Archive for June, 2010

At long last

30/06/2010

At long last, today, Pope Benedict put to bed one of the more difficult appointmets in his pontificate, after naming Marc Cardinal Ouellet, formerly archbishop of Québec and primate of Canada as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

As soon as Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re reached the retirement age of 75 in January 2009, people were talking about George Cardinal Pell of Sydney as the replacement. However, shortly after his reported formal appointment, but before the announcment was made public, problems seem to have arisen, on two fronts. Cardinal Pell himself is said to have been concerned about his health, plus, Curial opposition seems to have hardened against him also.

The usual names were mentioned briefly including Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello, nuncio to Italy, Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and Stanisław Cardinal Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. However, Cardinal Ouellet, known for his closness to Benedict was tipped, getting the nod today. It is unusual that such a change would be made so late in the process. The opposition to Cardinal Pell must have be enormous

Likewise today the appointment, of Archbishop Fisichella  will head the new, Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation. However, the motives for appointing Archbishop Fisichella remain at best unclear, what’s that expression about kicking someone upstairs.

The appointment trend continues with the vast majority of appointments coming from dioceses and not from within the Curia itself, but to discourage carearrism and at the same time giving the worlds bishops a freer hand in running their dioceses.

Indeed, having had no major Roman news all year, Rocco, says that there will be other appointments with Kurt Koch the most likely taking over from Walter Cardinal Kasper at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. However Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller and Archbishop Bruno Forte are also possible last minute names to take over from Cardinal Kasper. It appears that all of these appointments will be announced in the near future.

Myth of liberal tolerance

28/06/2010

As if further evidence were needed of the intolerant left.

Dangers of populism and the erosion of childhood

27/06/2010

The Irish givernment’s plans to hold a referendum on the rights of children this year is absurd and ridiculously populist knee jerk policy, and can only by expected from a party like Fianna Fáil.

It is, of course, understandable that such a measure would be put before the people after the rightly damning evidence of the Ryan and Murphy reports, however article 45 of the Constitution of Ireland already says that:

“The State pledges itself to safeguard with especial care the economic interests of the weaker sections of the community, and, where necessary, to contribute to the support of the infirm, the widow, the orphan, and the aged.

The State shall endeavour to ensure that the strength and health of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children shall not be abused and that citizens shall not be forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their sex, age or strength.”

In his excellent piece about the referendum, John Waters notes that “the Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke has ‘warned’ that ‘various groupings’ are ‘joining forces’ to ‘fight’ the proposed referendum on ‘children’s rights’. Oh my! How distressing that citizens are preparing to engage in democratic debate concerning an important question about the direction of their society!” Waters gets to the point, many people, for example Fianna Fáil, take a very knee jerk view to everything without thinking things through – just look at Ireland now.

Many people will be unable to see how you could vote against a referendum on children’s rights. Despite obvious theoritical flaws, such as giving children under the age of majority, rights, thus further weakening the important division between adulthood and childhood, they will brand anyone who raises questions and has concerns about it, reactionary or just plain detached from reality.  

Waters contiunes saying that “It seems O’Rourke’s powerlessness to prevent this incipient nuisance-making is causing her anxiety. She ‘warned’ that, arising from the involvement of ‘pro-life’ and ‘anti-Lisbon activists’, the referendum might not have ‘a sweet passage’. ‘The forces of old will wish to re-assert themselves,’ she prophesied.”

He continues saying “A visitor from afar might have difficulty understanding what O’Rourke was getting at. What does ‘forces of old’ signify? Isn’t this referendum about a new and discrete question? What is the connection between a referendum on ‘children’s rights’ and a treaty concerning internal EU housekeeping? What has this to do with ‘pro-life and anti-abortion’?” Indeed, as was stated here only recently, the very reason that many people who hold strong views on emotive subjects become so vocal is because there is no regular outlet in the Irish party system for them and thus able to separate the real conservatives with the people who are unhinged.

Or as Waters says, “O’Rourke, who chaired the cross-party committee that produced the amendment proposal, is entitled to argue for constitutional change. But she is not entitled to present this amendment as incontrovertibly beneficial or to cast aspersions on the legitimacy or bona fides of those contributing to the discussion on the other side.” He says rightly that “Citizens may even find her arguments persuasive. But she is not entitled to disparage arguments before they are made on the basis of snide throwaways concerning the pedigrees of those who may seek to make them.”

