Archive for November, 2010

New dukedom

29/11/2010

HRH The Duke of Cambridge?

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Honesty is not always the best policy

26/11/2010

Interesting take on the Saudi succession.

Bishop Emeritus of Rome

26/11/2010

A book length conversation between Pope Benedict and journalist Peter Seewald, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times, has been published recently and has received worldwide coverage for comments made by Pope Benedict on matters relating to sexual ethics. 

However, comments of greater long term significance were hardly covered by most news outlets. Canon 401 §1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “A diocesan bishop who has completed the seventy-fifth year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provision after he has examined all the circumstances”. There is however one exception to this rule, generally the bishop of Rome holds his position for life and does not retire.

Pope Benedict said in the interview that “if a pope clearly realises that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation, to resign”. The article notes how  “Benedict seems to be in relatively good health but confesses in the book that he feels his forces diminishing”. The code as made provision for this as Canon 332 §2 states “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone”.

Such a move would do the Church a great deal of good. Pope John Paul II was in poor health from at least 2003, if not much earlier, and as such major decisions were postponed with a small group consisting of Angelo Cardinal Sodano, then-Archbishops Leonardo Sandri and Stanislaw Dziwisz and one or two others effectively running the Church. If the pope were to resign after his successor was chosen then long periods of stagnation would be avoided. This would lead to better governance generally in such a vast institution.

Hyperbole from Brussels

25/11/2010

It is a sign when things are going badly that wild and irrational claims are made. Just recently president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy said that “The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war”.

This is patently nonsense. It is indicative of the fear, coming from a Belgian, of nationalism and its supposed evil and what this is meant to automatically lead to.  

It is desperation on the part of van Rompuy and other eurocrats, whose jobs are at stake. The end of the euro is a very real possibility as the money that is being given to Ireland may be needed as well in Portugal and Spain and thus one or indeed all the these countries could default.

This would mean the end to the political union that is so craved by every French president and every German chancellor since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It is unsuprising that these countries have the most to gain from any union seeing as they are the largest and effectively run the EU along with those that have been most affected by nationalism eg Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

We live in interesting times.

The IMF arrives

23/11/2010

The only thing the Government managed to communicate in the course of the week was its own terrifying irrelevance“. Indeed.

“Honours dishonour, titles degrade”

23/11/2010

So said Flaubert, and at the rate the UK government are going a title or honour will mean less than nothing.

Downing Street released a list of people who will be elevated to the life peerage over the coming weeks. What becomes apparent is the size of the list, over 50 names, who will join the 700 or so people already sitting in the House of Lords.

What is staggering is not only number to be ennobled, but that this happens every time a new government takes over. When the Labour party was elected in 1997, in order to get their legislation passed in the upper house they were forced to created hundreds of new peers, in what has traditionally been a Conservative party stronghold. Now that the Conservative government is back in power in order to reverse what Labour have had to do, they will create vast numbers of peers.

What is also worrying is not only the scale of the numbers being created but also who. The governing Conservatives in the latest batch nomiated Robert Edmiston, who  the “Conservatives previously attempted to ennoble Mr Edmiston, who has provided millions in funding to the party, but his nomination was retracted during the cash-for-honours scandal“. Another of the nominees, Sir Michael Bishop, “has also given the Conservatives hundreds of thousands of pounds, including a £335,000 donation shortly before the election”. Keeping with custom the opposition Labour party also get to nominate people for the peerage, and the is “expected to include Nigel Doughty, a major donor and City financier, and Sir Gulam Noon, the ‘curry millionaire’ who was also embroiled in the cash-for-honours scandal after being nominated for a peerage by Tony Blair”.

This leads to, as has been said above, a lessening of the value of the peerage and it also treats the monarch as nothing more than a signature dispenser.  It would be better for there to be a limit on the numbers created every year, in the low tens rather than the numbers that are created every year, or what would be more prefereble would be to allow the monarch the sole power to create peers. There is precedent for this, for some time the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle among others were in the gift of the incumbent prime minister. As a result the orders fell into disrupte due to the honours being awarded for party political reasons. It was agreed to return  the power to award the honour to the monarch alone.

There would be a political problem however if this power were returned to the monarch. It could be solved by giving whatever powers the Lords posessed to the monarch or make the Lords consultative. Either way the UK would become unicameral and there would be no need to create large numbers after a change in government.

Consistory 2010:titles and deaconries

20/11/2010

Following on from a custom started at the 2006 consistory, Pope Benedict yesterday discussed issues with almost the entire College of Cardinals present. The talks given were given by Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone SDB on religious freedom, Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llovera on the liturgy, followed by Ten years on from ‘Dominus Iesus’ by then-Cardinal designate Angelo Amato SDB and finally the Church’s response to cases of sexual abuse and “the Constitution ‘Anglicanorum coetibus’, both to be delivered by William Joseph Cardinal Levada.

