The Commonwealth Catastrophe

September 24, 2010

The 2010 Commonwealth Games are under threat in New Delhi as a number of countries threaten to pull out from the games amidst accusations of unfit conditions surrounding the facilities in India.   A handful of athletes from Canada and Britain have already pulled out from the games citing health  and security concerns surrounding the athletes village and various other venues.  With individual pullouts in cycling, swimming, and archery things are not looking good for the opening of the games.  In addition countries like Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand have threatened to pull out from the games all together if health and security issues are not quickly addressed.

To say that the games are under threat is an understatement .  The games scheduled to start on Oct 3 may have to go ahead without some major players if it goes ahead at all.   Should mass pullouts occur it is almost assured that the games themselves will be cancelled.  The fact that the games are already hanging over such a precipice is already a black eye for Indian officials who are working overtime to get facilities up to standards before the games opening.  However there is now a real question as to whether the games should have been awarded to India at all. 

The games where awarded to New Delhi in 2003 and they have had seven years to prepare the way for the start of the games. With all the problems its leading some to question whether or not the games should have been awarded to the Indian city at all.  With the likes of Australia’s Olympic Committee President John Coates saying that the “games shouldn’t have been awarded to Dehli in hindsight” there is little wonder that these Commonwealth Games are being surrounded in controversy before they even begin.

Despite all this it seems likely that the games will go ahead.  Quite simply the Commonwealth nations have expected as much and the Indian government is going full bore to see their concerns addressed.  However if the games do fail there can be little doubt that not only will the controversy increase but questions will be raised as to why Hamilton Ontario was not granted the hosting duties in this 80 year old competition.

If India was incapable of providing for all the necessities of the games given their seven year lead time there seems little doubt that the same problems occurring would have occurred in Canada.  Fiscally Canada is in a much stronger position to host such a games as the recent hosting of the G8 and G20 summits with their billion dollar price tag has demonstrated.  Furthermore Canada has none of the domestic security issues demonstrated recently by the violence seen in New Delhi in recent weeks.  Despite all this, as John Coates has pointed out, hindsight is always 20/20 and while the games perhaps would have been better placed in Canada this year there is no turning back now.  Thankfully the Indian government has been responsive to all the concerns raised by competing nations and with any luck the games will go ahead as scheduled even if it is without a few of its top competitors.

 Tim

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The Gun Registry Blues

September 22, 2010

 It looks like the attempt to repeal the long gun registry in Canada is about to fail thanks to Jack Layton and the NDP.  Unfortunately though the registry is an utterly useless piece of costly legislation the NDP has seen fit to vote down the private members bill that would see the wasteful registry repealed.  There are a number of strong reasons why Canadians should see the bill repealed.
 Registry proponents claim first and foremost that the registry saves lives unfortunately for them that’s simply a baled faced lie.  All the registry accomplishes is to make generally law abiding citizens into criminals and here is why.  Most, if not almost all, gun crimes in Canada are committed with illegally obtained hand guns not long guns.  More importantly these criminals don’t bother to register their firearms with any legal authority and if where being honest with ourselves why on earth would we expect them too. It’s pretty clear that it’s not the hunters and farmers out there that are committing gun crimes, gun crime tends to be a feature of inner city violence and when this violence does occur it’s with a hand gun.
 Moreover the next biggest claim is that the registry prevents violence.  However such a claim could not be further from the truth.  The registry does nothing to deter violent crime.  If someone has registered their firearm how on earth is the simple act of registering going to prevent them from going out and shooting someone.  Quite simply it cannot.  Only after the fact is it possible to determine whether the weapon used was registered or not.  The registry is simply not a proactive deterrent and is incapable of preventing crimes of passion or those gun crimes committed by the mentally unstable or ill.
 Yet proponents of the registry may claim that too be against the registry is to be against front line  police officers who use the registry as a means of determining whether or not there is a potential weapon involved in a particular investigation.  This claim however is simply ridiculous as well.  Front line officers know as well as everyone else does that criminals do not register their firearms and more importantly that you cannot legally obtain a firearm without a license.  Why is the licensing aspect important you might ask? Well the answer is simple if one has bothered to go through the licensing process it can fairly be assumed they did so in order to obtain a weapon.  The fact that there is a separate licensing and registry process demonstrates how utterly wasteful the registry truly is.
 The final argument often thrown out against repealing the registry is that to do so is to encourage violence against women.  If you thought the argument for being against police officers was ridiculous then you must find this argument simply ludicrous.    The obvious question that arises is just how many women have been killed by a long gun in Canada? While I’m sure there has been a fair number I doubt that the number greatly outweighs in any statistical significance the rate at which men are killed by the same type of guns.  The only obvious example of such a shooting is the Montreal Massacre where in a lone gunmen slaughter 14 women who were attending engineering school at the Ecole Polytechnique.  Even though such a tragedy occurred the one thing that people who level this argument never explain is how if there had been a registry at the time how it would have prevented the killings.  As I mentioned earlier the registry seems incapable of preventing any such crime and as such repealing it has little to do with hating women or wishing to endanger their loves or any other such nonsense.
 Simply put the best argument for repealing the registry is that it’s a useless money-pit.  Currently the registry cost Canadian taxpayers millions each year to operate and what do we get for it in return?  All the registry amounts to is a very expensive security blanket for police and the urban majority who seem incapable of distinguishing between a long gun and a hand gun when it comes to gun crime.  Should the registry be repealed? You bet.  Will the bill die on third reading?  Most likely, and you can thank the NDP for that.

