Defensor liberalismi

Ephemeris quotidiana cogitationum mearum in politicis et legibus et oeconomicis

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Canadian Conservatism's School of Dirty Tricks?

This is an important story which urgently requires further investigation by the national news media. One of the key arguments advanced by pundits who would persuade us that the robo-calls conspiracy must have been the work of a handful of low-level staffers is that the upper echelons of the Conservative Party, if only for the sake of plausible deniability, would never have orchestrated such a perilous strategy. However, we should not overlook the role of the conservative movement upon which the edifice of the CPC is founded.

By fostering a culture of criminality through workshops which instruct Conservative operatives in the techniques of voter suppression, it becomes unnecessary for the leadership of the Conservative Party to issue explicit orders. It is simply understood that methods which are blatantly unethical and, as we now know, criminal, are integral to the CPC’s playbook and to be deployed without first obtaining unambiguous - and incriminating - orders from superiors. All are implicated, so no one bears personal responsibility.

As the depth and breadth of this cancer become more evident, the necessity of a judicial inquiry becomes acute. It is only by exposing the full extent of a comprehensive effort to corrupt our electoral system that we can restore its integrity and regain the trust of a victimized electorate.


Filed under news politics cdnpoli robocalls roboCon Manning Centre CPC Conservative Party Harper voter suppression electoral fraud Fryer Canada Canadian Politics

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Six Things You Must Believe If You Believe Mr. Sona is "Rogue Conservative"

If you believe that a low-level twenty-three year-old staffer of limited experience, and unknown to the ranks of Ottawa’s professional political operatives, singlehandedly orchestrated the robocall - or, perhaps more accurately roboCon - voter-suppression campaign, you must believe the following:

(1) he somehow obtained voter intention lists from the Liberals and possibly also from the NDP (which is alleging, though the charges remain unverified, that its supporters in nine additional ridings were targeted); and that he did this not by stealing one list from a single LPC or NDP campaign office - which might be plausible - but that he procured the lists for *eighteen* different ridings, and perhaps as many as *twenty-seven*

(2) he independently secured considerable funding for the operation (whatever adjective may be used to describe the pay of junior staffers, “generous” is not amongst them)

(3) his precocious mastery of the arcane minutiae of financial regulations is such that the funding was obtained and the payments to all implicated parties were made without, apparently, leaving any paper trail

(4) he hired two different female voice actors - one Anglophone, one Francophone - to record the messages, and set up two different recording sessions

(5) on his own initiative, he sought out and retained the services of Racknine to place fraudulent robocalls to ridings where he was in no way involved with the local CPC campaign

(6) and that Mini-Machiavelli did all these things while concurrently working full-time for a Conservative MP without anyone ever noticing anything suspicious.

If you believe all these things to be true, perhaps I could also interest you in a promising real estate transaction involving some lovely swampland in Florida.



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The Conservatives' Denigrating Indifference to our Honoured Dead.

Ave Stephane Caesar, Imperator gloriose exercitus Canadensis!  Ave! Ave! Ave Caesar! 

If the purpose of this ceremony is truly to honour the service and sacrifice of the Canadian Forces - and I, for one, am willing and proud to honour our troops - why have we not commemorated with equal pomp the 158 Canadians who were killed in Afghanistan?  Why do we celebrate a victory cheaply won without the loss of Canadian lives in the ornate chamber of the Senate, but we refuse to build a monument to those who gave their lives fighting in a messy and protracted counterinsurgency campaign which has not yielded, and cannot yield, a clear “victory”?  This ceremony isn’t an act of patriotism.  To the contrary, it is a debasement of true patriotism - chest-thumping populism dressed up as sacred solemnity for partisan political advantage.  The silence of 158 graves condemns the Harper Conservatives for simultaneously exploiting and ignoring those who fought, bled, suffered, and died for Canada. 

These are men without honour, panderers without patriotism, and would-be demagogues without conscience.  They are, simply put, the party of Stephen Harper.

