|April 19, 2013||The Boston Marathon: What it Means to This Runner and How You Can Help||1 comments|
|February 01, 2013||Flipping the Coin on Benghazi: A Tragedy Under Bush||4 comments|
|January 25, 2013||Preble’s Pivot on Foreign Policy||1 comments|
|January 03, 2013||Nothing to Toast in 2013 Politics||2 comments|
|December 14, 2012||A Fiscal Cliff and Treble Clefs: Surviving the Stalemates in Washington||3 comments|
|November 07, 2012||The Day After for a Republican||7 comments|
|November 05, 2012||Sophisticated Voters Measure the Contents of Campaigns||11 comments|
|October 29, 2012||Romney on the Rise in Florida: The Land O’ Lakes Rally||5 comments|
|October 22, 2012||The Problem with Greece and the Debt Crisis||3 comments|
|September 27, 2012||The Forty Six Percent Barrack Obama Discarded||11 comments|
This scenario starts with George W. Bush running for his second term as president of the United States.
After clear overtures of violence in an unstable region, an embassy is not fortified in any extra way on a date widely celebrated as a sacred moment of victory by a multitude of radical jihadists who harbor a death wish for the United States.
Nothing is unusual at that embassy until the night erupts with organized waves of men attacking a building that has not been adequately secured. They flood into the compound with military precision and military grade weapons.
An information management officer dies in a burning building. An ambassador’s whereabouts are lost. Staff from the embassy are removed to a CIA annex and eventually evacuated to undisclosed locations where even sitting senators will never be granted access to them again.
In the early stages of the attack, President Bush meets with Donald Rumsfeld, but it is unclear how engaged he remains with the event as it unfolds.
The multi-location attack eventually spans the time it takes an average commercial flight to go from Atlanta to Europe—not from Europe to Africa—and only stops when the weak home government’s militia finally reinforces American defenders.
By then, two more Americans have been murdered.
The death of the ambassador is finally confirmed.
President Bush holds a conference in the Rose Garden. After promising to bring the responsible killers to justice, he says, “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence.”
These remarks tie the embassy attack with a badly produced YouTube video the administration has already identified via outlets like Fox News as shamefully denigrating Islam and causing protests in the Middle East.
President Bush skips a daily intelligence briefing and flies to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
UN Ambassador John Bolton appears on the Sunday talk shows to state plainly that the video was the cause of the embassy attack.
The president of the country in which the attacked embassy was located refutes Bolton’s entire story as implausible and illogical.
President Bush and Condoleeza Rice meet four caskets flown home. Rice promises the families that the maker of the YouTube video will be arrested.
The filmmaker is, in fact, arrested and put in a jail cell where he remains.
CNN reveals its representatives—not American intelligence—retrieved the dead ambassador’s diary from the destroyed embassy.
In a speech to the United Nations, President Bush says, “There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice.” After a tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens, he talks about how a “crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world,” which perpetuates the connection between the embassy attack and YouTube.
In a national debate, Bill O’Reilly bolsters President Bush’s statements on the embassy.
Bush is reelected.
The Pentagon and the CIA release conflicting timelines for how special operations forces were deployed during the incident.
The head of the CIA resigns over a sex scandal that generates more front-page copy at the Wall Street Journal than the discrepancies in details about the embassy attack.
Donald Rumsfeld blames the “fog of war.”
Under oath, a diplomatic security official confirms the violence unfolded in real time in Washington. Security personnel give a scathing rebuke of the Bush appointment bureaucracy’s mishandling of security requests at the embassy.
The Accountability Review Board (ARB) appointed by (and thus working for) the Bush administration releases the non-classified section of their report, which generates more questions from Senator Diane Feinstein, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Senator Dick Durbin.
The Secretary of State responds, “What difference does it make at this point?” She takes “responsibility” for the attack, but there are no real consequences in the Bush State Department. No American arrests apart from the filmmaker are ever been made public. No American actions are taken against even the terrorist group that claimed responsibility the very night the attack took place.
