China’s economy expanded at a steady 6.7 percent in the third quarter and looks set to hit Beijing’s full-year target, fueled by stronger government spending, record bank lending and a red-hot property market that are adding to its growing pile of debt. Wednesday’s data painted a picture of an economy that is slowly stabilizing but increasingly dependent on government spending and a housing boom for growth, as private investment and exports remain stubbornly weak. Some economists believe Beijing has had to “double down” on stimulus this year to meet its official growth range of 6.5 to 7 percent, and say the government’s obsession with meeting hard targets may hurt both planned reforms and the long-term health of the world’s second-largest economy”.


A report in the New York Times notes how Clinton is gaining support amongst white Catholics, “Since the election of Ronald Reagan, white Catholics have flocked to Republican nominees for a raft of reasons, including their stances on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

But this year, something seems different. “Trump is the exception to the rule,” Carol Robinson, 67, said as she left an afternoon prayer meeting in this a Philadelphia suburb with other enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton. “He’s a loose cannon.”

Roman Catholics are the country’s second-largest religious group after evangelical Protestants, and they are as diverse as the country itself, with young liberals, cultural conservatives and, increasingly, Democratic-leaning Hispanics.

But now, the Clinton campaign senses a rare opportunity to block Mr. Trump’s narrow path to victory by making inroads with a core part of the church: white Catholics, a prized group of voters who have defied predictions this year.

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Though a string of polls had shown Mr. Trump opening a lead among white Catholics, a new poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Mr. Trump hemorrhaging support. The five-day poll, which ended two days after the release of a recording in which Mr. Trump joked about groping women, and before several women came forward to say he had forcibly kissed or touched them, showed him effectively tied with Mrs. Clinton. The poll showed 42 percent of white Catholics supported him, and 46 percent backed her, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

“That’s not where Trump wants to be in the homestretch, particularly with a core constituency in Midwestern battleground states,” said Robert Jones, a Public Religion Research Institute pollster. He added that white Catholics, much more than the white evangelicals who have largely remained loyal to Mr. Trump, seemed to be defying the Republican Party’s gravitational pull.

Both campaigns see openings: Mr. Trump in hacked emails released last week in which members of the Clinton campaign spoke critically about Catholic conservatism, and Mrs. Clinton in Mr. Trump’s un-churchmanlike behavior and his tussling with Pope Francis.

The pope, on his way home from Mexico in February, suggested that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” if he preferred building barriers over bridges. Mr. Trump, not one to turn the other cheek, responded that Francis’ remarks were “disgraceful.”

The episode did not hurt Mr. Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries; in fact, many Catholics believed the pope was improperly meddling in American politics.

But Francis may be more quietly influencing the Catholic vote in other ways. He has moved the church to emphasize inclusion and the welfare of the poor over divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. And his personnel changes have effectively left Mr. Trump’s conservative backers without much support from prominent Catholic clergy members.

“It’s a concern among a lot of Catholics that maybe we’re not going to hear the kind of strong message that we heard in past elections,” said Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who runs an anti-abortion group and is advising Mr. Trump.

In 2004, a powerful group of Catholic archbishops publicly advocated the re-election of President George W. Bush. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said that if given the chance, he would deny communion to Mr. Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, because of his abortion stance.

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Archbishop Burke to the rank of cardinal, but Francis has since essentially demoted him from his Vatican position. And when Cardinal Francis George, a combative voice on social issues from his high perch as the leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, took ill in 2014 (he died the next year), Pope Francis replaced him with the more inclusive Blase Cupich, who has focused his energies on climate change, gun control and immigration reform.

The pope announced this month that he would elevate Archbishop Cupich to the rank of cardinal, while passing over the United States’ reigning conservative heavyweight, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who has remained outspoken in his criticism of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

Prominent Catholic lawmakers are now targeting voters on behalf of the Clinton campaign. This month, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held a round-table discussion with nuns in Dubuque, Iowa. The campaign has also created “heritage” outreach programs to try to appeal to voters with immigrant backgrounds, such as Irish and Italian, who are often Catholic.

The director of the Clinton campaign’s Catholic outreach program, John McCarthy, said that lay Catholic leaders he met with in Dubuque repeatedly said they were uncomfortable with Mr. Trump. “The divisive rhetoric is what is really pushing people away,” Mr. McCarthy said.

But the Trump campaign has done its own outreach.

“I have a message for Catholics: I will be there for you,” Mr. Trump wrote in an open letter to the Annual Catholic Leadership Conference meeting this month in Denver. “I am, and will remain, pro-life. I will defend your religious liberties and the right to fully and freely practice your religion, as individuals, business owners and academic institutions.”

In March, Joseph Cella, a founder of Fidelis, a Catholic advocacy organization, added his name to an open letter calling Mr. Trump “unfit to be president” because his “demagoguery” and “appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility.”

But he said he had undergone a “sincere change of heart and mind” to Mr. Trump’s mission since then, and today, he is the campaign’s liaison to a group of Catholic advisers. On Tuesday, he released a statement calling on Catholics to pray the rosary daily until the election for unity, peace and a Donald Trump victory.

Mr. Cella said he was sticking by Mr. Trump despite the recent revelations of his vulgar comments about women and accusations from several women that he had forcibly touched or kissed them.

On “Face the Nation” on Oct. 9, Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former mayor of New York and a Catholic, who is one of Mr. Trump’s closest confidants, asked the host, John Dickerson, “Ever read ‘The Confessions of St. Augustine’?”

“Men can change, people can change,” Mr. Giuliani said.

Even Catholics who have found Mr. Trump’s language and ideas abhorrent are not necessarily abandoning him. “He’s a child, rude,” said Rose Benner, 85, after she emerged from Mass at St. Patrick Church in Malvern, Pa., one recent morning. “He doesn’t understand other people and he sees women as play toys.”

But, she added, “I’m a Catholic and I’m pro-life. I have to vote for Trump because he will appoint Supreme Court justices. That’s the only reason. My whole family will vote for Trump because of that.”

The Trump campaign is also courting Catholic conservatives by highlighting a recent comment from Mrs. Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine — himself an observant Catholic — that the church will one day support gay marriage. And it is making the most of every mention of Catholicism in the hacked Clinton campaign emails being released by WikiLeaks.

In one 2011 conversation about Rupert Murdoch in particular and prominent Catholics in general, Jennifer Palmieri, who later became the communications director of the Clinton campaign, wrote: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.”

The Trump campaign has also highlighted a 2012 email urging John D. Podesta, a former president of the Center for American Progress, to “plant the seeds of the revolution” against “Middle Ages dictatorship” within the Catholic church. Mr. Podesta, who is now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, responded by writing that he and his allies had created groups for just such a purpose.

Veteran church observers have noted that those emails spoke to a longstanding rift within the church between social conservatives who emphasize abortion and liberal Catholics more concerned about social justice.

But at a campaign rally last week in Ocala, Fla., Mr. Trump portrayed the emails as an attack on religion. “They attack Catholics and evangelicals,” he said. “Viciously.”

Mr. Trump himself was not so sensitive to Catholic feelings while on “The Howard Stern Show” in 2013, shortly after Pope Benedict announced he would resign.

“He should just give up and die,” Mr. Trump said, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post. “He looks so bad.”

The Clinton campaign, noting the silence of many bishops in this election and the candidate’s improving poll numbers, hopes Mr. Trump is so off-putting to white Catholics that they will overlook the emails and Mrs. Clinton’s stances on abortion and other social issues.

Outside Paoli’s Daylesford Abbey, where paintings on the walls for a coming art show include a $10,000 oil of Pope Francis, Ms. Robinson, the Clinton supporter, said she thought Francis had made it easier for her fellow Catholics to turn away from Mr. Trump.

And Tony Prosperi, a sheet metal worker who attended an event last week featuring Senator Tim Kaine, Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, at his union hall in Philadelphia, said Mr. Trump’s fight with the pope had crossed a sacred line.

“It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic,” he said. “There are a few people who you have to respect.”


the skies above Aleppo fell quiet Tuesday morning ahead of a planned, unilateral ceasefire, which saw Russian jets grounded to set the stage for a “humanitarian pause” later this week. “Today the airstrikes of Russia’s Aerospace Forces and Syria’s Air Force stop in the Aleppo area from 10 a.m.,” a statement posted on the Russian Ministry of Defense’s Facebook page said. “The long-term suspension of airstrikes is necessary to introduce a ‘humanitarian pause’ on October 20.” Residents of the battered Syrian city told CNN they had heard no bombing early on Tuesday. The temporary pause in airstrikes will allow civilians to flee the city via “six corridors,” according to Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu. He added that Syrian forces will withdraw and give rebels a chance to leave the beleaguered city via a further two corridors”.


An article from AP notes the increasing possibility of a deal between

Representatives from the Vatican and China are expected to meet before the end of the month in Rome in an effort to finalize a deal on the ordination of bishops on the mainland, a move aimed at ending a longstanding dispute, according to Catholic Church sources familiar with the negotiations.

The Church sources also told Reuters that China is preparing to ordain at least two new bishops before the end of the year and these appointments would have the blessing of the Vatican. A person with ties to the leadership in Beijing confirmed that these ordinations would go ahead.

For more than six decades, China’s ruling Communist Party has strongly opposed Rome’s right to ordain Chinese bishops in a bitter contest for authority over as many as 10 million Catholics on the mainland. Bishops, priests and lay Catholics loyal to Rome have faced persecution, which has sparked scepticism over the détente in some Catholic quarters.

In yet a further sign of progress, the Vatican has reached a decision to recognize at least four Chinese bishops who were appointed by Beijing without the consent of the pope and so are considered illegitimate by the Holy See, according to Catholic Church sources and others briefed on the talks. The decision follows a breakthrough meeting in mid-August in Beijing between the Vatican representatives to talks with China and several of these bishops.

For the Vatican, an agreement on the ordination of bishops is important because it would lessen the possibility of a formal split within the Catholic Church in China, which is divided between a community that follows the state-sanctioned Catholic hierarchy and an “underground” community that swears allegiance only to the pope in Rome. A deal on the ordination of bishops would help to unite these two communities, say Catholic Church and Vatican sources.

An agreement “would definitely remove the risk of a schism (within the Church in China), which for sixty years has been a potential threat,” said Elisa Giunipero, a researcher at the Catholic University of Milan who has studied the history of the Catholic Church in China for 20 years.


The latest developments are part of behind-the-scenes negotiations that have been driven by Pope Francis. A deal on the ordination of bishops would be a major leap forward in efforts to bridge a decades-old rift between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican.

Since becoming leader of the Catholic Church in March 2013, Francis has made it a priority to chart a new course in the Vatican’s contentious relationship with China. Reuters reported in July that Francis had sought to meet President Xi Jinping during a 2014 trip to New York in an effort to smooth the way to talks, and that a joint working group had been set up earlier this year in April to hammer out a deal on the bishops. The issue of full diplomatic relations is not currently on the table. (http://reut.rs/29LTBpp)

A deputy spokesperson for the Vatican, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, said the Holy See had no comment in response to questions from Reuters.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing: “At present the channels for contact and dialogue between the two sides are unimpeded and effective. We are willing to work hard with the Vatican and meet each other halfway”.

Vatican officials would like to see the appointment of the bishops before China’s Ninth National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, which is expected to convene in December, according to Catholic sources. The Assembly is the highest authority governing the church in China and appoints the heads of the most important state-backed Catholic institutions on the mainland – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

The Assembly last met six years ago when tensions were high between Beijing and the Vatican over China’s appointment of new bishops without papal consent. The Vatican retaliated by excommunicating three of these bishops in 2011 and 2012.

Now, the Vatican is anxious to conclude a deal on the ordination of bishops to head off another showdown with Beijing and to forestall a schism among China’s Catholics, the Church sources say.


The ordination of new bishops in China is also pressing because some 30 of the more than 100 dioceses on the mainland are currently vacant, while a similar number are led by aging bishops who are 75 or older. Three people familiar with the negotiations said the talks about the appointment of the new bishops were focused on the dioceses of Changzhi, in the northern Shanxi province, and Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan province. Separately, a person with ties to the leadership in Beijing said that the new bishops would be ordained in Chengdu and the city of Xichang, in Sichuan.

It was during the last round of talks in Beijing in August that the Vatican delegates were permitted to meet with several of the bishops whom the pope does not recognize. Catholic sources say they view this as a positive gesture by China, which had previously barred contact between the bishops and Vatican representatives. The meeting, the sources said, paved the way for Vatican recognition of some of these bishops.

One of the bishops who met the Vatican delegation was Joseph Ma Yinglin, the bishop of Kunming in Yunnan province, according to Catholic sources. Ma is president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference and vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Both institutions answer to the Chinese Communist Party and are not recognized by the Vatican.

Along with Ma, the other three bishops whom the Vatican is set to recognize are Guo Jincai, the bishop of Chengde in Hebei province near Beijing; Yue Fusheng, the bishop of Harbin in the northern Heilongjiang province; and Tu Shihua, the bishop of Puqi in Hunan province.

In total, there are eight bishops whom the Vatican has refused to recognize. Of the remaining four, two have children or girlfriends and the other two head dioceses where there is already an existing bishop who has been approved by the Vatican, according to Catholic sources.

During the August meeting in Beijing, the sides agreed on the principles that would govern the appointment of new bishops, say people with knowledge of the talks. According to a draft agreement, new Chinese bishops will be chosen by local clergy, with the pope making the final appointment. The pontiff can veto a candidate, for instance on ethical grounds, provided the Vatican presents evidence supporting such a decision to Beijing.


For the Vatican, which is the only Western state that doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Beijing, further détente with China following a deal on the bishops could make life easier for Christians on the mainland who have suffered decades of persecution at the hands of the Chinese authorities. For Beijing, better relations with the Holy See could improve its international standing and ultimately pry the Vatican away from the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Friday it was paying close attention to the developments and exchanges between China and the Vatican, adding that Taiwan and the Vatican had long been friends and had “firm” relations.

In some quarters of the Catholic Church, including among the underground community in China, there is concern over a deal between the Vatican and Beijing. That’s especially the case in Hong Kong, where local missions and clergy maintain ties with foreign and Chinese priests working on the mainland, often underground. Some fear the Vatican may make too many concessions to Beijing and that a deal will not lead to an improvement in the lives of Catholics in China.

Despite the progress toward an agreement on the ordination of new bishops, the Vatican and China are still at loggerheads over a range of other issues. In one case, for instance, some Chinese officials are still pushing for the appointment of a bishop without papal approval, according to two Church sources.

The matter of Thaddeus Ma Daqin also needs to be settled. Ma, the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, was placed under house arrest in 2012 when he announced at his ordination as a bishop that he could no longer remain in the state-backed Catholic Patriotic Association. Ma remains under house arrest despite writing in a blog post in June that his move had been “unwise.”

There is also the issue of some 30 bishops who belong to the underground Catholic community and who, along with local priests, face pressure from the authorities to join the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The Vatican is hoping that China will recognize these bishops once the issue of the eight bishops it considers illegitimate has been resolved, say Catholic officials.

“China last year announced it would cut troop levels by 300,000”


Police in the Chinese capital on Tuesday blocked off streets near a major military building, as hundreds of people wearing green camouflage uniforms chanted and waved national flags to protest against the loss of their posts. China last year announced it would cut troop levels by 300,000, targeting the bulk of the reductions by the end of 2017, as it seeks to spend more money on high-tech weapons for its navy and air force. Tens of thousands of protests take place in China every year, triggered by grievances over corruption, pollution, illegal land grabs and other factors, unnerving the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party. On Tuesday, buses stretched down a block of Chang’an Avenue, Beijing’s main thoroughfare, with police blocking the gaps between vehicles to obstruct views of the tightly-packed demonstrators. The voices of the protesters in front of the military’s Bayi Building rose above the traffic as they chanted songs, while some waved Chinese flags and banners protesting against their treatment after losing their positions in the military”.


An article from the Hill discusses the possibility of a Democratic victory in the Senate, “Democrats are now extremely confident they will capture control of the Senate next month in the wake of Donald Trump’s drop in the polls and an intensifying civil war in the Republican Party. Winning the majority is a given, Democratic officials told The Hill, adding that signs point to a pickup of seven seats and possibly more on Election Day.

To win control of the Senate, Democrats need to pick up four seats on Nov. 8, or five if Trump wins the White House.

ut they say the billionaire businessman has no chance of becoming commander in chief and that his bombshell comments about groping women have tilted races around the country.

Democrats contend they’re on track to pick up seats in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“You’re looking at a potential plus-seven night,” said a Senate Democratic strategist. “I mean, that is a huge night for us if that’s how it goes down.”

The last big Democratic wave election was in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won the White House and Senate Democrats netted eight seats.

And then, Republicans weren’t as starkly divided as they are now.

The intraparty brawl unfolding in the GOP has Democrats wondering whether seats they had given up on in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona may be within reach after all.

Some Democratic strategists think a nine- or 10-seat victory is not out of the question.

A senior Democratic aide said Tuesday that Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in Florida is back on the table and that Ohio, where GOP Sen. Rob Portman had pulled away from his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland, may become competitive again. Democrats canceled ads in Florida and in Ohio after Portman built a double-digit lead there in recent weeks.

The aide floated the possibility of shifting money away from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where more moderate voters are likely to be turned off by Trump’s lewd comments, to races in more Republican-leaning states.

That probably won’t happen, given the risky nature of such an unorthodox move, but the talk shows that some Democrats want to go big, believing the Republican Party is in the middle of a historic meltdown.

“If Trump loses Ohio by 15 points or more, which is entirely possible, then yeah, Ohio’s in play. Or if by 10 points or more, that’s entirely possible, too. Trump declared war on the establishment. Rob Portman is the establishment,” said the aide.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch ­McConnell (R-Ky.) has told colleagues throughout the election cycle that it is possible for Republicans to lose the White House, even by a large margin, and keep Senate control, pointing to various historical examples.

“It’s never a good strategy to start measuring the drapes with still weeks to go in an election, especially when you are pulling resources out of competitive races,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Clinton and Trump are tied in Ohio, according to an average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, but those surveys were conducted before Trump’s most recent scandal.

“We are working to figure out if this expands us into new states,” a Senate Democratic strategist with knowledge of the Senate races said Tuesday.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report, said “it’s entirely too early” to know whether Florida and Ohio will become competitive again and noted Democrats’ recent advertising cancellations in both states.

Some Democratic strategists don’t want to wait another week to get all the polling data because time is of the essence with Election Day less than a month away.

The biggest problem Senate Democrats face in expanding the map is a lack of financial resources.

While the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised more money than its counterpart, Republican-allied outside groups have flooded money into expensive battlegrounds such as Florida and Ohio, forcing Democrats to retreat and focus on cheaper races in Missouri and North Carolina.

Rubio has not retracted his endorsement of Trump, who defeated him for the presidential nomination. Portman on Saturday said he could no longer support Trump and would instead write in his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

If Trump vents his anger on Portman by attacking his tenure as U.S. trade representative or his past support for trade deals, it could cost the senator at the ballot box.

Trump this week lashed out at Republicans who pulled their support, such as Portman and vulnerable Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), tweeting: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides.”

Ayotte initially said she supported Trump but declined to endorse him. She now says she won’t vote for him.

Republican candidates who stick with Trump risk turning off Republicans who might decide to sit the election out. But those who withdraw their support from Trump may see a sizable chunk of the GOP base vote against them in retaliation.