I fear however, the O’Rourke’s and the hard left Geraldine Kennedy’s of this world will dicate the terms of the debate so that they can stifle the arguments of the other side that deserved to be heard. It is due to Fianna Fáil’s populism and lack of ideology that lead to measures such as this which, while of on the surface beneficial it is unwise to put such measures into a constitution that such contain only the fundamentals of a State.

“Cheer up the worst is yet to come”

24/06/2010

It looks as if there is more fun ahead. There is an high possibility that there will be wars or at the very least large conflicts over the higher demand and lessening resources both oil and water. Add to that, in the UK at least, and very possibly in many other countries, as demand soars, rolling blackouts. Not only that but the reported investment could be in the region of £100 billion, and this is in a country that is still despite the recent emergency budget teterring on the brink of bankruptcy. Besides, it not like blackouts haven’t happened before in recent years

What is needed now is not so much a solution, the way the chips have fallen is that there will be a shortage of electricty. However, what the UK governemnt, and indeed others should start thinking now about the consequences of these. Will these effect crime rates? How long will they last for? Are these predictions for the length of blackouts accurate, if so why? What are the consequeces to business, to heavy industry, to transport?  How can these industries by supported by less energy or can they? In 2003 in Canada the airport, and most of the Noth American northeast, just stopped dead. Nothing gradual, just stopped. No one landed or left for 48 hours.  

It shows the utter powerless of man, for all our sophistication and wealth, whole countries, and economies can collapse over a few days. What’s going to happen is that some industries and or government services will start to petition the government that they are more in need of the lessening amount of power. Either way, society is going to have to change and the way we think about our own needs in relation to the whole will alter radically. If not, I shudder to think what could happen.

Curial moves

22/06/2010

Today Benedict appointed a new secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who has served as Under-Secretary since 2004.

More, I suspect to come soon.

Obama = Bush

20/06/2010

Following on from the recent post on this year’s National Security Strategy, what became apparent was that, even reading the cover letter, you got a sense that it could have easily have been written in the Bush 43 White House, expect for Obama’s signature at the bottom.

There was much talk among the media that “President Barack Obama has rejected George W. Bush’s doctrine that placed the ‘war on terror’ at the centre of American foreign policy” and that  the new president has distanced “himself from Mr Bush’s concept of pre-emptive wars to prevent emerging threats, instead citing the national security implications of global economic crises and climate change.”

While some of this may be true, especially with climate change reading the NSS there is little that differentiates the two president’s, just what they chose to highlight. Some have argued that Obama is really no different than George W. Bush, while others think Obama is a classical realist, in the mold of Bush 41. However, Bush the Elder may have been a realist when it came to leaving Saddam Hussein in power after the Gulf War, but remember, this is the man who said, “no one should have to starve at Christmas” after he sent in troops to Somalia, who also invaded Panama to oust Noriega, who the US basically installed, albeit for understandable reasons.

In his excellent piece, Peter Feaver, says that “Obama’s NSS similarly emphasizes America’s ‘global leadership’ and ‘steering those currents [of international cooperation] in the direction of liberty and justice’ and ‘shap[ing] and international order’ because ‘global security depends upon strong and responsible American leadership.'” Feaver continues noting that “Leadership goes beyond seeing the world as it is and includes transforming the world according to America’s interests and values or, as Obama puts it: ‘In the past, the United States has thrived when both our nation and our national security policy have adapted to shape change instead of being shaped by it.'”

Indeed, Feaver says “the biggest difference between Obama’s NSS and his predecessor’s is the long section devoted to domestic policy, both economic and social”. He says that “Bush labeled the ideology (“militant Islamic radicalism”), Obama leaves it a bit vague (“a far-reaching network of hatred and violence)”. The end result though is, I suspect the same, for example, “Bush’s NSS led with the observation that the country was at war; Obama’s NSS moves that point to the second paragraph.” Again,  he says “By embracing the outlines of the post-Cold War and post-9/11 grand strategy that has guided U.S. policy thus far, it is basically as strategic and coherent in outline as its predecessors”.