Is Canadian TV Crap???

June 27, 2010

                When it comes to Canadian content on television most people simply roll their and eyes and groan.  When asked most people would be hard pressed to name more than handful of Canadian shows and even more hard pressed to say they actually liked them.  Beyond news programming all that easily comes to mind are the few large hits like Degrassi, Corner Gas, The Tudors, to name a few.  However much more easily recognized names are by in large imported American juggernauts like the CSIs, Family Guy, or the Daily Show. 

                With a CRTC mandate that no less than 50% of programming  in primetime hours be dedicated to Canadian produced shows there seems plenty of opportunity for Canadian content to find itself an audience.  Why then are Canadian shows consistently seeming to fail in the minds of the public? The answer is simple most Canadian shows are, to put it bluntly, crap.  Alberta Culture minister Lindsay Blackett said much the same at the Banff World Television Festival early last week, though in slightly more colourful words (see CBC News).  Minister Blackett was quickly set upon from all sides over both his language and the timing of the comments by industry members.  Though he apologized for the timing and language of his comments he refused to retract the content of his statement, and seeming most Canadians would agree with him.

                To be sure Canada has produced its fair share of excellent television and film productions; when it comes to news and sportscasts production values are top notch.  Yet it appears that for the most part when it comes to high quality dramatic productions the examples are few and far between.  What tends to get produced most often suffers from horribly low production values and it tells.  There exists a chronic association in viewers minds that these low production values equates to low quality film and television. 

                The industry points to chronic underfunding as the main culprit for why so few new Canadian shows and films hit the air that are capable of turning into genuine hits.  Yet if it’s a funding problem why are the production companies and networks constantly looking towards government to fill these funding shortfalls.  The very American shows that Canadian productions are up against receive no such similar government backing (though it’s true they benefit just as much from local government tax incentives).  The real question about funding should be laid at the feat of the networks who, rather than go through the expense of developing and marketing their own productions, choose to import ready made American content that already appears on competing American networks that are widely available in most Canadian markets.

                Global TV and CTV are both very adept at this practice all it takes is one look at their scheduled programming to see just how much of their primetime hours are devoted to imported content (Global’s listings here, CTV’s listings here).  Global Sundays feature a glut of Fox animated comedies with the rest of the week fairing little better.  CTV has a bit more robust amount of Canadian programming spurred by the unexpected success of Corner Gas granting many of the principle actors in new series.  However, aside from these new additions to their programming by and large CTV abides by the same importing practices as Global. 

                If Canadian productions are so underfunded it would seem that we have no one to blame but the networks who fear that without imported programming that they would never be able to compete against the American networks.  Their fear creates a circular problem.  Importing shows is expensive but still cheaper than producing new material of their own.  Hence funding for home grown programming is diverted to license imports.  This creates a situation in which less funds are now available to go into the developing home grown shows; giving the vast majority of shows that so called low quality Canadian look.  The end result is that the vast majority of Canadian content on T.V. has to resort to government funding in order to even reach the production stage. 