“This is the worst Catch-22 I’ve ever seen in politics. These Republicans are absolutely damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Matt Canter, a Democratic strategist at Global Strategy Group.

With the election shifting decisively for Clinton — hardly a Republican strategist in Washington thinks Trump can win now — Democrats are beginning to wonder if they might be overly focused on Senate races they’ll end up winning handily.

“Do you aim for a bigger night that would help you build a sea wall against losing the Senate in 2018, when we have such a terrible map?” the senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Republicans are defending 24 seats this year compared to the Democrats’ 10, but in two years the advantage will be reversed. Democrats will have to worry about 25 seats while Republicans will have to defend only eight.

“If you take that leap of faith, everything is in play. If Republicans stay home en masse — whichever side of the civil war they’re on — sure, everything is in play,” the source added.

Arizona, where Sen. John McCain (R) appeared to be cruising to reelection, is no longer a slam-dunk for the GOP, Democrats say, especially if Trump declares war on Republicans who abandon him.

That’s what happened Monday, when Trump blasted McCain, the party’s presidential nominee in 2008, who said over the weekend he would not vote for Trump next month.

“The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!” Trump tweeted.

McCain was in a dead heat with his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), earlier this year. He pulled ahead, seemingly decisively, after outside groups spent big in Arizona to defend him.

In Nevada, Rep. Joe Heck (R), who is running for Senate, announced over the weekend he would not vote for Trump.

Heck drew boos at a weekend campaign rally, and Republican National Committeewoman Diana Orrock said she would no longer back the Senate hopeful.

“How hypocritical of him to denounce Trump on comments that were [11] years old and locker room banter? By not endorsing Trump, he is supporting Hillary,” she said.

EU formally criticises Russia


Over coming a wave of reluctance to antagonize Moscow, European Union foreign ministers are planning to formally and explicitly admonish Russia for supporting the Syrian government’s deadly assault on Aleppo, an attack that “may amount to war crimes,” diplomats tell Foreign Policy. The European ministers, who will meet meet on Monday in Luxembourg, are also expected to support the imposition of sanctions on as many as 20 Syrian government officials who have had a role in the bombardment. An earlier draft of the EU statement did not include a direct reference to Russia, but has been added at the insistence of the French, British and German governments. The move comes as Secretary of State John Kerry mounts a new diplomatic push to pursue a ceasefire for the besieged city at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday that includes representatives of Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” reads a draft joint statement obtained by FP. “The escalating violence in Aleppo is causing untold and unacceptable suffering for thousands of its inhabitants.”

Algeria’s shaky post-oil economy


An article discusses the problems of oil production in Algeria, “Algeria is North Africa’s oil superpower, but its years of steady production haven’t brought prosperity or development. Instead, the country is facing mounting economic, social, and political pressures. The quality of its public services, especially in such critical areas as education, healthcare, and housing, is in decline. The workings of the government in Algiers are opaque, and the country is perceived to be among the world’s 10 most corrupt. Unemployment, particularly among younger Algerians, remains at well over 20 percent. Many of the country’s educated youth say they would leave if they could. In other countries in the region, similar challenges led to the fall of regime after regime during the tumultuous Arab Spring in 2011. That the Algerian government was able to escape a similar fate was due largely to widespread fears that a major political and economic upheaval would trigger a civil war similar to the one that ravaged the country during the “Black Decade” of the 1990s. The government was also able to placate its restive population with subsidies, government jobs, and public sector pay increases — all financed, of course, by oil“.

The article goes on to argue “After oil prices collapsed in 2014-15, however, everything changed. Oil revenues have fallen by more than 50 percent. Fiscal and trade deficits have shot up, international reserves are falling rapidly, and the currency has been devalued by nearly 30 percent. At the same time, the defense budget has more than doubled since 2004, ballooning to over $10 billion to counter instability stemming from the Libyan conflict in the east and terrorist incursions from Mali in the south. On top of all this, since the 1990s, more than 270,000 of the country’s best-educated workers have sought their fortunes abroad. Desperate to create jobs and maintain GDP growth, which is forecasted to fall from 3.7 percent in 2015 to 1.9 percent this year, the country’s authoritarian government has proposed a new development strategy to replace its oil-based system of patronage. The plan — called the New Economic Growth Model — was launched in July. Its overriding goal is to diversify the country’s economy away from its overreliance on hydrocarbons, which accounted for about one-third of GDP, over two-thirds of government revenues, and over 95 percent of exports as of late last year. Unfortunately — thanks to a rumoured power struggle in the inner circles of the government of the aging and seriously ill President Bouteflika — the plan’s precise details are still unavailable”.

The piece mentions how “Among the main components of the new strategy is a law meant to incentivize investment in the non-oil sector by introducing tax breaks and loosening regulations. The hope is that “high value added” sectors such as agribusiness, renewable energy, and information and communication technology will be able to attract significant foreign direct investment. These investments, it is hoped, will generate enough tax revenue to offset what has been lost to the oil price drop. To reduce another costly drain on its budget, the government has also begun raising fuel and electricity prices for the first time in over a decade. Will the new strategy be the stabilizing force the government needs? If Algerian history and international experience are any indication, the answer is no”.

Crucially he posits that “The fundamental problem is that — in a chronically misgoverned country — the new plan takes a highly centralised, bureaucratic approach to economic development, one that leaves no room for participatory methods that would let citizens ensure government accountability. Development plans similar to the one being proposed, and which were successfully implemented in other countries (notably in Japan and Korea, but also in Ethiopia and Rwanda), were drawn up by highly competent technocrats with no vested interest in the envisioned investments. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Algeria. In fact, in Algeria, it’s not even clear who’s in charge of the plan — or, for that matter, of the country. While President Bouteflika is the official head of government, real power appears to lie behind the scenes with what Algerians call le pouvoir, an inner circle composed of the country’s military and security forces and supported by insider businessmen who are set to profit immensely from the plan’s investments”.

The writer goes on to argue “Algeria is particularly weak in rule of law, control of corruption, government effectiveness, and regulatory quality — all areas critical to successful economic development. These measures showed marked improvement from the late 1990s to about 2004, but since then they have largely remained stagnant or declined. Algeria’s score for regulatory quality, which includes such measures as unfair competitive practices, has declined so much since 2004 that it now ranks below Haiti’s. And there is no indication that the government has any plans to address these deficiencies, the results of which are all too evident. Algeria’s poor governance has made for inefficient and uncompetitive markets in labor, goods, and finance. This, of course, is mainly linked to the country’s all-pervasive corruption, where patronage jobs result in overstaffing so severe it exerts a drag on national growth”.

It ends “As in many other oil-based economies, Algeria’s hydrocarbon sector has facilitated the creation and maintenance of an authoritarian and patronage-based political system. Once oil-producing countries become authoritarian, as in Algeria’s case, it is very difficult to steer them back toward democracy, as too many vested interests with a stake in blocking economic, social and political reforms have been created. Since it appears that the new reform plan was designed precisely by such vested interests in the corrupt government inner circle, it is unrealistic to expect the plan to set off a virtuous circle of reforms. If oil prices stay low, the Algerian government will, at some point, no longer have the resources to support its patronage schemes, which will likely lead to increasing instability, potentially ending in an Arab Spring-type uprising. The government’s only realistic option to guarantee the country’s stability and its own survival is to replace the New Economic Growth Model with a broad-based, community-oriented development plan subject to public oversight–perhaps along the lines of the plan successfully implemented in Morocco. Such a plan would not produce the economic windfalls previously provided by oil, but it could potentially set Algeria on a virtuous circle of growth and reform, rather than sinking it further. Due to its unrealistic assumptions, the current plan is a losing proposition that may soon leave Algeria with no option but to accept an International IMF austerity program similar to or harsher than the one recently imposed on Egypt. Should this occur, it is likely that another “Black Decade” will lie ahead”.


“Clinton has opened up a 12-point national lead”


Hillary Clinton has opened up a 12-point national lead over Donald Trump among likely voters with less than a month to go before Election Day, a new poll finds. Clinton takes 50 percent support in the Monmouth University survey released Monday, which has Trump at 38 percent. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein takes 2 percent. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, led by only 4 points in the same poll last month, edging Trump 46 percent to 42 percent. It’s the third recent poll to show Clinton leading by double digits nationally, although other surveys show a tighter race. An ABC News/Washington Post survey released over the weekend put her advantage at only 4 points over Trump, the Republican nominee, well within that survey’s margin of error. The RealClearPolitics average shows Clinton leading Trump by 6.3 points nationally in a four-way race. Clinton’s lead in the new poll is reduced to 9 points, 47 percent to 38 percent, among all registered voters nationally.

End of the Thai monarchy?


An important article questions the future of the Thai monarchy, “After two days of rumours about the health of Thailand’s king, confirmation finally arrived in the form of a solemn statement issued by the royal palace Thursday evening. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a unifying figure through seven politically tumultuous decades, died peacefully in the capital of Bangkok at the age of 88. According to the palace, the world’s longest-reigning monarch died at 3:52 p.m. after years of declining health. The immediate cause of death was not clear. Despite reports that the king’s health had worsened in recent days, the news has plunged Thailand into a period of deep mourning and uncertainty. For most Thais, King Bhumibol is the only monarch they have ever known, the one constant in a modern history marked by mass protests, military coups, and widening political fault lines. In some quarters, the king is revered with almost religious fervor; his beatific portrait is ubiquitous, staring down from the walls of homes, businesses, and government buildings across the country”.

The report adds that “By the time the king’s death was announced, crowds of mourners had gathered outside Siriraj Hospital, clad in yellow and pink, colours associated with the throne. Some wept openly, clutching portraits of the monarch. Others sang royalist songs in a plaintive key. On social media networks, the #longlivetheking hashtag was trending as Thai web users posted hundreds of messages and photos in memory of King Bhumibol. In a televised address, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a general who took power in a May 2014 coup, declared a year of mourning and a 30-day moratorium on entertainment events. He also announced that King Bhumibol will be succeeded as expected by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has said he “needs time to mourn his father” before taking his place as the 10th king of the Chakri Dynasty. Unlike King Bhumibol, Prince Vajiralongkorn is a controversial figure, a jet-setting womanizer whose eventual ascension to the throne will likely herald a period of rocky transition for one of the world’s most revered monarchies. During a reign lasting a touch more than 70 years, King Bhumibol presided over Thailand’s transformation from a rural kingdom once known as Siam into a regional economic powerhouse. A quiet, introverted man with horn-rimmed glasses, Bhumibol was born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while his father was a student at Harvard Medical School. The young prince spent much of his early life abroad, until the mysterious shooting death of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, unexpectedly catapulted Bhumibol to the throne in 1946″.

The piece goes on to mention “In his early years as ruler, King Bhumibol split his time between his official royal duties and hobbies like photography and jazz and as the years went by came to be seen as a stabilizing force that stood firm amid cycles of political upheaval. (Since 1932, this country of 67 million has experienced 19 coups and coup attempts.) The king’s stature was heightened by the political tumult of October 1973, when the arrest of 13 student activists triggered massive public protests against Thailand’s military dictator du jour, Thanom Kittikachorn. After security forces fired on student protesters, killing around 70, King Bhumibol and other royals intervened and expressed support for the protesters. The junta was eventually forced out of power, and Thanom fled the country. If these events revealed a new zenith of popularity for the 45-year-old king, it also demonstrated the ambiguity of his position in Thailand’s fractious politics: not directly involved but never wholly aloof. In an article on the October uprising, the New York Times described King Bhumibol’s role as “less than ruling but certainly more than just reigning.” Although royalists argue that the king was a father figure who ruled for the good of his people, most of Thailand’s military coups have enjoyed tacit royal approval”.

Importantly the piece adds “The ramifications of King Bhumibol’s death are uncertain but likely to be far-reaching. Despite standing as a bastion of unity for the Thai people, the king’s image papered over wide social and political divides. For the last 15 years, a bitter political struggle has pitted the allies of former prime minister and billionaire telecommunications mogul Thaksin Shinawatra, who won massive support from the rural poor for his populist social and economic policies, against the traditional royalist elite — a tight-knit coterie of soldiers, bureaucrats, and rich businessmen surrounding the palace. This conflict reflects a deeper social rift between the conservative middle class in the cities and rural and working-class Thais — the so-called “Red Shirts” — who found their political voice in support of Thaksin. Some observers have suggested that the succession could have complex effects on the outcome of this struggle. The most immediate question surrounds King Bhumibol’s nominated successor. Though Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s claim to the throne is clear, the 64-year-old lacks his father’s royal aura and is believed to be deeply unpopular among the royalist elite. Over the years, he has shown little interest in the public duties associated with the royal family, instead earning a reputation as a fast-living playboy who spends most of his time outside the country, largely in Germany, where he reportedly owns an $11 million villa on a lake south of Munich. In 2007, leaked video footage showed Prince Vajiralongkorn holding a lavish private party with his then-wife, Srirasmi Suwadee — clad in nothing but heels and a G-string — and his pampered pet poodle, Foo Foo, which by the time of its death last year held the rank of chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force. (The mutt’s death was marked by four days of Buddhist funeral rites.) In July, the German tabloid Bild published photos of Prince Vajiralongkorn boarding a plane in Munich wearing low-rise jeans and an unflattering tank top that revealed a palette of fresh yakuza-style tattoos”.

Crucially the author notes that “Scottish journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, author of the 2014 book A Kingdom in Crisis, which was banned in Thailand for its discussion of the royal succession, says much of the Thai elite is implacably opposed to the prospect of Prince Vajiralongkorn succeeding his father. “From quite a young age, he acted like a medieval monarch,” Marshall said of the crown prince. “For the elites who benefit from the continued perception of a benevolent monarchy, this is a disaster.” To make matters worse, many fear that Prince Vajiralongkorn might make common cause with Thaksin, who is currently in exile abroad, joining hands with the popular politician to clean house in the palace. This, in turn, could undermine royalist control of the Privy Council, a small but influential royal advisory body, and threaten the sprawling networks of business and patronage that converge on the opaque Crown Property Bureau, which administers the palace’s estimated $53 billion in property and business investments. “What the elite has always been terrified of is that the crown prince and Thaksin will get together and that Thaksin would get his hands on the Crown Property Bureau. That thought absolutely terrifies them,” Marshall said”.

The piece concludes “For now, with the population in deep mourning, things are likely to be muted. Undoubtedly, this is by design. Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister, told me last year that one of the army’s main motivations for launching the 2014 coup was to ensure there was political stability during the sensitive period of succession. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan, said despite the elite’s distaste for the crown prince, most senior officials would probably wait to see how things pan out. “At the end of the day, the well-being of the monarchy is the well-being of the royalists. Even if they don’t like it, they’ll have to swallow it for their own good,” he said. Where the succession leads in the longer term is harder to predict. One question is whether the popular reverence for the monarchy will fade now that King Bhumibol is gone. Another question is what sort of monarch Prince Vajiralongkorn will turn out to be if and when he is crowned king. Will he choose to settle into a comfortable life of palace-bound ritual? Or will he decide to pursue an activist reign, shaking up an entrenched political establishment in pursuit of his own vision for Thailand? There is also the question of whether elections, which the junta has promised for next year, will go ahead in the current situation. What is certain is that as one historical era opens, and another closes, the future of the monarchy will now hang ever more ominously over the country’s political life — whether or not anyone can acknowledge it publicly”.


Russia’s hot air defences


Deep in the Russian countryside, the grass sways in a late-summer breeze. In the distance, the sun glistens off the golden spires of a village church. It is, to all appearances, a typically Russian scene of imperturbable rural tranquillity. Until a sleek MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears in a field, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia. A few moments later, a missile launcher pops up beside it. Cars on a nearby road pull over, the drivers gaping in amazement at what appear to be fearsome weapons, encountered so unexpectedly in this serene spot. And then, as quickly as they appeared, the jet and missile launcher vanish. “If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. “Nobody ever wins honestly.”  Mr. Komarov oversees military sales at Rusbal, a hot air balloon company that also provides the Ministry of Defense with one of Russia’s lesser-known military threats: a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers, including the MIG in the field. At a factory behind high concrete walls not far from here, workers toiling in secret with little more than sewing machines and green fabric are churning out the ultimate in soft power: decoys that appear lifelike from as close as 300 yards and can pop up and then vanish in mere minutes”.

“Iran could be part of the solution to the Syrian conflict”


An interesting article argues that the US should be arguing with Iran over how to end the war in Syria, not Russia, “Wherever there has been a glimmer of light in the Syrian war, it has always been quickly extinguished. Take the cease-fire agreement reached in September by Washington and Moscow. After Red Crescent trucks delivering aid to the besieged city of Aleppo were bombed by suspected Russian aircraft, the deal quickly fell apart. The many skeptics of the cease-fire were not surprised by its fate. But its dissolution had less to do with Russia’s duplicitousness than with the fact that Russia never should have been the main interlocutor to begin with. Of the outside backers of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Iran — which has sent hundreds of its troops to Syria and facilitated the involvement of several thousand non-Syrian Shiite militants to prop up Assad — has the most influence in Syria”.

He goes on to point out “Russian and Iranian objectives in Syria are not the same, and there’s no reason to think Iran’s interests are well represented by Russian negotiators. If the United States hopes to achieve any measure of peace in Syria, it can’t avoid directly negotiating with Iran — which is not to suggest that peace will be the immediate result. Washington first needs to understand why Iran’s stake in Syria runs so deep. Syria under Hafez al-Assad was the only country in the Middle East to back Iran in its devastating war with Iraq during the 1980s. Iran’s military leaders are all veterans of that conflict. They still bear the scars, emotional and physical, of fighting in a war fueled by Iran’s Sunni neighbors that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of their countrymen. Tehran has a very small cadre of allies, and it will sacrifice plenty to avoid losing its oldest friend”.

The piece mentions that “Losing access to Syrian territory, in other words, would undermine Iranian deterrence and make it more vulnerable to Israeli and U.S. coercion. As one former official with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) put it, Syria is so strategically important that Iran considers it to be its “35th province.” It would be better for Iran to lose its oil-rich southwest province to adversarial forces (as had happened in the Iran-Iraq war) than to lose Syria, he reasoned. “Because if we hold Syria, we would be able to retake Khuzestan [province]; yet if Syria were lost, we would not be able to keep even Tehran.” From its perspective, the Islamic Republic has little reason to support any variation of regime change on offer in Syria. The country’s Sunni rebels have displayed a strong bias against Shiites. Jihadi groups like the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Islamic State advocate a virulently anti-Shiite worldview. The Islamic State has put that ethos into practice through massacres of Shiite Alawites in Syria and mainstream Shiites in Iraq. Iran assumes other rebel groups would act similarly if given power in Syria and that such Sunni extremism would quickly spill over into Lebanon and Iraq, threatening Shiites in those countries. Iran also has its own problem with Sunni sectarian militants, particularly within its western and southeastern provinces”.

The report argues “The reason Iran has made itself such a central actor in the Syrian conflict is to influence its postwar future. That’s why it never bode well that Tehran was excluded from the September cease-fire negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moscow and Washington may have formally represented the two main sides of the war, but neither was in a position to dictate terms to the numerous actors fighting on the ground. Unlike Iran, neither power has ever committed to having a formidable presence on the ground, where it matters most. Given its deep involvement in Syria, and outside of a military victory by the rebels, Iran will have to be part of any political solution. The United States and Iran already have common cause against jihadis and support the same side of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq. U.S.-Iranian engagement on Syria could help both states advance their objectives. That alone should be enough to warrant bilateral negotiations”.