Rightly, Feaver says that “Grading the media’s coverage thus far, however, is comparatively simple: they have earned a failing grade that borders on malpractice. It appears that even reporters who were given advanced copies have been content merely to parrot superficial talking points built around caricatures rather than do serious analysis”.

Lastly, Stephen Walt on the NSS said that:”‘Meanwhile, ‘adversarial states’ (i.e., those who don’t follow our rules) will face a choice: ‘abide by international norms and achieve the political and economic benefits that come with greater integration with the international community; or refuse to accept this pathway, and bear the consequences of that decision, including greater isolation.’ This is no different than Bush’s belief that ‘you’re either with us, or against us,’ but it is a lot more long-winded.'”

Even Obama’s legal approach to dealing the terrorists has been only altered slightly, but the point remains, Obama buys into the War on Terror that Bush set up. One book that argues this extremely convincingly is Lynch and Sigh’s.

Finally, Drezner hits the nail on the head when says, “which box you put him in, I suspect, depends on which policy dimension you think matters most”.

Collapse of the Irish party system?

16/06/2010

Labour is now the most popular party in Ireland. The “Labour leader Eamon Gilmore gets a far higher satisfaction rating than any of his rivals, while the party is ahead of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in terms of its core vote as well as the adjusted vote”.

While the other main parties seem to be collapsing, “Fianna Fáil has dropped back to the record low it reached last September, while the standing of the Government and Taoiseach has fallen sharply over the past six months. There is also bad news for Fine Gael, with the party dropping to its lowest rating in two years and leader Enda Kenny falling back in terms of satisfaction rating”.

The poll numbers say that “When people were asked for whom they would vote if there was a general election tomorrow, the adjusted figures for party support, compared with the last Irish Times poll on January 20th last, were: Fianna Fáil, 17 per cent (down five points); Fine Gael, 28 per cent (down four points); Labour, 32 per cent (up eight points); Sinn Féin, 9 per cent (up one point); Green Party, 3 per cent (no change); and Independents/ Others, 11 per cent (no change)”.

Even the Irish voters know that things aren’t going well with the country when “12 per cent of voters are satisfied with the way the Government is doing its job (down seven points) while 83 per cent are dissatisfied (up seven points)”. Similarly, Cowen gets a well deserved hiding for his mix of incompetence and spinelessness, “Brian Cowen gets a satisfaction rating of 18 per cent (down eight points); Mr Kenny is on 24 per cent (down seven points); Mr Gilmore is on 46 per cent (no change); John Gormley, 21 per cent (down three points) and Gerry Adams, 31 per cent (no change)”.

What is suprising is that Fine Gael and, perhaps Enda Kenny, failed to do any better – a damning indictment of Kenny’s leadership and failure to captailise on the explosion of the Irish economy, after years of mismangament and greed coupled with a chronic inability to make decisions, and with it the implosion of FF support.  Indeed, what is amazing is that “support for Fine Gael has retreated further, down four points to 28 per cent, still ahead of Fianna Fáil but behind Labour for the first time since polling began in 1982”.

Things are so bad, not only for FF but now it seems that more and more people have almost no support for FG either. What is interesting here is that “Trends in leader satisfaction and party support do not always mirror one another, but in today’s poll the parallels are unavoidable”. So, after months, perhaps years in truth, Richard Bruton acted or failed to act fast enough and was fired by Kenny.

The ensuing leadership challenge is messy and will run and run for the next days. The assumption is that, get rid of Kenny and the polls will reflect that.

What is less clear however, is the rise of Labour, “It may have been the recent HSE miscarriage misdiagnosis revelations, which were prominent in the media when interviewing for this latest poll last Tuesday and Wednesday, or perhaps talk of cuts in the old-age pension and other welfare benefits has thrown voters into the arms of Labour.What is clear, however, is that the electorate has a significant appetite for change.An examination of how the parties perform among the various demographic cohorts also highlights the changes in party loyalty in recent years”.

Certainly, Gilmore’s more stirring and wholly justified attacks on FF and Cowen, I hope this and not other things, have raised his profile and his support in an country angry with politicans and bankers. His attempts to talk himself up seem to have worked, for now.

