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The International Commentator

Let's Talk International Relations

When Will We Learn?

While many Americans are determined to protect their Second Amendment rights, I believe that the time has definitely come to re-evaluate America’s stance on gun control. On this specific issue, I also believe we need to look at the cases of other nations in the international community and review the enactment of gun control laws, and how the have been successful. For this post in particular I feel that the development of gun control laws in Australia should provide a compelling argument to finally enact similar laws in the United States. It is time for the United States to follow by example from the international community and look to other nations who have enacted gun control laws. The action taken by the Australian government after the Port Arthur massacre, illustrates a clear success of strict gun laws; and an example that America should follow.

On April 28, 1996 a mass shooting took place at a busy tourist site in Tasmania, Australia. This tragedy later became known as the Port Arthur massacre, and the gunman killed 35 people and wounded 23 others. This event was the largest killing spree in Australia’s history, and rocked the nation into panic. In less than two weeks after this horrific event, the Australian government led by newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard, did something spectacular. They developed a bipartisan deal (with state and local governments) to enact strict gun-control measures to ensure that nothing like the event at Port Arthur would happen again.

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Image: Former Prime Minister John Howard pays a visit to the memorial site of the Port Arthur massacre on its 10th anniversary – the event that galvanized Howard to pass gun control laws across the nation.

Specifically, these new gun control measures included the following: prohibiting private sales of firearms, prescribed that all weapons must be registered to their owners, and required that gun purchasers proved a “genuine reason” for buying a weapon. Under these new laws however, self-defense did not count as a reason for purchasing a weapon. In addition to the new laws, the government also ordered a large-scale buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (approximately one-fifth of all firearms within the nation).

In order to urge legislators and public opinion towards anti-gun laws, it must become apparent that stricter gun laws will in fact save lives. In Australia, a series of academic studies reported by the Washington Post’s Wonkblog reveal that tighter gun laws in Australia did just that. In an article for the Wonkblog by Dylan Matthews he reports that, homicides by firearms plummeted by 59% between 1995 and 2006, “with no corresponding increase in non fire-arm related homicides. Matthews also reports an even more significant decrease in suicides by firearms, which fell by 65% in the same time period. These statistics show improvement in the safety and security of Australians after the enforcement of anti-gun laws, and if similar laws were implemented in America in addition to a major firearm buy back plan, we would likely observe similar results.

The most remarkable statistic observed after the enactment of stringent gun control laws in Australia is the fact that prior to the Port Arthur Massacre, 11 mass shootings had already taken place in the nation. After Prime Minister Howard’s bipartisan deal to control guns, there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia. Every time the United States outraged by another mass shooting, discussion about stricter gun laws is stimulated across the country. Each time I hear about another mass shooting I think to myself, this will be our tipping point, and yet there is still a large portion of America that does not support gun control.

 According to the website Shooting Tracker, by November 23, 2015 there had been 353 mass shootings in the U.S. this. This website defines mass shootings as, “an event or related series of events where four or more people are shot, likely without a cooling off period.” Consequently, this left 462 people dead and another 1,312 injured. After 353 mass shootings across the country in just 2015, when will we learn? As mentioned earlier, Australian Prime Minister Howard enacted gun control laws in under two weeks after tragedy struck; America is seriously overdue for the same legislation. While the United States morns the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, we must remember that similar crimes have been committed before, and will continue to take place unless there is a major change. If we want to prevent future mass shootings the American government must enact gun control laws similar to those implemented in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre.

Works Cited

Chapman, S., P. Alpers, K. Agho, and M. Jones. “Australia’s 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster

Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides, and a Decade without Mass Shootings.” Australia’s 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides, and a Decade without Mass Shootings 12 (2006): 365-72. Injury Prevention. University of Sydney, 6 Nov. 2016. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. <www.injuryprevention.com>.

“Mass Shooting Tracker.” Mass Shootings in 2015. Shooting Tracker, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

<http://shootingtracker.com/wiki/Mass_Shootings_in_2015&gt;.

Matthews, Dylan. “Did Gun Control Work in Australia?” Washington Post. The Washington

Post, 2 Aug. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2012/08/02/did-gun-control-work-in-australia/&gt;.

Killing Killer Whales: SeaWorld’s New Pledge to Make Orca Shows “More Natural” is Not Enough

For this week’s post I decided to do something a little different, instead of examining an international issue I decided to focus on something that has caught my attention ever since I first watched the award winning documentary Blackfish, that exposes SeaWorld’s exploitation of Killer Whales for entertainment.

First, if you haven’t had the chance to watch the documentary that uncovered many of SeaWorld’s best kept secrets, take a minute to watch the trailer here.

