Archive for August, 2010

Guns or butter?

31/08/2010

It always seems to come back to the cliches. In a piece written late last week, about the future of the UK’s armed forces, the case is made for retaining the country’s nuclear deterrent.

The UK, only one of half a dozen countries thought to possess nuclear weapons has the capability to “If the calamitous situation ever arose in which a prime minister had to press the nuclear button, the enemy would suffer unimaginable carnage”.

It is the hallmark of a powerful country when they possess such weapons, were it not, there would not be a queue of countries jostling to have weapons of their own. However, in a recent post the the scale of the cuts about to be imposed on the UK Armed Forces, there comes into the fore the question, can the UK with the scale of its deficit actually give up its own nuclear weapons.

When Tony Blair was announcing the replacement of the weapons in December 2006 the piece notes that “he said it would be ‘unwise and dangerous’ for Britain to give up its nuclear weapons, since no one could be sure that another nuclear threat would not emerge in the future”.

This is the central point of the issue. The world is dangerous, despite what the EU or UN might think, or worse, hope, so each country must be able to protect itself and its interests when they are threatened.  Equally however, each government on the domestic front have a moral obligation to assist the weak and vunerable in our society, to do otherwise is immoral.

So for the UK at least there a stark choice must be made, how important is the nuclear capacity or how much can be done to help those less well off in this time of economic downturn? The Prime Minister, David Cameron has said that the UK possessing nuclear weapons is non-negotiable, despite its estimated £60bn cost at replacement. For sticking to his principles he must be applauded at keeping his country safe from the dangers that we know nothing of now but will only reveal themselves in the future.

We must hope therefore that choosing guns over butter, as he seems to have done, pays off in the long term and that those less fortunate then him are protected as best as possible. 

I do not envy the choices he has to make.

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It’s hard to take the GOP seriously when…..

30/08/2010

The GOP are always moaning about the deficit, yet things like this, kind of dull their message. They need a reality check, seeing as their favoured approach to de-regulation, with the help of Bill Clinton along the way, got us to where we are today.

The UK needs a Gitmo

29/08/2010

It has been reported in the last few days that “over the next five to 10 years, about 800 prisoners – in jail for non-terrorism offences – are due to be released on to the streets having been radicalised in jail”.

The article says that “While previous al-Qaeda tactics involved so-called ‘spectacular’ attacks, the report warns that the terrorist group’s leaders, such as Yemeni preacher and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, are encouraging individuals to launch less sophisticated but equally deadly attacks on crowded places”. Apparently “just 23 people, around 19 per cent of those convicted of terrorism offences, have been given life or indeterminate sentences. Twenty per cent have been sentenced to more than 10 years, and the largest single proportion, 32 per cent, received between eight months and four years”.

What this should point to is the need for the common good and the security of the state to take precedence over the needs of these people. If indeed these figures are accurate then the UK government has little choice but to lock these people up for “indeterminate” amounts of time. What is important to note however is the fact that they were radicalised while in prison. If this is true, then there needs to be a radical overhaul of why this was allowed to happen, coupled with the best path to follow in the future.

One thing is certain, however distasteful it may be to some, for the security of society at large, these people need to be locked up. After all, remember this? There is a very good reason why is hasn’t happened.

Word from Rome II

27/08/2010

Following on from the previous post, Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX has denied any new motu proprio that would regularise relations between the SSPX and Rome.

Fellay, has refused to acknolwdege the exist of a document that would bring the SSPX back to Rome. He said that the “rumour”, started by Richard Williamson was false. Fellay said that “‘I’m very annoyed by the whole thing,’ said Bishop Fellay. ‘Bishop Williamson’s statement is an unauthorized statement and is his own personal statement and not that of the Society'”.  

Williamson, seen as a loose canon, even to Fellay, may have designs to force Rome’s hand seeing that the talks are failing, or as is more likely, could be trying to ensure the talks end in failure. The article states that Williamson “warns Catholics about the ‘danger’ of a rumored motu proprio designed to lure the SSPX lay faithful into union with Rome and said, ‘…there is no way in which the neo-modernist teaching of Vatican II can be reconciled with the Catholic doctrine of the true Church'”. 