Of course, we know President Bush left office in 2008, and all of these events transpired under a different administration.
But I ask, if the coin was flipped and George W. Bush had played a part in this tragedy, would Benghazi finally matter to Democrats?
Getting clarity on Benghazi—four dead Americans, the tragedy’s implications to national security, the failures of current foreign policy—should be important to all Americans no matter who is president.
Some issues just aren’t partisan.
Chris Preble is a smart guy. He is number eighty-two on the “Defense News” list of the one hundred most influential people dealing with defense in 2013. Speaking in Atlanta on January 15, he shared his ideas about the military challenges of a second Obama term.
As the Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Dr. Preble espouses a classic libertarian perspective that seeks to avoid foreign entanglements. This stands in stark contrast to the neoconservative position that dominated the Bush years and advocates the American projection of power to shape global affairs.
Therefore, Dr. Preble approves of the controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. For him, this appointment signals a wanted shift in the president’s approach to foreign policy, which will result in a further withdrawal of the United States from the role of global peacekeeper. His hope is that other countries will tend more to the expense of their own security when the world’s superpower does not act as an “indispensible nation.”
When rejecting American exceptionalism, Dr. Preble is in opposition to even mainstream Republicans. However, when he echoes the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine that once guided the Reagan administration and asserts that the government should only engage troops in missions that relate directly to American national security interests, he finds more common ground with conservative thinkers.
Furthermore, his belief that it is essential to define attainable foreign policy objectives with viable exit strategies before committing soldiers to war are parameters that American citizens in general embrace as common sense.
But as the French are discovering in Mali, even a simply stated goal—to dislodge terrorists—can become much more complex once a military engagement begins.
Let’s look back for a moment to 2001.
Dr. Preble says the American invasion of Afghanistan should have had three main objectives: to degrade Al Qaeda’s ability to commit violence, to dislodge the Taliban, and to telegraph a message to rogue governments to not support terrorists.
All of this was accomplished in a matter of months, so why didn’t troops leave? Instead, American commanders chose to launch counterinsurgency operations, which mired forces in the tribal mishmash of an impoverished nation for more than a decade.
Even so, from the audience, a veteran Navy Corpsman who served with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines stood to express his view that many other important objectives were also made and met in Afghanistan despite the focus put on Iraq, which meant the first war did not really get its due attention until as late as 2008.
Now he is concerned that too rapid a drawdown per President Obama’s plan will mean that many Americans he personally knew lost their lives in vain.
Acknowledging that members of the military cannot be faulted when given unachievable missions, Dr. Preble carefully answered that President Obama should never have supported a troop surge in Afghanistan, which only prolonged matters.
In other words, Dr. Preble thinks the Navy Corpsman’s fears were realized years before he was even deployed, and his mates’ deaths have indeed been for no good reason in the grand scheme.
This is a position that should be seriously reconsidered.
Dr. Preble’s idea that a quick exit would have achieved a better result in Afghanistan is academic. The future is always a murky thing to predict, but the impact of an action not taken is also a matter of mere speculation. After all, the last time the United States left this hellacious outcrop of war-torn rocks to its fate, a threat still gathered in its crevices.
So as Dr. Preble ponders a pivot in American foreign policy to create a smaller military footprint in future, one should not forget troops are still on the ground right now.
To concede defeat before an exit has been properly negotiated—to leave forces in a vulnerable position with numbers well below what generals want—is to break faith with American troops who are not pawns in a senseless chess game. It also breaks faith with those Afghanis who chose to ally with the United States. And an exit robbed of honor or any sense of success will never close a door on future problems.
Smart men like Dr. Preble know Al Qaeda is resurgent, so as he helps shape the debate on how to best approach a rapidly destabilizing Middle East and Africa, he should push for the United States to secure a positive legacy for the sake of national security.