 

It has been a little over two years since the release of the award-winning documentary Blackfish, well known for its heart wrenching exposure of the treatment of Killer Whales in captivity at SeaWorld Parks. Blackfish exposed the true cruelty and danger of keeping these highly intelligent and social animals in captivity and brought the issue to the forefront of public attention.

Somehow, there are still Killer Whales living out their days in SeaWorld tanks.

SeaWorld has recently announced a plan to “transform” their orca attraction, but this is merely a publicity stunt.

There is no such thing a more “natural” Orca attraction. Quite Frankly, “Orca Attraction” itself is an oxymoron.

This documentary follows the story of Orcas in captivity dating back to when the first whales were captured for entertainment. Specifically, the film highlights one whale in particular named Tilikum, and his history of aggression that has caused 3 human fatalities including a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

Today, Tilikum remains a star attraction and still performs at “Shamu Stadium” daily. This of course leaves me, animal rights activists, you (if not yet, then after reading this and/or watching the movie), and even ex-SeaWorld patrons wondering: WHY?

The repercussions from the release of this documentary and the animal rights activism it stimulated, led to a major decrease in net income, share price, and even park attendance. So naturally everyone was waiting for SeaWorld to make a major change.

By major change I mean something along the lines of this: ending its circus-like orca shows as well as the orca-breeding program, pledging to no longer capture orcas, and releasing the orcas whom (at this point) could not survive in the wild to a sea pen.

Again, the park has seen a MAJOR decrease in net income, share price, and park attendance since the release of this film. Additionally SeaWorld has faced opposition from animal rights activists and lawmakers for its inhumane captivity and breeding of orcas.

Clearly this type of entertainment is obsolete.

Not only is it inhumane, but also it is not selling more tickets at the door.

SeaWorld CEO Joe Manby recently announced the new Blue World Project, a plan to expand and revamp their orca attraction at the San Diego location. According to their website, guests will be able to “watch [Killer Whales] interact at depths found in the ocean” and “[it] will enhance the educational experience for guests, foster deeper knowledge of killer whales and their ocean environment.”

Que * laughs *

Killer Whales in the wild are known to swim on average 100 miles per-day and the documentary states that they would need to swim about 1,208 laps around the tank to equal their average distance in the wild. Basically, they live in bathtubs in comparison to wild orcas.

So here is my questions for you SeaWorld, you’re going to expand there tanks a bit to make the Killer Whale attraction more naturals? Nice try, but they are still TANKS.

There is NOTHING natural about Killer Whales in tanks.

Additionally, these expanded tanks will still be used for orca shows. According to SeaWorld the whales will perform more natural tricks for entertainment such a jumping out of the water and splashing the audience.

Again, there’s nothing natural about a whale doing anything on command.

SeaWorld’s intentions are to merely give their orca attraction a facelift, while maintaining their breeding program and attempting to rationalize orca shows for “educational” purpose.

While SeaWorld San Diego partially celebrated the California Coastal Commission’s green light to expand their orca tanks, there was a catch. The commission granted the park the ability to expand, but also included a condition that the park must put an end to its orca-breeding program.

SeaWorld executives believe this is the commission over stepping their boundaries. Shocker.

Recently, SeaWorld executives announced they are going to take legal action in order to protect their breeding program. Red flag.

The park’s intentions are clear, and anyone with a heart can see the cruelty behind SeaWorld’s orca-breeding program. Furthermore, it is painfully obvious that “The Blue World Project” is a sad attempt to maintain an attraction that has now been exposed as animal cruelty.

They breed orcas in captivity and claim to the public that these whales are receiving incredible love, attention, and health care; but let me recount a scene from Black Fish that reveals how morally wrong their breeding is.

MOVIE SPOILER ALERT:

This scene depicts the separation of a mother orca named Kasatka and her calf Takara. Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove explains that SeaWorld executives made the decision to move the Takara from San Diego to the park in Florida because they deemed to her “distracting to her mother during performances.”

Killer Whales unlike other animals often spend the majority of their lives living in their families.

Once Takara had been lifted out of the tank she once shared with her mother and loaded on to the truck for transportation, the trainers heard something they had never heard before.

Kasatka who was normally a rather active whale, sat in the corner of the pool making a noises not typical of Killer Whales. Upon bringing in a research specialist, it was discovered that Kasatka was making long-range vocals essentially calling out for her calf that was taken from her.

I’m still grappling with how SeaWorld who supposedly loves their animals could possibly feel okay about something like this.