What no one seems to be asking is, is this a new lasting trend where people are attracted to Labour’s quasi-leftish policies and want the old political order to be destroyed, or will things return to normal in three or four years time with a return to the two and a half party system that is currently in place? Some have said that Labour have only managed this rise in popularity by attacking the government but not putting forward any alternative policies.

What I hope will happen is that a political system based on something that happened ninety years ago and once divided a country and lead to a civil war, is no way to run a party system in this day and age. I hope these new polls will lead to the death of the system as it is currently construced, however, the stupidity of the Irish electorate never cease to amaze me, so anything is possible.

The “new” National Security Strategy

15/06/2010

A slightly delayed post of the new National Security Strategy that was published last month. The Strategy, mandated by Congress every year brings academics something to talk about at conferences, but other than that it’s largely ingored, with some notable expections.

Obama’s first NSS is a mix of realism and idealism, not unlike Bush 43, despite what the New York Times says. As Walt says, “a report whose first page says ‘to succeed, we must face the world as it is.’ It then goes on to say that ‘we need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier time.'”

The cover letter to the NSS says that “the burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone”. This is a continous thread throughout the whole document. However at the very end of the cover letter, it says “in a young century, whose trajectory is uncertain, America is ready to lead once more”. Now, maybe its just me but, leadership must in some sense mean, most if not all, of the weight falling on your shoulders. Either your a leader and you take all that brings or your not and you don’t which means that you give up the mantle of being a leader.As Walt neatly sums it up,”The main novelty in the report is its attempt to acknowledge the limits of American power while continuing to extol the virtues of U.S. primacy and global leadership.”

It apparently recognises that power “in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game”. However this is part of the problem – world politics is always fundamentally a zero sum game. Of course there are times when this is not strictly true but the overarching theme is one of you lose and I win – or indeed vice versa.

Another notable comment is where it mentions that “International institutions must more effectively represent the world of the 21st century, with a broader voice—and greater responsibilities—for emerging powers, and they must be modernized to more effectively generate results on issues of global interest”. ]I’m guessing he’s referring to the proposed expansion of the UN Security Council, but the UNSC is already next to worthless and any expansion would just make any further issues that should get support from other powers. Also how is he going to square the circle of giving them greater representation as well as more responsiblities?

However more like his predcessor, rightly or wrongly, Obama belives “efforts to advance security and prosperity are enhanced by our support for certain values that are universal.” This is quickly followed by the claim that “The United States rejects the false choice between the narrow pursuit of our interests and an endless campaign to impose our values. Instead, we see it as fundamental to our own interests to support a just peacearound the world—one in which individuals, and not just nations, are granted the fundamental rights that they deserve.”

It says that “challenges hold out the prospect of opportunity, but only if the international community breaks down the old habits of suspicion to build upon common interests.” Surely this is on the naive side of idealism, how can the international community not be suspicious of each other when power competition is rife and instability everywhere?

The NSS says the the fundmental interests of the US are:
*Security: The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners.
*Prosperity: A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity.
*Values: Respect for universal values at home and around the world.
*International Order: An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.

One of the headings in the NSS is “Disrupt, Dismantle, and Defeat Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World”. Talk about ambitious. Walt makes the point that “it is hard to identify any area of the world or any particular issue-area where the Obama administration intends to do less”.

Obama happily buys into the War on Terror label of Bush 43 when he says clearly that “We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa’ida, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.”

The strategy says that “The United States seeks two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security, acceptance, and rights for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestine with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people”. Again this follows on from what Bush said, but not Clinton who never explicitly advocated a two state solution. 

“Many years of refusing to engage Iran failed to reverse these trends; on the contrary, Iran’s behavior became more threatening. Engagement is something we pursue without illusion.” How is this the case when Obama says he will limit when e uses nuclear weapons, when everyone knows that it’s just for the media? I guess the real question is engagment with who, the regime, the Green Movement?

One of the headings later on is “Practicing Principled Engagement with Non-Democratic Regimes:” surely an oxymoron as either theirr is engagement or not? Principles are irrelevent, indeed they must be, the world is regretably too dangerous for such overt principles. 