     -     SMK


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Orwell comes to Ottawa

To some, this may appear to be a merely technical or procedural issue - it isn’t.  This is, to the contrary, a scandal of immense importance.  Hansard is the official record of Parliament.  It is frequently cited by our courts in their judgments in order to ascertain the legislator’s intent when interpreting statutory provisions.  It is extensively consulted by historians and political scientists.  It is the authoritative record of every word spoken in Parliament, of every motion moved, of every law debated.  The integrity of Hansard must be unimpeachable. 

Minister Clement does not deny that Hansard has been falsified - he only denies that he is responsible.  Yet, as the article notes, only a minister or his staff may request a revision.  If our official and definitive record of parliamentary proceedings can be falsified without consequence, then the usual, and specious, references to Orwell which are levelled against the government of the day cease to be hyperbolic - they are a statement of the truth, and the truth is now subject to ministerial fiat.    


     -     SMK


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Partisanship and the Perversion of Faith

This story enraged me - not simply upset me - but profoundly and intensely enraged me as a Canadian citizen, as a liberal (lower case “l”), and as a lifelong practising Roman Catholic.  Not only is it outrageous and execrable for one MP, acting in his capacity as an elected official, to denigrate the religious faith of another MP, when he is acting in his capacity as a public official; it is quite simply un-Canadian.  I want to reiterate and emphasize that point:  Del Mastro’s defamatory accusations are utterly UN-CANADIAN.  We do not - WE DO NOT! - question, denigrate, or condemn the religious faith of our elected representatives.  We do not allow parliamentarians of a secular state to pompously appoint themselves to the role of doctrinal inquisitor and enforcer.  We do not elect our parliamentarians to abuse their office, which they hold at the pleasure of an electorate of many faiths and none at all, as a pulpit from which to cynically expound on matters of theological purity in the shameful pursuit of partisan political advantage.


Nor can I abide Del Mastro’s hypocrisy:  Catholic social doctrine demands that we help the poorest and most vulnerable in our society; what have the Harper Conservatives done to help the 610,000 Canadian children living in poverty?  NOTHING.  What have the Harper Conservatives done to help the 900,000 Canadians dependent upon food banks?  NOTHING.  What have the Harper Conservatives done to provide affordable housing to the 300,000 Canadians who are homeless?  NOTHING.  Catholic social doctrine calls upon us to be “good stewards” of the environment; what have the Harper Conservatives done to limit and reduce Canada’s every rising emissions of greenhouse gases?  NOTHING.  Worse still, your government, Mr. Del Mastro, has moved heaven and earth to export toxic asbestos which will likely poison and kill thousands of Indian workers who lack the legislative and regulatory protections enjoyed by Canadians.  Where, sir, is your love of neighbour?


And since you insist on making the grave and self-serving theological error that the totality of Catholic doctrine is concerned with reproductive ethics, let me ask if your government will criminalize abortion which is clearly condemned by the Church?  Of course not; indeed, Harper has explicitly pledged not to even permit a vote on the issue.  Does your government intend to redefine marriage as being between “one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”?  No, Harper has again pledged not to reopen the question.  And so I would like to know, as you wallow in your un-Canadian sanctimonious slander, from what lofty theological perch you presume to pass judgment on Mr. Trudeau’s faith? 

Thus do I admonish you, Mr. Del Mastro, to “[s]top judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.  Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” *


     -  SMK


* Matthew  7:1-6 


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The WSJ Tries to Defame OWS (and fails)

No surprise here, but the WSJ attempts to defame the OWS movement (most notably with the incendiary claim that “nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda”).  Yes, the “evidence” doesn’t bear a moment’s rational scrutiny, but I would still like to make a couple of points.

First, reputable pollsters - especially when suggesting that a large minority of a group would favour engaging in criminal acts - will publish their questions to justify the conclusions drawn from them.  There is a world of difference between asking “Would you ever use violence to force the democratically elected government of the United States to meet your demands” (which is categorically wrong), and asking “Is it ever right to use violence for political purposes?”, without adding any ethical or legal qualifications to that statement (the latter statement could, of course, encompass the “rebels” - now credentialed government - of Libya).  Many members of the Tea Party have evoked a Lockean right of rebellion against a “totalitarian government” - never mind that they are actually referring to their own democratically elected government - yet somehow that controversial assertion has never seemed to perturb the WSJ. 