Williamson is long known to be a Holocaust denier and to  propound conspiracy theories. He came to media attention for giving an interview, one day after Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication on the four illictly ordained men in January 2009. The men, who are validly ordained Catholic priests, are not bishops. The sacraments that they give out are not valid in the eyes of the Church.

How this will affect the ongoing talks remains to be seen.

Word from Rome

24/08/2010

There is talk that Pope Benedict is preparing a new motu proprio that would effectively end the stalling talks on unification between Rome and the Society of Saint Pius X by admitting them into full communion, almost without any preconditions except that the SSPX must accept the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seems almost an act of desperation on the part of Benedict, given that the talks are not going as planned, his desire to circumvent them to end the schism must be huge. However, one wonders at what cost?  

In other news, the vacant post of secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum was filled some time ago to assist Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes. Cardinal Cordes who turns 76 on 5 September is expcted to retire this year. Among the names mentioned  to replace Cardinal Cordes is the nuncio to Italy, Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello, though if Archbishop Bertello were appointed the formal announcement may not come until after the consistory, which is expected at the end of this year. 

The retirement of Cardinal Cordes is thought to be the last appointment of Pope Benedict this year, even though  Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy is almost the same age as Cardinal Cordes, he has yet to complete his five year term at the congregation. Franc Cardinal Rode, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who only recieved a new secretary on 2 August, is expected to retire sometime next year.

Succession in Saudi Arabia

23/08/2010

In an article on the succession in Saudi Arabia, where brother succeeds brother, The Economist notes that, the next in line to the throne,  Crown Prince Sultan is ill, thought to be with colon cancer. The importance as to who becomes the next king, after the 86 year old King Abdullah, is paramount as the “kingdom has nearly 30m people, sits on 20% of global oil reserves, houses the holiest sites in Islam and is situated in a particularly turbulent region”, any sudden change for the Middle East could be dangerous, not only for Saudi Arabia itself but also for America and its interests. As the article notes “it happens to be on the cusp of changes in leadership that may prove as wrenching as any in its history”.

King Abdullah, praised as a reformer in the staunchly conservative kingdom, though not by all, is seen as aging, “His windows of lucidity are shrinking; loyal minders frequently rephrase his words so they make sense. When he abruptly postponed a planned French leg of his current summer tour, rumours about his health abounded”.

Despite the reforms that Abdullah has introduced such as appointing women in the Ministry of Education, there are concerns that his “quiet promotion of social reform has not been matched by any similar move towards political change”, even worse, some have voiced unease over how long these reforms will last under a new king.

It seems that the “Changes made since Abdullah acceded in 2005 lack an institutional basis and have not captured the imagination of the Saudi public, leading to the impression that they constitute personal whims that can just as easily be taken back or put indefinitely on the back burner”. The article notes how “Regarding explicitly political reform, there is little progress”, however, it does say that Abdullah’s “focus is rather on making the public sector more efficient, with corruption in particular being quietly targeted”. Understandably, “So far, a change in the mood music without an institutional basis for greater progress has had little effect on the attitudes or expectations of Saudi nationals”.

Of those who should succeed Abdullah, The Economist article mentions how  Crown Prince Sultan “spent most of last year secluded at his vast estate in Morocco, convalescing from a serious but unnamed disease. His return to Saudi Arabia in December, and apparent resumption of duties, prompted surprise. In his rare public appearances, the crown prince looks frail and distracted”. The articles says that the post of second deputy prime minister (“crown prince in waiting”)  held since March 2009 by Prince Nayef , is “only 77, and fairly spry. But he seldom travels outside the country. As a crustily conservative minister of the interior for the past 35 years he has not endeared himself to Saudi reformers”.

Things become complicated however, as the Allegiance Commission created in 2006 “has the job of selecting the crown prince—after Sultan becomes king. This suggests that Sultan, unlike previous rulers, will be legally bound to give way on this crucial point to the wider family’s wishes. The council also has the right to remove sitting kings on health grounds”. Yet, the appointment of Prince Nayef as second deputy prime minster last year seems to question the power of the commission. While at the same time “people reckoned that since Sultan’s poor health may make him unlikely to outlive Abdullah, the king was persuaded to anoint another Sudairi in the interests of family peace”.

