggies in Corporate Canada are largely limited to the five banks, a couple of insurers, gold companies and energy names such as Suncor and TransCanada.

The job of the prime minister of Canada is to protect the citizens and build the country, so that the economy improves and people are better off when the prime minister steps down or is thrown out by voters.

And Harper has not really done that much to reduce the steady gutting of our country.

Now factor in this fact, also from today’s Globe & Mail:

One-fifth of the jobs in vehicle assembly and auto parts have vanished in Canada since 2001…

A job with full seniority in the auto sector paying wages of more than $30 an hour with a defined benefit pension plan and other benefits has been a ticket to the middle class in Canada and the United States…

Assembly plant workers earn the equivalent of about $2.90 (U.S.) an hour, estimates Alex Covarrubias, a professor at Sonora College in Hermosillo, Mexico. That’s about 10 per cent of what workers with full seniority are paid hourly at Canadian and U.S. assembly plants.

The article describes the steps taken by the Mexican government to attract auto plants to that country, and includes a waffling defensive statement from our industry minister, who, in typical Harper-Tory fashion, speaks along the fringes of reality, while avoiding serious discussion of the meaningful actions that need to be taken.

Like those the Mexican government has and is taking.

And, of course, we cannot forget the free trade agreements, which are not fair trade agreements, but are designed to gut our economy by permitting the flight of investment to the lowest wage countries. And, of course, to replace good manufacturing jobs by McJobs.

So, tell me again, Mr Harper: What was it that you did during the past ten years to strengthen our country? Apart from some frivolous spending on gazebos, and tens and tens of millions of taxpayers’ money on self-congratulatory advertisements?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ukraine: Minsk deal includes de facto federation

Three powerful leaders and one powerless one gathered around a table in Minsk, negotiating a ceasefire agreement for war-torn Ukraine. The negotiations took a surprising turn when the four leaders met alone, without their advisors – it is not yet clear who suggested this, but my bet would be Putin.

Fuel for the negotiators:

For 16 hours the leaders wrangled, with refreshments provided by their host, who has been called by some the Last Dictator in Europe:

President Alexander Lukashenko hosted the talks in Minsk, which resulted in a new ceasefire deal on Thursday. Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany took part.
"They ate omelettes, cheese, dairy produce, drank several buckets of coffee," he was quoted as saying.
"My job was to provide the ammunition on time," he said jokingly.

Tough negotiations:

The negotiations were tough, said the negotiators (have you ever heard any politician say that negotiations were easy?), and the meeting almost broke up several times over disagreements:

The very fact that it took more than 16 hours of intensive negotiations to reach an agreement, and that the leaders announced the accord in three separate news conferences, seemed to highlight the differences that remained…

The return was accompanied by a flurry of Russian news agency reports that Mr. Poroshenko had declined at the last minute to accept the outlines of the deal relating to the independent status of the breakaway areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the cease-fire demarcation line.

When the leaders of the breakaway regions joined the talks in the morning, they also initially balked at signing the agreement, according to the official Russian news agency Tass.

Essence of the deal:

Like many deals, the devil is in the details, or, in this case, in the annexure. The broad terms of the deal were announced with a flourish by the participants. Here’s one summary of the broad terms agreed upon:

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Plan to go to Paris for a vacation or visit? Then take this with you

Right in the heart of Paris is the Notre Dame cathedral, which celebrated its 850th birthday a little while ago. If you plan to visit Paris, then you should download my book from Amazon (a printed copy) or Kindle (an ebook with some photographs).

The book has details about the cathedral which you won’t easily find gathered together elsewhere. During my research for my thriller, The Euros: Notre Dame Point Zero, I came across some surprising information about what lies buried beneath the huge cathedral.

Naturally, I incorporated a lot of this into the novel. My ebook version (available from Kindle), has photographs of scenes that are used in the thriller.

There you will find a map showing the mysterious Triangle Churches which play such an important role in the book: these are three old churches, two long lost but one still partly prepared.

You will also learn some interesting facts about the mysterious Archbishops’ tomb, a crypt beneath the choir stalls inside the cathedral, that was excavated by King Louis XIX in 1711. You will find out how the coffins are the archbishops are arranged, so that any new archbishop being buried there is welcomed by his predecessor; you will also find out about their red hats, still inside the crypt.

And, of course, there are two other underground crypts that play a part in the story: the archeological crypt discovered beneath the parvis (the empty land in front of the cathedral) when it was excavated in 1965 to build an underground garage; and the ancient and massive burial crypt that ran from the three front doors almost the full length of the huge building.

What is my latest book - The Euros: Notre Dame Point Zero – about?

How would you rescue women and children held hostage in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris by a band of faceless, nameless and ruthless men, who have attached bombs to each hostage, and threaten to blow up the cathedral if their demands are not met?