He goes on to point out that “It’s also worth noting that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected the expansion of U.S.-Iranian talks beyond the nuclear deal. Last year, he made this policy clear: “We agreed to talks with the United States only for the nuclear issue. … In other areas, we did not allow talks with the U.S., and we will not negotiate with them.” In August, he reiterated that stance, saying, “They [the United States] want us to negotiate with them on the regional issues, but the nuclear deal experience tells us that [negotiating with the United States] is a lethal poison and we cannot trust the Americans’ words in any issue.” Khamenei has been backed by Iran’s military, which has similarly rejected compromise with the United States. Iran’s chief of staff, IRGC Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, said in September that the “IRGC doesn’t accept talks with the enemy. The enemy, especially the U.S., thinks that talks mean the other side’s making concessions and the imposition of [American] demands, but this type of negotiations is not even worth [a] thought and the IRGC doesn’t accept it. The IRGC is vigilant and cannot be fooled.” The outright rejection of compromise with Washington on regional issues is not a bargaining ploy for the Iranians. It is policy. “Assad or we burn the country” — a slogan used by pro-government troops — could just as easily serve as Iran’s motto. America is not trusted by the IRGC, and nothing short of fully acceding to the Islamic Republic’s demands will change that”.

He ends “Iran will back down from its maximalist, all-or-nothing Syria strategy only if it feels obliged to do so. Right now it has little such incentive. Russia has buoyed the Iranian position and provided a counterbalance to U.S. pressure. Iran’s leaders also seem unconcerned with the reputational and moral cost of pursing victory. They are willing to sacrifice more for their side than their Sunni neighbors are for theirs. The question for the United States and its allies may be whether they are willing to explore the limits of Iran’s commitment. Iran has already lost more than 400 of its troops in the conflict, including some of its top IRGC commanders — more casualties lost than in any conflict since the Iran-Iraq war. The war is expensive and burdensome. Iran might be open to compromise, but only if it sees it as the best way to ensure Iranian gains. If both sides maintain maximalist positions, the war will end only when one side loses. Absent that, war and the destruction of Syria will perpetuate indefinitely. Iran could be part of the solution to the Syrian conflict and help end the suffering of millions of innocent civilians. It has earned a seat at the table. But it would also be foolish not to recognize that for now it remains unlikely to use that position to pursue a compromise”.

“Less likely to ease sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine”


Outraged by Russia’s intensified air strikes on rebels in Syria, the European Union is now less likely to ease sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine, diplomats say, and some in the bloc are raising the prospect of more punitive steps against the Kremlin. While the EU says conflicts in Syria and Ukraine need to be kept separate, the latest military offensive by Damascus and its ally Moscow on rebel-held eastern Aleppo further clouds the strained ties between Moscow and the bloc. That weakens the hand of Italy, Hungary and others who have steadily increased pressure for easing sanctions, returning to doing business and re-engaging with Moscow after first hitting it with punitive measures for annexing Crimea in March 2014″.

Trump, the outlier


An excellent article by Kori Schake notes that Trump is an outlier in his views, “You may have missed it, what with all the campaign tawdriness of late, but the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently released its biennial survey of American public opinion on U.S. foreign policy, which not surprisingly this year focuses on Republican attitudes. Much coincides with surveys conducted by Pew and other reputable pollsters, but I learned three things reviewing the Chicago Council data that I hadn’t understood before: Republican positions on globalization and trade shifted in 2008; Democrats are more supportive of trade than their presidential nominee; and the great divergence in stances on immigration now evident between Republicans and Democrats is the result of dramatic changes in viewpoints among Democrats, not Republicans”.

She writes that “First, though, it merits saying how much consensus remains across the political spectrum about America’s role in the world. The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to want a strong military, participation in our existing alliances, and additional alliance relationships. And most Americans favour our country acting through international institutions and support international agreements as a means of protecting and advancing our national interests. In fact, 89 percent of Americans support strong alliances, and we like NATO best of all. Sixty-eight percent of Americans even approve of a stronger United Nations, that bête noir of the right. There is also considerable agreement over the threats we face, with strong majorities of respondents most worried about terrorism and nuclear proliferation (especially that of North Korea). Seventy-five percent of Republicans put terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, a higher proportion than did after 9/11. Democrats are more concerned about financial crisis and climate change than Islamic fundamentalism — but 49 percent of Democrats see the latter as a critical threat, too”.

She notes “The journalist Peter Beinart wittily observed that Democrats are the new Republicans: advocates of engagement with the world, proponents of trade and globalization, optimists about the future. The Chicago Council’s data bear that out. You would never know it from listening to Hillary Clinton equivocate on trade, but 74 percent of Democrats favour the Trans-Pacific Partnership; even 56 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders support TPP. Because the Chicago Council provides time-series data, it’s possible to see that the Republicans’ disaffection with globalization started in 2008 — before the Lehman Brothers collapse that started the financial crisis. Still, six in 10 Republicans continue to support globalization”.

Pointedly she writes “And Donald Trump supporters are not the outliers many consider them to be: 40 percent view trade as positive for the U.S. economy; 45 percent believe globalization has helped U.S. companies; 52 percent say globalization has been good “for consumers like you”; 49 percent agree that globalization has been beneficial for their standard of living. Where Trump supporters differ from other Americans is in their concern that despite those advantages, globalization has been damaging to jobs and job security. Moreover, Trump supporters are not outliers from traditional Republican positions on military strength, alliances, or international institutions. More Trump supporters than other Americans favour keeping U.S. military bases in Japan and Korea, though their candidate has made statements to the effect that continuing these relationships would be contingent upon cash. Even 50 percent of Trump backers want America to have a shared leadership role in the world and think the NATO alliance is essential — again, an area where the GOP standard-bearer’s views have been less than supportive”.

She ends “Interestingly enough, Trump voters are also those least affected by the diversity immigration brings. Such data reinforce the findings of sociologist Robert Putnam’s work on religious tolerance in America: The more exposure people have to difference, the more tolerant they become. Overall, the Chicago Council data are incredibly reassuring. There remains a broad, deep consensus among Americans about an engaged role in the world being positive for our security and our economy, that the allies and institutions we built from the devastation of World War II continue to deserve our support, and that trade is an essential component of our prosperity. Where differences have emerged — on immigration, for example — they result in increasing tolerance by liberals rather than growing intolerance by conservatives. It is alarming the extent to which one would come to very different conclusions listening to the Democratic nominee on trade or the Republican nominee on, well, everything.

Clinton to get tough with China


Hillary Clinton privately said the U.S. would “ring China with missile defense” if the Chinese government failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear program, a potential hint at how the former secretary of state would act if elected president. Clinton’s remarks were revealed by WikiLeaks in a hack of the Clinton campaign chairman’s personal account. The emails include a document excerpting Clinton’s private speech transcripts, which she has refused to release. A section on China features several issues in which Clinton said she confronted the Chinese while leading the U.S. State Department. China has harshly criticized the U.S. and South Korea’s planned deployment of a missile-defense system against North Korea, which conducted its fifth nuclear test this year. But Clinton said she told Chinese officials that the U.S. might deploy additional ships to the region to contain the North Korean missile threat. If North Korea successfully obtains a ballistic missile, it could threaten not just American allies in the Pacific, “but they could actually reach Hawaii and the west coast theoretically,” Clinton said”.

OPEC, unable to raise prices


An article posits the end of OPEC, “Like the boy who cried wolf, 2016 might become the year of the oil producers’ cartel that cried “output cut.” If that’s right, and the U.S. shale industry becomes the oil market’s marginal producer, Middle Eastern petro-states and, above all, Saudi Arabia are in for lean and hard years ahead. In February, OPEC called for an oil production “freeze” to raise crude prices in conjunction with Russia. But this effort collapsed at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, in April when Iran refused to join any freeze in order to regain the pre-2012 production levels of close to 4 mbpd it enjoyed before U.S. and European Union nuclear sanctions were imposed, following the removal of certain sanctions after the 2015 nuclear deal. A similar proposal failed at the OPEC meeting in June, again following Iran’s refusal, despite outreach by the Qataris”.

Johnson goes on to argue “Having dashed market hopes and crude prices in February, April, and June, OPEC again called for a form of output cut on Sept. 28 at an extraordinary meeting in Algiers. Markets bit on the news, with Brent prices rising sharply by about 15 percent in the following week, from $46 to $52 per barrel. So should markets now take OPEC seriously? Can action by the cartel sustain higher crude prices over the long term? Probably not. Like a desert mirage, the image of an OPEC resurrection vanishes when approached. OPEC, which has always been dominated by Saudi Arabia, went into hibernation in the summer of 2014. The massive fall in oil prices from over $100 per barrel in early 2014 to under $30 by January 2016 was caused primarily by then-Saudi Minister of Petroleum Ali al-Naimi’s strategy to gain market share for the kingdom and hurt the U.S. tight oil (or “shale”) industry by allowing the market, not OPEC interventions, to set prices. The results have been mixed. While Riyadh has cranked up its production from mid-2014 to today by over a million barrels a day (to a peak of 10.7 mbpd in August this year), its fiscal position has taken a serious blow, with the budget deficit rising from 3 percent of GDP to 16 percent in 2015, given how about 90 percent of government revenue comes from oil”.

He adds, “As for U.S. shale, the industry has been more resilient than Saudi Arabia expected, as I suggested in my New Year’s prediction. The rig count is down, and only the most profitable new wells — for example in part of the Permian Basin in Texas — can boast of breaking even at less than $35 per barrel. However, U.S. oil production, of which shale accounts for about half, is on track to produce an average of 8.7 mbpd this year, down from a peak of 9.5 mbpd in 2015. Down, but by no means out. The resilience of U.S. shale makes the argument that OPEC has experienced a resurrection a fragile claim. The cartel can probably raise prices in the short term through an output cut, but it will only be so long, perhaps already by mid-2017, before the U.S. shale industry revives and grabs any market share conceded by OPEC in a higher price environment. This will ultimately bring prices lower again, all else being equal”.

Crucially he notes “The OPEC resurrection claim becomes more tenuous when one considers the Algiers announcement, which is only an “agreement to agree” to production cuts at the next OPEC meeting on Nov. 30. Inauspiciously, the specific cuts individual members must make haven’t been agreed upon, but kicked down the road for discussion by a “high-level committee.” Moreover, to reach a provisional agreement in Algiers, Naimi’s successor, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, had to exempt Iran, Libya, and Nigeria from any participation in production cuts. This represents a major geopolitical concession by Riyadh to Tehran, arguably brokered by Moscow, which will not be an easy position to sustain, given Saudi-Iranian animosity. The provisional deal in Algiers leaves Saudi Arabia having to do most of the heavy lifting. While the kingdom’s production will in any case fall from 10.7 mbpd by about 300,000 barrels per day over the coming months, as seasonal production winds down, it would need to cut substantially more to balance the market. The production target OPEC named in Algiers implies a cut of at least 700,000 barrels”.

Interestingly, he contends that “Within OPEC, while other Gulf Co-Operation states, namely Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, may be prepared to make a small cut to their production, key producers like Iraq and Venezuela are in too difficult a fiscal position to agree to any major cut. They will more likely agree to a freeze, given that they are already close to maximum production (4.4 and 2.1 mbpd, respectively). Outside OPEC, Russia reached a production record of 11.1 mbpd in August, eclipsing Soviet levels. Being so close to the maximum anyway, Russia has little to lose by supporting the OPEC output cut and agreeing not to raise production further. Yet the Kremlin is unlikely to impose actual cuts on the range of oil companies that operate in the country. So why did Saudi policymakers blink and commit themselves either to sponsoring another failed OPEC deal, or having to take the hit for the vast majority of the actual production-cutting to make the deal work? In the short term, it seems Riyadh’s fiscal position was under such pressure from low oil prices that something had to give. While the kingdom has eased the fiscal pressure by starting to issue sovereign debt, the burn rate through its foreign reserves has been relentless (from about $740 billion in mid-2014 to $550 billion today) as it has attempted to defend the currency in the face of substantial capital flight from the country since the oil price crash in 2014”.

He ends “In the long term, Saudi Arabia’s energetic and ambitious young deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, appears to see beyond the immediate threat of U.S. shale to the Saudi oil industry. He is focused on the broader need for major reform of the Saudi economy. As OPEC’s first secretary-general Ahmed Zaki Yamani said in the 1970s, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.” Climate change will plainly be a major problem of the 21st century, and the world is moving away from fossil fuels: game over for an unreformed Saudi Arabia.  Algiers wasn’t a sign of life in OPEC, but a sign of desperation. In truth, there’s little the cartel can do beyond the short term to generate a durable rise in prices from a supply perspective, since shale technology can’t be un-invented. Saudi Arabia will face hard years ahead as the oil market increasingly looks to U.S. shale, not OPEC, as a handrail to oil prices on the supply side. However, this might well be the jolt that Salman needs to push through painful but necessary reforms. Good luck to him.

US-Saudi relation continues to break down


Congressional critics of the Saudi-led military campaign against Yemeni rebels are demanding the White House pull its support for Riyadh following an alleged weekend airstrike that killed at least 140 funeral mourners in Sanaa. The Obama administration has already said it is considering ratcheting back its aid for Saudi Arabia — a rare step that all but certainly will inflame America’s most powerful ally in the Arab world. But lawmakers said they remain unappeased by the White House threat in the face of the growing civilian death toll in Yemen’s nearly two-year war”.

Guterres as next UN Secretary-General


An article reports that “Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres is poised to be selected as the next secretary general of the United Nations when Ban Ki-moon steps down at the end of the year. Washington and Moscow rallied behind the former socialist politician and U.N refugee chief, offering a rare show of unity between two major powers who have been bitterly divided over a range of issues from Syria to Ukraine. It appears unlikely that the agreement will fundamentally reverse the downward spiral in U.S. and Russian relations or lead to an end to the Syrian war”.

The report goes on to point out “But it sets the stage for the emergence of a new U.N. leader who enjoys the trust of the key U.N. powers, including China, Britain, and France. And it shows that despite their differences, the U.S. and Russia can still find areas to agree. Guterres secured 13 votes in favour of his candidacy in a closed-door straw poll, with two countries offering no opinion over whether he should pursue the job as the world’s top diplomat. But the secret poll made it clear that the five veto-wielding powers — who cast red ballots in contrast to the white ballots cast by non-permanent members — were unanimous in their support for Guterres. Guterres emerged in the early stages of the campaign for secretary general as the front-runner, maintaining a clear edge on a slate of 13 candidates through five informal straw polls. But there were persistent questions about whether Russia would drop its insistence that the next U.N. leader be recruited from an Eastern European country”.

It ends “After the poll, Power told reporters that the selection of Guterres proved “remarkably uncontentious, uncontroversial.” “I think that speaks to the fact that each of us … knows how fundamentally important this position is,” she added. “People united around a person who impressed throughout the process and has impressed on multiple axes: in his service in Portuguese politics and then of course at the helm of UNHCR.” The outcome marked the end of an international campaign to elect the first female secretary general. A late entry, Bulgarian national Kristalina Georgieva, a well-regarded European Commission official, could not build enough momentum to mount a serious challenge to Guterres”.

Wikileaks, Trump and Russia


“Former Trump adviser and confidante Roger Stone on Wednesday denied the suggestion that he had “advance warning” of the release by WikiLeaks of hacked emails purported to be from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Stone, who is not a formal part of the Trump campaign, said he and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have a “mutual friend.” After Podesta on Tuesday suggested Stone was in collusion with the website, Stone called the claim “categorically false.” “I have a back-channel communications with WikiLeaks,” Stone told NBC News. “But they certainly don’t clear or tell me in advance what they’re going to do.” Emails purported to be stolen from Podesta’s Gmail account were released by WikiLeaks on Friday. Some of those emails appear to show excerpts from Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks. More emails were released Wednesday.

“An agreement to potentially cap oil production”


Keith Johnson writes that OPEC is benefitting America through its limits in production, “OPEC, the dysfunctional cartel that has gifted case studies in the “prisoner’s dilemma” to business schools for years, unveiled an agreement to potentially cap oil production this year in what amounts to a last-ditch effort to shore up the price of crude after a costly two-year nosedive”.

He adds that “This week’s announcement, which for now remains little more than a promise among big producers to keep talking in November, is the first indication that the oil exporter’s club might be getting serious about reining in runaway oil production. If implemented — and all the details must still be worked out — such a cap on production could nudge crude prices higher. That would be great news for oil-dependent economies from Maracaibo to Moscow and a huge relief for the battered finances of Persian Gulf monarchies. News of the possible accord goosed markets around the world, sending crude up 6 percent Wednesday and boosting major stock markets as well. But OPEC’s hopes of successfully colluding for once to jack up the price of oil are also getting a rousing welcome in a more surprising place: the United States, still the world’s biggest consumer of crude oil”.

The article notes that “Since the OPEC oil embargo and gas lines of the early 1970s, the United States has tried to convince Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, and other big producers to keep the taps open so that oil remains abundant and affordable. But almost a decade into a major U.S. energy boom-and-bust cycle, many parts of the United States now stand to benefit — just like Saudi sheikhs do — from rising prices at the pump. “Since we’re in a bust phase, and we’re so dependent on energy production for growth, and because it’s hurting so badly, now [a price hike] looks like just what the doctor ordered,” said Robert McNally, the founder and president of the Rapidan Group, an energy consultancy”.

Johnson writes that “This year, many major U.S. producers were crowing about the “death” of OPEC, after the oil-producing cartel seemed to have shot itself in the foot by flooding the global market with cheap oil since November 2014. Yet some of those same wildcatters, including Harold Hamm — the chief executive of Continental Resources and energy advisor to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — have spent recent weeks begging OPEC to slash production to shore up prices. That’s because the prolonged spell of cheap oil has hammered U.S. oil companies that require higher prices to stay afloat; as a result of the drop, tens of thousands of oil patch jobs have evaporated. It is a spectacular turnaround for a country historically scarred by OPEC embargoes, supply manipulation, and price spikes. The 1973-74 embargo led to long gas lines, spiking prices, and eventually Jimmy Carter’s sweaters. In 2008, as oil prices hit an all-time high, President George W. Bush implored Saudi Arabia to open the spigot and bring relief to embattled American consumers”.

Crucially Johnson argues “Today, U.S. oilmen are asking for just the opposite — proof of how fundamentally the fracking revolution has transformed the United States from a gas-guzzling importer into a major producer (and exporter) of crude oil. “It’s notable that a large part of the industry, of the U.S. oil patch, is now rooting for Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC to come together and manipulate the market and push up prices,” said Jason Bordoff, the founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former Obama administration energy advisor. “That’s something we used to lament.” OPEC’s plans, if consummated, could take on a political tenor during this election year. The vast majority of U.S. oil production is concentrated in states that typically vote Republican, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. That’s one reason Trump’s campaign has been trying to convince global oil producers to throttle back so that oil prices can recover and jobs could return to hard-hit areas in West Texas and the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment”.