Moving beyond these immediate members the magazine mentions others who could become king, “Nayef’s 73-year-old full brother, Salman, the governor of Riyadh; and Prince Muqrin, aged 64, a former fighter pilot who is now head of intelligence. Among the grandsons the choice is of course much wider. The leading contenders include two Muhammads: the son of Nayef who is an effective deputy minister of interior; and the son of Fahd, who still governs the Eastern Province”.

The Washington Institute posits three possible senarios for the next few years; Crown Prince Sultan dies before Abdullah, which would mean that Prince Nayef should take his place as Crown Prince, however according to the WI Nayef “is not considered sufficiently popular. His younger brother Prince Salman is a possible choice”, it will however be hard to deny Nayef, having appointed him second deputy prime minister. Another possibility is that Abdullah dies and Sultan succeeds him as planned or alternatively to avoid a succession of brief reigns, a younger man could be chosen.

In his long but fascinating paper, Simon Henderson implies that until 1992 the succession went from brother to brother out of political expediency. King Fahd in 1992 in the Basic Law stated that:”Rule passes to the sons of the founding king, Abdulaziz bib Abdulrahman al-Faisal al-Saud, and to their children’s children. The most upright among them is to receive allegiance in accordance with [the principles of] the Holy Koran and the tradition of the venerable Prophet”.  Henderson notes that Abdullah after his accession in 2005 “made no effort to appoint a second deputy prime minister, a crown prince in waiting”. This of course was only rectified in 2009 with the appointment of Prince Nayef. Henderson says that “This [initial] omission was widely seen as representing Abdullah’s determination to exclude Nayef, the long-serving interior minister, a logical choice in terms of age and experience”.

Henderson says there are a number of things needed to become king, broadly these are:age, having a Saudi mother, administrative experience, acumen, popularity (both inside the family and to a lesser extent outside). Henderson says that Nayef will become king unless he where to die before Abdullah and Sultan. Should he outlive both of these Henderson says that Nayef may choose Prince Salman, the long serving governor of Riyadh as his crown prince.

When it comes to the next generation, Henderson notes that “sons of past kings are usually not considered worthy or mention”. He mentions Abdullah’s sons Mitab and Mishal, Sultan’s son Khalid and Salman’s son, Sultan all of who have some governement experience.

What is obvious is the kingdom is entering into a potentially unstable time for itself, but also the whole Middle East. American plans for energy security as well as what to do with Iran and also Israel will unravel if there is not long term stability. 

There is far more at stake than just who becomes king.

An important time for Iraq

20/08/2010

Yesterday marked the withdrawal of the last US combat divisions from Iraq. However, it should be noted that “50,000 US troops will remain until the end of 2011 to advise Iraqi forces and protect US interests. A further 6,000 support troops will be in Iraq until the end of the month, when US combat operations will end”.

After almost two decades the US obsession with Iraq can said to be cured. In an often turbulant relationship with the country that went from reluctant support while the Iraqi regime balanced against Iran in the 1980s, to kicking Hussein out of Kuwait after his invasion at the end of the Cold War, to Clinton and many of his officials seeing Iraq as a growing threat. If Clinton could have run for a third term, it would not be streching it to say that Iraq would be high on his agenda. There is also a good chance that he would have invaded had he been given the chance.

However, after the March election there is still no governement but it would not be unreasonable to suspect the US will keep large numbers of troops in Iraq for decades to come, having left its bases in Saudi Arabia. There needs to be a governemnt agreed quickly in order to maintain the resemblance of stability that Iraq now has. More importantly, the decrepit oil infrastructure needs to be updated so pumping can begin in earnest to help shore up the struggling world economy, as well as Iraq’s own.

John McCain (R-AZ) said during the presidental election that the US should stay in Iraq for 100 years. Indeed, some have argued that America’s ADD will ultimately bring it down.  It is too soon to say that America’s withdrawal from Iraq is a good thing or not, despite the recent rise in violence, President Obama has directed that Afghanistan is now where the energy is being focused.

1994 again?

18/08/2010

With the mid terms racing towards us some are saying that the “Republican Revolution” when the GOP took back the House in 1994 is set to happen again. However, we should bear in mind that it wasn’t really a revolution, so much as the completion of what had started with Barry Goldwater (R-AZ)  in the 1960s.

