Thursday, July 9, 2015

Greece from an Amateur Historian and Pretend Economist



So, as you probably have heard Greece is in some pretty serious economic trouble. Massive deficits have led to unsustainable debt. The Greek government is unable to make payments on its debt and is facing the prospect of losing its ability to borrow and more importantly its inclusion in the Eurozone. Greek banks are essentially out of money currently while the other Eurozone nations work to decide if Greece will be offered another bailout and what terms it will have.

Despite the imminent crisis the Greek government refused a bailout that was offered to the them. The terms basically were for Greece to increase taxes and drastically cut spending yet again. The Greek Government and later its voters were reasonable in turning down the offer. The austerity plan Greece has been under since taking its first bailout has shrunk the Greek economy on a level than can be termed a depression.

Greece was faced with 3 choices:

1.) Accept the bailout and face a worsening economy, but at least the currency would be stable.

2.) Flatout refuse any bailout and adopt a new currency which would be disastrous, but at least there is a way for Greece to recover in theory.

3.) Refuse the bailout, leverage the risk of #2 as well as other things to try to get a better deal.

Greece has chosen option #3 and have left the powers that be to decide how to handle the situation. After Greeks overwhelmingly voted to oppose the bailout terms Sunday, this week has seen some European nations soften their line while others haven't really done so.

The most significant issue as I see it is the matter of debt relief. Greece's debt is unsustainable no matter what the bailout terms are. If its creditors refuse to forgive some of Greece's debt but offer a bailout, this will keep happening again and again. The power-player in the Eurozone is Germany, which has flat out refused the idea of debt relief.

The political, social and economic issues here are very complex. Greece elected a liberal government early this year, which brought in an anti-austerity platform. This government has up to very recently refused to 'play ball' in the negotiations. German sentiment towards debt is that it is a blood oath to borrow money and one must alway pay their debts. Germans don't forgive debt. Germans are stringent rule-followers. The overriding fear amongst all parties involved is that if a solution is not found and Greece is forced out of the Eurozone that it would almost certainly spark a humanitarian crisis in Greece.

Greece holds a special place in the West. The first great western civilization(not really true, but that is the narrative.) The home of great thinkers like Plato and Socrates. The Parthenon. The Gods and Goddesses. The Myths. Alexander the Great. The west has sought almost since the fall of the Greek Empire to protect Greece. The risk of turning Greece into a failed state is something that may be unthinkable to some.

More important than the history of ancient Greece is the history of 20th century Germany. Europe knows the risk of having a nation with a crumbling economy. The winners of World War I forced Germany to pay impossible to pay reparations as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was forced to pay in Gold and Goods. The amount of gold backing German currency dwindled. This would lead to a period of hyperinflation in the Early 20s in Germany. In response to this the German government created austerity programs that crippled the German economy, which led to the rise of the Nazi Party & Adolf Hitler.

The fear is that if Greece is forced out of the Eurozone it would have to print its own money. Greece's huge debt obligation and need to have a functioning government could lead to the printing of a lot of this new currency. A state needs a way to fund its deficit and if Greece is unable to borrow it would have to print more money, which can rapidly lead to hyper-inflation. The badly damaged economy risks a) a power vacuum or b) dangerous groups being able to rise within the Greece structure.

I personally think that Europe's continued fears of repeating the mistakes (very justified) of the years between the world wars means there will end up being a deal of some sort this weekend. The biggest stumbling block, oddly enough, will be Germany. It also seems likely to me that any deal that will be reached will be a stop-gap solution with limited or no debt relief for Greece meaning we'll come back to this situation again.

Thanks for reading.

-Michael

Friday, July 3, 2015

Why I Oppose Legalizing Marijuana in Ohio

I feel like I should start this off by saying that I am entirely for the decriminalization of recreational Marijuana. I don't really want to get to in depth about why that is, but I will give my basic rational as simply as possible. There are a couple main things that would be good about decriminization of pot: 1.) It takes power and income away from criminals & 2.) It decreases government spending on law enforcement while also increasing the government's income. Add that to the fact that marijuana's status makes no sense given how alcohol is treated in the U.S. and you my reasoning on why I believe marijuana should be decriminalized.