No matter what, it is reasonable to want President Obama—regardless of who becomes his Secretary of Defense—to clearly identify attainable objectives in Afghanistan that will secure hard won military gains if the desired outcome is indeed long-term peace.
On New Year’s Eve, I cared nothing about Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin in Times Square. I did not let off fireworks. I did not watch the peach drop. I did not even have champagne at midnight. Rather, I instructed the kid to avoid the perils of revelers on the road—stay in one place to sing Auld Lang Syne—and put my 2012 to bed at an early hour.
You see, when it comes to New Year’s, one can rightly call me a fuddy-duddy. I have always found this shift to “new beginnings” painfully artificial and mostly irrelevant. Real change has never been about a new date on a calendar or blowing horns in a crowd or getting a good luck kiss. Such rituals might be entertaining, but they amount to empty noise in the grand scheme.
In fact, it seems appropriate New Year’s Eve was the setting for a bit of political theater with which to close a tired year. After all, on New Year’s Day, I awoke to find the fiscal cliff magically averted by senators whose sole function lately seems to me to be to make me feel more cynical about my government.
Whilst understanding that a reasonable approach to macroeconomics can never be a matter of austerity alone, I concede little credit now to politicians from either party for averting a politically created crisis at the eleventh hour.
Was there not time to get an appropriate act together before the lame duck session? What ever happened to that Simpson-Bowles plan?
Regardless, the House has now also compromised with the president on tax hikes, and the result is that our glorious leaders in Washington have created what any intellectually honest person can see is the fiscal equivalent to pasting half a band-aid on a giant gash that is gushing streams of green.
However, as one of those taxpayers who knows I’m just expected to hear this miraculous fix, throw confetti and drink some more bubbly, this latest debt deal just sounds like more of those endless resolutions people make to little effect.
Of course some of this lack of change in the state of the nation is as predictable as a failed diet.
There will soon be a second inauguration for the exact same man currently on vacation in Hawaii, and the overall balance of power has never really shifted.
I’m even feeling a bit of déjà vu when it comes to snarky partisanship from the president.
On December 31, he made sure to reach across the aisle to announce with a smirk that those on the right had finally put aside deeply held ideological beliefs about raising taxes. He then added, “Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone -- and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that … [they’re] just going to… shove spending cuts at us... then they’ve another thing coming….”
It seems our fearless leader has decided to continue with his heart-felt efforts to unite his fellow Americans, which have long made him look to me like Moses pulling together the Red Sea.
Of course it’s true that President Obama’s gotten his tax hikes on the wealthy. This was the price Democrats set to stop the sunset of the Bush tax cuts on the vast majority of Americans they are always saying they are so interested in protecting.
Still, I’m not quite sure I’d want to tout this point too much.
When one understands that by compromising on top rates as they did—no small thing when having to answer to the voters they represent in their districts—Republicans have made permanent the middle class tax cuts that would never have even existed if Democrats had gotten their way when George W. Bush was in office.
Additionally, the “deal” negotiated at the last second on the clock of the time bomb that the White House itself started ticking actually increases spending by more than three hundred billion dollars over the next decade.
Even so, by agreeing to these terms, Republicans cannot now be painted as obstructionists. By not shielding top earners, Republicans have openly acknowledged that the president indeed won the election. Yet in a very challenging political climate, they have done their best to avert as much economic blowback as possible.
Yet I still must note after making no real attempt to deal with the deficit—only another speech on January 1 that calls for more “investment,” i.e. spending, and more revenues from the “wealthiest corporations and individuals” in future—I am left to wonder what exactly is the president “shoving” in Republicans’ direction?
I guess we’ll find out in two months when this drama resumes.
With the champagne corks and party hats in the trashcan, when it comes to Washington, 2013 looks exactly like 2012.
With no joy left for politics, I can only say, “Cheers!”
More than a month after the election, I am not feeling any better about the state of affairs in my country. The public debate about the “fiscal cliff” has been myopic, focused solely on the matter of raising tax rates on a small group of people, which is an action that does little to solve any long-term fiscal problems.