The article notes how “A full 50 percent of respondents said they intend to vote for a candidate who opposes President Obama. Sixteen years ago, 51 percent of voters said the same of President Clinton heading into the midterm elections”. However, as it admits “Obama’s approval also hovers above that of former President George W. Bush in 2006 and President Reagan in 1982”. 

Interestingly, though perhaps not suprisingly, the GOP are staying away from what’s going on in California, “Instead of ‘gay marriage,’ said U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in a 138-page ruling, there is simply marriage”.  The result is that “Vaughn’s meticulously detailed and sometime plodding ruling struck down California’s 2008 ballot initiative, known as Prop 8, and restored the Golden State to the ranks of five other states where same-sex couples may wed”. The GOP knows that it can get more independents giving out about “big government” and high taxes than playing to the social conservatives and hyping the California decision, despite accusations that Judge Walker was biased, they still refuse to run with it.

This however is something of a myth, as Jack Hunter points out, “If conservatives want to know how Obama and his party are currently able to get away with creating colossal debt and an even more monstrous government they should look no further than the last administration. Where was the Right — as the Left often asks, and justifiably so — when Bush doubled the size of government and the national debt during his eight year term”, Hunter also notes how “Bush created the largest entitlement expansion since Lyndon Johnson, with Medicare Part D? What was Limbaugh complaining about the same week Dubya was enacting the federally intrusive education disaster ‘No Child Left Behind’?”.

The GOP will probably take the House, or at least come very close, but some seem to be saying that Obama’s base won’t even vote for him this November. As the article says “Pew Research Centre found in June that only 37% of liberal Democrats were ‘more enthusiastic than usual’ about going to the polls, compared with 59% of conservative Republicans” this does however leave all the other categories that the article didn’t mention. Obama can give his base achievements, Lily Leadbetter Act, health care but Robert Gibbs recent outburst on how he “lamented that nothing Mr Obama did would ever be good enough for some on the left. As for those who thought the president was like George Bush, ‘they ought to be drug-tested,’ fumed Mr Gibbs”. Gibbs does have a point though perhaps it wasn’t the best time to bring it up.

Ultimately much like the GOP, the Dems base has nowhere else to go, that should be of some comfort to Obama’s supporters. As has been mentioned here before, if the GOP does take the House it could be a disaster for them if history repeats itself. That could in turn lead to another 1996 election where the incumbent easily defeated his rivals thanks partly to an overzealous GOP in combination with a lacklustre (or equally overzealous) opponent.

Not a great sign

18/08/2010

This is exactly the kind of thing that Pope Benedict has been warning about, not only for the sake of believers, but for the rest of society.

Freedom of conscience must be respected.

The transatlantic rift continues

17/08/2010

A Foreign Policy article has noted how President Obama speaking in France, said that Americans have “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” of Europe.  The article quotes Jose Manual Barroso, president of the European Commission, as saying “The transatlantic relationship is not living up to its potential.”

Charles Krauthammer said of Obama’s remarks that “Obama says, ‘In America there is a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world.’ Well, maybe that’s because when there was a civil war on Europe’s doorstep in the Balkans, and genocide, it didn’t lift a finger until America led. Maybe it’s because when there was an invasion of Kuwait it didn’t lift a finger until America led. Maybe it’s because with America spending over half a trillion a year, keeping open the sea lanes in defending the world, Europe is spending pennies on defense. It’s hard to appreciate an entity’s leading role in the world when it’s been sucking on your tit for 60 years”. All of this is true, it is however not the most diplomatic language. This does not take away from the fact that Europe has time and again been unable to act in its own backyard, as  Krauthammer says, Europe failed to stop the genocide in the Balkans of Muslims by the Serbian armed forces.

The writer then notes how “it is one thing to disagree with a president and his policy. It is quite another to be so bitterly and scathingly contemptuous of an entire continent and its people, especially one that, for better or worse, is a historical ally and a close political, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic relation”.  He tends to overstate the integration of Europe. Only two countries speak English as a first language after all and as has been excellently argued,Europe and America may have had cultural similarities, but since the end of the Cold War, differences that always existed have come to the fore.