Johnson mentions how “The downside risk, though, is for the rest of the economy. Higher oil prices would mean rising prices at the pump, just as Americans are returning to the road in force with record-high demand for gasoline this summer. Bordoff noted that despite the importance of oil drilling to regional economies, cheap energy is still better, on net, for the U.S. economy as a whole. In other words, what’s good for the goose in the oil patch and parts of many red states, may not be good for the gander that is the rest of the country. To be sure, OPEC’s big announcement won’t by itself take care of the world’s oil glut, which since the summer of 2014 has knocked crude prices from about $115 a barrel to roughly $40. The big producers inside the cartel agreed in principle to cap their combined oil output at between 32.5 million and 33 million barrels a day by the end of the year. If successfully carried out, that would represent a slight decline from the all-out summertime production of recent months, which technically would make it OPEC’s first cut in almost a decade”.

Pointedly Johnson ends “even the tougher production target would do little, McNally said, to erase the overhang of crude oil sloshing around. That’s because OPEC expects the world to consume about 32.5 million barrels of OPEC crude per day anyway, meaning the market won’t start eating into the massive stockpiles of crude stored in tanks and tankers around the globe. More to the point, OPEC members have agreed only to meet again in November to try to hammer out all the painful details, such as which countries will reduce production by how much. Those are the very same shoals of self-interest that have sunk untold OPEC agreements over the last half-century. At the same time, two of OPEC’s biggest players — Saudi Arabia and Iran — are still at loggerheads, making a lasting agreement even tougher to secure. After sloughing off economic sanctions this year, Iran is racing to boost oil production and exports and regain lost market share. That makes it much less willing to stomach production cuts for the benefit of OPEC rivals, especially Riyadh. Yet even with all those uncertainties, coloured by OPEC’s own dismal track record of maintaining internal discipline, benchmark crude prices continued rising Thursday to tickle $50 a barrel”.

“Indonesian warplanes on Thursday staged a large-scale exercise”


Indonesian warplanes on Thursday staged a large-scale exercise on the edge of South China Sea territory claimed by Beijing, a show of force that adds to regional uncertainty sparked by the Philippines’ sudden tilt away from the United States. President Joko Widodo watched from Ranai, capital of the Natuna Islands archipelago, with hundreds of military officials as about 70 jets carried out manoeuvres that included a dog fight and dropping bombs on targets off the coast. “The president has a policy that all the outer islands that are strategic will be strengthened, be it air, maritime or land,” Gatot Nurmantyo, commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, told reporters. “Our country needs to have an umbrella. From corner to corner, we have to safeguard it.” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters in Ranai that the exercise was “routine”, but it was also Indonesia’s biggest so far and follows a move by Widodo in June to hold a cabinet meeting on board a warship off the Natuna islands”.

Dems retake the House?


An article from the Hill discusses the possibility of the House being taken by the Democrats, “House Democrats are thinking the once unthinkable: They have a real shot at winning the lower chamber next month. Such a shift would require a robust wave, as the Democrats would need to steal at least 30 seats from the largest Republican majority in decades”.

The report adds “But the implosion of Donald Trump‘s presidential bid — and the Republican civil war sparked by his incendiary campaign — has left Democrats with fresh new hopes that the GOP nominee will doom the Republicans down ballot and return the Speaker’s gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after six years in the minority wilderness. On Wednesday, Democrats blasted out their first bit of evidence in the form of an internal poll finding that Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, has taken a 2-point lead over Rep. John Mica (Fla.), a 12-term Republican who has endorsed Trump. Even a month ago, Mica was considered the favourite. But the race has tightened since then, stoking the notion that Trump will be a considerable drag on the Republican brand”.

The piece goes onto mention “Commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the poll is the first district-specific survey to be aired following Friday’s release of a 2005 recording in which Trump boasts about grabbing women by the genitals. The video has torn the GOP apart, causing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to distance himself from Trump’s campaign and prompting dozens of Republican lawmakers — many facing tough reelection contests — to condemn their nominee and revoke their earlier endorsements. Democrats view the turmoil as an enormous boon to their congressional odds”.

The piece notes how “Republican strategists are quick to dismiss the Democrats’ optimism, arguing that individual candidates will be able to connect to their districts and, where necessary, separate themselves from Trump. “We hear Democrats predict cycle after cycle that they can win the majority, but it’s clear their talking points are the definition of insanity,” Katie Martin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wednesday in an email. “Our members’ hard work is recognized by their constituents and will be rewarded this fall.” House Democratic leaders, who have an incentive to talk up their chances of winning the House to open wallets and generate enthusiasm, are doing their best to use Trump’s controversy for momentum”.

Interestingly it adds “On a conference call with House Democrats Tuesday, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) said with Trump’s meltdown the Democrats “are expanding our universe of opportunities,” according to a source on the call. And Pelosi predicted the Democrats would retake control of the House if the election were held this week. While not taking any contest for granted, Luján said Trump’s influence has made every close race a little more winnable, and he urged his Democratic colleagues to pitch in financially so the DCCC can expand its battleground”.

The piece argues that “Both parties are now anxiously awaiting the results of new race-specific polls in battleground districts. Democrats have commissioned several dozen such surveys designed to gauge the effect of the latest Trump scandal on vulnerable Republicans, many of whom have been successful distancing themselves from their combative presidential nominee. Those results should be trickling in by week’s end. Both parties can be expected to release only good news. “We’ll see how these head-to-heads come out, and whether there’s any trickle down,” a House Democratic official said Wednesday, tamping down expectations of a House takeover”.

It continues noting “In the meantime, the Democrats’ campaign arm is targeting every House Republican by tying them directly to Trump, regardless of whether the lawmakers are sticking by their divisive nominee. Those candidates who are still supporting Trump, like Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), are being attacked for being “blindly partisan” in backing a candidate who “not only assaults women, but is unfit to be president.” Those who have dropped their support for Trump, like Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), the DCCC is accusing of acting out of “craven … self-preservation.” Democratic contenders in tight contests, like Jacky Rosen in Nevada, are fundraising on Trump’s new comments. And outside groups like the House Majority PAC have piled on, spending millions on new ads targeting vulnerable Republicans like Reps. Coffman, Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and David Valadeo (Calif.). Then there are the second-tier Republicans, once thought of as safe, who Democrats now see as targets. They include Reps. Mica, Scott Garrett (N.J.), Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Kevin Yoder(Kan.). They’re even eying a potential pickup in Montana, where freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke won with 55 percent of the vote in 2014. “If there’s a real wave I think that one opens up,” said a Democratic strategist. Democrats have their own liabilities at the top of the ticket. Hillary Clinton has long been under fire for using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of State; she’s confronting a steady drip of WikiLeaks dumps revealing embarrassing campaign emails; and her approval ratings have been consistently below 50 percent, according to national polls”.

Crucially it ends “Still, the Republican divisions are unprecedented in modern times, and Democrats have been only emboldened by an NBC poll, released Monday, showing that voters favour a Democratically controlled Congress by a spread of 7 points — a jump above their 3-point advantage just a month ago. Increasingly, they think Trump’s name atop the ballot might be radioactive enough to deliver both the Senate and House back to their control”.

Russia hacks the GOP


The Russian government’s cyber-espionage campaign against the American political system began more than a year ago and has been far more extensive than publicly disclosed, targeting hundreds of key people — Republicans and Democrats alike — whose work is considered strategically important to the Putin regime, official sources told NBC News. The targets over the past two years have included a Who’s Who of Hillary Clinton associates from her State Department tenure, the Clinton Foundation and her presidential campaign, as well as top Republicans and staffers for Republican candidates for president. Starting in earnest in 2015, Russian hackers used sophisticated “spearphishing” techniques to steal emails and other data from Capitol Hill staffers, operatives of political campaigns and party organizations, and other people involved in the election and foreign policy. That’s according to NBC News interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials, private sector cybersecurity experts and others familiar with the FBI-led investigation into the hacks. “For the past two years, there has been a massive increase in hacking by the Russians,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert whose CrowdStrike firm was retained to investigate the hack of the Democratic National Committee.

Civic education, good democracy and better elections


An excellent article notes the role of civic education in the United States current election, “Three-quarters of American adults are unable to name all three branches of American government. About a third can’t even come up with the name of a single branch. That means that more Americans are probably familiar with the “Y U NO”, “Futurama Fry”, and “The Most Interesting Man in the World” internet memes (the “three most popular memes of all time”) than they are with the who, what, when, why, and how of the laws that form the parameters of their life”.

The piece adds “Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post recently cited the first of the above numbers from Annenberg Public Policy Center’s latest annual national survey, released around September 17 for Constitution Day. Strauss’s article is just the latest entry in a tiny genre noting the decline of basic civic knowledge among American adults and children — and the real world consequences of such ignorance. Strauss does civic education a service in highlighting the issue, and contrasting it with the support and attention given STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education by policymakers, education mavens, and the business community. But it’s not only that people don’t understand the history of the U.S. government and its functions, or that they can’t name them. By every standard cultural and policy marker, both formal and informal, they are being told that this type of learning and intellectual engagement is worthless — not deserving of resources or time or seriousness”.

The report notes “Last year, Julie Silverbrook — executive director of The Constitutional Sources Project — discovered that even as the civic education community has tried to form “robust coalitions and campaigns” to respond to the crisis, their already pitiful funding has dried to a virtual non-existence. Civic education is basically privately-funded. But the entire funding for the community between the years 2011-2013 was between $33 million and $41 million, according to data provided by the Foundation Center. Among the hundred shining stars in the STEM-education funding constellation, Intel Foundation alone gives approximately $45 million in annual grants to STEM program. The president’s 2015 fiscal year budget proposal included over $170 million to improve teaching and learning in STEM subjects. As goes the way of federal funding and priorities, so apparently goes private funding. And yet, in trying to draw attention to even just this part of the puzzle, Silverbrook could only interest The Washington Times in publishing an article about the subject”.

The author argues that “This is not to make a bugaboo about STEM education. But one consequence of having no funding weight to throw around is that school districts apparently see little benefit in investing in their civic education (social studies) teachers and programs. I manage AEI’s Program on American Citizenship. Our 2014 report on civic education professional development found that social studies teachers typically have to use vacation time to attend even half-day professional development programs. In addition, they often have to cover the cost of the program themselves because the school won’t, and the offering organization isn’t able to cover the operating cost of such a program. By contrast, teachers in other fields are even rewarded for attending their respective professional development programs — or at least, are not effectively punished for doing so. While this makes being a civic educator a laudable example of true civic behavior, there’s also a great deal of evidence that civic educators are uniquely in need of further development and instruction in their subject area”.

She writes that “Working with data collected from over 1,000 randomly selected high school social studies teachers, they found that while 83 percent of teachers believe that the United States is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world,” and that 82 percent think it’s important for students to “respect and appreciate their country but know its shortcomings,” a majority considers teaching key facts, dates, and major events related to citizenship their lowest priority. A mere 38 percent indicated that “the key principles of American government” was or ought to be a civic teacher’s top priority to impart to students. However shocking, that also should come as no surprise. As the seasoned observers of our teacher-training schools know only too well, for over half a century education theorists have decried any attempt to impart knowledge to students as a joyless and misguided exercise in rote learning. And, since it’s so easy for kids these days to find all the information they need on the Internet, why teach such boring stuff in school? Consequently, civics teachers might be the one teacher constituency in favour of some type of required testing”.

The writer ends “Seventy percent of civics teachers indicated that social studies classes are a low priority in schools because of pressure to show progress on statewide math and language arts tests. Ninety-three percent say “social studies should be part of every state’s set of standards and testing.”As Strauss rightly argues in her article, we are feeling the lack of a civic education in our present national discourse that this current election cycle has only exacerbated. Civics education and learning is indeed important. Fundamental even to the continued life and vibrancy of a representative democracy. But who has ever wanted to teach what evidently no one thinks is important to know?

Trump accused of inappropriate touching


Two women accused Donald Trump of inappropriate touching in a story published on Wednesday by the New York Times, claims his spokesman called “fiction” but which may further damage the Republican presidential nominee’s chances of winning the White House just four weeks before the Nov. 8 election. The report was followed by a stream of similar allegations from other women, putting more pressure on the Trump campaign as it lags in national opinion polls and struggles to contain a crisis caused by the candidate’s comments about groping women without their consent which surfaced on Friday. One of the women, Jessica Leeds, appeared on camera on the New York Times’ website to recount how Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight to New York in or around 1980. (nyti.ms/2dx8k5R) The second woman, Rachel Crooks, described how Trump “kissed me directly on the mouth” in 2005 outside the elevator in Trump Tower in Manhattan, where she was a receptionist at a real estate firm. Trump’s campaign denied there was any truth to the New York Times accounts. It made public a letter to the newspaper from Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer representing Trump, demanding it retract the story, calling it “libelous,” and threatening legal action if it did not comply”.

Trump, autocrat-in-chief


Max Boot writes that Trump is not running as a democrat, “It was both fitting and chilling that the centerpiece of the second presidential debate was Donald Trump’s threat to imprison his opponent. That is the kind of act normally associated with autocrats like Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych (who jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2011), Myanmar’s military junta (which put opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest even before her party won the 1990 election), Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (who overthrew and imprisoned President Mohamed Morsi in 2013), and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (who in 2003 arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a wealthy political adversary)”.

Boot correctly argues that “Trump’s apologists tried to claim that he wasn’t threatening to jail former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for being his political opponent but, rather, for supposed “felonies committed in office.” But this is exactly the kind of thing that dictators always say; no one ever admits to jailing the opposition for political reasons. The essence of democracy is not to criminalize political differences. That’s something that Trump does not seem to understand. It seems appropriate, then, that during the rest of the debate — while desperately trying to deflect attention from the “pussygate” scandal that has crippled his campaign — Trump alternatively expressed his admiration for dictators and emulated their “Big Lie” techniques for winning and keeping power. If we needed any more evidence, the debate showed just what an unprincipled power-seeker Trump is — how he is willing to say or do anything, to cross any line, to violate any norm of civilized behavior, in order to feed his insatiable ego. He came across as the kind of unscrupulous demagogue that has imperiled other democracies and that the United States has not seen since the heyday of Huey Long and George Wallace”.

Boot adds that “His sympathy for tyrants was most clearly evident when moderator Martha Raddatz asked him what he would do about the siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Putin are pummeling this city so relentlessly, killing countless civilians, that Secretary of State John Kerryhas called for a war crimes investigation. While admitting that Aleppo is a “disaster, humanitarian-wise,” Trump failed to offer a plan to stop the killing. Worse, he failed to offer a single word of condemnation for Assad and Putin’s brutal actions. Actually, he seemed to approve of what the two are doing: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State. He went on to say, “We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved,” and, “Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS.” Not quite. There is no Islamic State presence in Aleppo. Yet this is the area where the Russian and Syrian governments are concentrating their firepower. This is part of a general pattern whereby the vast majority of their attacks are focused on more moderate rebel forces, not on the Islamic State. Trump has been entirely taken in by the disinformation line put out by Assad and Putin that they are fighting “terrorists,” a name that they apply to all opponents of Assad’s brutal regime. And Trump appears to fully approveof the war crimes they are committing — perhaps not so surprising from a candidate who has threatened to commit war crimes of his own, such as torturing terrorists, killing their relatives, bombing indiscriminately, and stealing Iraq’s oil”.

Interestingly, the article notes that “Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has a better appreciation of the horrors being perpetrated in Syria. In the vice presidential debate, hedenounced the “barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo” and said that the “provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.” He called for the establishment of “safe zones” to protect “vulnerable families” and said the United States “should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime.” On Sunday night, however, Trump disassociated himself from Pence’s view: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.” (Perhaps the next debate should feature Trump vs. Pence?) Thus Trump continues his pattern of not saying a single negative thing about Vladimir Putin, an anti-American dictator he has praised for being a better leader than President Barack Obama. While freely insulting political opponents, reporters, and entire ethnic groups, Trump has never had one bad word to say about Putin, and that didn’t change Sunday when Trump was asked about the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other American targets. Last Friday, the U.S. intelligence communityformally charged Russia with responsibility for the hacking, stating, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” In other words, Putin is responsible”.

Centrally, Boot argues that “The only true part of that statement was Trump’s admission that he knows nothing about Russia. He went on to claim: “I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.” But given Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his taxes or his business records, there is no reason to believe his protestations — especially when there actually is evidence, even based on the scant public record, that Trump does do business with the Russians. As a general proposition, whether talking about his business dealings or anything else, the Republican nominee does not exactly inspire confidence as a truth-teller. Politico already determined, based on analyzing all of Trump’s statements for a week in late September, that he averages “one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds.” He did better — or worse — than average on Sunday night by uttering, according to Daniel Dale of theToronto Star, a total of 33 false claims during his 40 minutes of speaking time”.

The piece goes on to mention how “Just as egregious are Trump’s continuing claims to have opposed the Iraq War. In fact, there are numerous statements from him favouring regime change in Iraq before the war and not a single statement on the public record opposing the war until August 2004 — i.e., 17 months after the start of the conflict, by which time it was clear that it was not going to be a “cakewalk.” A year ago, the fact-checkers at the Washington Post awarded Trump “four Pinocchios” for his unfounded claims about opposing the war. Yet here he was again on Sunday night, when challenged by Clinton on his Iraq War lie, indignantly saying: “That’s not been debunked.” To make his falsehood even more offensive, he suggested that if he had been president in 2004, Capt. Humayun Khan, the Muslim American war hero whose family he defamed, “would be alive today, because unlike her, who voted for the war without knowing what she was doing, I would not have had our people in Iraq.” Trump has the temerity to blame Clinton not just for favouring the war in Iraq but also for favouring a pullout”.

Correctly he writes that “There is a word for someone who lies as repeatedly as Trump does and continues doubling down on his lies no matter how many times he is called out on his behaviour: pathological. Trump can’t distinguish right from wrong, truth from fiction. He has shown that he will say anything that pops into his head regardless of its veracity — and he refuses to be corrected by any fact-checking. There has never been anyone remotely like him who has been a serious presidential candidate before; the only analogues are in the ranks of dictators abroad. And although it now appears that he will not win the election — “pussygate” seems to have been the coup de grâce for his disgraceful campaign — it is nevertheless terrifying that so many millions of Americans are thrilled by his irresponsible rhetoric and extremist positions”.

Boot concludes “It is particularly appalling that even now, after all his lies and gropes, his racism and sexism, his general craziness has been exposed, a substantial section of the Republican electorate continues to stand by their man. Many of the Trump die-hards are furious at the few Republican politicians who have had a sudden outbreak of conscience in recent days and have decided to unendorse him. The grass-roots fervor for Trump suggests that the Republican Party may be beyond salvation — and that the republic itself could be in peril if in the future we see some demagogue who is smoother than Trump and devoid of his debilitating personal flaws. It could happen here — and almost did”.

Russia, bankrolling Ukrainian rebels


A former senior official from breakaway eastern Ukraine said Russia directly finances pensions and public sector salaries in the two pro-Russian regions there. The assertion by former separatist minister Alexander Khodakovsky contradicts Moscow, which says it does not bankroll the separatist administration and, as a consequence, cannot influence the rebels to make peace with Kiev. Khodakovsky was State Security Minister and then Security Council Secretary in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic before he was fired this year following a dispute with the separatist leader. Asked in an interview with Reuters if Russia was funding pensions and state wages in the Donbass, made up of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk, Khodakovsky said: “Yes. These are the main areas. The budget sector and pensions, which need to be covered as a priority.” “Without outside help, it’s impossible to sustain the territory even if you have the most effective tax-raising system. The level of help from Russia exceeds the amounts that we collect within the territory,” he said in a Moscow hotel”.