The day of the consistory proper is here and unlike the 2007 consistory, or indeed the 1998 consistory, all the designates made it to this day alive. Pope Benedict has created (from the Latin creare, to appoint) and proclaimed them cardinals of the Holy Roman Church and as such they are the successors of the clergy of Rome and in a nod to history are linked to a church in the city. Below is the list in the order of their creation:

Non voting:

With the close of the first part of the consistory and the Mass of the Ring tomorrow it is worth noting that Pope Benedict established two two titular churches, the deaconary of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane for Cardinal Piacenza and San Corbiniano, very fittingly for Cardinal Marx who as archbishop of Munich is the successor of St Corbinian. With his elevation Cardinal Marx is the youngest member of the College taking over from Peter Cardinal Erdo who was elevated at 51 in the 2003 consistory. Cardinal Brandmuller recieved the Belgian national church of St Julius of the Flemings., seeing as the German national church, or what is seen as the German national church, Santa Maria dell’Anima, is not currently established as a titular church.

Irish collapse, Franco-German alliance exposed

19/11/2010

So the inevitable has finally happened, Ireland has been turned over to recievership. After nearly all the government saying last week that there was no need for a bailout it happened as has been confirmed by the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Dr Patrick Honohan.

So ends whatever independence Ireland has was washed away in a sea of incompentence and denial. The “opposition parties” are getting increasingly angry at the same time, while hoping that the coming budget to be passed in December will go through, whence they can takeover after an early general election in early 2011.

The broader significance should not be missed out either. Ireland is just one of a number of countries that have the chance of destroying the entire euro currency. Portugal and Spain have also been in the news and the scale of their problems and with Ireland could tip the long feted currency into the abyss. In the unlikely event of this actually happening, it has been suggested that Ireland would be in a much better position and could simply devalue it currency while at the same time it could control its own interest rates so that it would benefit Ireland when it suited Ireland.

It should be noted that far from coming to the aid of their euro-bretheren in solidarity Germany and France have decided to shove them to the wall instead and look out for themselves when they “issued a clear warning that it [the ECB] will press ahead with plans to raise interest rates and withdraw lending support for banks despite the eurozone debt crisis, even if this risks pushing Ireland, Portugal and Spain into deeper trouble”.

So much for euro camaraderie and the end to national interest that the EU was meant to rise above, indeed end.

Irrelevant happenings

17/11/2010

The Burmese general election took place recently, quickly afterwards pro-democracy supporter Aung San Suu Kyi was released. With that the military junta, for better or worse, has signed their own death warrent. Burma is of little or no strategic relevance and is recieving an inordinate amount of coverage for reasons beyond one’s understanding.

“Hypocrisy, thy name is you”

17/11/2010

In an article on Bush 43d’s recently released memoirs, Decision Points, Stephen Walt attacks the former president on his foreign policy.

Dr Walt says that under President Obama the “United States has more troops in Afghanistan than it did at the end of the Bush years, Guantánamo is still open, efforts to engage Iran have failed”. However Dr Walt implies that President Obama made the wrong choices with regard to these. However it would be hard to argue that coming into office in 2009 he had little choice because these policies, more or less, made sense.

Walt however says that “the fact that Obama has largely followed the same course is less a measure of Bush’s wisdom than a reminder of the depth of the hole he dug his country into, as well as the institutionalized groupthink that dominates the U.S. foreign-policy establishment”. This however ignores the entire US foreign policy tradition, like it or not, that shapes and continues to shape US foreign policy for the vast majority of Americans in both parties. That is not to say that President Bush made no mistakes but that his decisions were broadly within the parameters of what came before.

Walt goes on to list points where the president went wrong. The first he says was choosing Dick Cheney as his vice president. He says that “In a supremely self-confident move, Cheney muscled the competition out of the way and nominated himself”. Firstly there is no way to  prove this, secondly, it implies that Cheney was able to out smart the future President Bush. Not only is this highly unlikely, such sniping is expected in the Guardian, not from such supposedly well respected academics as Dr Walt.

Walt goes on to note how President “Bush took the unusual step of formally removing the U.S. signature from the convention to create an International Criminal Court. Not only was the move unnecessary — the convention was already dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate — but it also angered longtime NATO allies who strongly supported the measure”. So what? NATO gets angry but that anger is soon dissapated when they realise that they need America far more than America needs them. Walt is also forgetting President Clinton’s moves to reject international law when he refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol – why is he not lambasting President Clinton for his ignorance and branding his advisers as “neoconservatives”?