Walt says that the NSS, “despite the nods to greater balance in our foreign policy and the need to restore fiscal solvency, the report continues to reflect the ‘pay any price and bear any burden’ mind-set that is characteristic of American liberal internationalism.”

Interestingly, he notes that “Meanwhile, ‘adversarial states’ (i.e., those who don’t follow our rules) will face a choice: ‘abide by international norms and achieve the political and economic benefits that come with greater integration with the international community; or refuse to accept this pathway, and bear the consequences of that decision, including greater isolation.’ This is no different than Bush’s belief that ‘you’re either with us, or against us,’ but it is a lot more long-winded.”

What is notable are the similarities between Bush and Obama, who despite having different temperament and backgrounds, seem to fundamentally agree on the broad strokes of US foreign policy.

UN sanctions on Iran

13/06/2010

Iran has dismissed the recent sanctions that have been placed on it as “a used hanky”.

The sanctions “target Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, ballistic missiles and nuclear-related investments”. However, in typical UN fashion, thhe oil exporting industry “are not affected because targeting them would have cost the US essential support from Russia and China”. President Obama described the sanctions as “Actions do have consequences, and today the Iranian government will face some of those consequences”. The Iranian UN Ambassador said that “Iran is one of the most powerful and stable countries in the region and never bowed — and will never bow — to the hostile actions and pressures by these few powers and will continue to defend its rights”. 
 
Interestingly but not suprisingly, “We do not see sanctions as an effective instrument in this case,” Brazil’s UN Ambassador Maria Luiza Viotti said. I could give you the usual nonsense of the BRICs and their new influence, but instead, when the US gets tired of the sanctions being ingored, will something happen?

Either it could give Israel the green light for a poxy attack on Iran while of course disavowing all knowledge. However, the coming and going of the first anniversary of the disputed presidental election, largely without incident could shows just how, either disorganised the Green Movement is, or how powerful the Iranian governemnt is. A crediable case could be made for working with the mullahs on some level and ignoring whatever colours people take to painting themselves, until of course something comes of it when engagment will change, should it be needed.

NAFTA vs EU?

13/06/2010

Watching the USA play England in the World Cup yesterday, what struck me was the level of devotion and pride felt by both sides for their respective sides. Those in the UN and especially in the EU, would have the world think that the nation-state will disappear into the sands of time leaving only vast swathes of territory whose people have no allegience only to their respective supra-national institutions.

When, and only when, NAFTA plays the EU in the World Cup and the Olympics is organised by trading blocs will the nation-state be finished.

Indeed, there is more evidence of the power of nationalism on people, even in Europe.

Too much of a good thing

12/06/2010

There has been much talk in the UK of the Labour party leadership election where all party members have a vote. And this is, in some ways, a good thing. However people chosing party leaders or candidates can be taken to extremes.

 Alvin Greene is now the official candidate for the US Senate of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Greene who “lives at home with his parents, raised no money and had no campaign website, staff, leaflets or signs”, yet he  is still the official nominee beating his other rivals for the nomination “with more than 100,000 votes”.

This is when a mood of anti-incumbency is sweeping much of the US and indeed, other parts of the world, partly on the back of President Obama’s “change” election. Greene’s victory “has puzzled and embarrassed the party after it later emerged he is also facing a criminal obscenity charge”. 

This is what you get when you mix a volatile political mood an angry, unpredictable electorate and a needlessly democratic party nomination system. Instead of a calm, measured debate between party officials who would choose a candidate that they thought would be the best, the people, have chosen a political nobody with no experience of dealing with legislation or lobbyists or the complex tasks faced by a legislator every day.

Apparently the “leader of the state Democratic party immediately asked him to step aside but, in a further twist, Greene is refusing and plans to run against incumbent Republican Senator Jim DeMint in November”.

Here the benefits of a party list system come to the fore. Instead of the candidate representing his party on the ballot, voters have no say who the candidate is and only vote for the party and therefore, (one would hope) its policies. This forces voters, who sometimes need to be forced, to decide who to vote for not on personality, as is so often the case, but on what they as the voter actually believe.  

The list system leaves aside the irrelevancies of who stands and leaves that to the party, who one would hope, pick people who don’t have a criminal record. Not only that but a list system avoids people with no political experience getting the party nomination and causing the party to splinter over whether to support the nomination or not, as I suspect the South Carolina Dems are know doing, weighing up Greene’s anti-incumbency record over his, eh, inexperience.