There is the usual Euro sneering, especially from someone from the Guardian, he notes, “While covering the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, a European reporter was asked in all sincerity: ‘Is Sweden a country or a city?’ In Richmond, Virginia, a cab driver congratulated a visiting Briton on not having to bother about voting or elections ‘because you’ve got the Queen'”. As if there are not people all over Europe who are as insulated as these Americans.

He does say that “there is the widely shared view that Europe does not pull its weight in a world that Washington would like”. When exactly did Europe pull its weight since 1989? Was it when Serbs were slaughtering Muslims in 1995 and Europe did everything it could to help, or when NATO willingly in Afghanistan by sending in troops to help America, no that was America.

Even the author reluctantly admits that “ever since the European Union dropped the ball in the Balkans in the mid-1990s, a potent mix of influential American thinkers, policymakers, and commentators have given anti-Europeanism a new respectability that cannot be dismissed out of hand”. He mischaracterises American disagreement with how to view the world we live in as anti-Europeanism. American tourists are addicted to visiting European cities, European history and culture.

He moans about Dr Kagan’s Paradise and Power when he says that “Kagan’s summary was ultimately too blithe to sustain serious scrutiny. Can Kagan account for how exactly the two irreconcilable ‘sides’ he sketches managed to swap roles over the past hundred years?” The writer has obviously never read the book, Kagan explains that from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries Europe lived in the anarchic and power politics obsessed world that America still inhabits, with constant wars over religion and power.

He says that European soft power has not helped it in recent months while similarly “The American ‘hard power’ model has been undermined by the U.S. military’s inability to ‘win’ two major wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by the global financial crisis, a capitalist heart attack from which the patient has yet to recover”. He fails to, or doesn’t wish to realise that America has won in Iraq in a broad sense. My own personal reservations about Iraq aside, ignoring the current disagreement over who is to be prime minister, Iraq is reasonably peaceful and still needs much work but it is much better than it was. While US forces in Afghanistan are doing a difficult job, NATO barely pulling its weight hardly helps either.

The author then moves bizarrely to say that “Rising secularism and spreading, ultraliberal social attitudes in Europe contrast ever more sharply with a perceived new American Puritanism.”, yet in many ways America is ahead of EU ultraliberal value, wasn’t Massachusetts among the first to legalise gay “marriage”, long before Portugal or the UK or Spain. So while some parts of the US are understandably more conservative than Europe, many states believe it or not more liberal.

Then he says that “given the way absolute U.S. power is retreating as the unipolar moment fades, and given the way China and other rising 21st-century powers are challenging the current balance of power and the values and beliefs that underpin it, Europe and America will inevitably need each other more and more”. How exaclty is the unipolar moment fading, some countries are certainly becoming more powerful but none, not even China is stupid enough to challange American power. However, he gives no examples of who is balancing against America, as every good realist wishes.         

Who ever said the end of transatlantic rift occur on 20 January 2009 couldn’t have been more wrong.

Yet another medium sized power

12/08/2010

In a recent report on the UK armed forces, Dr Liam Fox faces the unenviable task of chosing what to cut in round of budget cuts demanded to bring the country’s debt under control. Not suprisingly the UK “will lose up to 16,000 personnel, hundreds of tanks, scores of fighter jets and half a dozen ships”.

Worst hit is the RAF who under the plans will “lose 7,000 airmen – almost one sixth of its total staff – and 295 aircraft. The cuts will leave the Force with fewer than 200 fighter planes for the first time since 1914”. With major hardware, most notably, “The entire force of 120 GR4 Tornado fighter-bombers looks destined for the scrap heap to save £7.5 billion over the next five years” while similarly “the number of Eurofighter Typhoons is likely to be reduced further from 160 to 107 planes based at a single RAF airfield to save £1  billion”.

Cuts in the Army and Navy are also planned, but the broader question comes quickly into view. Any illusion that the UK is a major power and can act unilaterally is now finished. It musts decide what role it wishes to play and with who it wishes to play it with. Either with the EU, whose foreign policy Dr Kagan accurately described as “probably the most anemic of all the products of European integration”, or with the sole superpower/hyperpower left in the world, the US, probably in the form of further NATO co-operation.