He continues saying President “Bush paid scant attention to terrorism or al Qaeda during the 2000 campaign, and he and his national security team continued that cavalier attitude right up until the 9/11 attacks”. Dr Walt must have a very bad case of amnesia. There is no excuse for this but equally President Clinton is not innocent from this, the al-Kobhar towers bombing in 1996, the USS Cole incident as well as the bombings of the US embassies all took place under his watch, yet not a word from Dr Walt.  He continues in the same vein arguing that “It would have been easy enough for Bush to declare war on al Qaeda and its allies after 9/11. Instead, he declared war on the very idea of terrorism”. What Dr Walt misunderstands is that as President Bush has said it is a war on terrorist capabilities. As President Bush said in his speech to the American people in October 2001 which launched the Afghanistan campaign, “These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime”.

Dr Walt mentions waterboarding but he ends noting how President “Obama’s inability to shut down Guatánamo suggests, it may take decades to dismantle these practices and restore America’s tarnished international image.” It is not that President Obama doesn’t want to shut down Guantanamo, it is that he knows that he needs it, for no other reason than the realisation that there is no where else to put people who are too dangerous to be released. As for America’s “tarnished international image”, what tarnish, President Obama is widly popular outside America and surely that’s all that matters right?

Inevitably he turns to Iraq, which the post invasion disater aside Walt asks “were the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and the nonexistent links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden”. Indeed he is right to bring this up but one can surely understand that President Bush didn’t go into Iraq knowing he was wrong, knowing he’d be found out that he was lying. However this whiskey drinking secular Iraqi president never had any links with bin Laden and that was a mistake. Even if Iraq is classed as a loss for America, its still the most powerful nation in the world.

Finally, he dismisses President Bush’s Isreal strategy, which was one sided, but he was the first president to rightly declare publicly for Palestinian statehood. Walt ignores the best US-Sino relations since President Nixon as well as the vast sums of money that were sent to Africa to fight AIDS.

Thing’s just aren’t that simple, even as Walt himself castigates President Bush for dividing the world into good and evil.

Change in Saudi Arabia

17/11/2010

Amid reports of the increasingly frail King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia there seems little chance for stability in the Kingdom should Crown Prince Sultan become king in the near future. Indeed, it seems almost impossible for Sultan not to be confirmed as monarch.

Abdullah,85, who it seems  “is suffering from back problems which doctors diagnosed as a herniated disc” have proscribed rest. It is unknown however if Abdullah has more serious problems than this and the official Saudi press agency is famously tight lipped. The report notes that the “86-year-old king has curtailed his activities since June with no clear explanation, although diplomats have said they understood he was fatigued”.

It goes on to say somewhat worryingly, that “his half brother, second deputy prime minister and interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, chaired the cabinet meeting with no explanation why the king was absent”. As has been mentioned here before, the post of second deputy prime minster, held by Prince Nayef since March 2009, usually means crown prince in waiting. Meanwhile the “first deputy prime minister, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, his age estimated at 84 or 85, has been in Morocco since the end of August ‘on holiday,’ according to official statements”.

The task faced the Saudi royal family is enormous. It must decide, and quickly who is to be next in line. It will be hard to remove either Sultan or Nayef from the succession so it will have to chose a much younger prince in his late 50s or 60s in order to bring some stability to the largest oil producer in the world. Not only that the official title of the king, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, gives him great influence within Islam and a theololgical moderate would help America and indeed Europe in its current struggles with violent so called “Islam”.

Crown Prince Sultan’s corruption is legendary. As minister for defence he is throught to have lined his own pockets at the expense of the state, while Prince Nayef is considered to be too close to the clerical elite, the ulema.  

Whatever happens there needs to be stability, there is far too much at stake for there to be anything less.

USCCB makes the right choice

16/11/2010

In a move that breaks a long held precedent, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not elevated Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson to the presidency of the organisation.

Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York was elected instead, as Rocco reports, “By a 128-111 vote, Archbishop Timothy Dolan bested Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson on the third ballot at this morning’s elections in Baltimore”. The move which ends “a half-century of tradition for the bench, the result represents a seismic shift for the leadership of the nation’s largest religious body, and a mandate for a continuance of the outspoken, high-profile leadership shown by Cardinal Francis George over his game-changing tenure at the conference’s helm”.

Archbishop Dolan, 60, “will take office Thursday for a three-year term, along with his freshly-elected Vice-President, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville — the leader of the bishops’ push for the defense of marriage — who won in another third-ballot runoff, 147-91, over Archbishop Charles Chaput”.

Justice has been done, albeit by a narrow margin.

Peace be with you?

15/11/2010

Here’s hoping. The UN has been ignored, rightly.

Election 2012

14/11/2010

Congratulations on your re-election Mr President.