Second, by the author’s own admission, this is not a representative sample nor does the author’s colleague use a methodology which would be considered reliable by any reputable pollster.  Therefore, 31% of 200 people chosen not on the basis of a proven methodology, but rather because they happened to be within easy walking distance of the questioner’s office is … just 62 people and *nothing more*.   If 62 members of an unrepresentative sample of the US or Canadian armed forces stated they approved of using torture to obtain life-saving information, could one then claim that 31% of soldiers (i.e. several hundred thousand men and women) advocate using torture?  This isn’t a “systemic random sample” - the op-ed inadvertently discloses comprehensive methodological failures which render the data, such as they are, meaningless*.          

To assert that 31% of members in a movement which comprises uncounted thousands in dozens - perhaps hundreds - of towns and cities would use criminal violence in consequence of what 62 people in an unrepresentative sample said in response to a question which has not been made public is unreasonable to the point of absurdity.  This isn’t “evidence” of anything.  This “poll” is barely one step removed from the author declaring “I know a guy”. 

*  To pose the most elementary of methodological questions:  on what basis does the author claim that his putative data are predicated upon a representative “systemic random sample”?  If his colleague interviewed a disproportionately large number of protesters in that area of the park occupied by self-declared anarchists that salient fact just might skew the results.  Moreover, the “poll” was conducted over the course of two days, yet the park’s population is transient and fluid with protesters spending some nights in the park and others as guests in the homes of supporters - so how did the questioner control for potential changes in the composition of the pool of respondents between October 10th and 11th?  Reputable pollsters generally include links to detailed analyses of their polls which explain the methodology employed.    

-  SMK

Update:  Yep, the poll was indeed distorted to defame OWS.  The lesson?  Never, ever, ever trust the WSJ.  

Addendum:  Well, perhaps the above is too harsh, but I certainly think this underlines the extent of the WSJ’s bias.    


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F*ck it.  Just f*cking shoot me now, the stupidity is reaching epidemic proportions. 

Futile though it may be, let us pause for a moment and do that which is consummately foreign to Conservatives:  think.  How would a potential offender prevent you from displaying a Canadian flag on your person or on your property?  There are four possibilities:  verbal threats, physical intimidation, assault, or theft.  Those four acts are all, at present, offences under the Criminal Code of Canada.  Wow, what a surprise such conduct would be criminalized in what I had been led to believe was a civilized society.  So, if some unpatriotic malefactor dares to dampen your flag unfurling fervour through verbal threats, physical intimidation, assault, or theft you can press charges. 

If such a law is superfluous, why is it being proposed?  I have had a large Canadian flag prominently displayed in my apartment for more than a decade, and I have frequently displayed the flag on my person in the form of pins, a necktie, and a jacket with its imprint on numerous occasions in numerous locations (including some areas of Québec not known for their love of Canadiana) and *no one has ever* interfered with my right to freedom of expression.  I’m also a fairly avid consumer of news, and unless I’ve missed a flood of stories about marauding maple leaf mauling miscreants on the prowl denying Canadians the peaceful enjoyment of their patriotism, I cannot fathom why this should be a pressing issue. 

In a free society, we don’t criminalize acts - still less do we create redundant offences - in the furtherance of a partisan political narrative.  And note that the offence only applies “provided that (a) the flag is displayed in a manner befitting this national symbol; (b) the display is not for an improper purpose or use; (c) the flag is not subjected to desecration.”  Thus, I suspect, in practice those displaying the flag during protests against certain actions or policies of the police, the armed forces, or the government would not have their right to patriotic expression protected as such lawful protests would constitute “an improper purpose or use” (never mind that anyone who knows anything of statutory drafting would object to the vagueness of that inane phrase, or, indeed, to the term “desecration” which is dangerously subjective). 

Living in Harperland is akin to living through One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest without the humour or pathos, and with the lobotomy being performed in increments. 