Foreign policy and popularity

11/08/2010

Obama’s poll ratings are falling, not only domestically but also in the Mid East. It would seem that hard lessons are (hopefully), being learnt. Foreign policy is not a popularity contest. However, this does not mean that America should go out of its way to irriate vast swathes of the Mid East, Europe, and Asia, it does mean that grand speeches can only go so far.

Besides, when “Fifty-seven per cent of this year’s respondents said Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a ‘positive’ development for the region” it shows you the futility, and danger, of chasing public opinion.

Besides, even when America comes to the aid of Muslims, as it did in Bosnia in the early 1990s and allows a mosque to be built near the World Trade Centre, as it should have been, it shows how little people know and thus the foolhardy nature of basing your interactions on the world with them.

Dr Walt says that unpopularity “will probably fuel anti-American terrorism and create dangers that might not exist otherwise, or at least might not be as large or as difficult to address”, yet when America is still unpopular after what it has done maybe its time America stopped waiting to be popular, for its own sake.

The drawn out death of feminism

10/08/2010

Following on from the last post, many who claim women are underrepresented in parliaments are also exactly the kind of people who claim men do none of the household chores.

A study reveals that men do more work than women both in the office and at the home. It says that “men do slightly more work than the women they live with when employment and domestic work are measured together”. The report justly revels in the fact that “an authoritative study on a key issue of so-called gender politics has come out with a self-evident truth that runs directly contrary to orthodox feminist ideology. The fact that it has been written and published by a woman makes it even more delightful”.

He notes that “Might a respectable study soon reveal that, contrary to what we are always told, one in four men does not batter the woman he lives with? Or that not all men are rapists? Might the entire edifice of lies that comprises modern feminism now be about to tumble? Hasten the day.”

Somehow I fear feminism isn’t based on reality and that the “right on sisters” will still spout this nonsense and worse still people will listen.

We can only live in hope that feminsim dies very soon.

Some people never learn

08/08/2010

Why do people still believe this nonsense. There are so many arguments against this that it is almost impossible as to know where to start.

Quotas are a ludicrous way of creating illusionary equality so wolly liberals can have a little less guilt so they can sleep better. The premise is that women should be better represented in politics because they make up half the population.

Firstly, there are women in politics, just not the correct number according to the equality maniacs. What does it matter if there are two women in the parliament or twenty? Surely, by their “logic” all women represent other women, never mind ideology or anything else. All women care about in politics is other women in politics, supposedly.

Secondly even if they weren’t directly involved, society would regrettably be hearing endlessly about women’s views on how all men are evil and these groups would, like the rest of civil society make its voice heard. He complains that parties don’t field enough women candidates, not that it matters but political parties want to get into office irrespective of which gender takes the most seats. He implies that political parties are getting every man that comes through the door to stand for office but refusing any women who wishes to stand. Maybe there aren’t the same number of women that come through the door as men?

The faster these people are ignored the better for all of us.

Future of Christianity

07/08/2010

In a very delayed post on the newly established Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evanglisation of Pope Benedict the important question should be asked, will it work?

Of course it’s far too soon to tell, one thing is certain however, Europe as a continent desperately needs to reconnect to its Christian roots, to move away from the dangerous individualism and greed that is hanging over much of the West as we know it. Christianity is not the only way for this to happen but it is perhaps the one of the best.

One of Benedict’s main themes, justly, is to lead North American and especially Europe back to God. The number of Catholics around the world is growing, however, the growth is particularly prelevant in Africa and parts of Asia. Statistics show that for “countries like France and Germany, church attendance has dropped below 20 percent. In the cathedrals of Paris, tourists now regularly outnumber churchgoers. And in Ireland, where just 30 years ago 91 percent of the population went to mass regularly, local dioceses are suddenly bereft of laity and leadership”.

The article notes that says that the first new curial department established in a quarter century, headed by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella has the sole job of restoring Christianity to Europe and to a lesser extent North America. Such a mamouth task placed in the hands of one individual will surely not produce results, irrespective of the rank they hold in the Church. The article says that Archbishop Fisichella and his officials will be “tasked with finding and implementing methods, both pastoral and political, to convince Europeans to put Christ back at the center of their lives”. On a minor note, the fact that no secretary or undersecretary have been named to the pontifical council is something to note. However, this could just be Rome moving at its traditional sedentary pace.