Rumblings in Baltimore

14/11/2010

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops prepares to meet for their plenary assembly in Baltimore, Maryland this week something unusual is happening.

The conference has like most other organistations, is too large to meet together, so it has various committees. Its two most visible officials however are the vice-president, currently Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon, and president, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, who speak on behalf of all the bishops (of various rites) in the United States.

These two officials serve a three year term and the custom is that the vice-president when the term of the president is over is almost automatically elected as president. This custom has gone without challenge for decades, however it has come under pressure all of a sudden.

Bishop Kicanas is coming under increasing pressure as many are saying that he “is unfit for the office of USCCB president because of his role in the tragic case of the admitted molester Daniel McCormack, now laicized and jailed”. It seems that Kicanas, during his time as “rector of Mundelein seminary when McCormack studied there. A 2006 diocesan audit found that in 1992, Mundelein officials learned of three accusations of misconduct against McCormack, two from adult seminary classmates (one from McCormack’s previous seminary, then called Niles College), and one reportedly from a minor in Mexico. The records of those allegations, along with their details, were never found. Two years later, McCormack was ordained”.

Apparently when Bishop Kicanas was asked about his actions, said “essentially said that he would do it again. ‘It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him,’ Bishop Kicanas said shortly after being elected as vice president of the USCCB, in a quote that appears in the deposition of Cardinal Francis George. ‘There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from the experience,’ continued Bishop Kicanas. ‘I was more concerned about his drinking. We sent him to counseling for that.'”

If the USCCB goes ahead and confirms Bishop Kicanas as the next president it would be at the very least a public relations disaster. It would show that the bishops either don’t know or perhaps don’t care about public opinion. Kicanas should under no circumstances be voted into this largely ceremonial role for what he did. The conference can choose from a number candidates who are running for the office of vice-president who could and should take over from Cardinal George.

The future credibility of the USCCB and indeed the Church in America hangs in the balance, all will be decided next week.

Anglicanism’s future

13/11/2010

Amid the continuing economic gloom another gloom is setting in albeit in a different form. Over the last number of weeks the state of the Church of England seems to have been cleared further, for better or for worse. Those that are leaving the Anglican Communion thanks to Anglicanorum Coetibus of November 2009, “represent the most traditional ‘High Church’ members of the Anglican Communion. They believe that there is no place for women bishops and are appalled by what they see as the imposition of liberal reforms by the Church hierarchy”.

 One of the conservative members, John Broadhurst, “accused the General Synod of being ‘vindictive’ and ‘vicious’ in its treatment of Anglo-Catholic conservatives”. This will have more people joining the English Ordinariate to be established next year where conservative Anglicans can join the Roman Catholic Church, it appears they will not be a rite in and of themselves but as has been stated before they will retain certain aspects of their liturgy.

However “major questions remain over how the new system will operate. Priests will be expected to remain celibate, although married men may be ordained on an individual basis. The Ordinary – who will take charge of the Ordinariate – will certainly be required to be celibate. Newly converted priests with families face a tough time, as they are likely to receive much less generous allowances from Rome than they are used to getting from the Church of England”.

In addition to this there is news that five Anglican bishops have, or are about to, resign and convert to become Catholic priests. The prelates are “the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst; the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Keith Newton; the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham; and two retired bishops, the Rt Rev Edwin Barnes, honorary assistant bishop of Winchester, and the Rt Rev David Silk, honorary assistant bishop of Exeter”. Yet the numbers to convert, in comparison to the total numbers of English Anglicans is expected to be small, “The estimates suggest up to 500 individuals will join the Ordinariate in the first wave, with more expected to follow once it has become established.”

Crucially “the departing Anglo-Catholics believed that the Church of England, despite its Protestant roots, was part of the Catholic Church. Now, as it prepares to ordain women bishops, they have given up on it”, the writer emphaises how it was conservative Anglicans who asked Rome for this so whole parishes could convert. Interestingly “Many Anglo-Catholics, however, are determined to stay in the Church of England – and Dr Williams is encouraging them in their resolve. As a result, the High Church wing of the Church has become hopelessly split”. In time however those who favour the High Church will have to decide who to side with, Rome or Lambeth. He notes that some of those who are converting e.g. “Ebbsfleet and Richborough are not dioceses. They are suffragan sees created by the General Synod in the 1990s for ‘flying bishops’ who minister exclusively to traditionalists who reject women priests. Now two of the three flying bishops are resigning to take part in another radical experiment, this time under the aegis of the Vatican”. He points out how “the Pope has bypassed the ecumenists, giving responsibility for the scheme to his old colleagues at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Finally, the consequences of these conversions are clear, if the Church of England General Synod is wholly or mainly liberal, then for better or worse, there is less and less room for conservatives but what will arise, in time, is a more homogenous form of Anglicanism. However it could also be the informal death knell for ARCIC (Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission) and end of any meaningful ecumenical discussions with Rome as there is little point, at least from Rome’s point of view, as Anglicanism drifts further away. This is typified by Cardinal-designate Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whose main focus is expected to be Orthodox Churches.