Now here’s looking at you SeaWorld. The idea behind The Blue World project is not aimed at life betterment for captive orcas, but at silencing concerns from the public, lawmakers, and animal rights activists.

Your intentions are blatantly obvious, and whatever research, education and conservation you do for animals in the wild will continue to go unnoticed until you put an end to the exploitation of these magnificent animals.

Social Media Inequality: Beirut Feels Forgotten

Just last week the International community was rocked by two different terror attacks: First, two suicide bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs left 40 people dead and over 200 injured. The following day, a second attack took place in Paris claiming the lives of 130 people and leaving another 340 injured. Both of these acts of terrorism and inhumane killing serve as examples to the rest of the world that we must set aside our differences and unite to fight the war on terror *cough the United States and Russia cough.*

Although both of these horrific events of inhumane killing perpetrated by terrorists only happened within about 24 hours of each other, when news broke of the second attack in Paris, the Lebanese promptly turned to social media to express their solidarity with the French. What they never expected to find however, was that Facebook had activated its “safety check” feature that allows users to mark themselves as “safe” and sends a notification to all of their connections. In addition to the activation of this feature, all Facebook users were prompted with the option to filter their photos with a transparent graphic of the French flag in order to show their solidarity with the Parisians.

After my sophomore year of college I had the incredible opportunity of studying in Paris for the summer and even made many new friends who still live in Paris. I was relieved when my phone began to buzz continuously as all of my Parisian friends marked themselves as safe on Facebook. Additionally, I changed my profile picture to a photo of myself in front of the Eiffel Tower with the French flag filter. As I began to read more and more articles of the attacks in Paris I became sick to my stomach while attempting to imagine the horrors that took place in the city of light.

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Photo 1: Photo of Beirut with French tri-color filter.

I soon remembered reading about the attacks in Beirut a day earlier, and continued to research whether these two attacks had been linked or if someone had claimed responsibility. Upon researching the attacks in Beirut, I quickly realized there were far less social media posts, and there were definitely no photo filters or safety notifications for the Lebanese. How could one of these events muster so much attention leaving the other almost unnoticed?

As a matter of fact, I was right. The Lebanese quickly took to social media to express their frustration with the social media inequality. I began to read various blog posts and tweets regarding the lack of coverage on the attacks in Beirut. For example, this blog post explains that the Facebook safety check feature was not enabled in Lebanon and would have been extremely useful in this case as well as in past attacks throughout the Arab world.

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Photo 2: Family of one of the victims in Beirut mourn the lost of their loved one during a memorial service.

In her article for The New York Times, Anne Barnard writes “for some in Beirut, that solidarity was mixed with anguish over the fact that just one of the stricken cities — Paris — received a global outpouring of sympathy akin to the one lavished on the United States after the 9/11 attacks.” While it is heartbreaking that those affected by the atrocities in Beirut do not feel the same outpour of love and support from the global community that was offered to the French, this is a very important lesson. Just because of Lebanon’s geographic location and as Barnard puts it, “Beirut was once synonymous with violence,” does not mean that the country was any more prepared for this kind of attack, or that the Western World should not offer the same solidarity to its victims.

Additionally, it definitely doesn’t help that just last week Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush stated “if you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon, or Iraq or Syria, you’re gonna be beheaded.” Statements like this portray Lebanon a chaotic war zone prone to violence, and if you haven’t already guessed, Bush’s statement is unarguably false considering Christian Lebanese maintain strong political power.

What truly concerns me about the inequality of coverage that can be observed after these two attack stems from to major issues: 1) My heartbreaks for the Lebanese, they deserve the same support from the Western World that any other victim of terrorism feels, and 2) This is not the time for inequality, or for focusing on our differences, in order to win the war on terror and properly debilitate and confront ISIS; we need to stand together in solidarity. 

Now I know what you’re thinking – I’m a hypocrite. While my personal Facebook profile picture is now filtered by the French flag I can also confidently say that I am determined to spread knowledge about the inequality in social media coverage between the attacks in Beirut and those in Paris. I do not think it is wrong to contribute to the #PrayforParis social media campaign however, it is important that we now jumpstart a campaign to stand in solidarity with the Lebanese and in the future, be more sensitive to inequality in media coverage. Any terrorist attack on humanity is in fact, an attack on humanity. No matter the geographic location or the specific people that are affected – we must stand together in order to win the war on terror. That being said, I hope you spend the rest of your week praying and thinking of the victims and their friends and families of the attacks in both Beirut and Paris and furthermore, thinking of all of the victims of terrorism thus far. Think now more than ever before, how we can reach out to those victims who may not feel they have been given the same attention and support, and how moving forward we will be more sensitive to equality in social media coverage.

