Mark Carney and the start of Britain’s economic recovery?

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Image courtesy of CTV News Canada

Today the keys to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street passed over to Mark Carney and Sir Mervyn King will bow out after 10 long years.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Bank of England saw this country’s financial sector rise so high and then fall further than ever before.

A week on from George Osborne’s Spending Review, which cut £11.5bn from public spending, there are more rumblings of uncertainty as Croatia joins the European Union with record unemployment and the possibility of yet another bailout. Further afield, there is speculation over the gradual end to quantitative easing in the US and concerns over a potential credit crisis in BRIC powerhouse China’s economy.

By any stretch of the imagination,  the UK economy is not out of the woods yet.

At this critical time, Mark Carney is getting some mixed reviews. Dubbed “the outstanding banker of his generation” by George Osborne, Carney was fast tracked into the role back in November and secured a massive pay packet to sweeten his departure from his previous role as Governor of the Bank of Canada.

Expectations are high for the so called ‘banking messiah’ to get Britain’s sluggish recovery going properly.

Canada was one of the only OECD countries to avoid a major banking crisis or subsequent recession which is probably why he is one of the best paid central bankers in history.

But while he has avoided the taint of the financial crisis and the subsequent Libor scandal last year his record is not entirely unblemished. His years in the toxic environment of Goldman Sachs and speculation that the calm state of Canada’s finances may be due more to its natural energy resources, its fiscal surplus and a more tightly regulated financial sector than its monetary policy, knocked his halo eschew slightly.

Indeed, according to the New Statesman, one of the other rejected candidates for the post said Carney was competent but “no messiah”.

No one should expect him to be. As exciting as it is to have someone young and glamorous (for a banker anyway) in the Governor’s chair, the hero worship which has crept up in certain corners will only set him up for a fall.

Because he has a fight on his hands. Not only did his predecessor fail to persuade the MPC to instigate more quantitative easing to keep the economy liquid, but Barclays Bank is threatening to “restrict” loans to households and businesses (£) in protest at the Bank’s new capital rule to rein in lenders.

Add to that the warnings of the outgoing Governor King, who said the economy was “nowhere near” ready to return to higher interest rates and that it could lend to younger people with large mortgages being unable to pay.

King’s warning gets to the heart of the problems in the British economy. It is a country desperately in need of cheap credit but desperately afraid of it because of what happens when it is too abundant.

Whatever people may say about the financial sector and how the country should be ‘making things’ we need credit and the necessary hot air it comes with.

Excessive risk maybe be poisonous but so is excessive caution.

There is only so far the country can recover with monetary policy alone. What the British economy needs now is a bit of faith.

So maybe, while Britain isn’t out of the woods, Carney could boost the recovery without really meaning to. Additionally, regardless of whether the Coalition’s austerity measures are the correct way to fix the finances of the country, the news that more people are coming to terms with three years of government spending cuts could precipitate a new sense of grudging confidence in the new normal.

Although borrowing and spending are still high, public perception of how the Government is managing its finances has improved. Perhaps if they feel they are through the worse of it now, they may make those tentative steps towards booking that holiday or investing in that start up.

It may be small but it is this confidence, regulated properly by the Government and a stronger financial services regulator, which can get Britain going again rather than fearfully treading water as it has been doing for several years now.

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While you were watching the Olympics…

The Iconic Image of the Event: Celebrating brilliance is one thing, forgetting the rest of the world is a mistake. © The Guardian

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for celebrating British achievement and the fact that the Olympics weren’t the fiasco everyone was expecting them to be. The Olympics have been here, there and everywhere these past two weeks as people from all over the country have taken leave of their prejudices, their differences (and sometimes their senses) to come together and stick to their televisions for up to eight hours a day.

However in all this ‘We are #teamGB’ we have seemed to forget that a real world exists outside the shiny, happy wall to wall coverage of attractive, athletic types winning Gold medals.

For instance, a twelve year old girl, Tia Sharp, disappeared from her home in Croydon last Friday and her body was discovered the following week in her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother and two men have been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

On a national level, David Cameron has abandoned plans to reform the House of the Lords and pave way for the major reform promise of all three major parties at the last election out of fear for back bench rebellion angering his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats into threatening the stability of the coalition by rebelling over boundary reform.