     -     SMK


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Reviews of Suskind’s “Confidence Men”

A brief review in the Financial Times and an excellent, and characteristically thorough and incisive, review from Brad DeLong at Huffington Post.  Bottom line?  Read, enjoy it, take it with several grains of salt, and remember that policy and process at ineluctably intertwined.  You may have a brilliant policy, but if you can’t navigate through the bureaucratic and legislative morass, you’re screwed. 

     -     SMK


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David Brooks's Thinking Fallacy

This column exemplifies why I have progressed from regarding Mr. Brooks’s writings as annoying, to finding them unpalatable, to thoroughly, intensely, and vehemently detesting his columns. 


There is no substantive economic argument here, just a clutch of vacuously beguiling metaphors and a useless, prolonged discussion of the “planning fallacy” – yet another of his beloved pop psychology concepts.  He wilfully ignores the voluminous evidence indicating that the ARRA did much to stimulate the US economy; and he ignores the projections from a former McCain economic advisor showing that the AJA would give a significant boost to GDP and job creation.  Apparently, Mr. Brooks is eager to avoid the “thinking fallacy”. 


As for the dangers of “planning”, I would point out that in defiance of the predictions of many informed observers, the US built not one, but two different types of atomic bombs in under five years, and the Allies designed, “planned”, constructed, and successfully deployed two artificial harbours during the landings in Normandy.  How were these extraordinary feats of “planning” achieved?  The Allies believed they were confronting an emergency of supreme importance and committed the resources and marshalled the political will and bureaucratic resolve necessary.  Alas, fifty million unemployed men and women in the OECD – to say nothing of appalling levels of youth unemployment, which will have deleterious ramifications for decades to come – do not amount to an emergency – truly the greatest of today’s economic fallacies. 


In closing, I would observe that “pav[ing] roads and hir[ing] teachers” teachers, of which Mr. Brooks writes approvingly, are precisely the type stimulus advocated by Keynesians.  If a little is laudable, then why not a lot?  Might a government-led end to The Lesser Depression have the dreaded consequence of ending the conservative and neo-liberal fallacy of governmental impotence before the forces of the market?  Regulations, and healthcare, and full unemployment!   Oh, my! 


-          SMK


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I was listening to this superb song as I read about the user fees Mayor Rob Ford is proposing to introduce in Toronto, and was in turn reminded of the same type of fees proposed by President of the Treasury Board, Tony “Slush fund” Clement.  In both the recent municipal and federal elections, self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives assured voters that they knew how and where to “cut the fat” (or gravy, as the case may be), without raising taxes.  Of course, once in office, not only do they initiate reckless and destructive cuts, but they also implement user fees which are indeed a form of taxation and of which no mention was made during the campaign. 


This is, as we are endlessly reminded, an “age of austerity” and sacrifices will have to be made in order to rehabilitate the finances of all levels of government.  However, what I object to is not a plan for fiscal consolidation (though I do object to the particulars), but that these dishonourable gentlemen, by misleading the public during the election when they knew – or, if they were minimally competent, should have known- their campaign promises were fraudulent, prevented informed public debate as to the measures which would be required to “balance the books” and in so doing betrayed the trust of citizens and did violence to our democracy.  Mr. Ford would have voters believe that, somehow, things are far worse than when he was elected, but that is patent nonsense:  there has been no materially adverse change in the budgetary situation of either Toronto or the federal government since either administration was elected.  They lied.  They knew it. 


Thus do I dedicate this fabulous song to the so-called “Harper Government” and the Ford administration; truly, the lyrics perfectly capture my sentiments. 


-          SMK


Filed under news politics rob ford tony clement moneygrabber

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In the latest debate amongst contenders for the GOP presidential nomination there was a near unanimous assault upon the Federal Reserve and promises, if elected, to radically revise both the mechanisms of congressional oversight and the central bank’s mandate so that it is charged solely with preserving the “integrity” of the US dollar (however defined).  These impetuous and uninformed demands for reform lead me to wonder whether Milton Friedman, by default and to his own anguished astonishment, would vote for the Democrats were he alive today? 