Sending all my love to those affected by horrific acts of terrorism,

The International Commentator.

Japan’s IPO(st)

On November 4, 2015 Japan announced its decision to take its postal service public. They projected that this IPO could raise about $12 billion dollars, but personally I am asking myself, why now?

Japan has always desired to privatized this government institution and additionally, the Japanese post has branches that take care of banking, insurance and other financial services. If this IPO is successful, it will also be the biggest IPO of the year.

Japan is also looking for people to invest in their stocks, generate revenue, and boost their position in the international economy. This IPO supporters feel, will enable them to reach their economic goals. Personally, I do not think that traditional mail is a business with growth potential and therefore will likely not raise the investor money they are hoping for.

In today’s world we are much more reliant on email, text messaging, and social media for communication; I find it extremely unlikely that major investors will want to buy stock in a mail form that is becoming obsolete.

China is Giving You a “Plus One”

The world’s second largest economy has finally out an end to their longstanding “one child policy.” And of course this isn’t because they want to give their citizens more freedom to have larger families, but because there economy isn’t growing with the same momentum it used to, and their population, quite frankly, is old.

The one child rule was introduced back in the 70s and finally in 2015 Chinese government officials have decided to give citizens a “plus one.” Although to Americas any sort of policy regulating how many children you can have seems absurd, the policy was originally put into place in order to keep their booming population in check. Unfortunately, this led to a number of human rights issues such as forced sterilization, abortion, and even a bias toward having baby boys to carry on the family name.

Of course, as I previously stated it’s not that the government had a change of heart; but hopes that a two-child policy will help rapidly replace their aging population and particularly their workforce. An aging workforce has also likely led to the slow down in their economy (which has been one of the fastest growing economies for years).

But is it too late?

This could be a step in the right direction for Chinese citizens hoping to have large families, or at least the freedom to choose to do so. However, in terms of replacing the workforce this policy should have been changed years ago.

The €uro Roast: What’s Wrong With the Universal Currency Pt. 2

A continuation of my previous post: The €uro Roast: What’s Wrong With the Universal Currency Pt. 1

First, let’s take a look at the case of Finland. Matt O’Brien’s article for the World Economic Forum website titled, Why Bad Things Happen to Good Economies provides more support for blaming the Euro for economic instability among member countries. O’Brien identifies that Finland boasts one of the least corrupt governments in the world, in addition to an outstanding educational system and particularly low public debt. Such characteristics should coincide with at the very minimum, a fairly stable economy. O’Brien writes, “Finland is actually stuck in its longest recession in living memory. Why? Well, the short story is the euro.” While it is impossible to claim that the Euro is the only cause of recession in Finland, this case provides an example of how being a member of the Eurozone makes recovering from a period of recession more difficult. In an article for the New York Times Paul Krugman recalls another period of economic recession for Finland during the 1980s. At this time Finland’s national currency was the Finnish markka and according to Krugman, “it was able to engineer a fairly quick recovery in large part by sharply devaluing its currency, making its exports more competitive.” Unfortunately for Finland, devaluing its currency cannot save the current recession because it doesn’t have the ability to do so anymore. Recent economic stability in Finland is rooted in bad luck but the Euro was the catalyst for the nation’s bad recession. O’Brien’s article identifies two major economic problems for Finland in his article: the first being the decline of Nokia (the company made up 4% of the nation’s economy), and the low demand for timber which was one of the nation’s largest exports. In addition, Finland’s largest trading partner Russia has also experienced a prolonged period of economic instability due to sanctions from Western countries and declining oil prices.

All of these factors combined rocked Finland’s economy into recession, which will be more difficult to recover from than previous recessions because of the adoption of the Euro. Obviously, a devalued Finnish currency wouldn’t galvanize consumers to throw out the iPhones and revert back to Nokia smartphones, but it would however make other Finnish exports cheaper thus more competitive in the global market. A devalued or cheaper currency is also beneficial because it leads to an increase in Foreign Direct Investment because exchange rate depreciation increases the overall rate of return to investors. O’Brien explains, “Anytime a shock hits, whether that’s banks failing or an industry dying, the economy needs to cut costs to regain competitiveness. There are only two ways to do that: cut the value of the currency so wages aren’t worth as much, or cut wages themselves.” That being the case, cutting the value of the currency is much less detrimental than cutting the wages of millions of people. Before making important business decisions, board executives and financial experts use the Comparables Method to help guide decision-making. Let’s take this method of looking at comparable company’s before taking on a new project, expansion, or a merger or acquisition, and examine the economy of a nation comparable to Finland, but outside of the Eurozone. Figure 1 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) website, is a graph displaying Finland and Sweden’s changes in gross domestic product (GDP) since 1989.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 11.42.15 PM