Across the pond, Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney announced his running mate for the American Presidential election in November, a pro-life, economic liberal called Paul Ryan who has been branded as an ‘extremist ideologue’ by the Obama camp with a budget plan that supposedly only benefits billionaires. Romney also used the opportunity to add another gaffe to his collection by calling Ryan the ‘future President of the United States’.

In other world news, Syrian rebels have been promised an increase in ‘non-lethal’ aid by British foreign secretary William Hague despite being accused of human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch as the civil war moves into the second city, Aleppo.

In another part of the world recently touched by the Arab Spring, Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi has ordered the retirement of the country’s powerful head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi. This has widely been seen as a strike against the narrow limits imposed by the Generals during the election. He has also announced a constitutional declaration to curb Presidential power has been shelved.

Finally, there was a massive earthquake in the north west of Iran and about 250 people have died with over 2000 people being injured and homes and villages flatten. The relief effort is now on to get people into adequate shelter before the onset of winter. Casualty figures are expected to rise as hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

Iranians mourn over the covered bodies of loved ones in the village Baje-Baj, near the town of Varzaqan, © ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages/Sky News

I’m not saying the Olympics isn’t important. I am not saying I wasn’t cheering on Mo Farah like everyone else but I can’t say it made me any prouder to be British (or from Yorkshire). There are individuals who have succeeded and I will cheer them on but I don’t feel they really represent me; the girl who disliked sport at school and loathed her self-aggrandising PE teachers even more. I was however proud to be an alumi of the University of Birmingham when Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake (possibly my two favourite athletes ever) praised ‘Birmingham People’ for doing such a good job hosting them before the games started because of my personal attachment to the place and the people in it.

The overwrought and overstated emotion attached to these games is misplaced. A video montage detailing Tom Daley rise to promience ahead of the diving final yesterday treated him like he was poised to pull a sword out of a stone, not get a bronze in the diving. Why is this necessary? Ultimately all sport is just a game and it will be played over and over again. It makes the individuals money and it makes many others happy but it doesn’t change the world and it certainly won’t change London.

Yes its great that this country has so many talented young people, yes its great that they can excel, but that doesn’t make the other citizens any less obese, any richer and it certainly doesn’t make Britain more ‘great’. We are still a fading world power that is so riven with internal division that we can’t get the other 90% of young people who weren’t blessed with athletic ability out of the dole queue.

The Olympics won’t change us. We may be united on Twitter and in front of the television now but how long will this last? I give it until Wednesday until we’re all bickering again. What has the Olympic said about us? We can make the trains run (sort of) on time for two weeks of the year? Some of us run fast?

I’m not saying the Olympics shouldn’t be on television, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be celebrated. However ultimately its just a sporting tournament that happens every four years and given London has hosted it more often than any other city on Earth and is full of tourists all year round anyway I think its probably time the Tube got a rest.

We can dangle the gold medals in front of faces to distract ourselves all we like but the real world isn’t going away. Young girls are still getting murdered, Middle Eastern dictators are still waging war on their own country and their citizens are committing atrocities in retaliation. Natural disasters  will still kill more innocent people .

By all means, celebrate tonight and go back to hating each other in the morning. I have no problem with the Olympics being front page news, it just shouldn’t be the only news. I know its a miserable thing to say but the real world isn’t going away just because we want it too.

A Review of the Year: United States and Canada in 2011

United States and Canada
Much like Europe in 2011 there seemed to be a non-stop conveyor belt of news in North America this year as political forces of all shapes and sizes in both countries went head to head over the hearts and minds of their people. The Tea Party gathered momentum in America as the Republican primaries for their 2012 presidential candidate kicked off, the debate about gun crime reached a tragic new low and much like the rest of Europe, America’s economy was again almost brought to its knees by bickering politicians.

Tucson, Arizona: Way back at the start of 2011, on 8th January when Southern Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 others by a lone gunman outside a supermarket where she was meeting her constituents. Despite being shot in the head, Giffords survived the attack and after five months recuperation has made a limited return to the public eye however six others died including a nine-year old girl. The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner is said to have had ‘increasingly erratic’ behaviour over the few months leading up to the attack and had previously expressed misogynistic views about women in power and was apparently unsatisfied by her response to his attempts to contact her in 2007. However, in the days, weeks and months that followed the focus was once again to shifted to gun totting madwoman in chief, Sarah Palin as Giffords had already criticised her for having a map with gun crosses over her office and the offices of other Democrats prompting another debate about gun control.