Trump, right on NATO?


A piece argues that Trump gets some things right, “Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, criticized NATO in a number of interviews earlier this year, he waschallenging the foundations of the United States’ military strategy. His attack on Washington’s conventional wisdom has unsettled the U.S. security establishment no less than it has the foreign governments that depend on it, and has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Trump, however, is right. U.S. policy toward its allies really is “obsolete,” as Trump termed NATO. The United States remains remarkably secure and faces no serious—let alone existential—threat akin to that formerly posed by the Soviet Union, the enemy that most U.S. alliances were formed to oppose. Moreover, Washington’s Asian and European allies are prosperous and industrialized states that are more than capable of protecting themselves”.

The piece goes on to argue mistakenly “Unfortunately, U.S. strategy currently appears to endorse the idea that whatever is, must forever be. But the fact that Washington has defended countries for decades does not mean that it should continue doing so indefinitely, whatever the costs. Alliances should be a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, and in this case, that end should be to increase U.S. security. Critics of Trump have been quick to invoke the danger of reducing U.S. strategic commitments in the face of a newly assertive Moscow. For instance, Anthony Cordesman, a strategic analyst at CSIS, has warned against “giving up Europe to Russia.” No one wants this outcome. But the point is that Moscow cannot have Europe unless the European Union, which possesses a greater population and GDP than the United States (not to mention Russia), allows it to do so. The Europeans are fully capable of defending their own interests without U.S. help, and the ancillary benefits to Washington of military cooperation, such as base access, do not require the extension of security guarantees”.

The author argues, that “In his comments, Trump has mostly targeted the high cost of the United States’ overseas commitments, complaining that the country’s allies have broken their promises to spend more on their militaries and joint exercises. As he explained toThe New York Times in March, “NATO is unfair to us, to the United States. Because it really helps [our allies] more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” Thus, he suggested charging nations dependent on the United States for their security. More is at stake than an unfair financial burden, however. In addition to funds, Washington provides a disproportionate share of NATO’s combat capability, with U.S. defense spending accounting for 73 percent of the defense expenditure of the alliance as a whole. Even when the Europeans contribute combat troops to a NATO mission, as in Afghanistan, they use caveats to restrict when those forces can fight”.

He does fairly point out that “NATO officials recognize that members routinely violate their commitments to increase outlays on defense. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was pleased, therefore, when he proclaimed in January that the alliance was moving in the “right direction.” Yet the movement was barely noticeable. Last year, outlays by NATO’s European members dropped slightly, by 0.3 percent. This year, there has been a tiny uptick. No one expects sustained, substantial increases. But the Obama administration is proposing to more than quadruple U.S. military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion next year as part of the “European Reassurance Initiative,” along with the deployment of an armored brigade. Despite evidence that the United States is overpaying, Trump’s critics claim that strategic commitments are cheap, since allies help pay U.S. deployment costs, which total about $10 billion annually. Such foreign “host nation support” covers roughly half of that expense. For instance, Japan sets the gold standard by paying $1.7 billion annually, according to Brad Glosserman of the Pacific Forum CSIS. Other major allies, such as South Korea and Germany, contribute less than one billion dollars per year”.

He does point out that “The price of any particular commitment is difficult to determine. Still, it should be obvious that defending much of Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East requires a substantially larger military than would otherwise be the case. My Cato Institute colleague, Benjamin R. Friedman, projects that Washington could save up to $150 billion a year by adopting a less activist stance. As he explains, the United States’ desire for primacy “requires a large U.S. military, with units permanently deployed in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East, and with the capability to quickly strike anywhere with air, naval, and ground forces. It sees threats everywhere and prescribes U.S. forces everywhere.” Doing less—focusing on the genuine defense of the United States—would significantly reduce the forces required. As he so frequently does, Trump got the policy details wrong when he criticized Washington’s stance toward its allies. But he raised important issues long ignored by his most vociferous critics”.

He ends naively, “That is the wrong message to send. Washington had little choice but to protect allied countries after World War II. But that justification disappeared long ago. Instead of turning the U.S. military into a mercenary force by charging for its services, as proposed by Trump, Washington should drop the commitments no longer necessary for U.S. security. Doing so would not only save the United States money, but make it safer as well”


“Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia”


U.S.-Russia relations fell to a new post-Cold War low as the Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war and forming a common front against terrorists there, and Moscow suspended a landmark nuclear agreement. The latter move, scuttling a deal the two countries signed in 2000 to dispose of their stocks of weapons-grade plutonium, was largely symbolic. But it provided the Kremlin with an opportunity to cite a series of what it called “unfriendly actions” toward Russia — from Ukraine-related and human rights sanctions to the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics. The United States, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation.” Of far more immediate concern, the end of the Syria deal left the administration with no apparent diplomatic options remaining to stop the carnage in Aleppo and beyond after the collapse of a short-lived cease-fire deal negotiated last month.

Consistory 2016: the names


Rocco writes about the announcment of the new cardinals yesterday by Pope Francis, “Suffice it to say, it’s become Pope Francis’ unique habit that, in announcing new cardinals, no one is told in advance – above all the designates… let alone anyone else. Accordingly, at the end of today’s Angelus, 17 names were suddenly dropped for a Consistory to be held on Saturday, 19 November, to coincide with the close of the Jubilee Year – 13 of them electors, and four others to be elevated over the retirement age of 80″.

Rocco goes onto add how “Among other notables in the group: three voting Americans (making up for back-to-back shutouts in Francis’ first two intakes), and a fresh dose of the pontiff’s cherished “peripheries,” including the first-ever red hats from Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.

Here, the designates, in the order by which they will be created:

–Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria
–Dieudonné Nzapalainga, CSSp, archbishop of Bangui
–Carlos Osoro Sierra, archbishop of Madrid
–Sérgio da Rocha, archbishop of Brasilia
–Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago
–Patrick D’Rozario, CSC, archbishop of Dhaka
–Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, archbishop of Mérida
–Jozef De Kesel, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
–Maurice Piat, bishop of Port-Louis
–Kevin Joseph Farrell,  prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life
–Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Tlalnepantla
–John Ribat, M.S.C. archbishop of Port Moresby
–Joseph William Tobin CSSR, archbishop of Indianapolis

And the “honorary” hats for retirees:

–Anthony Soter Fernandez, archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur
–Renato Corti, bishop emeritus of Novara

–Sebastian Koto Khoarai, OMI, bishop emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek (Lesotho)
–Fr Ernest Simoni, priest the of Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult (Albania)

Rocco goes on to note how “Given what many will take as the day’s big surprise – the elevation of Joe Tobin, 64, the Detroit-born Redemptorist who’s led the 250,000-member Indy church since 2012 – well, for starters, the nickname he’s long had among his confreres bears recalling: “Big Red.” To be sure, that’s more a reference to both the former hockey enforcer‘s onetime ginger hair and the worldwide religious family he would lead for 12 years… still, given the latest curveball in a ministry full of them, the moniker fits its newest turn no less. After two terms as superior-general of the Redemptorists, in 2010 Benedict XVI named Tobin as archbishop-secretary of the “Congregation for Religious,” armed with a mandate to bring a smooth landing to the Holy See’s visitation of the US’ apostolic communities of sisters, which had become mired in untold levels of controversy and misunderstandings in domestic church-circles and media alike. That he entered the job by publicly cross-checking the excesses of the Roman Curia – in words that, while controversial at the time, would prove to be prophetic – is something that shouldn’t be forgotten today. With the task essentially finished in two years – thanks in large part to the now cardinal-designate’s fierce commitment to dialogue with the orders, and an equally formidable integration of their concerns into the process – Tobin’s appointment to Indianapolis didn’t just fulfill his wish to get home to the Midwest (above all to his indomitable mother, Marie-Terese, who raised 13 children alone as a young widow), the move likewise brought someone who had been a veteran pastor among the first Hispanic waves in Detroit and Chicago to a diocese which was just beginning to experience a sizable Latino influx, making the newcomers a priority in the venerable, largely-rural church for the first time”.

He adds “Barely six months after Tobin’s arrival by the Brickyard, his southern fluency would come into the ultimate reason behind this historic red hat: with the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, while most US bishops were furiously brushing up on the new pontiff, the Indy prelate suddenly found himself as one of the closest Stateside friends of the new Bishop of Rome – indeed, one of precious few North Americans who had any firsthand experience with him, let alone at length. That serendipity owed itself to the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which Tobin, as head of the Redemptorists, attended as the delegate of the Union of Superiors General (the umbrella-group of the global leaders of mens’ orders). As the Synod’s circuli minores – the small discussion-groups – were split up by language, bishops had already taken all the English-speaking slots by seniority, so Tobin found a seat in a Spanish group… and spent the next month sitting alongside the cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires. Accordingly, eight years later, within an hour of the Argentine’s election to Peter’s Chair – as most US hierarchs furiously sought to cram up on the Conclave’s choice – the Indianapolis media was treated to the most fully steeped of briefings while sitting around their archbishop’s desk. Sure enough, nobody in the States came anywhere close to “nailing” the man and the story so precisely in the moment – and, again, today’s news merely evinces the result. Within a year, Francis already showed that he hadn’t forgotten his old friend, naming Tobin a member of the Curial Congregation he had helped oversee (a rare nod for a far-flung bishop), as well as quietly sending him on a few delicate missions”.

Rocco goes on to write that “Over those same months in 2014, meanwhile, as someone the Pope knew – and who, in many ways, bore his scent – the Redemptorist’s name was duly floated at high levels for Chicago, only to be deemed too much a “wild card” by some key players, given his lack of experience in the national rungs of leadership. Amid that backdrop, this most “personal” seat in the College a Pope has given an American since 1958 (when John XXIII elevated Bishop Aloysius Muench of Fargo, who Papa Roncalli knew and admired as the postwar Nuncio to Germany) – and one given alongside the eventual Windy City pick – shows anew, and for the first time in the US, that even as Francis can be freewheeling in consulting  on major diocesan appointments, when it comes to the “Senate” that will elect his successor (and from which the next Pope will come), his choices are his own. Period. While no shortage of early focus on Tobin’s elevation has honed in on Tobin’s public clash with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – now the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee – over the archdiocese’s decision last year to take in Syrian refugees, a far quieter, less politically charged angle carries even more weight”.

Rocco continues, “Each November during the USCCB meeting in Baltimore, the local Catholic Worker House goes to the trouble to invite all of the 300-odd prelates for dinner and conversation one night during Plenary Week. And for years, all of one consistently turned up: Bishop John Michael Botean, the Ohio-based eparch of North America’s 8,000 Romanian Catholics, who famously declared on the eve of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that “any direct participation and support of this war… is objectively grave evil [and] a matter of mortal sin.” Normally as low-profile as he was outspoken on the war, as Botean slipped out to keep his usual commitment at the 2012 meeting, he was stunned to find company looking to head to the Peace Dinner: Tobin, who was just joining the Stateside bench upon his appointment to Indianapolis, and – having long and openly witnessed to four decades in recovery – was bound to find little taste for the oft-boozy scene of dinners and receptions that fill the hotel after the daily Floor sessions. Long story short, the Catholic Worker night is a commitment he’s kept ever since. And even as Francis’ push toward the “peripheries” has raised the event’s annual crowd to around a dozen bishops, as never before, now there’ll be a cardinal in the room for it”.

A profile discusses the next cardinal-archbishop of Madrid, “When Pope Francis announced the name of new cardinals on Sunday, some were shockers, others basically unknown. But one of them, at least in many corners of Spain, was an entirely expected choice: Juan Carlos Osoro, Archbishop of Madrid. Osoro was moved from Valencia to the Spanish capital by Francis in 2014, to replace Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela. Only months before the transfer, the local bishops voted him vice-president of their conference. The pontiff has joked with him on occasions, calling him “don Carlos, the pilgrim,” because he’s constantly walking around his diocese. In Madrid, however, many have dubbed Osoro the “Spanish Francis”: Pastorally oriented, carrying “the smell of the sheep,” highly concerned with religious vocations, the youth and the family, but also a man who “wastes” time being spiritual director of many young people while he’s busy leading one of Europe’s key dioceses. Rodrigo Pinedo, Osoro’s spokesperson and a 28-year old layman, defined his boss as someone very close to the people, “who likes being with the faithful and leading a church that goes after those who are cut off and critical of the Church that only tends to those who are ‘ours,’ with closed doors.” Among the many things the soon-to-be-created cardinal did when he arrived in Madrid, Pinedo told Crux, was to launch a diocesan plan for evangelization, trying to capture a realistic image of how Catholics in the city live their faith and what are the most concrete ways to reach those who are cut off. Father Gabriel Benedicto, the parish priest of La Paloma, also underlined Osoro’s particular attention to ministering to youth. The cardinal has invited young Catholics in Madrid to join him every first Friday of the month for a prayer vigil, where he takes the time to dialogue with them and to greet as many as he can”.

The profile goes on to add that “Dialogue, the priest said, is another key issue of the archbishop, who like Francis often preaches about a Church that “goes out,” trying to approach the world through common concerns and avoiding conflicts. The prelate is also very focused on religious vocations, especially those to the priesthood. “He knows the Church needs shepherds that take care of the flock,” Benedicto said on Sunday. When Osoro left the dioceses of Valencia, the seminary kept growing, with 51 seminarians in 2012 and 61 in 2013. “Talking to us, he’s also very keen on calling us to be faithful to our vocation, and to propose it to young men as a possibility,” Benedicto said. The priest has welcomed his boss several times. Most notably, during the feast day of Our Lady of La Paloma, marked every August 15, during Spain’s summer break time. Despite the date, the celebration attracts thousands, many more than that of Our Lady of Almudena, the city’s actual patroness. Our Lady of la Paloma has been, since the late XVIII century, the mother of the people, especially those who are on the outskirts, the poor, the elderly and the youth. That attention also includes those who live “on the spiritual outskirts,” as Benedicto said”.

The piece notes that “Another thing Osoro did when he arrived in Madrid was to visit the cloistered convents to ask the nuns and novitiates to pray for his ministry, something which, technically, they would have done even without the visit. Beyond his pastoral approach, those close to him regard him as very orthodox in the faith, yet he refuses to be labeled as liberal or conservative. Once asked about it, he said he was neither, but instead “a man of the Church.” “The truth is that a man of the Church can only be a man of dialogue. If there’s something the Church needs to do, it’s to incarnate herself where she lives and this implies dialogue,” he said”.

Unusually the piece adds how the cardinal-designate found out, “Although Francis’s decision to make the Spaniard a cardinal was expected, the man in question wasn’t privy to the pope’s decision until Sunday at noon, when the archbishop emeritus of Oviedo, whom he succeeded, gave him a call as Osoro was boarding a plane. “I didn’t believe him because I thought he was one of those friends you have who want it to happen, but nothing else,” Osoro told Cope, the radio station of the Spanish bishops on Sunday. The appointment, he continued, calls for sincere gratitude towards Francis, “for the trust the appointment implies. Personal merits, as you know, I don’t have many, but it is true that throughout my life I’ve tried to not to keep anything for myself but to give it all to the Church and the Christians I’ve served,” wherever the popes have sent him. With Osoro’s nomination, Spain will now have four voting cardinals in case there’s a conclave to succeed Pope Francis in the near future. In order of age, they are: Lluís Martínez Sistach, emeritus of Barcelona; Ricardo Blázquez, of Valladolid; Antonio Cañizares, of Valencia, and Osoro. Spain also has four cardinals over the age of 80, including Antonio María Rouco Varela, emeritus of Madrid”.

While a related piece discusses Archbishop Cupich, “Pope Francis on Sunday engineered what may prove to be a seismic shift in the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, elevating not one or two, but a full three new American cardinals seen as belonging to the centrist, non-cultural warrior wing of the country’s hierarchy”.

The article adds “The three Americans are Archbishops Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, as well as Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, recently chosen by Francis to head his new “dicastery,” meaning a Vatican department, on Family, Laity and Life. While none of these three figures would be seen as “liberal” by secular standards, they are perceived as belonging to the more progressive camp in the Catholic hierarchy. Of the three, Cupich and Farrell were quasi-expected, although one never knows  with the unpredictable Francis. Chicago is an archdiocese that’s long been held by a cardinal, and Farrell’s new Vatican post seemed to beckon a cardinal at the top. Tobin, however, is more of a surprise. Indianapolis is not a traditional “red-hat” see, meaning a diocese typically led by a cardinal, and his name had not featured prominently in much of the speculation leading up to the consistory announcement. While the choice of a relatively small American city to have a cardinal could be seen as consistent with Francis’s passion for outreach to the peripheries, taken in tandem with both Cupich and Farrell, it seems more plausible that Francis was making a statement about the direction in which he wants the American church to go”.

Interestingly it mentions how “Had Francis held more to convention in his American picks, the logical candidates beyond Cupich would have been Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, both American cities historically led by cardinals. There also would have been logic in each case, as the Mexican-born Gomez would have been the first Hispanic cardinal in U.S. Catholic history, and Chaput was Francis’s host when the pontiff visited Philadelphia last September for the World Meeting of Families. Both Gomez and Chaput, however, are broadly perceived as more “conservative,” and thus would have reinforced what’s already seen as a strong conservative majority among the American cardinals, who tend to have an outsize influence on setting the tone for the Church both in terms of media perceptions and also internal leadership. For some time now, retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been perceived as a fairly isolated figure among the U.S. cardinals in terms of his basic center-left, social justice-oriented outlook, able to talk to Democrats as comfortably as Republicans. He was joined in that stance by retired Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, but Mahony’s involvement in the clerical abuse scandals in the Los Angeles archdiocese has to some extent limited his effectiveness”.

Crucially the author notes “With Cupich and Tobin, however, what one might call the “McCarrick caucus” among the American cardinals has been swelled significantly. Cupich was well known at Francis’s two Synods of Bishops on the family for parting company to some extent with the more traditionalist bloc, signaling openness on issues such as finding new pastoral approaches for LGBT believers and also opening the door to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to potentially receive Communion. Tobin is a former superior general of the worldwide Redemptorist religious order, who served from 2010 to 2012 as the number two official at the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, better known as the “Congregation for Religious,” during the time when the Vatican was conducting two separate investigations of American nuns. Tobin was publicly critical of those probes, suggesting they had been launched without dialogue or consultation with the women religious, and behind the scenes that didn’t always sit well with some of the prelates who had pushed for them in the first place. Many observers believed at the time his 2012 transfer to Indianapolis, before the usual five-year term in a Vatican office was up, reflected some unhappiness with his more conciliatory line”.

The piece mentions “As for Farrell, over his years in Dallas he’s tried to steer the University of Dallas into a more centrist, mainstream position, at times running afoul of the sentiments of more conservative forces at the university. He’s also emerged as a leader in favour of gun control, something of a bold stance in the context of Texas, and also on immigration issues. In one fell swoop, therefore, Francis has reshaped the character of the most senior level of the American hierarchy, steering it away from what some see as the partisan stance of the last two decades and back towards what might be described as the “consistent ethic of life” ethos associated with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, also of Chicago. Bernardin also used the phrase “seamless garment” to capture that view. The outlook, while certainly defending Church teaching on matters such as abortion and euthanasia, is more inclined to see them as part of a spectrum that also includes immigration, the death penalty, the environment, concern for the poor, and so on. In 2011, the widely respected American Catholic writer George Weigel penned an influential essay in First Things declaring “the Bernardin Era is over and the Bernardin Machine is no more,” after Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York defeated Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson in the race for president of the US bishops conference, and at the time Weigel’s diagnosis was hard to dispute. What neither Weigel nor anyone else could have anticipated, however, was the rise of a Latin American pontiff who would revive that legacy in his neighbour to the north”.