So why am I opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Ohio? There are two reasons. I believe firmly in Federalism. I also think Responsible Ohio (the organization trying to get the measure on the Ohio ballot) is shady as fuck.

Responsible Ohio has submitted a petition to the Secretary of State to get a measure on the ballot in November to allow for recreational use of marijuana in Ohio. It has roughly twice the number of required signatures, but the Secretary of State's office is going to try their best to throw out as many of those signatures as they can. However, it is likely that it will be successful and the proposed amendment to Ohio's Constitution will be on the ballot.

The issue with Responsible Ohio is that the amendment was drafted by and the campaign was financed by the proposed growers. The amendment would effectively creates a monopoly on the distribution and sale of marijuana in Ohio by only allowing 10 growers to supply the market.

The Ohio legislature is putting a second ballot measure up that would effectively nullify that proposed amendment. The proposed change the legislature is proposing is to prevent 'a special economic interest' (monopolies) from changing Ohio's Constitution with the ease Responsible Ohio is having. Provided both measure were to pass there would be a protracted and complicated legal situation that would need to be resolved.


Bigger than the shady nature of proposed amendment to legalize recreation marijuana in Ohio, is that it attacks an important foundation of our nation's republic. The principle of Federalism is key the nature of American government. Following that near disaster that was the Articles of Confederation, Federalism avoided having only one central government in a place as large and diverse as the 13 states were while at the same time avoiding having the central made impotent by the power of state and local governments. Basically, what it breaks down to is Federal law cannot be trumped by the states. What is not decided by the Federal government is left to be decided by the States. This was reaffirmed by the outcome of the American Civil War.

Marijuana is currently banned by the Federal government and it is not up to my state or any other state (looking at you Washington, Colorado & Oregon) to change that. Alabama cannot refuse to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples anymore than Ohio can legalize pot because federal law dictates otherwise.

Avoiding conflicting laws between the federal & state government is crucial in U.S. government. It is not simply to avoid confusion amongst the public, which is definitely a valid concern. Respecting Federal law is important to protecting civil rights. The Federal government's record is far from perfect on the matter, but maintaining a strong central government with a liberty-protecting constitution is certainly the best hope we have.

Marijuana is certainly not as crucial as say, marriage equality, but it is important for states to not flippantly pass contradictory laws. If a state feels something is unjust about federal law, there is a way to challenge that law in the courts without creating the inflammatory state vs. federal dynamic that is so harmful.

Thanks for reading

-Michael

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Travel Tips?

I have some vacation time coming up and I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I definitely want to take a trip somewhere. However, I don't know where. It doesn't help that I'm pretty clueless when it comes to booking things like flights and hotels. The one time I planned my own trip somewhere I lucked into a ridiculously good deal, but there wasn't much strategy there.

As I've started looking I find myself particularly confused/stressed about booking a hotel. I feel like everything is way too expensive and that there should be some way of looking to make cheaper places stand out. I'm also worried about booking at a bad spot (either a bad neighborhood or far away from public transit.)

Some trips I'm considering:

Plane Trips

Chicago- The drive to Chicago isn't necessarily so terrible. It's a six hour drive from her to get to Chicago and its traffic. However once in Chicago its a bit of nightmare. Also, the public transport in Chicago is pretty robust and the flights are relatively cheap so flying is definitely the preferred way for me.

The issue so far with Chicago is the hotels are hella expensive.

Washington D.C.- I've wanted to go to DC for a long time. As a politics/government/history nerd, it's pretty ridiculous to have made it this far without seeing the seat of our nation. It is too far to drive without wasting a day and the flights are even cheaper than the ones to Chicago. And I don't know about Washington's public transit; I assume its pretty robust from Fallout 3.