While the two sides do not see eye-to-eye on the best ways to raise revenues, even the British publication the Economist notes, “any fiscal deal must reform Social Security (pensions), Medicare (for the old) and Medicaid (for the poor). Mr. Obama… needs to increase [entitlement cuts] to entice the Republicans into a deal and because it is the right thing to do.”
This seems overtly obvious to me, but I am just a simple woman. I do not understand the political opera President Obama is orchestrating. His proposals spend as stimulus most of the new revenues he wishes to commandeer from America’s top wage earners when ending the Bush tax cuts, and Democrats like Nancy Pelosi have thrown down a gauntlet on making changes to entitlements.
Conversely, even as a Republican, I understand government revenues must be increased as part of any fiscal compromise, but I cannot fathom how Congressman Boehner will be able to sell tax hikes to other representatives in his party who are very much accountable to their own conservative constituents unless the House Speaker gains something substantial to address debt.
We will just have to wait and see if the United States will have a Thelma and Louise moment of jumping off the cliff, or if good sense will point our politicians to jerk the wheel in another direction.
Until then, for my own peace of mind, I am embarking on a journey that distracts me from those things I cannot control. I am seeking more activities that have the power to unite me with my fellow citizens—whatever their politics—rather than twisting my stomach into knots when debating the nightly news.
Happily, this commitment has already led me to see more live music around Atlanta. Surely we can all agree that music soothes the savage beast, and local musicians in Georgia rock, right?
One place that we’ve discovered to take in some tunes isn’t in the city but in the suburbs. Ragamuffin Music Hall on Roswell’s historic square is a venue that hosts a variety of local talent, and we were recently drawn there by a husband and wife folk-duo who are based in Marietta and who command quite a following from others living in and around Cobb.
Tortoise & Hair regularly perform live across the Southeast, and their third album, The Sunny Side, was recently launched at Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs on September 1. We were happy to have the opportunity to hear them again so close to home.
Once inside Ragamuffin Music Hall—sheltered from all the cacophonous noise of the outside world—we found an intimate setting in which to hear the concert. Oriental rugs are strewn across the stage. Twinkling stars hang with a crystal chandelier from the black ceiling, and records, banjos and guitars decorate the walls. A cello and baby grand wait to be played. All feels cozy and warm.
Of course, this should be expected as Ragamuffin has always been owned and operated by musicians. Ashley Harris, an accomplished singer with music that has climbed to the top of the World Indie Record Report, took over from Jackie Whittaker in May 2011. Having recorded her last album with Fine Line Records in Nashville, one feels a country influence in Ms. Harris’ own work, but she continues to have a big interest in connecting others to as much of the vibrant music scene in the Atlanta metropolitan area as possible.
After the opening act finished in Ragamuffin, Tortoise & Hair began to play and only added to my own feeling of internal Zen. Adrienne Cottrell, the “Hair” of the group with long tresses flowing down her back, filled the room with her hauntingly angelic voice as she sang her “Traveling Song,” which was a finalist entry in the 2010 Indie Girl song writing competition and has drawn international attention with its strong Celtic vibe.
After adding a drummer to the group for the next number, Dustin Cottrell in his tortoise shell glasses joked good-naturedly about the couple’s “multi-aluminum” hit “Faultline 09,” which has had plenty of radio playtime and offers a harder, driving beat that skirts closer to Southern rock than much of the T & H repertoire rooted more in folk.
By the time the perfectly in-sync couple got to “Watching the World Fall Apart,” which the Tortoise explained was about the financial meltdown of 2008 from their second album Front Row Seat, I had managed to forget all about President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.
In fact, looking around the room at all the people enjoying their bowls of ice cream from the Ragamuffin ice cream parlor, sipping their cups of coffee, and tapping their feet, it struck me that I had no idea if any of them—or Tortoise & Hair, for that matter—thought much about the political discord that’s been clogging up my emotional airwaves lately. Nor did I want to know.