[Figure 1]

This graph clearly exhibits that while Sweden and Finland grew practically identically from 1989-2008. The major discrepancies in their growth appear after 2008, diverging 20% since then. While Finland’s economic bad luck probably would have caused the nation to fall behind Sweden regardless of adopting the Euro, it is undeniable that the Euro has hindered the nation’s ability to proper recover from economic instability. O’Brein also states, “The only way the euro could possibly be worth it is if it helped Finland more before the crash than it’s hurt.” Today Finland’s economy is 5% smaller than it was in 2008 and consequently, claiming the Euro was worth it for Finland’s economy is a case that is hard to make.

The true toxic power of the universal currency can perhaps best be seen in the case of Europe’s largest economy, Germany. In Tim Worstall’s article for Forbes Magazine Paul Krugman is Right Again: It’s the Euro Itself That is the Problem, he explains how the ECB attempted to cleanup after German economic instability. Worstall writes, “When the German economy was pretty sick (around 2000 to 2005) we had low interest rates for all because that’s what the largest economy in Europe needed. This set off massive property booms in both Spain and Ireland.” Binding the 19 Eurozone member countries under one Monetary policy but allowing sovereign fiscal policies, does not allow the ECB to properly help nations recover from economic instability. As previously stated the United States boasts a variety of sub-economies that can be compared to the economies that make up the Eurozone. When global demand is low for Texas’ oil, the United States government has the power to reduce interest rates and lower Federal taxes to alleviate a problem in a certain sector of the economy. In the case of Germany, the ECB attempted to help their largest economy recover by lowering interest rates however, no taxes collected from the boom this set off in other Eurozone nations to put Germany’s economy back on top (like there would be with one central Fiscal policy). In return, the economic booms in Spain and Ireland that resulted from low interest rates eventually turned into a bust. Likewise, once Germany’s economy recovered, the interest rates were further reduced down to zero, and again none of the tax money that resulted was given to Spain and Ireland to ease their economic problems.

Spain’s economic crises also stems from different roots than both Germany and Finland. According to an online article for BBC news, the Spanish government’s borrowing was in fact under control until the 2008 financial crisis and after they adopted the Euro, the country experienced an economic boom and housing bubble made possibly by cheap loans to homebuyers and builders. In the case of Spain it is easy to see that adopting the Euro definitely has benefits in the beginning, but in the long run leads to economic catastrophe. BBC also reports that in Spain, “House prices rose 44% from 2004 to 2008, at the tail end of a housing boom. Since the bubble burst they have fallen by a third” and “The economy, which grew 3.7% per year on average from 1999 to 2007, has shrunk at an annual rate of 1% since then.” Spain is another example leading economists to believe that the Eurozone is particularly prone to economic instability due to their universal currency because, the property boom and burst was catalyzed by inappropriate interest rates of the Euro. While today Spain has recovered from a prolonged period of recession, it is undeniable that its economic stability was worsened by its use of the Euro.

The Economic crisis and potential “Grexit” is probably the most talked about economic crisis in the Eurozone. Similar to crisis in Finland, Spain, and Germany since all of these nations share the same currency – what happens in Greece doesn’t stay in Greece; in fact, it’s become a problem for all Eurozone nations. In an online article the New York Times reports that, “Greece became the epicenter of Europe’s debt crisis after Wall Street imploded in 2008. With global financial markets still reeling, Greece announced in October 2009 that it had been understating its deficit figures.” This is extremely important in understanding how much fiscal sovereignty is granted to Eurozone nations because while Greece is bound to a monetary policy imposed by the ECB however, their Fiscal policy is in the hands of Greek government officials. Similar to what took place in other Eurozone nations, the government officials responsible for Greece’s fiscal policy created an economic mess and since they are apart of the Eurozone – all of the other nations are involved in the clean up.

