World Economics 101

Posted June 29, 2009 on 1:57 pm | In the category China, Economy | by Mackenzie Brothers

It is time to give a surprise quiz about the state of the national economies of the world. There may still be a general understanding that, despite all negative developments of the last decade, the US still packs a powerful economic punch. But President Obama has displayed a surprising and very disappointing isolationist, fortress-America position on economics. The front page of last week’s edition of the Canadian national news magazine MacLean’s dealt with a topic that is being considered in many countries: “Obama, Why He’s bad for Canada – His ambitions could cripple our economy”. US Buy America policies have been put through by his regime, with the predictable Canadian retaliation, despite long-standing Free Trade agreements. The very big question of the future markets of Canada’s immense energy reserves is now being discussed with regard to European and especially Asian markets, with far less dependence on US markets. The result could be a blow to the economies of both the increasingly antagonistic neighbours. Last week the US Homeland Security lads forced an Air Canada plane flying from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Montréal, Quebec to turn around in mid-flight, somewhere over Maine, because a Canadian citizen was on board whom they didn’t like crossing US air space. You can’t get much less neighbourly than that.

Perhaps these are problems that can be addressed, however, and the US still produces over 30% of the world’s economy. But what about China, which garners much of the journalistic interest in trade and economy these days? How dominant has it become in that sphere? Do you think that China will soon replace the US as leading economic power? Well, think again. The fact is that China’s economy is still only one tenth the size of Japan’s, and produces less than 10% of the world’s economy. Many economists feel that India, not China, is the real rising economic power in Asia, as it reacts more flexibly to the current economic crisis and deals with it through a banking system that is much more reliable.

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Iran and Mucho Macho Americano

Posted June 24, 2009 on 5:43 pm | In the category Iran, Politics, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Whenever I forget how pitiful the American press has become I turn to PBS’s Lehrer Report knowing that Judy Woodruff is likely to remind me. While I largely avoided cable TV and network news talk shows during the Iran election fallout I had noted in the NY Times and Washington Post the comments of various Republican politicians to the effect that the president had not been “forceful” enough in his comments on the Iranian elections. (Much like foreign leaders had not been forceful enough in discussing the U.S. presidential election of 2000 when our Supreme Court handed the presidency to G. W. Bush, rather than bother to count the votes in Florida.) Comments came from the usual suspects, Senators McCain and Graham, Representatives Boehner and Kantor, Newt Gingrich, right-wing neocon columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and of course the usual blowhard media types on Fox TV and dumbbell radio.

Obama’s point – that it was strategically essential to avoid making the U.S. the outside force to be blamed for the demonstrations – was lost on these political hacks and we were treated to the predictable displays of American artificial testosterone. Virtually every credible Iran analyst supported Obama’s approach and assessed it as correct, as did Indiana Republican Senator Lugar – one of a diminishing number of Republican Senators with foreign policy bonafides.

Understanding a difficult, complex situation in Iran requires more effort than most Americans will give to it and unfortunately more effort than most of the American press will put into it. The attraction for simple-minded blowhards to spout meaningless slogans is too strong for a country that long ago decided to see all events through a strictly American prism. This is just the time for PBS to step up and provide the kind of background and intelligence needed to sort through the complexities. Lehrer and Woodruff gave us what they too often fall back on – an interview of two politicians (Senators Graham and Kerry) on opposite sides to argue about things that more often than not avoid any prospect of actually educating the viewer about anything other than where the two stand on whatever is defined as the issue. Woodruff’s interview served to carry the GOP’s water, asking in two or three different ways just why Obama did not speak out more strongly. Senator Graham was all over that while Senator Kerry did as well as could be expected to educate the viewers on some of the realities of the situation.

It is perhaps unfair to pick on Woodruff when so many of her colleagues in the press bow to the same gods of vacuity and simplicity (anyone who watched the Obama’s press conference can attest to that), but we used to expect more from PBS than mind-numbing, self-serving debates by politicians.

For anyone seeking an intelligent, instructional and nuanced view of the Iranian situation and Obama’s response to it, I recommend Terry Gross’s interview yesterday of Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Listen to it here.

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where you want to live

Posted June 19, 2009 on 2:18 am | In the category Canada, Europe | by Mackenzie Brothers

The Economist has just published its annual ranking of 140 major cities for their livability. It’s no surprise that Vancouver, Canada’s urban showpiece on the Pacific with a matchless setting, is once again ranked first as a place to live, but it is the absence of cities – and countries – that would have been favourites not long ago which says something about how the judgment of quality of urban life has changed. Three of the first six cities are in Canada (#1 Vancouver, #4 Toronto, #6 Calgary) and 6 of the first ten are in Australia (Sidney, Melbourne and Perth) and Canada. The other four in the first ten are capital cities of middle-size European powers (#2 Vienna, Zurich, Helsinki) plus UN-centre Geneva.

Former stars like Paris (#17), Berlin (#22) or Rome (#51) no longer cut the mustard for quality of life. Countries without a history of military colonialization trump countries who came to prominence by invading neighbours and even far-off lands, and now have to live with the consequences. Countries with a current atmosphere of tolerance and with middle-power armed forces run a steadier, friendlier ship in the modern world than those with atomic weapons and nervously-guarded borders.

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