There is going to be a day on which American voters of all political stripes will have to face the music. It was nice for an evening to just sit back, relax, and listen to it.
It’s been a long election season. It’s been a longer four years. And for Republicans, there’s little reason to celebrate a “move forward” into what feels at the moment like the promise of an interminably long tomorrow.
But this is where we find ourselves, and we have to decide how we are going to react to losing an election.
You see, we are grown ups. We are not children. And this was not a football game that we can simply stomp away from or forget.
As adults we are required to put aside resentment, anger, regret at the end of what has been a passionate and sometimes bitter debate. It doesn’t matter how we feel or why we feel it. We must step forward and shake hands and get on with it.
We know this. We live in a republic. We made our case, and we lost our argument.
In his concession speech, Mitt Romney graciously said, “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work, and we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”
He was absolutely right.
Barack Obama has been re-elected. He is the President of the United States. Whatever he has done in the past, we must fervently hope he leads a divided people to a new place of consensus. We must, if we can, help him do this.
As he said in his acceptance speech, this will not be easy. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight….”
This is spot-on for his part.
Republicans will not magically begin to agree with Democrats.
Democrats will not magically begin to agree with Republicans.
Both sides will still represent constituents who care deeply about the issues that drove them to the polls to vote in the first place, and members of Congress will continue to answer only to those people within their myriad states and districts…those millions of people across our great land who have different priorities and who do not seem lately to agree on much of anything.
“But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future…. [and] that common bond is where we must begin.”
With these words, President Obama seems to be pledging he will not in this very divided nation try to stand in just blue states this term. Rather, amongst disparate groups, he will try to build bridges.
For our part, we must allow those bridges to be built! We must look at his good faith efforts to respect what we think, and then we must demand those other leaders who answer most closely to us to craft real compromise in Washington.
On this both sides have little choice. Our nation cries for solutions. Our problems can no longer be ignored, and we can no longer care about just your or my special interests. We cannot leave this to the next generation.
President Obama said, “I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
In good faith, let’s try our best to make that right.
I would never want to be an American politician. The most innocuous of statements are taken out of context, transformed into “coded” language, or otherwise exploited on Twitter.
Campaigns regularly engage in more cutthroat tactics than the infamous Standard Oil ever considered using to crush competition before being broken up for unfair practices in business.
Character assassination has become a sad matter of course for even journalists who knowingly distort real issues for partisan purposes or to sell papers.
It’s simply a fact in our consummate consumer culture that politicians are packaged like any other product, carefully positioned, and sold to voters like so many tubes of toothpaste.
This is worrisome.
Citizens—no matter which side of the political aisle is their natural home--must not continue to be complicit in a system that only presents glossy brochures, MTV interviews, and air brushed images during election cycles. They must strive to engage in more sophisticated analyses in the marketplace of ideas.
If this happened en masse—if there was less focus on the superficial and more focus on the substance—more people would want to serve in public office. More people would get elected on merit over image.
So how might we fix the system?
To start, instead of simply going down a checklist of the most facile planks of a general party platform to make a decision for the next leader of the free world, voters can open the ‘candidate boxes’ right now and delve inside the entire contents apart from the packaging.
After all, we should be able to agree that both 2012 candidates are more complex than a single talking point. In a two party system, national candidates must appeal to disparate groups to get enough votes to win. As a result, no candidate is ever going to be a perfect fit for any one special interest constituency.
In this context, Mitt Romney’s candidacy is worth studying.
Rather than being a monolithic group with just one outlook, many Romney voters are sophisticated thinkers who don’t rely on one-word labels to inform their decisions. They feel on measure Romney would make a better president than Obama. This is true even when many of these voters know they would have honest, vigorous debates with other voters in the Romney coalition.
For example, Libertarians who scorn government interference in their private lives are often not in agreement with Evangelicals on social issues. However, after careful analysis, they see a statist approach to governance as more of a threat to an individual’s right to self-determination than any Sunday school sermon.