End of the line

12/11/2010

As Irish bond yields not only continue to rise seemingly inexporably towards either default or bailout, the cost of the financial crisis is still battering the Irish economy, partly thanks to an inept and incompentent government.

In a piece written recently Dr Morgan Kelly predicts that “Ireland is effectively insolvent – the next crisis will be mass home mortgage default”. He notes emotionless how “During September, the Irish Republic quietly ceased to exist as an autonomous fiscal entity, and became a ward of the European Central Bank.”

Dr Kelly remembers how “Until September, Ireland had the legal option of terminating the bank guarantee on the grounds that three of the guaranteed banks had withheld material information about their solvency, in direct breach of the 1971 Central Bank Act. The way would then have been open to pass legislation along the lines of the UK’s Bank Resolution Regime, to turn the roughly €75 billion of outstanding bank debt into shares in those banks, and so end the banking crisis at a stroke”.

He argues how “The Government has admitted that Anglo [Irish Bank] is going to cost the taxpayer €29 to €34 billion. It has also invested €16 billion in the other banks, but expects to get some or all of that investment back eventually.” He argues how Ireland’s other major banks are eventually in for the same fate as Anglo with a similar amount of money needed between them in order to correct them, as he says “When you apply the same assumptions about lending losses to the other banks, you end up with a likely taxpayer bill of €16 billion for Bank of Ireland (deducting the €3 billion they have since received from investors) and €26 billion for AIB: nearly as bad as Anglo”.

Correctly but sadly he notes how “This €70 billion bill for the banks dwarfs the €15 billion in spending cuts now agonised over, and reduces the necessary cuts in Government spending to an exercise in futility. What is the point of rearranging the spending deckchairs, when the iceberg of bank losses is going to sink us anyway?”. Ireland is effectively dead with little or no hope of recovery. He adds that “What is driving our bond yields to record levels is not the Government deficit, but the bank bailout”. If this is true which in all probability it is, it is only a matter of time before Ireland is buried under a mountain of its own debt.

Mournfully he continues saying that “The next act of the crisis will rehearse the same themes of bad loans and foreign debt, only this time as tragedy rather than farce. This time the bad loans will be mortgages, and the foreign creditor who cannot be repaid is the ECB”. He argues that as many as 200,000 households will be unable to pay their mortgage and that the result will be that “The gathering mortgage crisis puts Ireland on the cusp of a social conflict on the scale of the Land War“. This will have the result he says of pitting those who have paid off their mortgages with those who have not and demand a taxpayer funded bailout.

Finally he adds that “With a sufficiently low interest rate on what we owe to Europe, a combination of economic growth and inflation will eventually erode away the debt, just as it did in the 1980s”, he continues however saying that “An interest rate beyond 2 per cent is likely to sink us.”.

He concludes saying that “My stating the simple fact that the Government has driven Ireland over the brink of insolvency should not be taken as a tacit endorsement of the Opposition. The stark lesson of the last 30 years is that, while Fianna Fáil’s record of economic management has been decidedly mixed, that of the various Fine Gael coalitions has been uniformly dismal”. He goes on to predict the collapse of the current Irish party system and the rise of the far right. However, the Irish political culture would need to be remade if this were to come true to any real extent, a tall order to say the least.

In a piece, Ireland is praised for “Ireland has done everything that could reasonably be expected to set its fiscal house in order, and, unlike others, it has done so ahead of time and voluntarily” yet at the same time it argues that “The reason the resolution mechanism is being reformed is to address the fury of German taxpayers at being asked to bail out the profligate fringe” and warns of an authoritian capitalism taking hold – Chinese style.

What is being seen increasingly however is The main opposition Fine Gael unveiled plans to bring Ireland back to the sunny uplands of solvency where peace is restored and everyone smiles. An election is due by 2012 but will probably be held early next year. If there is any justice it should be the dmise of the ruling Fianna Fáil party but two things should not be forgotten, people have short memories and the absolute supidity of the Irish electorate is renowned.

Down to business?

09/11/2010

GOP playing tricks, or getting down to business?

Progess in Central Asia?

09/11/2010

An article  on the political happenings in Kyrgyzstan notes the country seems to be moving toward some form of democracy.