Although Greece has received billions of dollars in bailouts from the “troika” which includes the ECB, IMF, and euro member countries; in exchanged for their agreement to austerity measures, Greece still can’t seem to get back on their feet. Since the Eurozone member countries (many of which who have recently come out of recession periods themselves), have helped Greece financially they also believe that they have a say in what happens next for Greece – and in EU fashion, no one can agree. Obviously Greece bit off more than they could chew when it came to borrowing as well as pension obligations, and their inclusion in the Euro back in 2001 has had many consequences. In James A. Kahn’s article for CNBC he articulates that, “the problem is not the fundamental diversity of the [Eurozone] countries, but the fact that each country is fully in control of its own domestic economic policies while not facing the full consequences of their choices.” Since Greece’s recession has spiraled out of control, the solution of the nation’s exit from the Euro still leaves the creditors with their bill. Khan writes, “[a “Grexit”] would set a dangerous precedent for the other “periphery” countries (Spain, Italy, Portugal) that have flirted with insolvency in recent years. The euro is barely 16 years old, and a “Grexit” would jeopardize the union by giving countries an out if they get into trouble.” In reality Greece’s exit from the Euro wouldn’t solve all of the problems their fiscal problems have caused, and in order to move forward a compromise is probably the most realistic solution. A compromise where Greece will be relieved of some of their debt obligations in exchange for drastic economic reforms has proved extremely difficult to reach due to the multitude of opinion on exactly how much reform or how much relieved debt. Since there is clearly a lot at stake for both Greece and its creditors, the Greece economic crisis should blatantly highlight the problems with a universal currency that lacks strict fiscal policy regulations. Without a standardized regulation on fiscal policy along with discipline and enforcement mechanisms, members of the Eurozone will continue to be affected by the problems of other member countries; and the potential benefits of the universal currency will never be realized.

In conclusion, the recent economic instability in Germany, Spain, Greece, and Finland began for distinctly different reasons however; all of these issues were heightened by the shortcomings of a universal currency that includes a standard monetary policy with sovereign fiscal policy. If the Eurozone ever wants to realize the potential benefits of a universal currency, it must address its major underlying issues. With a non-integrated labor market and sovereign fiscal policy across member countries, the Euro this far has solved economic instability in the short-run but has proven detrimental in the long run. The cases of Greece, Spain, Germany, and Finland provide four very different nations that plummeted into recession for four very different reasons, their common denominator being that they are all members of the Eurozone. If the Eurozone wants to prove to the rest of the world that their union is in fact strong and successful in stimulation long-term economic growth and stability as well as play a large role in shaping global economic order, they will need to go back to drawing board and address the other half of the equation that effects the economy; fiscal policy.

Works Cited

European Central Bank. European Central Bank, n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

<https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/html/index.en.html&gt;.

“Eurozone Crisis Explained – BBC News.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

<http://www.bbc.com/news/business-17549970&gt;.

“IMF — International Monetary Fund Home Page.” IMF — International Monetary Fund Home

Page. The International Monetary Fund, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.imf.org/external/index.htm&gt;.

“Investopedia – Educating the World about Finance.” Investopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct.

  1. <http://www.investopedia.com/&gt;.

Kahn, James A. “The Real Problem with the Euro: Ex-Fed Official.” CNBC. N.p., 15 July 2015.

Web. 15 Oct. 2015. <http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/15/the-euros-real-problem-commentary.html&gt;.

Krugman, Paul. “Europe’s Many Economic Disasters.” The New York Times. The New York

Times, 02 July 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/opinion/paul-krugman-europes-many-disasters.html?ref=opinion&gt;.

O’Brien, Matt. “The Euro Is Creating Tons of Problems for Many European Countries.”

Business Insider. World Economic Forum, 30 July 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.businessinsider.com/the-euro-is-creating-tons-of-problems-for-many-european-countries-2015-7&gt;.

“Official Website of the European Union.” EUROPA. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

<http://europa.eu/index_en.htm&gt;.

Pisani-Ferry, Jean-Pierre. “Can the Euro Be Repaired?” World Economic Forum. N.p., 03 Aug.

  1. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/08/can-the-euro-be-repaired/&gt;.

Worstall, Tim. “Paul Krugman Is Right Again: It’s the Euro Itself That Is The Problem.”

Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 July 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2015/07/04/paul-krugman-is-right-again-its-the-euro-itself-that-is-the-problem/&gt;.

The €uro Roast: What’s Wrong With the Universal Currency Pt. 1

Part One: Introduction into European economic instability heightened by the Euro.

According to Investopedia Online, Monetary Policy is defined as “the actions of a central bank, currency board, or other regulatory committee that determine the size and rate of growth of the money supply, which in turn affects interest rates.” In the United States The Federal Reserve oversees American Monetary Policy and similarly, the European Central Bank is in charge of monetary policy across the Eurozone. On the other hand, Fiscal Policy is defined as “Government spending policies that influence macroeconomic conditions,” emphasis on the macroeconomic conditions. Since a country’s government determines fiscal policy (which has widespread economic effects), it is clear that a single nation’s fiscal decisions can influence the international economy. The United States government undoubtedly is constrained by the diverse sub-economies that such a large nation produces however; American fiscal policy enables the federal government to alleviate crises in a specific region or sector if need be. In contrast, the Eurozone is made up of one central monetary policy and the fiscal policies of its 19 distinct member countries. Over the last decade, the international economy has been rocked by a series of Eurozone recessions, and watched closely as the European Central Bank (ECB) has attempted to help its members and their currency recover. Unfortunately it seems as if the ECB has merely put Band-Aids on these economic wounds that need stitches, or even reconstructive surgery.