Therefore, many sophisticated Libertarians have walked straight into the Republican tent. They do this because they feel less federal spending will have more of an impact on everyone’s individual rights than the Republican Party’s current position on gay marriage. (Even hardcore conservative Dick Cheney doesn’t agree with his party on this one. In fact, he supported gay marriage while President Obama was “evolving.”)
Conversely, as fervently as they advocate for their understanding of Christian tenants in politics, many Evangelicals find common ground with liberty loving Mormons who believe faith is a personal matter of conscience.
Instead of worrying about the semantics of a candidate’s theology, sophisticated Evangelicals want a president to more closely adhere to first principles when it comes to religion. While they will discuss points of contention, they have grown weary of hearing that everyone’s beliefs have merit except their own.
Women can also disagree about abortion. However, smart women need not be manipulated by a false narrative on restricted reproductive rights, which has been designed solely to distract from their financial health and the implications of unemployment on a million choices that have nothing to do with babies.
As Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, has said, “I am not always in agreement with everything that is written in the Republican platform about social issues, but I know that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to respect the views of those who may disagree….”
Sophisticated women like Rice may care deeply about choice, but they are not so narrow as to make a decision this election based solely on an issue that isn’t even in the purview of the executive branch. They—like their pro-life peers—also know Mitt Romney has never once proposed banning birth control.
Then there are Democrats who will vote for Romney. They may disagree with many Republican positions, but they are sophisticated voters. National security is a president’s most sacred duty, and they concede it is only intellectually honest to feel the current administration’s response to Libya has been—at best—disingenuous if not downright egregious.
Ultimately, I would not want to be an American politician, but I believe we all have a duty to become sophisticated voters right now. Political packaging doesn’t matter. Rather the full contents of the candidate are what should count.
Jim Harrold is a Gulf War veteran and a public high school teacher who lives in Florida. On Saturday night, he attended a political rally in Land O’ Lakes near Tampa with his girlfriend Brenda.
After parking the car, they had to walk more than two miles to get to the high school football stadium where 15,000 other voters were gathering to hear Mitt Romney speak. But Jim and Brenda thought the effort was worth making.
After all, they had good company on their stroll. They spoke with a girl who had just turned eighteen, a woman in her sixties walking with a cane.
No matter what anyone’s age, all around them seemed excited to be out sharing a special evening.
Once inside the venue, Jim and Brenda stood on the football field, which was packed with a friendly crowd. Jim found the number of young adults heartening, but he focused the most on the many families that had gathered, the young children laughing with their parents.
At one point, a video played on a big screen and underscored how important family has always been to Mitt Romney. Jim thought Romney’s love for his wife seemed very genuine. Romney often told Ann that what she was doing with their kids was far more important than anything that Romney was doing with his work.
While he wouldn’t say President Obama feels any differently about the importance of his wife and girls, Jim found himself thinking Romney’s values would be good values to take into the White House.
When the GOP’s candidate for president finally took center stage, the crowd “ignited with enthusiasm.” In contrast to the wooden man the media has often tried to create, the real Romney was “very charismatic and funny.”
Expressing what many at the rally thought, Romney proclaimed, “Obama didn’t inherit a bad economy. He inherited the greatest nation in the world.”
From where he was standing on the field, Jim “felt a feeling of hope that [he] had not felt in a while.” Jim thought it was especially impressive how Romney talked about reaching across party lines, which is something Jim doesn’t think President Obama has ever done very well.
Furthermore, after what has felt like an interminable period of malaise for many Republicans, Romney had no problem tapping into a desire for actual change. He said, “Obama says, ‘four more years,’ and we answer ‘ten more days.’”
The crowd gleefully chanted back, “Ten more days! Ten more days!”
After a moment of listening to this, a smiling Romney lightly joked, “You know, we will have to change that tomorrow.”
It is true that polls show a tight race remains in Florida, a serious battleground for voters. As in other years, no one will be able to call the Sunshine State until the votes are actually counted.