I hope people learn that there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it has such enormous ramifications for so many people.

Thought for the day

10/06/2010

I wonder if this would have been reported the way it was if  men had been elected? I doubt it.

Israeli actions and the resiliance of the nation state

10/06/2010

On the recent and hotly debated issue of the Israeli actions on the seas, in an interesting but fundamentally flawed article in the New Republic.

The author, David Rieff, notes that “much of the debate has focused on the question of whether those aboard the Free Gaza flotilla were humanitarians, peace activists, or Hamas supporters”. This is of course a key point as to answer this, with some amount of definity, means an answer to almost everything else. I am sure that many on the flotilla were simply trying to help the ordinay people of Gaza, who are undergoing great suffering. However, it is not a distant possibility that there were a small minority onboard that wished to do Isreal great harm, as Reiff says that “Christopher Caldwell, wrote in the Financial Times that, the participants aboard the Mavi Marmara had not only a humanitarian motive but a military one–to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza—and, because of that, had in effect become parties to the conflict and, as such, entirely appropriate targets for the Israeli military”

While what it is doing to the Palestinians is tragic this is not a licence for further violence. From a rational perspective what the Israel did was correct, but undoubtly excessive. It took actions that are broadly understandable to extreme levels – there was a potential threat from the flotilla (why else would Isreal have gone in?) and should have been curbed – not however by boarding the ships and killing several of the passengers.

Rieff said this view of the raid, ie as the flotilla being either terrorists or humanitarians is “strangely binary”. Well yes, I don’t know what else they could be. The only other possiblity is that it was either mostly terrorists with a few humanitarians or a mostly humanitarians with a few terrorists but its still one of the other.

He said that the flotilla represents “an extraordinary victory” for non state actors being able to get involved in the outcomes of states. Firstly was it really a victory, nevermind an extraordinary one? I doubt it, the ships got to port but only after being escorted there by the State of Israel. That’s not what I’d call a victory. And it’s not like the UN or anyone else did anything of use either to stop Israel. Indeed besides from the understandable criticisms of the Israeli actions there was little anyone could do.

Rieff says that “It was Bernard Kouchner, a founder of Doctors Without Borders (though despite what he sometimes implies, he was forced out of the organization decades ago), who wrote of a right of intervention that needed to be added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” This is utterly outrageous. People who are seen as realists are now seen as the protectors of state sovereignity while those, particularly in the State Department are seen as the champions of liberal interventionism. Yet it is people like Kouchner who would oppose the invasion of Iraq, which made no sense on strictly realist grounds, but still are unable to see the hypocrisy of their position. As Rieff clarifies “whole point of humanitarian intervention was precisely that NGOs and civil society had both a right and an obligation to respond with acts of aid and solidarity to people in need or being subjected to repression or want by the forces that controlled them, whatever the governments concerned might think about the matter.”

Rieff  continues saying “leaving aside entirely the fact that the Free Gaza activists do believe Israel to be an apartheid state” (or is at least becoming one) there is nothing the “international community” can do.

What is certain is that no matter how hard people try they cannot escape the nation-state, no matter how hard they close their eyes.

Individualism and the end of the welfare state

09/06/2010

After the recent strikes in Spain, two things should be pointed out. The first is that people are unable to understand the common good where for the last, in particular, ten years people’s desires where only were what were important. The message not only from “the market” but from all of society was that nothing else matters other than your immediate needs – which is partly why we are in the economic meltdown in the first place. Now this greed is coming back to us at the worst possible time. A 5% public sector pay cut was needed in Spain to begin the process of restoring, in this case, Spain, to some kind of economic order. What is worrying however is that this is just the beginning of the pain. There will be more cuts, not just in Spain but across much of Europe.

With the levels of debt, not just personal debt, but the debt of governments, the size of the State and the things that for over a hundred years were taken for granted, things like a safe pension, will all disappear. States can no longer afford to support these services. Pensions as we know them will cease to exist, and ironically and sadly, return to what Otto von Bismarck intended them to be, a basic stipend that will assist the worst off to survive. Not only this but much of the health care systems, like those in Sweden and France will simply be too expensive to carry on in their present forms due to too much government debt.