Hotels are even more expensive here than Chicago upon a quick search.

Car Trips

Gettysburg, PA- I've done this trip before when I was little. I'd like to go back sometime since I'm sure I'll have a much better appreciation for the cool history.

Cheapish hotels.

Somewhere Pretty, WV, VA, TN- I don't even know.

Day(ish) Trips

Hiking- Can go not very far and maybe overnight it and wander around the wilderness.

Ohio History Stuff- Because why not.

I also could just stay in Columbus, because there is cool shit here that I never do.


All of this to ask you what I should do? Also how should I do it? Any tips (particularly about hotels?)

Thanks for reading

-Michael




Thursday, May 28, 2015

2 Parties 2 Party

Let's talk about why the United States has a 2-party system. If you're American and paid attention in Government class you probably have some idea. There are two big reasons for this. One is the cause and the other emerges from that fact.

The nature of elections in the U.S. is whoever gets the most votes wins everything. 50% plus one is basically the same as winning 100% of the votes. This creates an environment where factions who share some similar ideology join together and form political parties. Since the goal is to get to 50% plus one, you arrive at having two major political parties at any given time.

If one were to take apart the modern Democratic party, there would probably be quite a few individual factions. Everything from Socialists to socially conservative Democrats exist within the party. They form an alliance because each faction individually would have no chance at governing in our system.

Because two parties become powerful they make the laws to aid those parties staying in power. It is easy for a Republican or Democrat to get on the ballot, but it is very challenging for a third party candidate. The two parties also become fundraising and logistical juggernauts, because they hold the power and are sure victors in elections. This makes serious competition from a third party nearly impossible

The U.S. and big and diverse place, so the lack of regional parties is surprising to some. As the nation grew the two main parties grew with it. A big part of that is the power the parties already held at a Federal level (and their role in creating that expansion.) However, I think the main reason is the Presidency.

In the U.S. we elect our head of state in its own elections. Unlike in parliamentary systems where a Prime Minister only has to win his seat*, the American President has to win a National victory. And while it is easy to dismiss the executive power of the Presidency, it is still an incredibly powerful position to hold. The President is a big deal constitutionally, but more importantly there is no position so significant culturally on the earth

A party with no chance of holding the presidency quickly loses relevance nationally. That inevitably leads to that party have no relevance locally, because of Federalism. The Federal Democrats will give scraps to the state Democrats who will give scraps to the local Democrats.

I don't believe there will ever be a time where a third party can hold prominence in the U.S. One of the two main parties today could die and be replaced, but the system will not support a third party for very long.

Thanks for reading

-Michael
*It is more complicated than that, but I wanna keep it simple, because that has little to do with the point.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders & Howard Dean

I feel like such an old person relative to the internet sometimes. Aside from being a virtual senior citizen at 26, I became politically active at 14. This means my optimism and enthusiasm about elections is pretty much dead. I mean, there is some life in me still, but largely that is because politics and elections are interesting games and I would much rather live under the rule of the lesser evil.

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders makes me happy. The far left hasn't had a serious presidential candidate in a long time and his announcement has been meet with surprising enthusiasm and (more importantly) serious fundraising. However, it is probably futile. I am reminded of another politician from Vermont. A man who young people supported in droves, but couldn't get the rest of the party to help him to the nomination. A man who opposed the war in Iraq and advocated for healthcare reforms.

11 years ago, a surprise candidate rose to become the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination as the campaign approached the Iowa Caucuses. Governor Howard Dean from Vermont ran what was at the time a revolutionary campaign for a Democrat. His campaign was really the first ever to use the internet effectively. His fundraising was done largely through small donations from supporters rather than having wealthy financiers making max donations. In this way, Howard Dean amassed as large of a war chest as any Democrat had had for a primary to that point*.