                Unfortunately  governments shouldn’t be in the business of doing business on any level and most especially in an industry that is legendary for its glut and excess.  It’s very true that Canadian productions know far more about making do with less than their American counter parts but the difference remains that American productions do so on their own initiative.   So how do we get more quality Canadian content on T.V.? The answer is simple, Canadian networks simply have to be willing to take the risk of giving the proper amount of funding that will give new shows a chance.  Moreover they need to have the faith that these new shows or films will be able to find an audience.  There is also one more alternative that would spur on the development of Canadian industry and that would be for the CRTC to tighten up their mandates for Canadian content during prime time hours: though this would be the least desirable of solutions.

                Until networks and producers are willing to pony up the cash required to create a quality product the cycle will continue and perhaps get worse.  One fact has become very apparent the industry in Canada will never be sustainable so long as it is relying on government funding just to exist.  Unless private investment begins to approach even a fraction of the level seen in the U.S. we are all likely to continue to see sub-par Canadian productions continue to fall prey to their more glamorous American counterparts.

                Whether you agree or not with Minister Blacketts comments you must concede this one point;  at least he’s started a conversation that’s been long overdue.  There are real questions to answer about the Canadian film and television industries and its time that we start getting some answers.  Should government be involved in guaranteeing stable funding for the film and television industries?  Do we need further regulation of programming on the various networks?  Would any such regulations be capable of changing overall viewing habits of the average Canadian?  Hopefully with the conversation begun we may find the answers and with them see  people’s opinions of the quality of Canadian television and film rise with them.

 Your Fro with the know,

Tim

            Fidel Castro is up to his old tricks and has once again made himself the center of attention.  The old patriarch of Cuba has attempted to assert his relevance on the world stage by dressing down the actions of Israel in an address distributed over Cuban state run media in an obvious attempt to influence the U.N. Human Rights Council’s pending inquiry.  Castro has been quoted as saying “The hatred felt by the state of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the 1 ½ million men, women and children of that country to the crematoria where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis” and even more inflamingly “It would seem that the Fuehrer’s swastika is today Israel’s banner” (See TVNZ World News).

            By what rights does old Fidel have to make such statements?  His own record on humanitarianism is far from clean.  Fidel Castro has systematically persecuted Gays and Lesbians within his own borders for as long as he has been in power.  Moreover he has not hesitated to make politically motivated arrests of dissidents who have been disillusioned by the failure of communist principles in Cuba and abroad.  The best part of it all is his comments make absolutely no sense in terms of logic.

            Israel may be in the process of some illegal actions in collectively punishing the Palestinians with their blockade of Gaza but even if such is the case what other nation in the world would supply aid to their mortal enemies who have sworn to their destruction?  Yes, conditions in Gaza have grown horrendous; with the lack of every day staples that much of the world has come to take for granted.  Yes, Palestinians are suffering.  Unfortunately it is the Palestinians who have brought such suffering on themselves. 

            The Palestinians elected Hamas, a ‘political’ organization recognized as holding terrorist ideals by all of the western world, in what amounts to a legitimating of their ideals and demonstrating a collective agreement with their policies of violence and hate.  By accepting Hamas as a legal authority over themselves the Palestinians have also become complicit in their governments ideology of hate.  Therefore collective punishment may not be at all unjustified in this case, however much a violation of international law it may be.

            Yet Fidel Castro insists that the Israelis would like nothing better than to commit genocide on the Palestinian people.  Could he even have thought this statement through at all?  Israel has a high-tech and high-powered modern army, while Hamas relies upon a relatively poorly equipped security force that could not hope to go toe to toe with Israel if they decided to come to Gaza guns a blazing.  If the Israelis truly wished to enter into a program of genocidal annihilation all it would take would be a barrage of mortars, artillery, and airstrikes and they would be able to wipe much of Gaza from the face of the earth.  If they chose to do such a thing there is nothing the international community could do to stop them.  By the time anyone would be able to interfere with such a horrendous action the genocide would already be complete.  It seems likely that the Calvary would come riding in to save what they could but primarily their role would end up being a punitive one and they would arrive far too late to change the outcome.