Free market fundamentalist and libertarian though he may have been, if you read what Friedman wrote about The Great Depression, you will quickly realize that when confronted by the spectre of deflation, he favoured an aggressively expansionary and interventionist monetary policy; indeed, he would have strenuously argued against the hard money/gold standard fanatics who now seem to populate the ranks of Republican activists.  As for the “integrity” of the US dollar, while it is true that Friedman was an inflation hawk, he became less doctrinaire near the end of his life as – take note Republicans – he actually permitted himself to be persuaded by empirical evidence and grudgingly conceded in a famous interview published by the Financial Times in June, 2003, that “[t]he use of quantity of money as a target has not been a success. I’m not sure that I would as of today push it as hard as I once did.” 


I am no Friedmonite, to say the least, but I would point out that one of the virtues of an expansionary monetary policy in the eyes of a libertarian – in preference to fiscal stimulus – is that it requires no expansion of government and obviates raising taxes in future to pay for the stimulus.  To implement both austerity and a “hard money” policy is to ensure a prolonged deflationary slump, and I very much doubt, both for reasons of policy and considerations of professional reputation, that Dr. Friedman would have associated himself with people hell-bent to drive America, and perhaps the global economy, into a Second Great Depression.


To be registered for the 2012 elections as Friedman, M.  (D)


-          SMK 


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The parallel may be a false one – indeed, I earnestly hope it is – but the talk coming out of Berlin is ominously familiar.  Indeed, the rhetoric in German newspapers about the need to draw a line in the sand, demonstrate that the bailouts will not be endless, and the confidence among government analysts that contagion can and will be contained are eerily reminiscent of the cries of “moral hazard” and evocations of “bailout fatigue” to be heard in NYC and Washington in the summer of 2008. 


It was necessary that Lehman either be merged with another firm or be wound down, just as it is necessary that Greece impose losses on its bondholders – what matters now, as then, are timing and the manner in which such losses will be incurred.  A “hard default” strikes me as the worst possible option and apt to induce panic and contagion, as did the sudden bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.  In both cases, conditional and temporary financing should have been extended until a structured and orderly default/bankruptcy had been arranged.  The EFSF should, of course, have served that purpose, and the leaders of Germany, France, and the ECB deserve to be excoriated for their failure to confront the ineluctable truth and act promptly and wisely to avert disaster.  Nonetheless, it is not too late to enact bridge financing for Greece – but, I fear, that will not occur. 


I am not a superstitious man, yet I cannot help but note that September 15th is nearly upon us …


-           SMK 


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A pop culture metaphor for the Eurozone which has become a seemingly omnipresent internet meme of late likens the Euro to the “Hotel California” described in The Eagles’ eponymous song:  “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”.  Well, several member states may be about to leave, and repudiate the bill on their way out. 


What is particularly galling is that the EFSF bought the Eurozone (read Germany and France) time to prepare a coordinated plan for debt restructuring in the “periphery” coupled with the recapitalization of their banks.  In the IMF under DSK, they had a willing partner.  Yet, the ECB under Trichet would not hear (!) of structured defaults, and the Germans, in particular, would not countenance the blow to their banks, even though everyone knew that the “bailouts” were in large part being used to channel liquidity to the banks holding sovereign debt so that they would not have to write down those bonds.  The malign beauty, of course, of the EFSF and the bailouts is that rather than the fiscal burden being borne almost entirely by the French and Germans via capital injections, they persuaded the other fifteen members of the Eurozone and the IMF to contribute billions of Euros.  Now, alas, we are looking at a “hard default”, the recapitalization of imperilled banks, and the threat (dare I say near certainty?) of contagion – and heaven knows what the ramifications will be for the global financial system.


If, as Churchill said, the US can be relied upon to do the right thing after having exhausted all the alternatives, I am increasingly coming to the view that the Europeans can be relied upon to do the dumbest thing after having exhausted all reasonable alternatives and to do it in the dumbest possible way.


-          SMK 


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My 9/11 memory

It was my first week at university and, having been up late the night before and not having class until that afternoon, I slept in.  When my radio alarm sounded around 9:30am, I noticed, as my mind gradually focused, that rather than the expected music, the station was transmitting what sounded like live reports from a war zone. 