The author askes the valid question, the “European continent — with its aging population and diminishing political influence — seems a curious strategic priority for a global institution like the Vatican”. He then says that Europe is the exception rather than the rule, citing America as the example of strong faith. This argument is increasingly prominent, however, in truth, no-one has any idead what role, if any, religion will play in developing societies. Benedict sees Europe as the historical heartland and because of this, thinks that it is still important in the world today. During the debates on the initially failed EU Constitution, “Europe, Ratzinger argued, was not a geographic or political concept, but a ‘cultural and historical’ one”.

Benedict said that “there was now a ‘fairly widespread’ culture in Europe ‘which relegates to the private and subjective sphere the manifestation of one’s own religious convictions.'” It is this that Benedict most fears, not being able to celebrate one’s religious convictions. He has also spoken of the dangers where this might lead if left unchecked, to only the correct secular liberal views being tolerated. While  Europe is not at this stage yet, it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. As the writer aptly states ” In the pope’s geopolitical vision, Europe, because of its Christian heritage, is an ideal defender of human dignity on the world stage”, it is as he says “a concern with the dissolution of the social and political foundations of the continent and of the world at large”.

In God is Back, the authors, both from the Economist, take a predictably market view of the world. They argue that religions should esentially compete for believers, something that would be, rightly, anathema to Benedict. For this view “they cite numerous successful examples of this market model from around the world, not least the United States, where religious freedom and religious vitality apparently go hand in hand”.

What the Economist article in the future of the Catholic Church in Europe is that parts of the Catholic Church, the more traditionalist elements are experience something of a revival, partly as a result of Summorum Pontificum. The article notes that those on once vibrant Catholic Left of the 1960s and 1970s, have lost steam, with those younger people who hold similar views just leaving the institutional Church altogether. As the article says, “On closer inspection French Catholicism is not dead, but it is splintering to the point where the centre barely holds”. 

The Economist article notes how “The drop in active adherence to, and knowledge of, Christianity is a long-running and gentle trend; but the hollowing out of church structures—parishes, monasteries, schools, universities, charities—is more dramatic”. It adds that “all over Europe the child-abuse scandal has made secular powers keener to reassert their authority, and less willing to accept the Catholic church as a semi-autonomous power. In almost every country, therefore, the church is in decline as an institution”. However, when people are asked about their religious beliefs many will still identify as Christian, even Catholic or at the very least believing in some divine force.

“‘Rather than Catholicism, it is more accurate to talk about Catholicisms,’ says Giuseppe Giordan, a sociologist of religion”. Perhaps Catholicism is just too big and too diverse to withstand an interconnected but increasingly localised world. The article continues noting how the Catholic Church has “failed to see that since the 1960s, there has been ‘a huge anthropological change in favour of…freedom of choice. People are no longer prepared to obey instructions.'”

Crucially it notes that “most of the [child abuse] cases took place in the 1960s and 1970s; the culture of cronyism and impunity which made such horrors possible is now well in the past, and most of the institutions involved have been shut for decades. But many of today’s senior bishops were part of the world that tried to cover these things up. That is deeply embarrassing for the elderly men who now run the church, including the 83-year-old pontiff”.

It is the Church’s own sins that it must come to grips with now for its own sake, if not for Europe’s, and indeed the worlds.

Time for Irish courts to give up?

06/08/2010

The Irish Supreme Court, may as well give up if this keeps happening. The whole point is that a nation’s supreme court is meant to be supreme, the final arbiter. Seemingly not anymore.

When realism and ethics meet

05/08/2010

For all the talk of globalisation and the death of the nation-state, no-one seems to have told this to the people of southern Sudan.

The Sudanese government in a 2005 agreement to stop the country sliding into civil war promised a referendum that is expected to pass, not only that but as part of the 2005 deal the south will also “keep half of the country’s oil revenue”. However, “it now looks like Sudan’s President Bashir may walk away from the deal”. Not only would this lead the country to civil war but it would also cause the price of oil to rise, perhaps leading the world back into recession, or worse it could, if it becomes bad enough, help trigger a depression.