            A case in point is the Rwandan genocide.  With UN peacekeepers already on the ground and in place they still could not prevent the horrors that occurred in Rwanda from happening.  Look to the Sudan, there the genocide against the non Muslim population still continues.  If Israel wanted to follow that path there seems no reason why they already have not; there would be nothing we could do until it was too late if they did.

            So Fidel why now? Why release such damming and illogical statements during these contentious times that, as Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor says, would see revolutionary icon Che Guevara “spinning in his grave” (see again TVNZ World News).  The answer seems obvious; Castro wishes to show that he is still relevant as a world figure despite stepping down as Cuba’s president after suffering health problems in 2006-7.  Or another possibility for a man of his advanced age he is that he is merely becoming senile.  Most likely it is a bit of both. 

            Fidel should be ashamed of himself for making such foolish comments.  Unfortunately for a man of such astounding arrogance shame is unlikely to be a part of his experience.  Fidel Castro should apologize for his comments but we all know that no such apology will be coming forthwith.  On the bright side though, as a man in his late 80’s known for his love of cigars who has also already battled one round of cancer it’s unlikely that the international community will have to put up with his ignorance for much longer.  The downside however is that it’s become quite clear that, as the mouthpiece representing the real nature of Cuba’s position towards Israel, he will be leaving behind him a legacy of intolerance and hate no better than the one he accuses Israel of secretly harbouring.

Your fro with the know,

Tim

Well it has been a few weeks since the intial uproar surrounding Canadian MP’s refusals to open the books to the auditor general of Canada’s.  Sheila Fraser recently proposed a performance audit of MP expense accounts in light of the controversy arising at home in Nova Scotia and across the pond in England.  Unsurprisingly Canadians seem to have quickly forgotten all about the discouraging behaviour demonstrated by the MP’s nearly unanimous refusal to allow the audit to go forward.  Seemingly this is just another case of the people’s general apathy towards our venerable political institutions.  What had begun as surprised outrage has devolved into quizzical anger and now, finally, abject cynicism.

Why, as a concerned public, are we so ready to let this go?  As Roy Green, of the Roy Green Show fame, congenially put it if the Canada revenue agency disputes your income tax the onus is on you to demonstrate the accuracy of your tax return and you do so at your own cost.  Seemingly this is a case of being guilty till you’ve proved your own innocence.  For the MP’s to say no to an audit of public funds to which they are entrusted is tantamount to saying that the government has no right to challenge you on your tax return.  We can all guess as to how well that line of argument would go over with the tax-man…

More importantly than that though is the fact that the MP’s somehow view their expense accounts as private and not subject to any scrutiny.  Yet even in the private sector such accounts of executives are highly audited and ultimately will be subjected to the scrutiny of shareholders.  Well, the voting public are the shareholders of the Canadian government and the MP’s must remember that they are accountable to us. 

Recent scandals in the Nova Scotia Legislature and the British Parliament highlight the need for such accountability.  In Nova Scotia MlA’s where discovered to have made large numbers of inappropriate expenditures on personal and household expenses with former MlA Richard Hurlburt being caught claiming $8,000 for a generator that was installed into his house (see CBC news).  In Great Brittan members of the legislature where caught with such expenses as $3,000 flat screen t.v.’s for their homes and $3,000 expenses on such fanciful services as cleaning the family moat (see Los Angeles Times).

It appears that perhaps such expenses may be justified for their personal necessity (a dirty moat is sure to anger the neighbours…) but should not such expenses be funded exclusively from the same source that everyone else is expected to, our salaries. Members of parliament in Canada already receive generous compensation for the work that they do that also includes one of the strongest and most secure pension plans in the country with each MP making at least $157,731 a year in salary, regardless of attendance or performance, and after six years in parliament a guaranteed $27,213 or $45,355 if the member manages to sit for 10 years (See Yahoo Finance / Canadian Business Online).  Given these numbers it would seem that an MP has no reason to be supplementing their personal lifestyles with a taxpayer funded expense account.

When we put all this in perspective it demonstrates the need for oversight on MP spending practices, or at the very least a review.  If MP’s have done nothing illegitimate than they should have nothing to fear about opening the books, however their stiff necked and defensive response to Sheila Fraser’s request for a simple performance audit (an audit originally intended to review the rules and regulations surrounding the use of MP expense accounts rather than the content of the accounts themselves) is highly suspicious. 