As the writer notes that there was “a parliamentary election, and by all accounts there was little if any rigging from the top”. This sounds like good news and indeed it is, if the authorities can maintain order and keep the oil and gas flowing. He adds that “The United States may lose its military base, but, if successful, Kyrgyzstan will demonstrate that autocracy isn’t the only workable ruling model in the region”. The base which is reported to be worth about $50 million to the nation’s economy, has strategic value for operations in Afghanistan and is a good think to have in a somewhat unstable region with Russia still having great influence and power.

He argues that “Five parties crossed the voting threshold and will have seats; no one is anywhere near a majority”, and that all have different allegiances to either the past regime or otherwise and that either the country will have a balanced parliament or another strongman.

Whatever keeps the oil flowing.

Feminists just won’t give up

08/11/2010

So why don’t they all just convert?

Delusions of grandeur

07/11/2010

In what is just the latest example the EU living in another world, in addition to yet another recent example when the EU decided it would increase its own budget by 6% when the governments across the world are having to introduce painful cuts.

The latest example is when for some reason Baroness Ashton and her 7,000 staff have decided they need armoured cars, despite most people – even within Europe,  let alone outside  it – not knowing who these people are. The cars “150 vehicles for four years with 30 cars being sent to missions in each of five regions around the world, including capitals where there is little or no terrorist threat”. If that wasn’t enough the “new European External Action Service (EEAS), which will have a budget of £8bn, shows that the diplomatic postings will include sending 46 officials to Barbados, 57 to Vietnam and 95 to Ukraine. Even the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, which has a population of just 230,000, will have six diplomats”.

In addition to this “as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Lady Ashton is the best paid female politician in the Western World and earns a salary of £230,702 a year.”

This is yet another example of what Walter Russell Mead in his book, Power, Terror, Peace and War, calls EU arrogance. In other words the inability too see the relative decline of Europe as a continent as opposed to other powers. The European Union on the foregin stage as the best example of this.  It  seems to think that paying people well and having armoured cars makes the rest of the world respect, even fear, you. Dr Kagan put it best in Paradise and Power, when he said “Europeans hope to contain American power without wielding power themselves”.

 How can anyone take the EU seriously when they make their appointments based on gender balance?

Social decay contd

05/11/2010

Perhaps it has never occured to Mr Fry that he is the one that people “should feel sorry for”. Not everyone needs to “meet strangers to shag behind a bush”.

Ireland’s future

05/11/2010

In a piece written some time ago on the best direction for the future of Ireland, the writer, Fintan O’Toole “sets out a programme to fix the country”.

He argues somewhat naively that “Irish parliament is probably the weakest in the democratic world. The Dáil does not make laws: it passes them. Legislation is almost never initiated by TDs. At best they get to debate the rights and wrongs of legislation proposed by government and perhaps to make some minor amendments”.  The while this is true to make any reforms to this would be dangerous as it would destroy the much needed power of the executive to pass the laws it wants and needs.

The author does give the example that on one day in July of this year, four seperate pieces of legislation were passed by the lower house.  While this is less than desirable, there is something to be said for more time for bills to be closely examined in committee stage, but for this to be truly effective the bill should be introduced into committee first and not almost before the bill is passed into law. Secondly, for there to be effective debate there needs to be a real party system with genuine differences – not rooted in something of no relevance to Irish people today.

O’Toole goes on to discuss how ministers never resigns “from office because of maladministration in the department that he or she theoretically heads. And yet in law (reinforced as recently as 1997) the Minister is the department”. He rightly asks “Why does the transparent pretence that the Minister is the flesh-and-blood incarnation of the department survive its own patent absurdity? Because it suits both Ministers and civil servants. It is the perfect shield against accountability”. Even worse when ministers have done wrong they are not even dismissed from office, only the PM can do that and as ever, party before common good. The only other alternative is for a different authority to excerise this power, either wholly or partially to remove incompentent or people not worthy of holding high office.

He continues asking, if the assembly “does not legislate and cannot hold Ministers to account, what does it do? The one remaining recognisable function of a democratic parliament is to conduct inquiries on issues of public policy and the performance of state institutions”.

He does make the point that a small country needs a smaller parliament when he says that  “local issues handled at local level, the Dáil can be both smaller and more efficient. Exact numbers can be argued over, but it is hard to see why the Dáil needs more than 100 members”. There is a case he says for the radical reform of the upper house, which he says “is so discredited that no one seems to care that a constitutional amendment to reform it slightly by broadening the numbers of third-level educational institutions whose graduates could vote for Senators, passed by referendum in 1979, has not been implemented”.

He rightly decries the PR-STV voting system as one that “contributes hugely to the maintenance of a clientelist culture”, he argues instead for a  additional member system which is a mix of first past the post and a party list system. He then goes on to advocate for quotas for women, which is utterly absurd and should not be implemented as it brings no tangible benefits except to ease the conscience’s of whining liberals.