Things didn't go as expected though. In Iowa, John Kerry and John Edwards made huge gains in the polls as the caucus approached. Moderate and traditional Democrats shied away from Howard Dean's progressive message. The results from Iowa had him go from frontrunner to 3rd place in what was a very disappointing performance. If you know of Howard Dean, you know him from his concession speech on the night of the Iowa Caucus in 2004 (or David Chappelle's parody of it.) He lost his damn mind and his chance at the nomination. John Kerry went on to beat Dean in the New Hampshire primary and Dean's campaign imploded.

I see similarities between the rise of Dean and the rise of Sanders. Bernie Sanders is much more liberal than Dean and he is running at a time where socialist ideals do have quite the appeal to young democrats. However, Sanders has the same problem Dean does. An enthusiastic and vocal support base alone doesn't win primaries. The establishment and its machinery are a powerful force that is very hard for an upstart to rival**. I think most importantly, long standing party members tend to go with what's old and familiar as election day draws closer.

Howard Dean isn't the only example of this. People older than me will point to Edmund Muskie who had a similar fate in the primaries of 1972.

With all that said, I will still be supporting Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination in 2016 as I supported Howard Dean in 2004. I will support the candidate I believe has the most similar views to my own despite him not being the most 'electable' and his path to the nomination being difficult.

My worry is that those who support Bernie Sanders, especially who are going through their first competitive primary cycle will not support the Democratic nominee if it is not him. If you support Bernie Sanders and his views know that any Democrat will be much preferable to any Republican. Not voting or voting third party really only helps the Republicans.

Having a candidate who you support strongly lose in the primaries sucks. You have to see someone you admire and a source of hope give up. You must attempt to come to peace with other candidates who you spent so much time opposing.

Do not allow your energy to become nothing no matter how disappointing it may be.

Thanks for reading

-Michael

*Obama's campaign in 2008 perfected the model of fundraising Dean had used in 2004.
**Another thing Obama did in 2008

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Bill in Arizona is Awful, but That May be a Good Sign

The war over gay marriage is pretty much over. The fight for gay rights is almost won. Decision after decision by Federal courts are ruling bans on gay marriage unconstitutional. The precedent has been set. The Supreme Court will eventually be forced to take up the issue, but I don't think they're too eager about it. The lower courts rulings suit them just fine and gives all the more justification for their eventual ruling in favor of marriage equality.

In the face of the progress the last year or so has brought, recently there has been a backlash by certain state government. Notably, Arizona's recently passed a bill that would've allowed for segregation of LGBT individuals. Fortunately, the Governor decided to veto this bill. She probably didn't decide to do so for the noblest reasons, but whatever keeps shit like that away is alright I suppose.

However, I see the fact that legislation passed as a sign of progress. How? Well, this is a counter-attack by the retreating far-right wing. They know that protection of the 14th Amendment for gay people and trans* people will soon be precedent. This counter attack has nothing to do with them winning; Arizona lawmakers undoubtedly knew that the law they passed would never take effect. It would've been stopped with an injunction and then killed by a Federal Court.

No, the move to get extreme anti-gay laws passed is all in an attempt to maintain power and support. These people are a governor standing with the national guard to stop a black student from entering a public school. The point then and the point now is to galvanize support with those who oppose the extension of Civil Rights. While, it isn't a majority who oppose these things, enough people do the keep the politicians they support relevant and maintain they're platform.

It is short-sighted to put yourself on the wrong side of history. Once the battle is done there's always gonna be a black mark on anyone's record whose opposition was so extreme. A segregationist could win some votes and a few states in 1968, but within a few years segregationists were unelectable.

Basically, what I'm saying is that while some state governments are doing horrendous things, they've already lost. The awful bigoted people still exist and will continue to exist, but their power is being taken away.

Also, while legal equity is coming soon, there is still a lot of cultural and institutional prejudice against LGBT people. A court decision won't fix that, but being granted equal protection under the law is a very nice step.

-Michael