The shocks felt by the global economy from Eurozone recessions inevitably led to finger pointing, which for some economists meant straight at the Euro. The European Economic and Monetary Union includes the Eurozone’s monetary policy and the Euro as the common currency, while granting sovereign fiscal policy to its member countries – but why should we blame the universal currency for economic crises, this calls for a closer look a recent recessions. Let’s now take a closer look at four diverse Eurozone nations that have gone through substantial economic instability over the last decade: Germany, Finland, Spain, and Greece. All four of these economies have suffered recently for different reasons but what they do have in common is their currency. The use of the Euro is unarguably a common denominator between these four nations, which consequently provides a valid foundation for an argument linking the universal currency to economic instability. While the adoption of the Euro is not the sole reason for economic crises across Europe, a closer look at the cases mentioned above highlight the inevitable constraints and consequences of a universal currency. These consequences and constraints are evident in recent crises have reaffirmed the warnings given by Euro opposers pre-introduction of the actual bank notes and coins on January 1, 2002 (Europa.eu).

Before completely writing off the Euro as inefficient and problematic, it is important to understand the rationale for its very existence. According to the European Union website, “a single currency offers many advantages, such as eliminating fluctuating exchange rates and exchange costs, because it is easier for companies to conduct cross-border trade and the economy is more stable, the economy grows and consumers have more choice.” While in theory, for the EU this sounds like a great idea. An offer for seamless exchange across boarders and transnational trade probably sounded like a great deal for European countries looking to increase the efficiency of their economies. Sadly for the countries that adopted the Euro, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. While proponents of the Euro had progressive ideas about the integration of European economies in order to foster growth, the universal currency and governing monetary policy have clear shortcomings in vital categories that prohibit the Euro from yielding the benefits it was created to produce. Some of these problems include: allowing sovereign fiscal policy across diverse member countries, non-integrated labor markets, and a lack of mechanisms to impose or discipline fiscal policy. While adoption of the Euro binds its member countries to a solid monetary policy, monetary policy it is only half the equation to achieve economic stability. Fiscal policy also influences the economy, and the Eurozone lacks central fiscal authority, and merely sets fiscal standards for member countries. Without proper discipline mechanisms and central authority over fiscal policy, there is little incentive for nations to play by the rules; leading to the demise of Eurozone economic stability.

As previously stated, understanding the rationale for the existence of the universal currency is important in examining its undeniable flaws and shortcomings. According to the ECB website the main goal of ECB monetary policy is to maintain price stability which “implies avoiding both prolonged inflation and deflation” as well as “[contributing] to achieving high levels of economic activity and employment.” Interestingly enough, many of today’s esteemed economists do not refer to all Eurozone countries as examples of “achieving high levels of economic activity and employment.” The Eurozone’s 19 member countries are bound to a central monetary policy that can be credited with setting fiscal policy standards however, these standards are useless in holding member countries responsible for their fiscal mistakes. The standards set by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), have the right ideas but lack proper enforcement. As reported by the European commission website, the SGP is made up of three different arms: Prevention, Correction, and Enforcement. The preventative arm, “bind[s] EU governments to their commitments towards sound fiscal policies and coordination by setting each one a budgetary target known as a Medium-Term Budgetary Objective (MTO)” in addition to requiring “Member States that share the euro as their currency outline how they intend to reach their MTOs in ‘Stability Programmes.’” While the corrective arm aims to “[ensure the] correction of excessive budget deficits or excessive public debt levels,” where a excessive budget deficit is defined as “one greater than 3 % of GDP. Public debt is considered excessive under the Treaty if it exceeds 60 % of GDP without diminishing at an adequate rate (defined as a decrease of the excess debt by 5 % per year on average over three years).” The third arm is geared toward enforcement and identifies possible sanctions for Eurozone countries that fail to abide by preventative or corrective rules, is also the weakest link. The sanctions are simply laid out in this arm, but do not address the fact that economic sanctions against a Eurozone nation become an economic problem for all member countries.