It ends “While the realignment probably won’t have any immediate impact on the way the American Church approaches the election on Nov. 8 since the consistory isn’t until ten days later, it likely will reshape how the Church engages the aftermath – both in terms of the kinds of issues it prioritizes, and whom the Catholic leadership of the country is able to talk to about them”.

Taliban retake Kunduz


The Taliban overran central neighbourhoods in the critical Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz on Monday, planting their flag in the city’s main roundabout and shaking the Afghan government in a repeat of the insurgents’ assault on the city a year ago. Fighting in the city continued into the night, and American officials said that aircraft were there to help and that other “assets” were moving in. But on social media, the Taliban taunted the struggling Afghan forces and their American allies, providing a blow-by-blow account of their assault even as senior Afghan leaders traveled to Brussels for an international conference where they were to present a status report and ask for sustained international funding”.

Cameron’s legacy


An excellent editorial in the New Statesman, “Cameron’s tarnished legacy”, gives an excellent summary of Cameron’s legacy, “prime minister, David Cameron was derided for his U-turns. It was fitting, then, that his time in parliament should end with one. Having vowed after leaving No 10 that he would remain the MP for Witney for the duration of the parliament, he resigned on 12 September. Mr Cameron’s decision was understandable. At the age of 49, he is the youngest former prime minister since the Earl of Rosebery in 1895. He has no desire to be limited by the Commons. But his departure completes a remarkable denouement. Only 16 months ago, Mr Cameron became the first Conservative leader in 23 years to win a parliamentary majority. History will more often record him as the first to lose a national referendum. Despite decades of anti-EU sentiment, Mr Cameron wagered that he could win a vote on UK membership of the EU. That fatal misjudgement – Michael Portillo called it the “greatest blunder ever made by a British prime minister” – will define his legacy”.

The piece goes on to argue “Cameron’s decision was understandable. At the age of 49, he is the youngest former prime minister since the Earl of Rosebery in 1895. He has no desire to be limited by the Commons. But his departure completes a remarkable denouement. Only 16 months ago, Mr Cameron became the first Conservative leader in 23 years to win a parliamentary majority. History will more often record him as the first to lose a national referendum. Despite decades of anti-EU sentiment, Mr Cameron wagered that he could win a vote on UK membership of the EU. That fatal misjudgement – Michael Portillo called it the “greatest blunder ever made by a British prime minister” – will define his legacy”.

It goes on to note how “In his six years in Downing Street, Mr Cameron achieved some things of which he can be proud. He introduced equal marriage, in opposition to most of his party, agreed to spend 0.7 per cent of our GDP on foreign aid and oversaw record levels of employment. But, in most respects, his record is deplorable. After the financial crisis of 2008, he made it his defining ambition to eliminate the UK’s current deficit. But his premiership ended with government borrowing having only halved. Austerity starved the economy of investment, reduced growth and penalised future generations. Housebuilding stayed at its lowest level since the 1920s. Having vowed to make the Conservatives “the party of the NHS”, Mr Cameron imposed an expensive and botched reorganisation on it. Today’s underfunded and overstretched health service is the consequence”.

It rightly adds how “The promised transformation of the welfare system through Universal Credit was barely begun. After six years of Conservative government, the programme is not due to be completed until 2022. As Iain Duncan Smith finally recognised, “welfare reform” became a façade for cuts to the bene­fits of the poorest. Though he often spoke of social justice, Mr Cameron’s policies were frequently regressive. The “bedroom tax” and benefit cap penalised the vulnerable in return for paltry fiscal gains. After forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, Mr Cameron spoke of forging a “new politics”. He pledged to reform party funding to “remove big money from politics”, to create a “wholly or mainly elected upper chamber” and to fund 200 open primaries in safe seats. Not one of these promises was kept. Mr Cameron’s administration ended in tawdry fashion with his doling out of honours to donors, cronies and friends”.

It ends “Once asked why he wanted to be prime minister, Mr Cameron replied: “Because I think I’d be good at it.” At times, such as his response to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, he was. He was always fluent and composed, but he never settled on a larger purpose for his premiership. He was an incoherent fusion of soft Thatcherism, shire Toryism and modish west London liberalism. Theresa May, who has broken with her legacy in several respects, can learn more from his failures than his successes. Not yet 50, Mr Cameron has ample time to redefine himself out of office. He should put his talents at the service of those causes ill served while he was in it”.

Congress overrides Obama’s veto


The Senate is moving forward with a pledge by leadership to try to override President Obama’s veto of legislation that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set the vote on overriding the veto, along with two hours of debate, for Wednesday. The showdown could end with lawmakers nixing the president’s veto for the first time in his administration”.


“I’d talk a lot more about my faith in democracy itself”


An article discusses how Clinton has to appeal to those attracted by fear driven politics, “Hillary Clinton talks a lot about globalisation and its discontents, and much of what she says about the world is intelligent and true. Her supporters correspondingly like to cast her as the cosmopolitan in America’s presidential race, the one who really understands how the world works. In this narrative, Donald Trump is the parochial rube, the guy who just doesn’t get the big picture. And you can be pretty sure that that’s how she’ll play it in tonight’s much-anticipated presidential debate. But is that really true? If you take a look around the world right now, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Donald Trump is the candidate who’s in sync with the zeitgeist. It’s a deeply depressing thought. But Clinton ignores it at her peril”.

The piece goes on to point out “Much of the world currently finds itself in the grip of dark emotions. The democracies of the West seem to be suffering from a collective nervous breakdown. Anxiety about sluggish economic growth is fusing with fears about terrorism and migration to devastating effect. There’s a widespread sense that remote political elites are completely out of touch with the anxieties of ordinary voters.In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson deftly exploited these fears in their campaign to persuade Britons to leave the EU; Johnson has now become the U.K.’s foreign minister. France’s Marine Le Pen, who has made a career out of channeling resentment against immigrants, has a real shot at becoming her country’s next president. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has vowed to end liberal democracy in his country. Meanwhile, Germans have been voting in droves for a party called the Alternative for Germany, a nativist movement that’s been causing big headaches for Chancellor Angela Merkel”.

The piece goes on later to discuss how “As far as Trump is concerned, many commentators have pointed out that his nightmare vision of the United States — a place mired in recession, weighed down by hopeless African-Americans, and plagued by rampant crime and runaway immigration — doesn’t correspond to reality. Poverty is declining, violent crime is down, and immigrants were a larger share of the U.S. population in the early 20th century. Yet Trump supporters, discomfited by a society in the grip of tumultuous cultural and demographic change, see his dark caricature as an accurate reflection of their own nagging worries. So how should the defenders of liberal democracy respond? Combating inequality and creating greater economic opportunity should obviously be part of the answer. But we also need to acknowledge the power of the id — by paying attention to the less tangible reasons for the current age of anxiety. We need to think about how to make democracy more effective at cushioning citizens from the shocks of change. We need to think hard about tackling political polarization and creating new space for politics that can actually address pressing problems rather than succumbing to the gridlock that discredits democracy. We need to think about information policies — including media literacy programs — that can offer urgently needed counterweights to the echo chambers and conspiracy factories of the internet”.

Crucially he writes that “if I were Hillary Clinton, I’d talk a lot more about my faith in democracy itself. I’d tell people that I understand their fears about the perceived loss of control to big government and the faceless forces of globalization, and I’d propose reforms to address the erosion of trust — such as radical new policies of government transparency and changes to the electoral system that would enable people to feel that their votes really count. I might even argue that true democracy is impossible without genuine law and order — which you can only have as long as the police and the courts are truly accountable to all citizens. And I would certainly talk about the crucial importance of revitalizing education, since there’s no hope for democracy without an informed electorate. Above all I would argue that it’s time for the United States to start setting a trend of its own — by showing that strongmen aren’t the answer. I suspect we can only really succeed in doing that if we acknowledge the deficits of our own democracy. I have to admit that I’m skeptical that the next president — whoever he or she is — will be up to the task. But we’re going to need to start on it sooner or later”.


US calls Russia’s actions barbaric


“The United States on Sunday called Russia’s action in Syria “barbarism,” not counter-terrorism, while Moscow’s U.N. envoy said ending the war “is almost an impossible task now” as Syrian government forces, backed by Moscow, bombed the city of Aleppo. The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday at the request of the United States, Britain and France to discuss the escalation of fighting in Aleppo following the announcement on Thursday of an offensive by the Syrian army to retake the city. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the 15-member council. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Power said. A Sept. 9 ceasefire deal between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov aimed at putting Syria’s peace process back on track effectively collapsed on Monday when an aid convoy was bombed.

Ban’s last UN speech


An article notes the last speech by the leader of the UN, “Ban Ki-moon delivered a full-throated, and thinly veiled, broadside against a host of world leaders from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit during his tenth and final speech at the U.N. General Assembly. “In too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power,” he said. “My message to all is clear: serve your people. Do not subvert democracy; do not pilfer your country’s resources; do not imprison and torture your critics.” Ban charged South Sudan’s leaders, which includes Kiir, with having “betrayed their people” by pursuing a violent path to power. He blasted Syria’s Assad for prosecuting a brutal military campaign to cling to power at the expense of millions of brutalized victims of war”.

The piece goes on to note “Ban excoriated the outside powers that have supported the warring parties on both sides of the conflict. While Ban didn’t name names the list of regional or global powers — from Russia and Iran to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States — that supported the combatants — is long. “Powerful patrons that keep feeding the war machine also have blood on their hands,” he said. “Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all side.” In what appeared to be an implicit criticism of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and nationalist, anti-immigrant leaders in Europe, Ban criticized politicians for scapegoating foreign migrants, especially Muslims, and engaging in “cynical and dangerous political math.” “Muslims in particular are being targeted by stereotyping and suspicion that have echoes of the dark past,” he said”.

The report adds that “Ban also voiced particular frustration that efforts to welcome an independent Palestinian state during his tenure have foundered. “It pains me that this past decade has been lost to peace. Ten years lost to illegal settlement expansion. Ten years lost to intra-Palestinian divide, growing polarization and hopelessness.” “This is madness. Replacing a two-state solution with a one-state construct would spell doom: denying Palestinians their freedom and rightful future, and pushing Israel further from its vision of a Jewish democracy towards greater global isolation.” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, fired back shortly after the speech. “The real madness belong to the U.N.,” he said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on Palestinian terror and incitement, and instead of compelling Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, the secretary general chose to criticize Israel once again. This is an obsession with Israel and it must end.” He also expressed remorse over two internal scandals that have roiled his tenure at the U.N., the exploitation of women and children in the Central African Republic by U.N. peacekeepers and the outbreak of cholera in Haiti, which was introduced into the country be Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers”.

Japan scrambles fighters


“Japan says it scrambled fighter jets on Sunday after eight Chinese military aircraft flew between Japanese islands. The planes, thought to be bombers, surveillance planes and one fighter jet, flew along the Miyako Straits, between Okinawa and Miyakojima. China said about 40 of its aircraft had been involved in what it said was a routine drill. The planes did not cross into Japanese airspace, but the move is being seen as a show of force by China”.

“An impassioned plea for an open world order”


In this the 4,700th post, an article discusses Obama’s last UN speech, “Barack Obama used the pulpit of his last speech before the United Nations to make an impassioned plea for an open world order, even as walls rise against refugees, protectionism makes a comeback, and the West faces the prospect of a simmering cold war with Russia and other authoritarian states. The address represented a rallying cry for beleaguered democratic, pro-trade governments to promote the values of human rights and free markets. Obama also explicitly rejected the politics of isolationism, demagoguery, and nationalism that have gained political traction from the American heartland to Moscow. There appears to be a growing contest between authoritarianism and liberalism right now, and I want everybody to understand — I am not neutral in that contest. I believe in a liberal political order,” Obama said. “So those of us who believe in democracy, we need to speak out forcefully.”

It goes onto point out that “The U.S. president took aim at plenty of targets during his speech but trained a sharp burst of rhetorical fire on a country that has, in the course of his own administration, become Washington’s international nemesis and, at best, awkward diplomatic dance partner — Vladimir Putin’s Russia. He specifically rebuked Russia for intimidating its neighbours and using military might to shape the future of its growing sphere of influence. Obama argued that Russia’s military interventions — from Syria, where it is shoring up President Bashar al-Assad’s government, to Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels seized control of Crimea and continue to challenge a Western-backed government in Kiev — are unsustainable over the long haul”.

Interestingly the writer notes how “Obama also took a swipe at China, which has erected an archipelago of military installations on disputed islands in the South China Sea. He said a “peaceful resolution” of China’s territorial dispute “will mean far greater stability than … militarization” in the region. Obama also challenged China to ensure that its troublesome client, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, pays a price for his recent test of a nuclear explosive, a flagrant violation of multiple Security Council resolutions that China has supported. “When North Korea tests a bomb, that endangers all of us. And any country that breaks this basic bargain must face consequences,” he said. Hours after Obama’s speech, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — Turkey’s democratically elected, though increasingly authoritarian, leader — delivered his first address to the international community since a failed coup attempt in July. Erdogan implored world leaders to crack down on Fethullah Gulen”.

The report notes how “Obama’s speech also served up a blunt rejection of growing calls for sealing national borders, including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposal for a “beautiful wall” along the U.S. southern border to keep out foreigners from Mexico and elsewhere. “Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself,” Obama said. “So the answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration. Instead, we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are … squarely addressed.”That included a now familiar endorsement of free trade, which Obama hailed as a necessary component for a more prosperous and peaceful world. He described “trade wars,” protectionism, and tariff hikes as “failed models of the past” and reiterated his pitch for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries awaiting ratification by signatories”.

The piece goes on to note how “even in Washington’s political climate, Obama’s free trade message has become increasingly isolated. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has disowned the trade pact, despite her vocal support for it as Obama’s secretary of state; so has progressive firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who challenged her for the nomination. Trump calls the trade pact, which would link together about 40 percent of the global economy, one of the “worst deals” ever forged. Yet Obama sounded an uncharacteristically populist note in his speech, highlighting the need for the world’s wealthiest to strike a fairer bargain with the world’s workers. “A world in which 1 percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable,” the U.S. president told the gathering of foreign leaders. “A society that asks less of oligarchs than ordinary citizens will rot from within.” Although part of Obama’s speech centered on his forward-looking policy goals, he also sought to burnish his presidential legacy on the world stage. He noted that the meltdown of the global financial system, which nearly collapsed during the final years of George W. Bush’s administration, was stabilised under his watch. He cited landmark diplomatic agreements with Cuba, resulting in restored relations, and Iran, where sanctions relief was traded for the restriction of Tehran’s nuclear program. He also pointed to Washington’s role in supporting peace talks that ended Latin America’s longest civil war in Colombia”.

The report ends, “Obama struck a fatalistic note over the prospects of restoring peace in the Middle East, where leaders have demonised rival sects, persecuted political opponents, and tolerated the perversion of Islam. “[Such forces] are now at work helping to fuel both Syria’s tragic civil war and the mindless, medieval menace of ISIL,” he said, referring to the Islamic State. “If we are honest, we understand that no external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to coexist for long,” Obama said. In the meantime, Obama said the United States and its coalition partners will continue to undertake a “united and relentless” military campaign against the Islamic State in Syria. Beyond that, Washington will limit its action to pressing for an elusive diplomatic settlement to the conflict while working to deliver assistance to those in need. The recent breakdown in the Syrian cease-fire, however, has raised doubts over the viability of such a plan.


Duterte changes China’s calculus?


China’s next big target for construction of an artificial island in the South China Sea has long been assumed to be a cluster of rocks poking above sapphire waters near the Philippines. For several years, Chinese Coast Guard vessels and fishing trawlers have hovered around the reef, known as Scarborough Shoal. Giant dredges, suitable for building a military base, were recently rumoured to be on their way there. But the election last spring of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has since showered threats and epithets on the United States, has changed China’s calculation. That does not mean China has given up on the long-term goal of what could be a vast military base on Scarborough Shoal. But for the moment, the plans appear to be postponed. More important for Beijing right now, Chinese analysts say, is friendship with Mr. Duterte and an effort to wean his country away from its treaty alliance with Washington. Transforming a shoal right under his nose would ruin any chance of that, these analysts say”.

Obama’s insane foreign policy


An excellent article argues that Obama’s Syria policy is the definition of insanity, “The latest diplomatic attempt to bring calm to Syria and pave a pathway toward peace appears to have failed. After a week of blocked aid deliveries and cease-fire violations, Russian aircraft on Mondayreportedly bombed a joint U.N.-Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) aid convoy and warehouse outside Aleppo, killing nearly half of its staff, including a SARC regional aid director. The attack came just minutes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime declared the cease-fire dead. Several dozen more people were then killed and wounded in heavy air and artillery strikes on the besieged rebel-held districts of Aleppo city. The remains of a Russian air-dropped OFAB-type fragmentation bomb have been discovered in the wreckage of the SARC warehouse, and U.S. investigations have concluded that Russian Sukhoi Su-24 jets were responsible. Speaking after the incident, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said the bombing — which lasted nearly two hours — could be a “war crime.” None of this should come as a surprise, even as the consequences are potentially devastating. The Russian government, much less the Assad regime, has never been a reliable partner for peace in Syria. But even after Russia’s alleged bombing of the aid convoy, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is still plowing its energies into a deal that aims to work with the Russian government”.

The piece notes “Despite the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stood in New York on Tuesday and maintained that the “cease-fire is not dead.” The Obama administration appears to believe that the escalating fighting elsewhere in Syria — including the targeted airstrike on a medical facility in the town of Khan Touman late Tuesday, which killed 13 people — is just a figment of the world’s imagination. On Wednesday, Kerry told the U.N. Security Council that Russia’s denial of responsibility for targeting the aid convoy was evidence that it lived in a “parallel universe,” but, even so, he proceeded to call for another go at the very same deal that failed only a week prior”.

He argues later that “The Obama administration has viewed the Syrian crisis through the lens of counterterrorism. But diplomatic failures such as this one continue to embolden extremist actors like al Qaeda, which has purposely presented itself as a reliable and necessary opposition ally, seemingly dedicated only to the cause of ridding Syria of the Assad regime. By so deeply embedding within Syrian revolutionary dynamics and claiming to fill the vacuum left behind by insufficient foreign support or protection, al Qaeda’s narrative is constantly strengthened by perceptions of American inadequacy. Thus, U.S. failures do not exist in a vacuum — our adversaries quickly translate them into their own victories. It is long past time for the United States to reassess its shameful approach to the Syrian crisis. Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda are symptoms of the conflict, and the conflict itself is a symptom of fundamentally failed governance. In choosing to treat the symptoms, Washington continues to reduce its chances of resolving the larger issues at play in Syria”.