He does make the point correctly that “is that the Oireachtas has not merely the power but also the duty to conduct inquiries for the purposes of examining the uses to which public money is being put”.

Even if a fraction of these ideas were implemented it would go a long way to the destruction of the “gombeen politics” that is destroying Ireland.

Impossible realism?

04/11/2010

In an interesting and realist article that discusses talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan as the war there is coming to an eventual close.

It notes how America “is reported to have flown one of their fugitive leaders back there for talks with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, who has formed a peace council to make overtures to the militants”. The article goes on to say that “In the end, the war in Afghanistan will have to be ended by negotiation, not force-of-arms”.

This assumption should be made very carefully. Of course in normal wars the two sides sit down and agree and peace deal as has been down countless times over the centuries. However, to think that this war is equalivant to those that have gone before is a concept that should be approached with caution. In must wars there is a clear victor who loses fewest troops or gains the most terrority. This is not that kind of war.

Some,  perhaps most, of those that fight are doing so because they have little else to do and are well paid. However we must be under no illusion that those that are not in it for the money will not stop and no peace talks will deter them from carrying out their supposedly divinely inspired mission to destroy the West.

As the former leader of Hezbollah once said, “We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you”. As the article itself says “done badly, will make a mockery of the Western effort to stabilise and modernise the place”.

It is good that basic realism is dictating a different approach, as it should, but unsuprisingly “Karzai and the Taliban both seem unwilling to compromise on their mutually exclusive demands for power”. As the writer importantly says, “The Taliban will take the talks as further evidence that NATO will soon give up and withdraw. Plainly, they must be proved wrong. The negotiations must not be a fast-track Western exit strategy”.

The most un-Christian man in Belgium?

04/11/2010

Is Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard the most un-Christ like man in all of Belgium?

112th and beyond

03/11/2010

The victory of the Republicans who picked up at least 60 seats in the House but didn’t manage to overturn the Dems Senate majority, thus comes the promotion of John Boehner as speaker of the House, the first Catholic GOP speaker will go down in history as the GOP gains were greater than the seats gained in the 1994 midterms with Newt Gingrich at the helm.

Now however the wonderful checks and balances come into play, or what in pratice means, nothing gets done. As was said “The country awakens this morning to all the same problems — but the menu of solutions is up for grabs. ‘Yes, we can’ has collided with ‘Oh, no you don’t.'” Interestingly however the article notes how “the seeds of future squabbles were sown inside the enemy camps”. So instead of having a resonably unified GOP as was the case in 1994 that faced off with President Clinton, now there is the chance of the GOP squabbling with itself which would then bring government to a standstill. Even worse for the GOP, they would do it all by themselves, no help from the Dems.

It argues that  the Democratic Senator-elect of West Virginia, Joe Manchin “saved the Senate for the Democrats by winning this race — but he managed to win the race only by strongly distancing himself from Obama. He promised to repeal parts of the health-care reform — ‘overreaching,’ he said of the bill. And he literally put a bullet in climate-change legislation, airing an ad that showed him chambering a cartridge, shouldering his rifle and blasting a bullet right through the controversial cap-and-trade bill”. Not only that but President Obama’s relationship with Speaker-designate John Boehner is said to be only amicable. What will happn when the two men have to work with each other is another matter altogether or will it be?

Moving to the future, the article notes how “If you take the President’s 2008 victory map and subtract the states where his fellow Democrats were obliterated in major races on Tuesday — Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida — you discover that Obama’s 2008 landslide has evaporated into a dead heat”. It goes on to say how “Republican Party has won the midterms by moving to the right. That leaves the rest of the spectrum wide open. If Obama can settle his differences with moderate voters, and seize ownership of the middle ground, he will find a lot of the electorate waiting patiently for him”.

However this leaves other questions to be answered, how strong will the Tea Party be in 2012 after two years in office making decisions that not everyone is going to like? Who will the GOP nominate in 2012? Sarah Palin or someone who can attract the moderate voters with experience and knowledge, Mitch Daniels or Rob Portman who by most accounts had little to do with the Tea Party but was elected anyway. Will President Obama moderate or will he not learn his lesson? Will the GOP stop government working, or will they cut spending and raise taxes to plug the deficit?

On a broader point it should be noted that the checks and balances introduced by the founders were great then but in this age we live in and the increasing polarisation (and thus clarity in the positions of the parties) maybe its time the congressional system was retired so something could actually get done by the executive, without this nonsense?