While the currency closely links the economies of the 19 Eurozone countries, discrepancies among their fiscal policies remain colossal. In defense of member nations and their federal governments, joining the Eurozone does not bind them to a central fiscal policy that would be vital for the Euro to achieve its expected economic benefits. Jean Pisani-Ferry states in his article titled Can the Euro be Repaired for the World Economic Forum website that, “Monetary union, it was assumed, would foster economic integration, bolstering Europe’s long-term growth. Instead, intra-Eurozone trade and investment have increased only modestly, and growth potential has actually weakened.” Pisani-Ferry further explains that, “This is partly because national governments, rather than building on currency unification to turn the Eurozone into an economic powerhouse, tried to hang onto their remaining power. This was perhaps logical politically, but it made no economic sense.” He brings up an excellent point that proponents of the Euro should have deemed an insurmountable obstacle. Even within the monetary union national leaders will still implement fiscal policies that reflect their own domestic interests, rather than interests of the union as a whole which leads to a variety of fiscal policies among members. If that alone is not enough to explain the inefficiency of the Euro, a closer look at recent Eurozone economic crises highlight the problematic central monetary policy combined with varied fiscal policies.

In Part II, I will continue my discussion using the specific cases mentioned of economic instability of nation’s using the Euro.

Virtual reality has been the name of the game for the Russian media attempting to glorify their actions in the Ukraine and more recently, their intervention in Syria. I’m not here to say that American news stations don’t have their share of bias when reporting on stories, but Russian news stations have taken it too far. (See Image Below)

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Weather reporters have begun to report on weather in Syria and deeming it a “great month for flying” – odd. Additionally, this image below shows a snapshot of a reporter with the image of a Russian military jet and explosions in the background. This way of using the media to support intervening in Syria by bombing, is extremely difficult to stomach. In a time when there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for U.S.-Russian relations in terms of teaming up to fight ISIS (probably largely in Syria), such stories truly worry me.

This sort of press coverage leads me to believe that there truly are negative effects from the ever-popular war themed or violent video games and movies. In Russia it seems as the media feels the public is largely desensitized to such violence. If Russia actually intends to “make nice” with the U.S. and the rest of the West, this is not the way to go.

While the public in Russia may be brainwashed by the media they consume which often portrays America as the enemy (false), but a new spin on the story that the West and Russia are going to team up and fight the war on terror via glorifying violence, does not make any sense.

Even if the public does not see America in the best light, they are by no means in a position to deal with the consequences that could result from US-Russia relations going further south. The media glorifying military activity in Syria while blatantly ignoring the plight of the Russian soldiers fighting for their country is truly disgusting. This is something to be aware of because, it is clear the media does in fact have the power to influence public opinion – clear propaganda.

Sorry Spain, Catalonia’s Just Not (That) Into You

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The north east corner of Spain known as Catalonia has said the nation’s capital, “we need to talk.” This isn’t the first time Catalonia has expressed concerns to Madrid, but this time they’re threatening to declare independence Spring of 2017. Not only would Catalonia’s independence be way too messy of a break up for Spain’s recovering economy to handle, between the refugee crisis and Greece’s financial crises the EU already has enough on it’s plate.Catalonian President Artur Mas and his right Catalan Democratic Convergence party teamed up with Catalan Republic Left and grass-roots separatists in hopes to claim a majority of parliamentary seats that would be necessary for a unilateral declaration of independence. After the parliamentary election, the separatists’ parties were able to claim almost 48% of the vote, a little less than they had hoped for. Regardless of the outcome, Catalonians in favor of independence have made it pretty clear that they’re serious about this break up – but breaking up is hard to do.

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Financially, Spain hasn’t been in this best place and is currently coming out of a long period of recession and banking crisis. Catalonia, which accounts for one fifth of Spain’s national economy poses a huge threat because if they were to become independent, Catalonia may also refuse to pay its portion of national debt. Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy began disagreeing with Mr. Mas back in 2012 over how much monetary contribution Catalonia should make to Spain’s system where tax income is redistributed from wealthy areas to poorer areas in the country. Mr. Mas’ original frustration over Catalonia’s financial contribution has festered over the years and galvanized him to attempt to lead Catalonia to independence.

Another issue this break up could cause is a ripple effect of independence movements across Europe. To be honest, something like this couldn’t come at a worse time for the EU. Today people across the globe are already beginning to question the efficiency of the EU, and in particular its ability to deal with European crises. This makes Catalonia a “European problem” as well, since the EU was created to prevent such divisions among European nations Mr. Rajoy should have no problem getting support from the rest of the continent.

So here’s looking at you the EU, yet again the world will be watching as Europe deals with yet another crisis. Catalonia already boasts it’s own language and cultural identity in addition to claiming they’re not getting out as much as they’re putting in from Madrid. Hopefully they can work things out, because if this break up actually happens things are going to get messy for Europe’s fourth largest economy.

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