That is the problem that The Euros face in this, the first book of the series about them.

The Euros is the name for the Euro Protection Bureau, the highly skilled, well trained super cops unit formed to protect the European Union from threats to its integrity.

With five headquarters – the Puzzle House in London, the Grooming House in Paris, the Toy House in Berlin, the Garage in Rome and the Story House in Prague - the PuzzleMaker and Headmaster, directors of the London and Paris HQs, have a limited time to find a way to make themselves invisible so that they may enter the cathedral, rescue the hostages, save the cathedral, and capture the Bad Guys.

As little children are marched to Point Zero in front of the cathedral, with flickering lights on their explosive vests, and the Headmaster is forced to go into the cathedral as a hostage, the PuzzleMaker turns to Knuckles, the leader of the Onsite Prediction Unit, to cast her knucklebones and help him anticipate the actions of the Bad Guys.

He also asks a young gypsy girl to help him, and the Gypsy takes him on a hair-raising trip through the catacombs and sewers of Paris.
You can find my ebook and Amazon print on demand book on sale here.

The Euros makes a very good gift for someone about to visit Paris, whether for the very first time, or during a stopover there.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

You gotta love those Brits!

The Gladiators prepare ...
Prime Minister Cameron, facing requests for three televised debates before the May election, is dodging and weaving, having calculated that he has more to lose than to gain by debating three or more other opponents.

Voters tend to favour him over his main contender, who is fighting low expectations, as this extract from the January 17 edition of The Economist describes:

Mr Cameron’s foot-dragging is indeed self-interested. Voters tend to favour him as prime minister over Mr Milibrand by a factor of two to one. As Philip Cowley, a political scientist at Nottingham University, has put it, the Labour leader will outperform expectations if he “comes on stage and doesn’t soil himself on camera” – let alone if he puts in the strong performance of which he sometimes shows himself capable.

Ouch! 


Friday, January 30, 2015

Two Questions about the new Anti-Terror Act

Today saw the unveiling of the proposed new Act to cope with terrorist activities, as discussed in this CTV article.

The draft bill may be found here.

Two immediate questions arise from the definitions set out below:

Question 1:
Would any activity by a person within Canada to further the separation of a geographical portion of Canada from the nation of Canada fall within the newly prohibited activities in this definition? Would this be an "activity" that "undermines ... the territorial integrity of Canada"?

Friday, January 16, 2015

2015 election: Liberals, put money into the 14 Birddog Seats!

Wise money chases low margins
After the last election, I wrote a post that pointed out that these 14 seats were won by the Conservatives by the slim average of 443 votes per seat.

With the Tories ahead of the Liberal Party in fundraising so far, the Liberals could be well advised to set aside a sizeable whack of cash to contest these fifteen low-margin seats.

Better bang for your buck, eh?


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Michael Den Tandt is wrong: Mulcair knows what a mess of pottage is

Den Tandt: Muclair cannot count
So, what will our next federal government look like? Today is the last day of the year 2014, and most commentators have hidden their heads in the sand rather than venture a public guess.

Michael Den Tandt is one of the braver ones.

In an article in the National Post he forecasts a minority government for Stephen Harper, without any attempt by the two opposition parties – which combined will have more MPs than the Tory minority government – to vote him out in a no-confidence vote.

Den Tandt believes that Harper will survive for at least 10 months (which means a new election if he is voted out then), because Mulcair will prop him up in return for “concessions”.

This is Den Tandt’s forecast:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2015 & Santa Claus: Fluid electorate gives all parties a chance

Pollster Nick Nanos has just released a Christmas goodie for the party leaders of the three parties vying to form the next government of Canada.

Based on just one question – how fluid the electorate is – either one of these three parties could form a majority government come the next election, if the election campaign gave them a few breaks. Here’s the percentages:

When asked about whether they would consider or not consider voting for each of the federal parties in a set of independent questions, the Liberals continued to enjoy the highest proportion of accessible voters in the electorate. Fifty three per cent of Canadians would consider voting Liberal, while 45 per cent would consider voting for the NDP, 42 per cent would consider voting Conservative and 26 per cent would consider voting for the Green Party.

And a Merry Christmas to all the leaders. And a thank you from the Cat for making our politics so interesting.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mulcair leads the way to a more democratic Canada

Mulcair: The man who would bring democracy to Canada
Thomas Mulcair, that very capable MP who is leader of the NDP, has publicly committed himself to remedy our democratic deficit, as this post indicates.

Mulcair is to be commended for two things.

First, for signing the Fair Vote Canada declaration (click here for the full text).

Second, for strongly coming out in favour of a modified proportional representation system of electing our federal MPs.

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