Granted the expense account scandals seen recently throughout various houses of government at all levels it behoves us as tax payers to stay on top of this issue.  Rather than let our cynicism succeed in allowing our apathy to get the better of us we need to demand a true accounting of MP expenses.  Until parliament opens up its books to the auditor general my advice is to treat them like just like we would be in the face of a Canada Revenue Agency audit:  Guilty until Proven Innocent.

Your Fro in the Know

Tim

Well it’s been a while since my last posting, but that’s because I’ve been off on vacation.  Never fear I’m back now and ready to once again bring some interesting food for thought on contemporary issues.

Today’s  topic of discussion is the recent fallout over the Israeli navy’s bungling of an attempted inspection of a foreign “aid” flotilla that was on its way to the Gaza strip.  An astute reader will note that I placed in quotation marks and the reason is that I hesitate to even call the flotilla’s purpose as that of aid.  As readily available footage shows the story Israel is telling the world is nothing but the truth.  Immediately upon boarding the ships Israeli soldiers are attacked showing the “peaceful” protesters to clearly be anything but.  Plenty of links to the video can be found on You Tube such as this one which demonstrates what the peaceful protesters were actually like.

Now I am well aware of the vagaries of international law on Israel’s right to enforce such a blockade as the one in place on Gaza in the international waters in which the incident took place and have no wish to debate these finer points of international law.  Rather, I would like to focus on the media response and the mass condemnation of the Israelis by media and governments worldwide.  Obviously the optics of this situation is rather grim for Israel.  Regardless of whether or not the soldiers where provoked it’s tough to imagine that Israel could have thought that its actions would play out well on the world stage. 

From a media relations viewpoint the Israeli security forces probably never should have been there in the first place, but from the perspective of security it seems that they navy had little choice but to act.  The flotilla was organized with the specific purpose of running the Israeli blockade and had made no bones about it.   The incident was driven to its ugly conclusion by confrontational internationals whose real motivation for being there seems to be to provoke confrontation. Let’s keep in mind that all but one ship complied with the Israeli navy’s demands to allow them to inspect the ships.

The problem as I see it is just how fast the calls for condemnation of Israel came out.  Before Israel could even begin to defend itself stellar humanitarian nations such as Turkey where already out for blood.  If that isn’t a case of the pot calling the kettle black I don’t know what is… But setting that aside for now it is amazing that people, and media people especially, have done so little investigative legwork of their own on this issue. One look at the videos available shows that condemning Israel’s use of force in this case is simple naivety.  As Steve Janke wrote over on his excellent blog Angry in the Great White North “After watching that video, I have to ask why so few of the violent protesters were hurt and killed.  These are soldiers, not civilian police officers, yet in most cities, coming at a police officer swinging a metal pipe earns you a fatal body shot.  So why would these soldiers have shown more restraint than civilian police officers?”  Couldn’t have said it better myself so I won’t.

Signing off:

Your Fro with the Know.

Tim

The Story so Far:

                Today’s world is energy obsessed.  Part and parcel with our obsession is the continual chase to secure new sources of fuel for an ever thirsty world.  Recently one such attempt has ended in environmental catastrophe. We can all guess as to what I’m talking about; the failure of BP’s (British Petroleum) off-shore oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon. 

                The failure of the Deepwater Horizon has lead to the spilling of massive amounts of oil.  Though not the biggest slick in history, or even of its kind, if the spill is not soon brought under control it could quickly grow into one of the largest environmental disasters in history.  Currently the Deepwater Horizon has an estimated spill rate of 210,000 gallons per day.  This means that during the initial two weeks of this spill alone, approximately 2.9 million gallons of oil have already found their way into the Gulf of Mexico.

                As judged from a historical perspective the Deepwater Horizon spill is still far from the largest.  As Time Magazine reports the largest spill in world history is the result of a similar deep water drilling accident.  Ixtoc I spilled a staggering 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 1979.   By way of comparison what is perhaps the most publicised spill in North America, The Exxon Valdez spilled only a paltry 10.9 million gallons of oil.