Republican Party Primaries: The race for the Republican presidential nomination got into full swing this year with all candidates doing their level best to one up each other during the live debates before each being picked of by increasingly lurid scandals. First, was Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party’s favourite when Palin isn’t available, who was ousted from the debate when tapes emerged of her husband operating a clinic offering ‘cures’ for homosexuality. She is still limping behind frontrunner Mitt Romney who it is said will ‘crush’ competition at the New Hampshire primary. Then there was Hermain Cain, a peculiar figure who was riding surprisingly high despite being a relative unknown, who was accused of sexually assaulting two women whilst head of the National Restaurant Association and mounted an even more peculiar defence. The race continues with a still rather eccentric cast of characters.

Canada Leaves The Kyoto Protocol: Canada is often seen as America’s calmer, saner and more rational cousin. Living on top it is seen as the hand on the shoulder of America that is sometimes needed to go ‘dude, just chill’. However all this changed in December when Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol during the climate change conference in Durban after they said the updated agreement would no longer be in Canada’s interests. Although Canada signed up to the agreement in 1997 under a liberal government, it has done little since then to act on it and after the Conservative government has come to power they seem reluctant to do anything at all. Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent, ‘The Kyoto protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work. It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.’ Canada is highly at risk from climate change due to deforestation and the polar ice caps melting and the North of the country’s wildlife is under threat by the ongoing exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands. This is one of several measures the Conservative government, which won its first majority in 2011 after running as a minority government since 2006, have enacted this year which has led to one Guardian commentator asking if Canada was being run by the Daily Mail including the abolition of the gun registry and banning full face veils.

DSK: The case of the hotel maid that accused former IMF leader, Dominique Strauss Kahn of attempted rape in New York this summer soon showed the ongoing gulf between the ‘accuser’ and the ‘accused’ when it comes to the rich and powerful. Nafissatou Diallo’s suit against Mr Kahn, who has been accused previously inappropriate behaviour with his female staff, was dropped due to a ‘lack of credibility’. The forensic evidence aside, this was yet another example of the accuser being forced to prove their innocence rather than prove the accused’s guilt. As she had lied on her visa application about being raped she was assumed to be attempting to extort money from Kahn and denied her day in court. Therefore DSK may not have been proven guilty but he hasn’t been proven innocent either.

Casey Murder Trial: What Time magazine called the ‘social media trial’ of the century was oddly forgotten by the British media this summer as it was embroiled in crucifying the likes of Rupert Murdoch and hundreds of young rioters in its court of public opinion to notice arguably the most hated woman in America stand trial for the alleged murder of her two-year old child. And be found not guilty. Casey Anthony was accused of murdering her two-year old child, Caylee in 2008 after the child’s body was found taped up and decaying near her grandparents’ house six months after going missing. It was later revealed that Casey’s mother, Cindy reported the child missing four days after she disappeared whilst Casey was spotted out partying with friends. She has been described by her own defence lawyers as an exceptional liar and it was almost certain that she had some involvement in the child’s death. She first tried to accuse her nanny of stealing the child, then claimed that the child had drowned in the grandparents’ pool and she had been sexually molested by her own father since the age of eight. Because of her callous reaction and her status as a single mother the case went from a local child death story to a nationwide tabloid sensation the trial of a so-called monster. The prosecution accused Anthony, of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter and sought the death penalty. However she was eventually found not guilty and instead convicted of misdemeanours such as lying to police officers. With credit for time already served, she was released the following week.

The Debt Ceiling Fiasco: There is a lot of two and froing and ‘will they, won’t they’ in American politics but this year it almost brought America, and arguably the world, to its knees as another fiscal crisis lead to a seemingly endless debate between Democrats and Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans weren’t willing to back down easily and Obama was not going to give into their demands to end some of the welfare spending so it looked for a while like America was about to default on its loans. At the eleventh hour an agreement was reached on 31st July and was ratified by Congress on 1st August, dramatically Gabrielle Giffords’, in her first return to Congress since the assassination attempt, signature on the bill was one of the few that tipped it in the majority and allowed to be passed on 2nd August.