Bizarrely, my mind reached back to something I had learned about the 1930s and I recalled Orson Welles’s infamous radio drama The War of the Worlds which had been presented as a pseudo news bulletin, but which had inadvertently convinced thousands that aliens were actually invading the Earth.  I thought that I must be listening to some radio play from the 1930s or 1940s; it seemed to be the only rational explanation.  This was North America.  Those things didn’t happen here.  They just didn’t.  However, it quickly became clear as I listened to the reports that the unfathomable scenes being described were not being read from a script.  I turned off the radio, walked over to the television in my apartment, and turned it on.  The images were indelible, the commentary panicked, and the conclusion terrifying:  it had happened here. 


Pundits and analysts endlessly debate whether “everything changed that day”.  As is true of most questions, the answer will depend on which events, facts, and trends one chooses to emphasize and, conversely, which to minimize.  What did change that day was the advent of an interminable and pervasive sense of insecurity.  Irrespective of whether you believe that perceived insecurity is real or exaggerated, people no longer asked if it could happen here, because they knew it can happen here - these things do happen in North America.


Remember the fallen:


-            SMK    

Filed under 9/11 NEWS SEPTEMBER 11

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FOOLS AND MADMEN ALERT! : Our April, 1918, Moment.

What is most distressing about the current state of the global economy – particularly in developed nations – isn’t the magnitude of the challenges confronting policymakers – though they are redoubtable – but the “sense of resignation” which seems to imbue their discussions. 


The Americans, and Mme. Lagarde of the IMF, have to their great credit pushed for a halt to fiscal consolidation in countries which are still able to borrow at enviable rates (i.e. Germany, the UK, and even Canada), and to pursue a pro-growth agenda in order to stabilize the global economy, prevent a “double dip” recession, and avert the economic stagnation which all but ensures that austerity will fail as it induces economic contraction, leading to more austerity, and hence more contraction, until the degree of austerity required to stabilize public finance becomes politically intolerable and serial sovereign defaults ensue.  Those defaults would, in turn, precipitate a solvency crisis for many European banks, which is why Mme. Largarde has called for compulsory capital injections. 


Alas, the Americans have not prevailed, and Mme. Lagarde has been forced, under pressure from the EU, to retreat from her admirably bold and prudently interventionist position.  Thus we are left with the piffle of the communiqué issued by G7 finance ministers:  there is to be no coordinated action; no decisive interventions to protect the European banking system or the international financial system; no credible multinational plan to revive and sustain growth as there was in 2009. 


Far from a reflection of policymakers’ sense of “resignation”, this is an act of capitulation – capitulation to emotional exhaustion, capitulation to intellectual exhaustion, and, above all, capitulation to political exhaustion.  As Professor Eichengreen explains, there are several courses of action – both fiscally and political feasible – which could achieve the short-term stability needed to enact the medium and long-term reforms necessary to preserve the Euro and rebalance the global economy.  Might domestic political dysfunction trump the imperatives of public policy?  Quite possibly.  Might these measures prove to be unequal to the immensity of the looming crisis?  Again, that is quite possible.  However, surely our leaders owe it to their citizens whose welfare is in acute jeopardy to fight, fight, fight to stave off catastrophe! 


On April 12, 1918, as the German army, having broken through the allied lines, advanced towards Paris, towards the sea, and towards victory, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), issued a now famous order:  Every position must be held to the last man; there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.  You may say to me that I am being melodramatic, at best, absurdly alarmist, at worst.  I say to you that you underestimate the scope of the perils before us.  Despite the EU’s protestations to the contrary, their banks are dangerously exposed to dubious sovereign debt; continental growth is far too anemic to support the austerity required to avert default; the American economy is one knife’s edge (and may already be in recession); and so-called emerging markets cannot save us.  In economic terms, this is a 1918 moment.  Of Haig’s order I would say to you that in its terse, urgent prose are the combative and resolute spirit which must inform every act and every decision of our leaders.  There are options.  There is hope.  We can heal our economies and help our citizens – now! 


Calamity is a choice, so too is its rejection.  There must be no retirement.  There must be no resignation. 


-            SMK

Filed under NEWS POLITICS ECONOMICS DOUGLAS HAIG HAIG EURO Eurozone EU European Central Bank eichengreen krugman BANK financial times