                Given BP’s timeline on being able to drill a relief well (with current estimates of 3 months) it would seem inevitable that the Deepwater Horizon spill will soon come to pass the numbers put out by the Exxon Valdez.  However efforts to contain the spill have been meeting with some limited success.  CBC News is reporting the successful installation of a riser system, which is designed to divert much of the spewing oil into a pipe for direct transport to the surface.  This measure has been a moderate success diverting fully 42,000 gallons of oil to barges on the surface, reducing the spill-rate to an estimated 168,000 gallons of oil per day.

                Unfortunately any success that has been made will be overshadowed by the extensive environmental damage that the spill is already beginning to bring into effect. The E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) of the U.S. reports that The Exxon Valdez spill affected over 700 miles of Alaskan shoreline and was directly responsible for the deaths of at least 36,000 migratory birds as well as decimating seal breeding habitats.  Though the Exxon Valdez spill was admittedly much larger than the Deepwater Horizon spill there is currently nothing to suggest that this modern spill will not quickly grow to eclipse the former in both magnitude and in the attendant environmental devastation.

                Given the Deepwater Horizon’s spill still has the capacity for its total size to continue growing in scope and the spills location near the, now notorious, loop-current, the amount of U.S. coastline and coastal waters in danger of being contaminated is unprecedented.  Efforts to contain and clean up the spill once the tap has finally been shut off will be both labour intensive and expensive and as such it is unsurprising that people are already demanding that BP get out its chequebook.  In the attempt to cut off the very obvious negative publicity that an environmental disaster such as this is bound to create amongst a now all to environmentally aware public BP has accepted to foot the bill for the all its legal liabilities relating to the fall out of cleanup.    

Ah Yes… The Plus Side:

                Though we are today presented with a horrendous environmental accident the spill itself may represent a chance for the environmental movement to reset itself and get back to its core priority of eliminating pollution.  Until quite recently environmentalists the world over have had their attentions held by the passing fad of climate change.  With the recent allegations surrounding fraud within the global climate-change science community (the scandal, so predictably, monikered as climategate) fresh on many people’s minds, maybe it’s time for the environmental movement to get firmly back to its roots.

                At heart the environmental movement once stood for the reduction and hopeful elimination of pollution.  We have forgotten in all the worries spent about carbon emissions that CO2 is not in itself inherently dangerous nor is it a pollutant; unfortunately the chemical dispersants being used to clean up the very spill that is polluting the Gulf Coast most certainly are.  This spill merely stands in highlight as the most current and publicized of many such chemical spills or hazards to the environment. Be it the thoroughly polluted waters of the Yangtze River in China to the Great Lakes here closer to home industrial contamination of the environment remains the most pressing problem facing the world in the near future.  Climates will change, and no matter the inconvenience such change brings humans will be capable of adapting to it.  However one thing humans can handle no more readily than any other species is a polluted and contaminated environment.

                If the environmental movement is truly serious about tackling threats to the environment then there could be no better new poster child for them than the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  It is pollution that is the number one thing that industry must come to terms with and begin to properly tackle and it’s on that front that the environmentalists must again move their considerable media muscle.  If the movement goes in this direction it is possible that the real problems facing our environment may come to be tackled and that means securing clean water, land, and air for future generations.

Sources:

Time Magazine, May 17th 2010 “The Big Spill”- Bryan Walsh

CBC News,http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/05/17/gulf-of-mexico-0517.html

E.P.A. http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/valdez/02.htm

                 It seems that with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and Euro-zone leaders coming to an agreement on the bailout package, for financially troubled Greece, that perhaps the economic woes that plague Europe may finally be coming under control.  The Associated Press is reporting that the package worth approximately $100 billion (US) will be capable of providing Greece with a 2 year reprieve, with $25.7 billion of the funds becoming immediately accessible with a total of an estimated $51.5 billion in loans to be made available this year.

                The release of the funds is not however without strings attached.  Part and parcel to the agreement is that Greece enact record-setting austerity measures in order to control their government deficit and debt.  The Austerity measures are truly unprecedented with the New York Times Reporting that the budgetary cuts amount to $38 billion over the next two years.  The cuts are coming via a roll back on public sector wages and tighter retirement ages, while an increase in taxes is expected to grant some breathing room to government operating budgets.