Apple Loses Its Core: The tech industry suffered a massive blow this year as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, died of pancreatic cancer aged 56 in October. He was primarily known for overseeing Apple’s explosion in popularity over the past fifteen years and the creation of Ipod, Iphone and Ipad ranges which have revolutionised modern technology. He had stepped down as CEO in August 2011 prompting questions over whether the Apple brand could survive without its leader and the share price did drop on news of his death but has since recovered.

‘You’re Just A Silly Little Girl’ And Other Cliched Insults

Is She Really That Scary?
I’m getting fairly used to people criticising me.

Since I started actually publishing what I write at around eighteen instead of shyly locking it up in a drawer people have disagreed with it. When people actually started reading what I wrote around about the beginning of summer that is when they started getting nasty.

Typically its a criticism of my relative youth and expressing anger at the lack or opportunity for people my age to earn money or even gain respect for their opinions.

Some comments have been as erudite as ‘you’re boring’ or on a piece criticising the support for monarchy I wrote, one person’s response amounted to ‘I don’t agree with you and the monarchy didn’t immediately disintegrate when the article was published so you’re wrong’.

I normally just roll my eyes and challenge them to come up with a counter-argument a bit more persuasive than ‘Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-NAH-Nah we’re the status quo’.

I also struggle to take any argument seriously when its author over-compensates for a weak grasp of punctuation with excessive use of ALL CAPS.

I’ve gotten off fairly lightly when it comes to internet insults. However, I am perhaps not the most well-known blogger out there and flying the flag for young people’s rights is a bit less controversial than promoting feminism.

However, as Helen Lewis Hasteley’s blog about the reality of sexist abuse online proved, it goes much deeper and much more insidious than ‘liberal’ society would have you believe.
Continue reading ‘You’re Just A Silly Little Girl’ And Other Cliched Insults

Troy Davis: An Alienable Right to Life?

Troy Davis. Courtesy of Amnesty.org.uk

The USA tries to project itself as a moral compass for the rest of the world. Its interventions in Libya and Afghanistan were pitched to the American public (and the rest of the world) as necessary because of the atrocities and human rights violations that were being committed by governments that were deaf to protest.

It’s never been one to shy away from hypocrisy either.

Tonight sees another man about to be murdered by the state under dubious circumstances. Georgia, never know for its tolerance, will execute Troy Davis at midnight (GMT time) for the 1989 murder of an off-duty policeman. However, since his conviction, seven out of the nine original witnesses have recanted their statements and one has even implicated another man who allegedly admitted the murder at a party in 2009.

Despite numerous appeals to prove there is reasonable doubt to halt the execution and the actions of human rights groups in America and in Europe the Georgia Parole Board refused to grant clemency.

Regardless of whether or not Troy Davis is actually guilty, can America still really justify this form of punishment?
Continue reading Troy Davis: An Alienable Right to Life?

We Are Everywhere: Homophobia And The Brave New World

Iranian Teenagers Hung For Homosexuality in 2005. Courtesy of Str/ASSOCIATED PRESS/the Guardian

People do go on about the ‘power of the internet’ these days.

It is in turns instrumental in bringing down dictatorships, spreading news and information at lightning speed and has single handily contributed down to the downfall of face to face communication and the decline of society itself.

However, the ease with which people can spread information anonymously now has created a huge opportunity to spread messages all over the world.

LGBT rights are not normally highly prioritised in so many different places around the world. In 69 countries around the world it is still illegal. In 7 it carries the death penalty. In countries like Uganda it might as well be. Continue reading We Are Everywhere: Homophobia And The Brave New World

Have We Lost The War on Drugs?

Courtesy of BBC News Online/Reuters

A ‘peace caravan’ that has been winding through Mexico cross over the border last week to attend a rally in El Paso, Texas to criticise the United States’ Drug Policy and its effect on Central America.

The USA’s ‘War on Drugs’ has a long history, its first use was by President Nixon in 1971 as a hardline reaction to a report on Vietnam War which suggested that 10-15% of troops were addicted to heroin. It has undergone many different guises through harsh punishment of convicted drug users to the patronising ‘Just Say No’ campaign launched by Nancy Reagan in the late eighties and early nineties. However, the current ‘Merida Initiative’ launched in 2007 and led by the US along with Mexico, Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic is fiercely condemned by critics as it has led to an exponential rise in the level of violent crime and instability across Central America.