The piece mentions how “It should now be patently clear that contrary to the hopes of some, the Russian government is not the key to controlling the Assad regime’s heinous behaviours. For a week straight, the Syrian government consistently ignored Moscow’s demands and destroyed a cease-fire deal that had been largely of Russia’s making. The regime also reinforced its troop positions around Aleppo and amassed forces opposite the strategic northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, and its aircraft were blamed for bombings around Aleppo, north of the city of Homs, and in parts of southern Daraa governorate. And after the Assad government declared the cease-fire over, Russia ferociously destroyed an aid convoy intended for 78,000 civilians. The Syrian regime’s decision to scuttle the latest diplomatic effort should drive home one simple point: Bashar al-Assad does not intend to step down from power, and he will use any means at his disposal to prevent that from happening. From industrialised arrest, torture, chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and incendiary and cluster weapons to medieval-style sieges — no method is too severe if it helps him pursue his goal. Beyond feeble public appeals and a 2013 agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, which appears to have left some behind and ignored the regime’s chlorine gas attacks, the United States has never chosen to challenge such brazen brutality. And that’s why these tactics remain decidedly in use by the Assad regime”.

He notes that “The United States can no longer continue its meek attempts to contain the Syrian crisis’s effects. Five years ago, Syria was a local problem; today it is an international one. U.S. indecision, risk aversion, a total divergence between rhetoric and policy, and a failure to uphold clearly stated “red lines” have all combined into what can best be described as a cold-hearted, hypocritical approach. At worst, Washington has indirectly abetted the wholesale destruction of a nation-state, in direct contradiction to its fundamental national security interests and its most tightly held values. These failures began in the early days of the Syrian uprising. Though the Obama administration first proclaimed that Assad had lost his legitimacy in July 2011, it took more than a year after that to develop a meaningful policy to assist the opposition. Even then, U.S. support consisted only of providing food and nonlethal equipment. Later, the CIA’s vet, train, and equip program to the Free Syrian Army found some minimal success, but U.S. commitment remained negligible when compared with our often uncoordinated regional allies, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. It seems U.S. officials wanted Assad out but wanted others — whom administration officials would say in private they did not trust — to do it for them. The result? Nearly half a million people dead, more than 1 million people living under siege, and 11 million people displaced. Catastrophic refugee flows have led to an anti-immigrant backlash in Europe and the rise of far-right politics while Syria is now home to perhaps the greatest concentration of jihadi militants in any single country ever. Put aside the threat posed by the Islamic State for a second: Syria now hosts a thriving de facto al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — formerly the Nusra Front — the most capable, politically savvy, and militarily powerful al Qaeda movement in history. Al Qaeda’s central leadership has also revitalized itself inside Syria, with the international terrorist organisation’s newly named deputy leaderalmost certainly residing in the country. The correlation is simple: U.S. shortcomings equal al Qaeda’s success in Syria”.

He goes on to mention “After several years of ignoring this threat, U.S. policymakers finally turned their attention to al Qaeda this year. It was too late. Washington’s repeated failures had already given the jihadis the time and space to shape the dynamics of the war such that any attack by the United States or Russia would only further undermine U.S. influence and empower al Qaeda. Unfortunately, it is indisputably true that most Syrians living in opposition areas now view al Qaeda as a more trustworthy and capable protector of their lives than the United States. If there were ever a sign of policy failure, this would be it. Faced with this situation, the United States must consider addressing its Syria policy shortcomings, beginning with five key points. First, Assad is not and can never be the solution for Syria. There is simply no scenario in which any meaningful portion of opposition society will ever give in to his rule. The longer Assad remains in power, the more extremists will benefit. Second, there will be no purely military solution to Syria’s conflict — a negotiated settlement is the only feasible path toward stability. However, Assad will never treat a political process with any level of seriousness until placed under meaningful pressure, which the United States has thus far done everything in its power not to do”.

The third point he raises is that “A partition would not only fail to solve Syria’s conflict, but it would also likely exacerbate the existing drivers and create new ones. Opposition to partition is arguably the single issue that unites communities supportive of and opposed to Assad. Fourth, combating al Qaeda in Syria cannot be done solely with bullets and bombs. Defeating it is instead an issue of providing a more attractive and sustainable alternative to the jihadi group’s narrative. Given its successful efforts to embed within the opposition and build popular acceptance as a military (not a political) ally, al Qaeda does not represent a conventional counterterrorist problem. Adopting conventional means such as airstrikes will fail to defeat the group, and instead we must out-compete it”.

He ends “although the Islamic State may be an adversary the United States can fight largely in isolation from the broader Syrian crisis, it remains an asymmetric and opportunistic terrorist movement. By its very nature, it can be counted on to exploit the continued conflict in Syria for its own ends. If Assad remains in place indefinitely and the conflict continues or worsens, the Islamic State will undoubtedly live to fight another day. When questioned on the failure of the current U.S. policy in Syria, senior members of the Obama administration — and indeed the president himself — have repeatedly and cynically proclaimed: “What’s the alternative?” as if to say there are none. In fact, there are alternatives, and they all require a more determined use of U.S. hard and soft power. Civilian protection should remain the core focus of any broad-based strategy, but it must be backed up by real and discernible consequences for violators. Given the five-year U.S. track record, the Assad regime knows all too well Washington’s hesitancy to threaten the use of anything close to force, and Damascus has repeatedly reaped the rewards of that impotent stance. If the United States hopes to develop an effective Syria policy, that has to change quickly”.


UK will block EU defence proposals


Britain will resist new European Union defence proposals if it feels they undermine NATO, British officials say, in a warning to France and Germany that London will defend its military interests even as it negotiates to leave the EU bloc. Paris and Berlin proposed last week reviving EU common defense plans long blocked by Britain, partly to give the bloc a sense of purpose after Britons’ vote to quit the EU and also to counter the loss of the union’s biggest defense spender. Those plans include a joint and permanent EU headquarters for civilian and military missions, possibly in Brussels, which London says will drain away finite resources when NATO already has its military command center, also in Belgium. Most EU members, including Britain, France and Germany, are also NATO allies. But Europe wants to be able to act independently of the United States in its neighbourhood. While not proposing an EU army, Paris and Berlin see security and defense cooperation as one of the few areas where the remaining 27 EU governments could find common ground and show that the EU is still relevant after a British departure”.

“The Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia”


An article in the Washington Post reports today that “U.S.-Russia relations fell to a new post-Cold War low Monday as the Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war and forming a common front against terrorists there, and Moscow suspended a landmark nuclear agreement. The latter move, scuttling a deal the two countries signed in 2000 to dispose of their stocks of weapons-grade plutonium, was largely symbolic. But it provided the Kremlin with an opportunity to cite a series of what it called “unfriendly actions” toward Russia — from Ukraine-related and human rights sanctions to the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics”.

It adds that “The United States, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation.” Of far more immediate concern, the end of the Syria deal left the administration with no apparent diplomatic options remaining to stop the carnage in Aleppo and beyond after the collapse of a short-lived cease-fire deal negotiated last month. The State Department announced that it was withdrawing U.S. personnel who have been meeting in Geneva over the past several weeks with Russian counterparts to plan coordinated airstrikes against al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists in Syria. The coordination was to start as soon as a cease-fire, begun Sept. 12, took hold and humanitarian aid began to flow to besieged communities where civilians have borne the brunt of Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad’s response to a five-year effort to oust him. The Syria agreement was part of a year-long effort spearheaded by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to persuade Russia to help bring a negotiated political end to the war. In exchange for using its leverage with Assad to ground his air force and allow aid to flow, the United States said it would work to separate U.S.-backed opposition groups from terrorist forces with which they have become increasingly intertwined. Instead, after just a few days of a fitful truce, both Syria and Russia stepped up their bombing attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in the country, including the destruction of an aid convoy. Russia, while denying the convoy attack, has justified its airstrikes by saying that the cease-fire — along with U.S. failure to disengage the opposition from the Front for the Conquest of Syria, the al-Qaeda group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra — allowed the terrorists to rearm and expand their territory”.

The report adds that “Russia’s version of the sequence of events mandated by the deal is “explicitly not true,” a senior administration official said. “Separation was not step one,” but was supposed to occur after seven days without major violence. The Russians, the official said, have “constantly tried to move the goal posts.” The Damascus government officially declared the truce over on Sept. 19. Since then, Syrian and Russian aircraft have carried out a massive barrage from the air over Aleppo, including what a U.S. intelligence official said were “barrel bombs, thermobaric bombs, incendiary munitions, cluster bombs and bunker busters.” Unrelenting strikes, many of them targeting hospitals and medical facilities, have “killed hundreds of children in a week’s time,” said the intelligence official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity under administration-imposed rules to discuss the Syrian conflict. Kerry said last week that the United States was “on the verge” of suspending the Syria agreement. “The decision today came after a long, deliberate period of trying to give them every benefit of the doubt,” the senior administration official said. “But when they’re targeting hospitals, and using these kinds of weapons, that’s not a misunderstanding.”

Pointedly the piece adds that “the administration has found no alternative that has not already been considered, and previously discarded as unworkable or too risky in terms of broadening the Syrian conflict. President Obama is said to be no more willing to involve U.S. forces, air or ground, in the conflict than he was when it began five years ago. The prospect of flooding the opposition with more, and better, arms is still seen as hazardous. “Anything we do in the near term could lead to additional” expansion of the war, a second senior administration official said. “There are consequences” to a military approach, the official said, and we “want to make sure we are clear-eyed about them.” At the same time, this official said, the United States will continue to protect its interests against terrorist expansion. The official cited a recent U.S. airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province — an area of frequent Russian and Syrian strikes that targeted Front leader Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The Pentagon confirmed the strike but did not confirm the Front’s announcement that Mabrouk had been killed. Officials said they considered Syria and the plutonium suspension distinct issues, although both are “part of a piece of a troubled and difficult relationship,” one senior official said”.

It goes on to note “In a decree released by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin said Moscow would consider a resumption of the nuclear accord only if Washington agreed to several conditions, including canceling all sanctions and compensating Moscow for losses resulting from them. The plutonium agreement was once hailed as an example of successful U.S.-Russian cooperation. Signed in 2000 and updated in 2010, it required both countries to dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, according to the State Department. Russia had soured on the deal over differences with the United States on how to dispose of the plutonium. Moscow said it has opened a plant that converts the weapons-grade material into fuel know as MOX, which can be used in commercial reactors; construction of a similar U.S. plant in South Carolina has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The U.S. side has been split between those who want to build a plant as a way to encourage the Russians, and those who think it safer and cheaper to dilute the plutonium into less harmful material and dispose of it, said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”

“Taiwan may be building anti-aircraft defences”


Taiwan may be building anti-aircraft defences on Taiping Island in the South China Sea as China continues to conduct military exercises in the maritime region. Taiping, also known as Itu Aba Island, is the largest of the disputed Spratly Islands that have been claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. According to Taiwanese newspaper China Times and other local sources, satellite images show the Taiwan-occupied island now includes new construction that includes what appears to be anti-aircraft gun blockhouse towers. The local press report included images from Google Maps of four new buildings, built in the shape of concrete tetrapod structures. The buildings appear to be about three to four stories tall and face the island’s western coast, and are five to six times bigger than the existing 40-mm anti-aircraft weapons systems on the island.

Boring Brexit?


An piece in Foreign Policy notes that how May intends to make Brexit boring, “Back in June, Britain’s decision to exit the European Union was the biggest thing in global politics. Flags were waved, slogans were chanted, joy and despair were unconfined. And now? There has been no Brexit recession. But there has been no Brexit decision, either. May has assured us that “Brexit means Brexit” — in other words, even though she voted to Remain, she will deliver on the voters’ decision to leave the EU. But what, precisely, does Brexit mean? On that score, it’s all gone quiet — and it will apparently stay that way for quite some time. In the interim, the British press can happily occupy itself with arguments about grammar schools and giving the departing prime minister a kick up the backside on his way out”.

The article writes “There are three reasons why May has succeed in lowering the Brexit temperature from rolling boil to gentle simmer. The first is that the topic is, by its very nature, hugely important but hugely boring. The headline slogan is “Take back control!” — but the mechanism of doing that involves unpicking thousands of regulations and scrutinizing dozens of potential legal frameworks. Even the big headline questions — such as whether Britain wants to remain a member of the single market (and enjoy tariff-free trade at the price of accepting unrestricted immigration) — break down into the question of what differentiates access to the market from membership of it into issues of financial passporting and WTO baselines and Canadian or Norwegian models. The second reason is that these technocratic issues are meat and drink to May. Her Tory supporters may be painting her as the second coming of Margaret Thatcher. But there are aspects of her personality that are much closer to (whisper it) Gordon Brown. Like him, she successfully ran a major department (the Home Office rather than the Treasury) with a strategy of top-down command and control, mastering every detail while keeping both decisions and information as tightly controlled as possible. For May, inscrutability isn’t a bug — it’s a feature. The third reason, which is closely allied to this, is the extent to which May has stamped her authority on government — and on Brexit”.

He writes that “Her masterstroke was to hand control of the departments overseeing the process to three rival Brexiteers — Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and David Davis. Each has a healthy regard for his own ability and is not noted for a history of friendship or communality of political vision with the other two. Each also represents a separate institutional power base that will inevitably push against the others. (Not least because Fox’s and Davis’s departments, covering international trade and the Brexit negotiations, respectively, will need to filch staff from Johnson’s Foreign Office.) There is something else about this triumvirate: They are no threat to her. Johnson, the foreign secretary, is the biggest beast — May’s likely rival for the leadership until being knifed by his former Vote Leave comrade Michael Gove. But Fox and Davis were — to Westminster observers if not to themselves — on the downslope of their careers. The former, the international trade secretary, had left office in disgrace. The latter, having come in runner-up to David Cameron in the previous leadership contest, stormed out of the shadow cabinet to mount a quixotic campaign over civil liberties. It was a sign of their diminished standing, perhaps, that neither of the two was involved at a senior level in Vote Leave. And this, too, is crucial, because it has given May enormous room to maneuver”.

He notes that “During the referendum campaign, the Brexiteers made certain promises about what Britain would look like after Brexit: Britain’s EU spending (the largely mythical $462 million a year) to go to the National Health Service, a points-based immigration system, scrapping value-added tax on fuel. One by one, May has brushed these aside. She was not part of Vote Leave and does not feel bound by its specific pledges. So what will Brexit look like? It is impossible to tell what is happening behind the scenes, but so far any attempt by one of her three juniors to venture an opinion — whether it be Johnson’s sending her his thoughts on what the “red lines” in negotiation should be or Davis’s suggesting that Britain will probably leave the single market — appears to have been met with either a frosty silence or an outright rebuke by the prime minister. What Brexit means, in other words, is what May wants it to mean. And she isn’t telling anyone. In terms of taking the heat out of the issue, this has been a masterstroke. The dilemma facing her, however, is that at a certain point, masterly inactivity simply becomes inactivity”.

Crucially he contends that “In some respects, it’s already clear what May wants from Brexit. As home secretary, she was constantly determined to cut immigration and constantly unhappy at the fact that European rules (and her colleagues’ desire to protect Britain’s lucrative trade in educating foreign students) prevented her from doing so. She believes she now has a clear instruction from voters to control immigration, even if it means that Britain takes an economic hit from leaving the single market. But as for the rest of it? There are 1,000 decisions to make, each of them deeply contentious, many of which will need endorsement from a Parliament in which May has a slim majority in the House of Commons and a nonexistent one in the House of Lords, with interest groups and lobbyists and campaigners kicking up an almighty fuss all the while. The legalistic details involved mean that the process might, on many fronts, go rapidly from technical to nightmarish — as helpfully pointed out in a recent briefing paper by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. May would obviously prefer to formulate her plans in private: Davis has said that neither the public nor Parliament will be given a running update. But as Cameron found out when he was trying to win concessions from EU countries before the Brexit vote, getting your negotiations done in secret is next to impossible — as is coming up with deals that are acceptable to both your audience at home and your partners abroad. Meanwhile, there is an economy to keep on an even keel, a party to keep under control, and all the other duties of a prime minister to carry out”.

He ends “As of this week, May is mistress of all she surveys: streets ahead in the polls, unrivaled commander of the Cabinet, the previous Tory regime driven from power and, in the case of its leader, from Parliament. The problem for her is that whatever decisions she makes on Brexit, she will upset a large and vocal constituency. Perhaps that’s why she seems so happy to postpone them”.

Russia bombs a humanitarian convoy


Secretary of State John F. Kerry and senior officials from two dozen nations meeting here Tuesday declared that Syria’s cease-fire “is not dead ” but offered no ideas on how it can be preserved after heavy fighting broke out again, including the bombing of a humanitarian aid convoy by what Pentagon officials said was likely a Russian jet. “The mood of the meeting is that nobody wants to give this thing up. It’s the only show in town,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said after an hour-long session that others described as “tense” and “dramatic.” Pentagon officials, who earlier had said they were uncertain who was responsible for the Monday airstrike, which took place as aid was being offloaded from trucks west of Aleppo, said that their “preliminary” assessment was that a Russian Su-24 operating “overhead at the time” was responsible for the bombing”.

“Democratic constitutional order in Poland has broken down”


Poland’s constitutional crisis is discussed, “After simmering for nine months, the tension between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, is coming to a boil. The PiS government is attempting an unconstitutional takeover of the tribunal—ignoring its rulings, trying to pack it with new judges, and, most recently, threatening the head judge with prosecution. At stake are the survival of constitutional democracy and the rule of law in Poland. On July 27, the European Commission, which has been pressing the PiS to change course for months, called on the government to remedy the situation within three months or risk facing disciplinary proceedings that could lead to sanctions. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chair of the PiS and puppet master behind Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government, responded that he was “amused” by Brussels’ warning. In the weeks since then, the PiS has pressed on with its attacks”.

The report continues “The PiS is determined to defeat the Constitutional Tribunal because it is a major impediment to Kaczynski’s plan to introduce a populist electoral autocracy in Poland along the lines of Viktor Orban’s in Hungary. When Orban became prime minister, in 2010, he had a parliamentary majority large enough to legally rewrite Hungary’s constitution to help cement his grip on power. But in Poland, where the procedures for amending the constitution are more demanding, the PiS does not have that option, and many of its initiatives—including laws designed to control the media, limit civil liberties, politicize the civil service, and attack judicial independence—risk being declared unconstitutional. As a result, the government is engaged in a blatantly illegal effort to subjugate the Constitutional Tribunal. So far, the judges have held firm, ruling unconstitutional the very laws that the government has passed to attack them, such as its December 2015 law that sought to cripple the court by changing the rules governing its operations. But the PiS is growing more crude and aggressive, and its recent threat to prosecute the Tribunal’s top judge suggests that it may take more forceful action to crush judicial independence before too long. European leaders, meanwhile, are beset by crises—from Brexit to the refugees to continued economic weakness in the eurozone—and many may be tempted to avoid conflict with Warsaw. Yet the EU has no excuse for inaction. In the case of Hungary, EU leaders may have been caught unawares by Orban’s assaults on democracy. But Kaczynski and his PiS colleagues are hardly subtle about their intentions. Allowing them to stamp out constitutional democracy in one of Europe’s largest and most strategically important member states would mean the end of the EU’s “union of values” and would further damage its battered reputation”.

