Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Congratulations Brazil!

The Bigger Picture
Published on October 15th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Last week I offered my heartfelt congratulations to Ireland for its forward looking vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. It was the right thing to do in my opinion although the huge turnaround was probably due to fear based on economic uncertainty rather than a realistic assessment of the Lisbon Treaty’s notable shortcomings.
In an ideal word voters wouldn’t be stampeded into voting for or against someone or something out of fear for the possible effect of an election on their economic well being. But I have also seen such sentiments dominate and determine the outcome of many elections back in the states. We call it “voting your pocketbook”.
But despite political candidates never-ending promises that a vote for them will mean more jobs and better economic conditions, most economists would argue that elected officials don’t really have any control over your economic well-being. Ireland’s long term economic health is determined by factors like education and technological development that are difficult to change in five years. Nor can these politicians take any actions that will have an actual effect on the world’s demand for Ireland’s exports.
I believe Ireland’s membership in the EU has had a positive impact on its overall economic health, but as an EU member Ireland has also had to cede some aspects of its national sovereignty to a supranational EU governance organization based in Brussels. I therefore believe that Ireland can and should continue to have a healthy debate about whether or not all of these trade-offs are actually necessary and or appropriate.
I believe the current governance structure of the EU is unwieldy and badly in need of reform. While the Lisbon Treaty isn’t an ideal solution, on balance I thought it was still a step in the right direction. But even though I favoured the Lisbon Treaty, I don’t agree with those who said a vote against it would have meant economic ruin or exclusion from the EU. It would have delayed the reforms and created uncertainty in the credit markets, but the EU would have continued to function with Ireland as a full member.
But enough about the Lisbon Treaty; it’s the approval of NAMA and an austerity budget that are the arguably more difficult political issues Ireland must grapple with. I just hope Ireland’s politicians will focus on the merits or shortcomings of these proposals rather than drumming up support for their respective positions by using fear tactics.
With my sincere condolences to Chicago, “my kind of town” back in the states, I now want to congratulate Brazil for being selected as the host country for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Don’t get me wrong, I would have been thrilled had Chicago been selected instead of Rio de Janeiro as the host city, but I also thought that it was time for the games to finally be held in South America.
After all, the three North American nations have all been the site of at least one Summer Olympics and the United States has been the host country four times, more than any other nation. Just as the World Cup will finally be played on the African continent for the first time, so too will the Summer Olympics call a new continent home for the first time come 2016. Hopefully the World Cup will select Australia and the Summer Olympics will pick a site in Africa at some point in the next decade, so they can both then boast of having at least one their championships played on every continent in the world.
Unfortunately, US President Barack Obama was placed in the proverbial “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position of making a last minute sales pitch on behalf of his hometown’s Olympic bid. Many pundits and the London bookies immediately assumed that an appearance by the US President before the site selection committee in Copenhagen was a deal clincher for Chicago and America. But when I heard that Obama was just making a quick trip across the pond for his presentation, I knew immediately it wasn’t going to be beneficial to Chicago’s Olympic dreams.
There were several reasons why I made this assessment. I just wish I had acted on them and bet a few quid on Brazil with the bookmakers. For one thing, the US had already hosted four Summer Olympics, most recently in my hometown of Atlanta Georgia in 1996. Another factor was that a Summer Olympics had never been held in South America. In addition to a geographical location for the Summer Olympics in a new continent, the selection of Brazil would be a quasi-political acknowledgement of the huge strides Brazil has made economically and politically as a nation.
So I figured that for these reasons alone, Brazil was the obvious choice the 2016 Games, not America. But Barack Obama has both a captivating image and powerful skills of persuasion, so I understood why he was pressured to try and help clinch the deal for Chicago. But in order to be effective, Obama would have had to spend several days hob-knobbing with the delegates the way Tony Blair did prior to London’s selection.
However, spending that much time pressing Chicago’s bid would have created a firestorm of criticism back in the states, given the host of pressing foreign and domestic policy decisions President Obama is grappling with. But not helping Chicago would have generated criticism that he should have at least tried to help in the event that Chicago lost.
So President Obama did what he had to do. Then I read that “some delegates said they were less than impressed that Mr. Obama stayed just four hours” so they didn’t vote for Chicago because they thought this was disrespectful. I’m sorry, but I have no absolutely no respect for small minded delegates who think Obama’s quick trip didn’t show them the respect they were due. Delegates, who hold such sentiments, instead show that they’re incapable of carrying Obama’s shoes, much less walking in them.

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