The aim of the $400m scheme is to eradicate the illegal smuggling of drugs such as cannabis and cocaine through Mexico with the agreement and support of Mexican President, Felipe Calderón. So far it seems however, all the scheme has done is push the trade southward into the harder to govern countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as well as cost the lives of thousands of people (an estimated 35,000 have died since Calderón deployed the army to the streets in 2006).

The caravan, led by poet Javier Sicilia whose grandson was killed in the violence, crisscrossed Mexico in a 1550 mile journey with a retinue of 20 coaches arriving at the border city of Ciudad Juarez, which has become the frontline of the drugs war with 3100 deaths alone in 2010, on Friday 10th June before crossing the border into Texas on Saturday.

At the rally in El Paso, Mr Sicilia claimed that the US government had ‘a grave responsibility for failing to tackle the drugs crisis’ and partially blamed American drug takers.

Stephen Muller's Graph Comparing The Death Rate in the Iraq War to the Drugs War

He said ‘Americans have to realise that behind every puff of pot, every line of coke, there is death, there are shattered families’.

This month, a UN Global Commission on Drugs Policy published a report declaring that the ‘The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.’

The War on Drugs is designed as a relentless battering of the drugs cartels that operate across Mexico and its southern neighbours. In some ways it has been successful as it drove the drug smugglers out of Florida and the Caribbean ten or so years ago but instead of eradicating them completely, they have simply moved base to Mexico.

The Commission called for a more complex drugs policy based on education, prevention and understanding instead of the current battering ram approach. The USA’s policy on tackling drug abuse within their borders is no more sophisticated than an IT technician whose idea of fixing a computer is repeatedly kicking the hardrive.

Parallels between the current drug prohibition policies and the 18th Amendment passed against alcohol in 1919 have not gone unnoticed by the world’s media. The Act was inspired by the efforts of the Temperance Movements that sprang up at the end of the nineteenth century to cure what they thought was a moral depravity throughout America. However despite widespread seizures of liquor and an initial decline in the level of alcohol consumption, by 1929 there were more ‘speakeasies’ than there had been saloons in 1918. In New York City alone, they had between 30,000 and 100,000 speakeasies by 1925. It also led to an almost uncontrollable rise in gang control, particularly in Chicago. Breweries in Mexico and Canada and the other border countries flourished as gang leaders like Al Capone controlled thousands of speakeasies and a bootleg operation from Canada to Florida.

This is why their current approach will never work. It’s a guerrilla war that cannot be won by bloodletting. Similarly the ‘Just Say No’ campaign would never work either. True, the figures of teenagers taking soft drugs did fall but was this due to greater education rather than teenagers suddenly blindly following what the First Lady says. You cannot tell a person what to do, especially with something that is fundamentally their choice, without explaining why they should do it.

The answer to solving the drugs crisis coming from solving the problems within America rather than hammering the supply routes on its borders. Instead of exacerbating the problems of other countries it should face up to its own. There has been a lot of argument about legalising the use of drugs in America and whether this would lead to more or less dependency. An argument for legalisation of ‘softer drugs’ would be the downgrading of Cannabis from a class B to a class C drug in Britain in 2004 led to a fall in consumption despite the reclassification in 2009. On the other hand, against it is the legalisation of personal drug use in Portugal which has no led to any decline in consumption.

However, this is perhaps because the legislation does not go far enough; economists like Milton Friedman, George Akerlof and Vernon L.Smith suggest that the supply of marijuana without reducing the demand causes the price, and hence the profits of marijuana. Therefore it does nothing to stem the flow of narcotics across the border. Legalising the drugs trade is a controversial one even amongst the most liberal groups in America and it is not going to solve the problems of drug dependency over night but it should alleviate the suffering of Central America which doesn’t deserve to take all the backlash of American domestic policy.

Furthermore, Jeffrey A. Miron estimated in a 2008 study that legalising drugs would inject $76.8 billion in America’s indebted economy; $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings and $32.7 billion in tax revenue. Now these figures do seem a little generous but it is worth noting the bankrupt California’s illegal marijuana trade generates $1 billion a year.

Maybe, its time America admitted defeat. It cannot control the domestic habits of its citizens so instead of laying down the harsh hand of the law they should educate and inform their citizens to take better care of themselves.