Worringly “the administration’s special envoy to Sudan, Major General Scott Gration, has been quoted as saying that the United States has ‘no leverage’ over Bashir’s regime”. The US is apparently considering “blocking debt relief from the IMF, supporting the ICC indictment of Bashir for genocide in Darfur, tightening the existing arms embargo on Sudan” in order for the referendum to go ahead peacefully. However “The ‘carrot’: if Bashir complies, getting the U.N. Security Council to issue a one-year renewable stay on the ICC case”.

The blogger, who was standing in for Dr Walt said that “we’ll need to figure out for ourselves what a realist with a conscience would think of this proposal”. Such talk has no place in International relations. Having said that, “the geography of oil in Sudan does not lend itself to zero-sum thinking by either side, as the main reserves are south but the pipelines and refineries are in the north”. So this might just be one of those rare moments when what it the right thing to do is also the ethical thing to do.

And if that doesn’t get results, the US and/or other powers could just not lend their support to the new southern nation leading to its collapse, meaning the north will keep the oil flowing. Then during the civil war ICC could make itself useful and indict Bashir and the south could declare independence unilaterally then getting support for the US and others, as needed.

Decision time

03/08/2010

It’s time for small countries, in this particular case, Ireland to decide. Do they want to maintain and equip armed forces that are fit for purpose or should they be abolished altogether and the money spent elsewhere.

Taking the example of the Royal Irish Regiment, the article says that “Eighty men from the Republic serve in the Royal Irish, with most of the remainder hailing from Northern Ireland or places such as Liverpool that have a strong history of Irish emigration.”

In the words of one soldier, “‘They want to go to places like Afghanistan. The Irish Army doesn’t offer anything like that. Sure, they have a stable job for five years, but with very slow promotion,’ says Coyne. ‘They want extra money for going away to places for six weeks. And you can buy your way out. Guys [in the Irish Army] are getting bored and fat and lazy. And they come back from UN missions with €25,000 in the bank'”. With a deployment to Afghanistan coming next month, the men seem eager to finished their training and ship out, for not to make light of the situation, some adventure.

Many countries such as Sweden spent millions of euros/dollars on their armed forces because they want to rely only on themselves, be truly netural. While it might be debatable if this is possible or even desirable in this modern world, countries like Sweden are at least making a concerted effort to avoid hypocrisy as far as possible.

Ireland however, maintained this ridiculous, laughable policy during WWII of being “neutral on the side of the Allies“. Ireland must decide, is it worth spending money on armed forces when the chance attack is so small, or does it really value its supposed neutrality and is prepared to do something about it, eg spend money to ensure as far as possible that this claim is true.

November looms

01/08/2010

November looms large and with it the mid terms. Dems are starting to realise that “Nancy Pelosi’s hold on the speakership is in true jeopardy; that losing control of the Senate is not out of the question”. Although, I think that this latter point might be a little over the top. Dems will certainly lose seats in both chambers but with people like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle as the candidates the GOP shouldn’t be so assured of victory.

It says that “that Obama’s alienation of independents and white voters, along with the enthusiasm gap between the right and the left” have all come together to hurt the Dems. Yet, the troop surge in Afghanistan and the signing into law of banking reforms should surely come some way to hold steady his support among this group, whatever one has to say about health care.  Dem plans to ease the wave of anti-incumbency by passing health care and talking up the economy haven’t worked. The second part of their plan was to do “mischief by playing up the divisions between the Tea Party and the more traditional elements of the Republican Party”.

However “the White House plans to continue to try to impact the national environment by touting its accomplishments, blaming Republicans for stopping other measures, and railing against the Bush legacy”, yet talking about 43 won’t win any seats long term, let alone in 2012. Having played to the base for the first two years Obama needs to tack to the centre and isolate the Tea Party and much of the GOP as Clinton did during  1995. And look where that got him, a second term. 

Now all the GOP needs to do to assure that is run a Palin/Paul ticket in 2012.

Publican and the Pharisee

01/08/2010

Very beautiful Gospel today in the 1962 litugy, for this the tenth Sunday after Pentecost:

At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one was a pharisee, and the other a publican. The pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers; as also is this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican standing afar off would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but struck his breast saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted

We should all be aware of that there is a little of each of these in us, but we should always tend to the publican while being wary of false pride.