Midterm results

03/11/2010

Below are some of the what are considered to be the most important midterm results, in what has been an interesting, to put it mildly election, in no particular order:

  • Democratic Joe Manchin won the Senate in West Virginia race beating Republican rival John Raese.
  • Tea party favourite Marco Rubio won a Senate seat in Florida beating Governor Charlie Crist, who ran as an independent.
  • As expected Rand Paul won a Senate seat in Kentucky. 
  • Russ Feingold lost in Wisconsin to Ron Johnson.
  • Mark Kirk won President Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois. The loss by the Democrat Alexi Giannoulias is seen as an embarrassment to Obama and his party.
  • In Pennsylvania Pat Toomey beat Congressman Adm. Joe Sestak for a Senate seat.
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    Republicans won a Senate seat with John Boozman defeating incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in the state of Arkansas.

  • In Nevada, Sharron Angle lost to Harry Reid. It is however at this time unknown if Reid will keep his job as Senate Majority Leader.
  • In South Carolina, GOP favourite Jim DeMint won against Democratic nobody Alvin Greene.
  • Across the country in California,  Barbara Boxer (D-CA) won re-election against former HP CEO Carly Fiorina. While the in the governor’s election Jerry Brown won the election to the governor’s mansion beating Meg Whitman, former CEO of Ebay.

Lastly, there is no word as of yet if Tea Party favourite Joe Miller won in Alakska, or if Obama favourite, Michael Bennet won in Colorado against Ken Buck. While in Rhode Island, former sentor Lincoln Chafee won his election to become the first independent governor of Rhode Island.

Benedict’s prescient warning

02/11/2010

How can we not listen to Pope Benedict’s warnings about the marginalisation of religion, and the dangers of that to society,  when things like this happen?

Lessons to be learnt

01/11/2010

In an article on current economic ideas, John Quiggin,  explains how even after the near total collapse of “the market” which was only saved be having governments bail out a combination of reckless, incompentent and greedy banks, he argues that the  system of the ideas that led much of the Western world for decades is still being defended.

He notes how “theories, factual claims, and policy proposals that seemed dead and buried in the wake of the crisis are now clawing their way through the soft earth, ready to wreak havoc once again”. He continues saying how “banks and insurance companies bailed out on such a massive scale by governments (and ultimately the citizens who must pay higher taxes for reduced services) have returned, in zombie form”.

He argues that the period from 1985 called the “Great Moderation” as a time of stability is largely inaccurate due to the fact that “this idea depended on some dubious statistical arguments and a willingness to ignore the crises that afflicted many developing economies in the 1990s”. He rightly asks “If double-digit unemployment rates and the deepest recession since the 1930s don’t constitute an end to moderation, what does?”.  He notes, cuttingly how “central banks and policymakers are planning a return to business as usual as soon as the crisis is past”.

The second idea that he dismisses is that of the “efficient markets hypothesis”, the idea that “the idea that the prices generated by financial markets represent the best possible estimate of the value of any investment”. This idea is patently false and can only reach some validity with good solid regulation. This was seen most notably when rating agencies branded useless debt as AAA or even AA all under pressure from the market to keep the bubble going. Quiggin adds that “advocates developed elaborate theories to show that the billion-dollar values placed on companies delivering dog food over the Internet were actually rational. Others simply treated the dot-com bubble as the exception that proves the rule”.

He then discusses Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium which he definees as “the idea that macroeconomic analysis should not be concerned with observable realities like booms and slumps, but with the theoretical consequences of optimizing behavior by perfectly rational (or almost perfectly rational) consumers, firms, and workers”.

This idea can and should be easily dismissed along with the other idea he targets, the infamous, “trickle down theory”, which he defines as “the idea that policies that benefit the wealthy will ultimately help everybody”. This idea has recieved much praise particularly in America and has been praticsed since the last 1920s. It has spread to more neoliberal countries in Europe, including the UK over recent years.  He argues that ” Trickle-down economics was conclusively refuted by the experience of the postwar economic golden age”. He notes how the “idea gained more support during the triumphalist years of the 1990s, when, for the only time since the breakdown of Keynesianism in the 1970s, the benefits of growth were widely spread, and when stock-market booms promised to make everyone rich”. He concludes saying how “Median household income has actually declined in the United States over the last decade and has been stagnant since the 1970s”.  The final nail in the coffin for the absurd idea is that “the United States has less social mobility than any other developed country”.

Finally he deals with pivatisation, the argument that the private sector is better than the state at most things while returning a profit. This idea is generally good, however there are some cavets, it must be never enter the health systems, the armed forces (e.g. Blackwater) and should be used, if at all, with extreme caution in the education system.  He notes how “theoretical basis for privatization rested on the efficient markets hypothesis, according to which private markets would always yield better investment decisions and more efficient operations than public-sector planners”.  He argues that, when certain state industries that were rightly privatised, such as airlines, it lead to in increse in prices to comsumers and often the continuation of the monopoly albeit in private hands. 

However it should be reiterated here that privatisation is a good idea but that it must be applied very carefully and only in certain conditions.