The writer goes on to add “The roots of the current constitutional crisis lie, ironically, with the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party, which governed Poland from 2007 to 2015. In its last month in office, the outgoing government appointed three judges to the Constitutional Tribunal to replace three who were retiring. That was perfectly legal. But the PO sought to further stack the deck by appointing replacements for two additional judges set to retire in December 2015, after the new PiS government would take office. The PiS-affiliated president, Andrzej Duda, refused to swear in any of the five judges, even after the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that only two had been nominated illegally. Instead, Duda swore in a slate of five different judges named by the new PiS-led parliament. The tribunal refused to hear cases together with the illegitimate replacement judges and a standoff with the government ensued. Since then, the PiS has passed laws designed to curtail the tribunal’s authority and make it subservient to the current parliamentary majority. The tribunal has judged the new laws unconstitutional, but the government has in turn refused to recognise those judgments. Quite simply, the democratic constitutional order in Poland has broken down”.

He notes that “In January of this year, the EU intervened. For the first time ever, the European Commission announced that it would be assessing the threat to the rule of law in Poland by activating the so-called Rule of Law Framework, which had been established in March 2014 in response to the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and the EU’s failure to confront it. Before then, the EU’s main disciplinary tool—Article Seven of the Treaty on European Union—was viewed by many as an impractical nuclear option: it allowed the EU to suspend voting rights and impose other sanctions on a member state, but only after other governments agreed unanimously that the state in question was in “serious and persistent breach” of the EU’s fundamental values. The Rule of Law Framework was conceived as a precursor to Article Seven—a means to gradually ramp up pressure on a member government. On June 1, 2016, after months of failed negotiations, the commission finally issued a formal Rule of Law Opinion expressing concerns over the appointment of new judges, the laws passed by the government concerning the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, the government’s non-implementation of the tribunal’s rulings, and the effectiveness of constitutional review in the country more generally. International pressure on the Polish government, including from the Obama administration, continued to mount in the run-up to the July NATO summit in Warsaw. On the eve of the summit, the Polish parliament rushed through a new law on the Constitutional Tribunal, which it claimed responded to EU and international criticism. But the European Commission made it clear that it saw these reforms as wholly inadequate, with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans declaring that “the main issues which threaten the rule of law in Poland that have not been resolved.” On July 27, the commission launched the next step in the Rule of Law Mechanism—issuing a Rule of Law Recommendation to Poland, which asked the PiS government to publish and implement recent Constitutional Tribunal rulings and assure that any further legal reforms would respect the tribunal’s judgments. The Commission warned that if Poland failed to act on these recommendations within three months, it might trigger Article Seven”.

Crucially he writes that “The EU’s failure to stand up to Orban in Hungary, however, does not inspire confidence about how it will act in Poland. But the situations in the two countries differ enough that Brussels may be able to do more this time. First, whereas Orban’s Fidesz party was able to entrench its hold on power through legal constitutional amendments, PiS is blatantly violating the Polish constitution and crushing the high court that is trying to defend it. This makes it much harder for European leaders to sit back in silence. Second, Kaczynski’s PiS has fewer friends in Brussels—and throughout Europe—than does Orban’s Fidesz. Fidesz is a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, and most EPP leaders have backed it throughout the deterioration of democracy in Hungary. The EPP has been willing to defend Orban out of partisan loyalty and because his party delivers the votes they need to dominate law-making in the parliament. The PiS, which belongs to the much smaller European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, is in a considerably weaker position. This weakness was on display recently, when members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted overwhelmingly (513 to 142 with 30 abstentions) for a resolution calling on the Polish government to respect democratic principles and the rule of law. The PiS’ political position is further damaged by the prospect of Brexit, since the largest party in the ECR, and one of the PiS’ staunchest defenders, is the British Conservative Party”.

Interestingly he writes that “But the Polish government still has an ace up its sleeve in Orban, who has explicitly pledged to block Article Seven sanctions against Poland. And therein lies a profound flaw in the EU’s approach to defending the rule of law and other democratic values. The threat looming behind the Rule of Law Framework is Article Seven, but the sanctions stage of Article Seven can only be triggered after there is unanimity among member governments. So long as the EU tolerates one autocrat—Orban—he can protect others of his ilk. The Polish government can count on the protection of Orban—as well as perhaps the leaders of the other Visegrad countries (Czech Republic and Slovakia)—and knows that ultimately Article Seven sanctions are unlikely to be imposed. But that is no reason not to trigger an Article Seven vote anyway. It is time for Europe’s leaders to stand up and be counted”.

He ends “Even a vote that fails to secure the unanimity needed for sanctions could be a galvanizing event, helping Europe’s democratic leaders remember what they and their union stand for. In the wake of such a vote, the EPP might finally eject and denounce Fidesz, a party that has not only undermined pluralist democracy but has eagerly stoked xenophobia. Talk among members of the European Parliament of cutting off EU funding to countries that flout European values is increasing, and even the failure of a vote against the Polish government might finally push leaders to get serious about using the power of the purse to deny autocrats the EU funds they use to prop up their regimes”.

“Suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes”


The U.N. humanitarian aid agency suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes on aid trucks the previous night that activists said killed at least 12 people, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The attack plunged Syria’s U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire further into doubt. The Syrian military, just hours earlier, had declared the week-long truce had failed. The United States said it was prepared to extend the truce deal and Russia — after blaming rebels for the violations — suggested it could still be salvaged. In Geneva, spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA said further aid delivery would hold pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the airstrike. Laerke called it “a very, very dark day… for humanitarians across the world.” The U.N. aid coordinator said the Syria government had granted needed authorizations in recent days to allow for aid convoys to proceed inside Syria. Humanitarian U.N. aid deliveries had stalled in recent weeks amid continued fighting, and the truce had not paved the way for expanded convoys as initially expected. It was not clear who was behind the attack late on Monday, which sent a red fireball into the sky in the dead of night over a rural area in Aleppo province. Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over Syria, as well as the U.S.-led coalition that is targeting the Islamic State group.

Pell’s difficult task


An article from the Wall Street Journal discusses Church finances, “Late last year, Cardinal George Pell, the pope’s finance chief, hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to undertake a comprehensive audit of the Vatican’s finances. On a mandate from Pope Francis to clarify the city-state’s muddled accounts, the newly powerful cardinal had been assessing and tweaking the system; already he had found a total of €1.4 billion “tucked away” off the books. Cardinal Pell wanted PwC to check that the 136 Vatican departments—each of which used its own, often loose accounting standards—were following guidelines aimed at imposing budgetary discipline. His task was like pushing against the ancient stone walls of a basilica. Other officials, led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, known as the pope’s prime minister, let him know the audit wouldn’t fly. In June, the Vatican announced it had been scrapped, and soon many of Cardinal Pell’s wide-ranging powers were handed to others”.

The article adds that “It was a setback for the financial overhaul, a central part of a broader revamp of the Catholic Church’s central bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, which Francis made a centerpiece of his pontificate. It was also a sign that the Vatican’s established interests have gained the pope’s support, just three years after his election as a historic, New World outsider. Cardinal Pell, a blunt speaker, had used a vaguely worded papal mandate to reach for broad powers. He has no plans to back down. “My job is to keep pushing,” Cardinal Pell, 75 years old, said in an interview in June. “The goal is that the Vatican will be recognized inside and outside the church around the world as somebody who handles their finances properly and appropriately.” Accounting at the Vatican has never followed unified policies. Annual reports aren’t released, different departments use different accounting principles, data are inconsistent and not comparable. Before Cardinal Pell’s appointment, a panel of cardinals charged with economic oversight met just twice a year. Budgets didn’t exist, and expenditures weren’t itemized”.

The piece goes on to mention “When cardinals elected Pope Francis in March 2013, they gave him a mandate to revamp the Curia. The resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI , had occurred under a cloud of allegations at the Vatican relating to cronyism, inefficiency and corruption. Complaints surfaced about €550,000 spent for a manger scene in St. Peter’s Square. Later, concern rose about the lack of oversight of hundreds of thousands of euros collected by advocates for potential saints from donors. Pope Francis moved quickly. In early 2014, he established a new Secretariat for the Economy and named Cardinal Pell to run it. In a two-page document he seemed to hand over sweeping powers, saying the cardinal had authority over “administrative and financial structures” and his reach extended “to all that in whatsoever manner” concerned economic activity, including procurement and hiring. The cardinal would report directly to the pope. In the cardinal, the pontiff found a rare example of a high-ranking prelate with media savvy, financial experience and a bold personality”.

It adds “With his 6’3” frame, the Oxford-educated cardinal cuts an imposing figure. In his youth, he played Australian rules football in the position of ruckman, a role akin to that of a center in basketball. Cardinal Pell is “a no-nonsense, realistic, straight-talking Australian,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told CBS This Morning soon after the appointment. “He’ll get things done.” In Australia, he oversaw the merger of eight far-flung colleges into a national Catholic university. As archbishop of Sydney, he streamlined procurement procedures in the archdiocese, which had assets of about US$770 million in 2013 and a staff of 11,000. He raised the return on investments in the church’s real-estate holdings by charging market rents, helping triple the archdiocese’s budget, according to Danny Casey, the archdiocese’s business manager under Cardinal Pell and now a close aide at the Vatican. The cardinal was also a member of a panel of cardinals advising Pope Benedict on economic affairs”.

Naturally attacks come against Pell, “Critics point to what they call an autocratic streak. During his tenure in Australia, the entire staff charged with spiritual instruction at an archdiocesan seminary resigned to protest his plans to impose a regular schedule of prayers and Mass attendance on students. Australian police are investigating Cardinal Pell over accusations that he sexually abused minors several decades ago, and Australian victims’ advocates have claimed that he failed to report suspected abuse by clerics during the 1970s and 1980s. In July he said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse about him.” He has also said that the church has made “enormous mistakes” in handling sex abuse and that he regrets not having done more to pursue certain allegations about others as a young priest, but denies any wrongdoing. With the new assignment Cardinal Pell got off the mark quickly. At a July 2014 press conference, he presented himself as the financial counterpart to the Secretary of State, who had previously been unchallenged as the pope’s No. 2 official. Press accounts hailed the Australian as the Vatican’s financial “czar.” “Our ambition is to become something of a model of financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal,” he said at the time. The “Vatican” refers to both the Holy See—which includes the central administration of the world-wide Catholic Church and related institutions serving the pope—and Vatican City State, the sovereign territory owned by the church inside Italy, where the pope resides”.

It goes on to mention that “Revenues come largely from proceeds from the Vatican Museums, its real-estate holdings, an investment portfolio and shops selling valuable tax-free products such as gasoline to Vatican employees. Dioceses around the world also send millions of dollars annually to the Vatican’s coffers. And the Vatican Bank, an independent body that is designed to provide financial services to the Catholic Church world-wide, also adds a varying amount of funds; it provided €50 million in 2014. Despite such assets, the Holy See has long run a deficit: €26 million in 2014, the Vatican said, and an estimated €35 million or more for last year, according to Cardinal Pell. Attempts in recent years to generate more revenue—the Vatican Museums raised visitor flow by 20% over the past three years—haven’t stanched red ink. Cutting costs, including layoffs, is difficult, because of the traditional Italian resistance to job cuts and the pope’s concern over the “social ill” of unemployment. Cardinal Pell and his team set out to close the deficit “so that an increasing amount of money can be used to help the strugglers and the poor,” he said in The Wall Street Journal interview. The cardinal hired consultants from firms such as McKinsey & Co. to do a review of assets. That exercise turned up €1.4 billion that was “not on the balance sheet,” recalled the cardinal. The cardinal attributed the discrepancies to haphazard accounting and ad hoc policies. “I’m not saying it was being mismanaged or anything. It just was there for a rainy day,” Cardinal Pell said. His team once received a call from the head of one Vatican office who had tens of millions in charitable funds and wasn’t sure how to account for them, he said”.

The writer goes on to note how Pell, “spotted a rich new source of revenue that could help close the deficit. The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, known as APSA, managed most of the Vatican’s huge real-estate portfolio, valued at €1 billion or more, including thousands of commercial spaces and apartments in Rome. Cardinal Pell said the management wasn’t satisfactory. Among the criticisms, APSA hadn’t kept up the properties or collected back rent on the real estate held by the administration of St. Peter’s Basilica, according to a person familiar with the situation. As a result, the Basilica suffered a deficit of several hundred thousand euros last year. That shortfall meant it couldn’t pay the stipends for new canons—the retired prelates who celebrate Mass there—for the next two years. A Vatican official said many properties can’t be rented out at market rates because they would be prohibitively expensive to restore. The pope gave Cardinal Pell control of the properties managed by APSA in July 2014, along with its administrative responsibilities for procurement, payment of bills and payroll”.

He points out that “APSA also controlled much of the Vatican’s financial portfolio, a power it retained. Cardinal Pell started exploring ways to reorganize the Vatican’s financial investments. One idea he pursued was to outsource them to professional money managers in a new Luxembourg-based entity. The real-estate move and plans for the investments raised hackles at APSA and other offices. APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, has developed a strong relationship with Francis, who over time has become more connected to insiders at the Vatican. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall at the Vatican guesthouse, where the pope lives. Cardinal Calcagno declined to comment on Cardinal Pell’s remarks about APSA, saying only that he was “disconcerted” by the statements. The Secretary of State also controlled extensive investments, and the powers of Cardinal Parolin over hiring and spending were under threat”.

It notes worryingly that “Then the pope started paring Cardinal Pell’s powers. In a series of moves over about 18 months, Francis stripped Cardinal Pell of control over APSA’s real-estate holdings. He declined to approve his recommendations to reorganize the management of the financial portfolio. He wrote and made public a pointed letter making clear that all hiring and transfer of personnel required the approval of the office of Cardinal Parolin. The audit was scrapped, and in July, he took away most of the management functions—for payroll, payment and procurement services—and restored them to APSA. “When a new administrative body is created, it always takes a while until it fits into the broader organization,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “We shouldn’t be distracted by the noise.” Some Vatican officials said they believe Cardinal Pell’s free-market ethos has been unwelcome in the Curia, particularly under a pope who has excoriated the free-market system and warned that some financial practices can lead to corruption”.

The journalist writes that “Cardinal Pell attributed some of his setbacks to “people wanting to retain their turf, their traditional role” particularly at APSA and the Secretariat of State. “Some people don’t like change, some people don’t like a diminished authority,” he said. “And there’s always a hypothetical possibility that you’ve got some people who have something to hide.” Officials at APSA and the Secretariat of State declined to comment on the cardinal’s comments. So far, the Secretariat of the Economy has accomplished little of what it set out to do. “A lot of people in the Vatican are wondering why we needed to spend two years and a lot of money on high-powered consultants just to come back to square one, with Cardinal Pell’s office basically a beefed-up comptroller’s office,” said Robert Mickens, editor in chief of Global Pulse, a magazine that covers the Vatican. Cardinal Pell cited success in identifying the off-the-book assets, and said that the Vatican is now committed to international public sector accounting standards, even if they haven’t been implemented everywhere, saying “the gains are irreversible.” “Once you let the light in, it’s impossible to return to a situation where you’ve had large elements of the truth buried,” he said”.


“A convoy transporting aid to the hard-hit city had been attacked”


A Syrian human rights group said today that at least 32 people had been killed and dozens injured in Aleppo, Syria, and its western suburbs in the hours after Syria’s military declared the U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire over. After the Syrian military blamed rebels for not observing the truce, which was in its seventh day, the United Nations said a convoy transporting aid to the hard-hit city had been attacked, with 18 of the convoy’s 31 trucks initially believed to have been hit. The rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 12 people had been killed when the convoy was struck. Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told ABC News that he could not confirm any information on potential casualties or the cause of the attack. He said that the United Nations’ initial understanding was that a warehouse operated by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had also been hit along with the convoy, before the trucks could distribute any aid to 78,000 people whom international groups had hoped to reach. The fighting came amid signs the cease-fire was falling apart, with Russia casting doubt on it and the Syrian military declaring its conclusion.

“must have shocked the leadership in Beijing”


A report from the Economist notes the recent elections in Hong Kong and the defeat for China, “ELECTIONS held on September 4th for Hong Kong’s legislature must have shocked the leadership in Beijing. In their highest turnout for any such poll in the territory’s history (58%), voters sent a clear signal of discontent with China’s attempts to stifle democracy. Even more worryingly for Chinese officials, some of them supported radicals who believe Hong Kong should decide its own future regardless of China’s wishes. Several such “localists” gained seats for the first time”.

The piece notes “The results confirm that separatism has emerged as a powerful new force in Hong Kong. It has grown out of a failed campaign in 2014 to press the Chinese government to allow the territory’s leader to be directly elected by voters, with no attempt to filter out candidates deemed unacceptable to China’s ruling Communist Party. Leaders of that “Umbrella” movement are among six localists who were elected to the 70-member Legislative Council, known as Legco. Hong Kong’s government had tried to prevent this by requiring candidates to declare their support for Hong Kong’s status as part of China; several localists failed the test. That many have now gained seats will be viewed in Beijing as a big political challenge—the opening of a new front, as the party would see it, in a battle against separatism that already confounds it in Xinjiang, Tibet and independently governed Taiwan”.

It adds “Voting arrangements for Legco ensured that pro-democracy politicians, including localists, had very little chance of taking a majority of the seats. Only 40 of them are elected through universal suffrage. The rest are chosen by members of “functional constituencies” representing various professions, businesses and social groups. These tend to be pro-establishment. But pro-government candidates did not do as well as they did in the previous elections for Legco in 2012. They kept their majority, but took only 40 seats, three fewer than last time. Of the 35 “geographical constituency” seats chosen by popular vote, 16 went to establishment candidates and 19 to a mixture of moderate democrats, localists, radicals of other stripes and independent candidates with pro-democracy leanings. With three other seats gained by universal suffrage, and eight in functional constituences, pro-democracy politicians retain their power to block some bills in Legco”.

It goes onto mention “Hong Kong’s politicians had long been divided into two camps. One was usually described as “pro-government” or “pro-Beijing”. The other was called the “pan-democrats”, who wanted full democracy for Hong Kong but did not challenge China’s right to rule it. The elections have revealed a split in the pro-democracy camp between moderates prepared to work within the current system, and young, often highly educated, radicals. Some of the localists gained their seats at the expense of veteran democrats. Days before the polls, however, five pro-democracy candidates withdrew in an effort to ensure victory for like-minded rivals, even radical ones. This may have helped Nathan Law of a party called Demosisto, who was a student leader during the Umbrella movement, become the youngest ever person to win a Legco seat. He describes himself as a “23-year-old kid”. Another localist, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, picked up some 84,000 votes, the most cast for any candidate in a geographic constituency. Among veteran democrats who lost their seats were Frederick Fung, Cyd Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan”.

It concludes “Many in Hong Kong, however, still prefer candidates who do not challenge the status quo. Regina Ip won a seat in the constituency of Hong Kong Island, despite having served as the government’s security chief during its aborted attempt in 2003 to introduce a much-hated law against sedition. Among pro-establishment candidates fighting in geographic constituencies, Ms Ip gained the largest number of votes: around 60,000. The high turnout, by Hong Kong’s standards, was probably helped by a growing political awareness among people in their late teens and early 20s, the generation that led the Umbrella protests. Many young people feel less bound by the political conventions of Hong’s transition to Chinese rule in 1997, when even firebrand democrats described themselves as Chinese patriots. They believe China’s refusal to fulfil its promise to give the territory more democracy has left them little choice but to challenge China’s right to rule. Leaders in Beijing will fight them tooth and nail”.