                These cuts are already having a wide ranging social and economic impact in Greece.  As the whole-sale rioting across the country in recent days has been sure to demonstrate, the people of Greece are not happy with the solution that has been enacted to solve the crisis, and in some sense perhaps rightly so.  However it was the Greek populace who chose their own leadership, who then in turn dug this hole.  Though the Greek people may be left holding the bag in this case they must admit to some responsibility for the situation.

Greece has fallen into the uniquely undesirable economic situation of having one of the largest public sectors in the first world.  Best estimates as to the actual size of the public sector in Greece vary; with numbers ranging from 30-40% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) it is hard to pin an accurate number down.  Even if we take the IMF’s more conservative projection of 30% that still leaves the Greek government accounting for a huge proportion of the country’s output. In real world numbers Yahoo! News is reporting that the public sector accounts for as much as 1/3 of all employable workers.  From an estimated total workforce of 5 million that’s a staggering 1.7 million workers!  In comparison with other first world nations this number is exceptionally high.  Canada’s public sector only accounts for 20% of the workforce, while leading economies like the U.S., Germany, and Japan have public sectors that operate in the 10% range.

The reason for the Greek populace’s downright aggression over the austerity measures should be readily clear.  Thanks to a ballooning public sector the Greek government is now the key economic driver in the country.  Unfortunately unlike a private sector corporation, that is forced to live within its means or perish, public sector entities like governments have gotten away with years of deficit spending practices amidst continual growth and expansion thanks to the guaranteed market that is the taxpayer. 

Let’s put all of this into perspective. Greece who’s sovereign debt has grown significantly in the past two years, with the debt steadily growing from 63.8% of GDP in 2008 to 72.3% in 2009, has been unable to control public sector spending.  However don’t let these percentage indicators deceive you.  It’s necessary that we keep in mind that the Greek GDP for 2009 was $341 billion making the government debt $246.5 billion for last year alone.  To make matters all the worse for Greece is the fact that the government operating budget was measured at only $108.7 billion in revenues while they carried $145.2 billion in expenditures for 2009; a deficit of $36.5 billion.

Given that the Greek government has committed to an average of $19 billion in spending cuts over the next two years that should place them back onto the plus side of the books and bring an end to deficit spending.  However meeting such targets may provide a very real problem for the Greek people.  The necessary cuts to the public services will result in jobs lost; jobs for which there are no immediate private sector replacement anywhere on the horizon.  A reduction in the Greek public sector to even Canada like levels, moving from 30% to 20%, may not be a realistic target to meet within the next two years.  Greece already has an unemployment level of 9% which is sure to see a drastic increase from any attempts to reduce the size of government.  However as the IMF and E.U. have made clear such attempts will have to be made. 

                The question on everybody’s minds is can the Greek people succeed at, what is admittedly, such a complex and delicate task?  The people of Greece are in a tough predicament and with the globalization of today’s markets there is little for the world to do but attempt to prop them up.  That being said, ultimately, it will be up to the people of Greece who will set the course for their futures.  The answer will reveal itself in the coming months. Until then the world has reluctantly decided to pitch in and provide Greece with a short-term bailout, but it will all amount to nothing if the Greek government cannot bring its house in order.

Your host, the Fro with the Know:

Tim

*note on the edit* Decided to add my sourcing on the numbers for this article as I did so in my follow-up. 

GDP numbers unless otherwise quoted are all courtesy of the CIA World Factbook which may be found online here: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

The numbers in the case of the public services in each country come from their respective statistics/census bureau

Well after many moons absence it seems I now have the time and inclination to get back to this personal pet project of mine; blogging.  The site is now live but you can still expect some tinkering with the look and layout over the next little while well things settle in.  The obvious question for a first time visitor to the site is “just what can I expect from SSOG“?  Well the answer is anything and everything, from art and design, science, to geopolitics.  If it happens to catch my fancy you can expect that I’ll be likely to comment about it.  First on deck is an article on the Greek financial crisis (it’s currently in the process of being fully researched and fact checked but you can expect to see it soon).  Untill that post hits im happy that you dropped on by to share in my little piece of the web.

Your host, the Fro with the Know:

Tim