Not only are we witnessing the end of capitalism as we know it but we are sadly seeing the death of the welfare state that much of Europe can be so pround of simply because it has become too expensive and unsustainable.

Dublin’s visitor

05/06/2010

The Irish Times in a profile written by a Boston journalist, of the recently appointed apostolic visitor for the Dublin diocese, Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, notes that “O’Malley’s tenure in Boston has been marked by a slow but inexorable improvement of the archdiocese’s finances and social standing”.

I suppose that wouln’t be hard, considering what Cardinal Law left behind for his successor to tidy up. However, it does note that O’Malley, “a Capuchin who wears sandals and takes his vow of poverty seriously” sold off his official residence to pay for sex abuse claims.

The article notes how “O’Malley has been much more pastoral to victims. But as the years have gone by, some victims suggest O’Malley is simply a more humble version of Law who says the right things but sees his first obligation as allegiance to the Vatican, not solidarity with victims.” The journalist notes how according to some he “‘has the demeanour of a healer and the skills of a concealer,’ said Anne Barrett Doyle from BishopAccountability.org, a group that monitors the hierarchy’s response to the abuse crisis.”

All this is very well but it’s really a fancy version of bolting the door after the horse is gone, and secondly will it bring people back into believing in the Church again? I doubt it and as someone said today, any institution, let alone the  Church, examining itself isn’t really credible.

I only hope that the visitors don’t stifle the good work that Archbishop Martin is doing. They may even get the rest of the Irish bishops behind Martin.

Now that would be a miracle!

Korean crisis

01/06/2010

Rather belatedly the goings on on the Korean peninsula get a mention. What seems to have happened is that North Korea sank a South Korean in disputed waters in March. The international report was released last month which confirmed the ship was sank by a North Korean torpedo.

North Korea is taking the report very seriously and has threatened the resumption of hostilities  breaking the armistice which has been in place since the end of the Korean War in the 50s.  President Obama offered his “strong and unequivocal” support to the president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. Initially, China said that those involved should “remain calm” however it has subtly altered its stance since then, saying that “China will not protect anyone”.   

Historically North Korea and China have had most in common, however China’s expanding economy and power, both economic and military, has diluted its version of communism, unlike in North Korea which is almost unchanged since the time of the Cold War. 

The other permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia, has said little of the incident except platitudes, while China is under pressure for an outright condemnation of the event, which it has still yet to give.  In his excellent article on the events on the peninsula, David Sanger says that the pattern of the north taking action and lashing out to get aid, proposed “sanctions get watered down. Negotiations reconvene. Soon the North hints it can be enticed or bribed into giving up a slice of its nuclear program. Eventually, the cycle repeats.” Sanger says that things are different this time in that the  “South has a hardline government whose first instinct was to cut off aid to the North, not offer it new bribes”.

Sanger says that there is still hope, he cites examples where “There was no retaliation after a 1968 raid on South Korea’s presidential palace; or when the North seized the American spy ship Pueblo days later; or in 1983 when much of the South Korean cabinet was killed in a bomb explosion in Rangoon”. He implies that he hopes the cycle of the North being bribed off was a good thing, indeed, perhaps it is. He says the China is trying to prop up the regime simply because it doesn’t want, or isn’t able to cope, with the millions of North Koreans that would come flooding across its border should the North collapse.

He notes presicently that “What worries some officials is the chance of an intelligence failure in which the West misreads North Korea’s willingness and ability to escalate.”

In essence this is about how rational Kim Jong-il really is. If he ordered the sinking of the ship then much can be gleaned from that, if however there were internal pressures that forced his hand, ie to ensure the succession of his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. Or perhaps he is truly delusional and is really gunning for a war with the South, though obviously not just the south.

The options are few, there is still an argument for keeping Kim Jong il in power and avoiding the chaos that the collapse of the regime would surely bring. Or a more long term view could be taken in which the end of the regime and the unification of the two Koreas could bring more regional stability, this however would, to say the least, irk the Chinese and in the short run destabilise much of the region and beyond which coupled with the danger of nuclear weapons held by the north makes this crisis dangerous for us all.