However, as the Land O’ Lakes rally illustrates, there’s plenty of red in Florida, and Romney has been steadily gaining ground. Outside the media’s punditry, miles away from Washington, Romney’s supporters are enthusiastic and energized. They recognize this is not 2008. This time, the passion is all on their side.
For his part, after the Land O’ Lakes rally, Jim said, “If I had any doubts, they disappeared last night.”
If Mitt Romney keeps this up—if he continues to secure votes from people like Jim and Brenda in these final days, real representatives of what is middle class America—he’ll handily win this election.
The United States has been limping along for multiple years with a struggling economy, which currently projects nothing but anemic growth rates. A major disruption in European import/export markets would be calamitous.
So what’s the problem in Greece?
This is a complicated question, and politics play a part in convoluting the answer. To try and make some sense of the matter, I attended two excellent lectures that were open to the public at Georgia State University to try and gain some insight. A German gave one speech. A Greek gave the other.
First, a member of the Bundestag, which is a political body similar to our Congress, Harald Leibrecht spoke on October 3. The main thrust of his speech was that global markets are tightly tied. The US and Germany have long shared values and interests that make us natural allies and trading partners, but transatlantic relations should never be put on “autopilot.” Rather, communication and cooperation is constant between valued friends.
Leibrecht then touched upon the financial crises in Greece and other EU countries. He said Germany is dedicated to tackling European debt with fiscal discipline; however, there are political limits to financial bailouts that come from Berlin, as German taxpayers are not prepared to absorb all the debts of other peoples.
Furthermore, while the European Central Bank sets monetary policy for seventeen eurozone countries, the ECB is much weaker than the Federal Bank in the United States. Twenty-seven different fiscal policies of EU member states complicate matters.
“Unfortunately,” he lamented with a charming smile, “no one has yet written a book called Solving Debt Crisis Made Simple.”
The second speaker I heard, Vassilios Galoussis from the Greek Consul, would agree that the financial situation in Europe is very complicated. On October 11, he offered some Greek perspectives on his nation’s precarious position.
Echoing Leibrecht on some points, Galoussis said one problem that must be understood when studying the debt crisis in Europe is that those who participate in the eurozone have a common currency but no institution like the Federal Bank, no lender of last resort. Therefore, “bailouts” in times of crisis come not from the European Union itself but from other sovereign nations within the eurozone.
To understand the implications of this reality, imagine California having to borrow money bi-laterally from Georgia. This would cause massive resentment between states as well as practical problems for state politicians.
Furthermore, with a common currency but no federal system to guarantee deposits, bank runs have become a perennial problem for Greece.
Think again about California and Georgia.
If you deposited money in a bank in California, the FDIC would guarantee this money. Therefore, if you lived in California in a time of financial crisis, there would be no reason to run to the bank and move your funds to another state with a more stable outlook like Georgia.
Not so in the European Union.
Bank runs have occurred often due to panic in the streets, and much needed capital has been moved outside of Greece to other eurozone countries, which further paralyzes the Greek economy.
Additionally, while austerity measures are seen as a necessary part of any long-term solution—and Greece has cut its debt an amazing 8-9% in just two years—austerity (especially when coupled with fiscal policy that incorporates tax hikes) can slow a country’s economic growth, which can then dig a deeper fiscal pit. Therefore, the problems in Greece are not as easy to fix as simply slashing budgets.
Ultimately, both Leibrecht and Galoussis seemed to concur that every country has specific economic and political needs that must be taken into consideration. Therefore, visionary leadership is required for the European Union to move forward, which brings me back to the United States.
While we are not in the eurozone, we have our own fiscal cliff looming on this side of the ocean. American debt issues are unique and should not be compared to those in Greece. However, our highly polarized Congress seems frozen in a period of inaction.
For the United States to move forward, we, too, will require visionary leadership that seeks more compromise between parties. So far, there hasn’t been much evidence of this existing on our side of the pond.