Archive for November, 2009

20 years ago tomorrow, the world changed. It still moves me today to think back to the momentous events across Eastern Europe that brought about an end to the totalitarian Soviet communist regime. I was a 13 year-old boy living in Ireland at the time but the images I saw on television throughout the preceding months have left an indelible mark on my memory and my outlook on the world. I remember well the images of Solidarity members campaigning for the release of Lech Walesa, the joy of East Germans crossing the border via train from Hungary to Austria, the vast masses of humanity demonstrating peacefully night after night in Prague, Budapest, Leipzig and all over the Eastern Bloc, culminating, of course, in the fall of the Berlin Wall on that glorious night when, after a series of confused diktats laid out by a battered government in the vain hope of turning back the flow of history, the city’s citizens walked freely through their own city and danced on that monumental symbol of division and oppression in a stunning expression of freedom.

At that moment, all our destinies took a change for the better. Throughout the Cold War people lived under the shadow of possible nuclear holocaust and while these concerns had eased throughout the 1980s as Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated various arms treaties, the breach of the Wall signalled the end of this threat. But the greatest aspect of this revolution was that, in many countries, change arrived without the firing of a single shot, another ringing endorsement for the principles of non-violent protest pioneered by the followers of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It showed that when a critical mass of opposition to an oppressive regime is reached, it will inevitably fall without a need for bloodshed.

This gives hope to those who continue to yearn for freedom, for instance in Iran reformers can take heart that, while the Mullahs have managed to cling on to power with their machinations, their days are numbered and eventually freedom will come. It also sets a great example for those who are tempted to follow the dark path of terrorism to further their goals, showing them that there is another way to improve their lot.

I wanted to include one video to illustrate what happened, but there are so many amazing images that I have included four: the first is an ABC synopsis of the events of that amazing year; the second is a moving documentary by Berliner Carsten Cumbrowski, which also captures the confusion caused by the misinterpretations of the government’s orders; the last two videos from Spiegel TV will take you right down to street level for the moments before and after the world changed and shows the tension leading right up to the moments the guards gave in and the good-natured, yet absolute, resolve of the citizens that they would wait no longer. For those who are too young to remember these scenes please enjoy…this is what freedom means:

A year after Barack Obama’s historic election, one of his most contentious programs has been the $700 billion stimulus package. Here’s a clip of Lewis Black explaining John Maynard Keynes’ theory of how public works projects can stimulate the economy in his own inimitable (and be warned, very foul-mouthed way):

Now, just in case you’re thinking “that’s just crazy comedian talk and has no basis in proper economics” here’s the view of Keynes himself from “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”:

“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.” (p. 129)

So while Barack Obama may not have been thrilled about having to spend such a huge amount of money getting the American economy going and saddling the American taxpayer with such a large debt (yes, I said it), is was absolutely the correct thing to do. In this instance, to compromise the spending aspects of the package to appease Republicans (the people who, to a large extent, created this mess) in the name of bipartisanship could have led to the Great Recession becoming the second Great Depression and may have left future generations with an even more unmanageable National Debt. The world is now in the thankful state of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, just over a year after we faced economic catastrophe, as the recession ends (at least technically) in many countries and hopefully we can get back to job creation in the new year…