Archive for March, 2011

A tale of two decisions

31/03/2011

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has handed down two interesting decisions. 

The first was a brashly worded judgement which criticsed the UK government for refusing to allow convicted felons to vote. It makes little sense of course to bar all criminals from voting, those with only minor offenses should be allowed to vote having completed their punishment.

Jean-Paul Costa, “president of the European Court of Human Rights, said it would be a ‘disaster’ if Britain defied his court’s ruling over enfranchising inmates. In a thinly veiled comparison, he said only Greek military dictators had previously denounced the European Convention on Human Rights”.

It says much for a court, which wildly oversteppes its mandate, then acts in a wholly unprofessional and puerile manner by comparing a functioning democracy to a dictatorship.  The report continues noting, “asked why, said it would be a ‘disaster’ for Britain if it was to defy the judgment, Mr Costa told the BBC: ‘The only country which denounced the Convention [on Human Rights] was Greece in 1967 at the time of the dictatorship of the colonels. 

Costa “said he understood the anger the court’s decision had caused in Britain as some countries felt such matters were for parliaments not the courts. Mr Costa was one of only three European judges, out of 17, who was against the court’s decision and felt Britain was not breaching human rights by having a blanket ban on votes for prisoners”.

The court has gone too far in its powers by interfering in the sovereignity of another nation. Prime Minster David Cameron will have a difficult time from the already angry hard right of his party if he backs down.

In a more recent judgement however the court ruled on a case that began in Italy. The court ruled that crucfix’s are allowed in the classroom.   The judgement which was the result of “Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born mother who said public schools in her Italian town refused to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms. She said the crucifix violates the secular principles the public schools are supposed to uphold”.  The newsreport states that the “decision by the court’s Grand Chamber said it found no evidence ‘that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.'” There are similarities between this case and one where the Orthodox Church fought a similar case some time ago which the ECHR also ruled on.

Interestingly, the court made numerous references to the cultural sigificance of the crucifix. This esentially agrees with Pope Benedict’s idea of a Christin Europe, and therefore a rejection of Turkish entry into the EU. It also gives a helping hand to Benedict’s more general mission to get the West, but espeically Europe to acknowledege its Christian heritage and the New Evanglisation that he hopes to kick start.

Cardina Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, was reported to have said that “the crucifix was ‘one of the greatest symbols in the West,’ like the crescent moon is in the Muslim world, and that denying it or canceling it out risked canceling out Western identity.  The crucifix, he said ‘is a sign of civilization, even if you don’t recognize it theologically,’ said Ravasi”.

Dangerous idea

29/03/2011

A path that has been trodden before with not very successful results.

Instability continues

29/03/2011

While the situation in Libya changes with frightening rapidity the situation elsewhere in the Middle East is no less unstable. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Middle East expert, Simon Henderson, argues that the Sunni Bahraini royal family is coming under increasing pressure from the majority Shiite population. He notes that the kingdom is vital for US interests.  

Henderson writes that “The U.S. has cards to play but is keen to do so discreetly. It needs to press the ruling family for reform while telling the divided opposition not to reject all compromise. Washington is anxious not to be perceived, by either side, as being part of the problem. The headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, situated adjacent to a suburb of Manama, is a crucial part of the efforts to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions and counter any interference with the flow of oil”.

He continues saying that “Almost worse than the mess in Manama, this crisis reveals that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are no longer on the same page. Riyadh perceives the White House as demanding universal freedoms from its friends, but not from its adversaries like Iran. The Shiites of Bahrain see themselves as ‘Baharna,’ indigenous Bahrainis, rather than putative Iranians. But events are pushing them ever closer to Tehran, where they will surely be greeted with open arms”.

So not only is Bahrain worringly unstable, Yemeni President Saleh who was reported to have left office is apparently in power. Oil and Glory argues that “any flow of Yemeni refugees, including armed ones, could destabilize Saudi Arabia”. He reports that “King Abdullah has added another $93 billion to the previous $36 billion in largesse he laid on his people in order to keep them off the streets”. It  is highly doubtful that such a package will have its desired result and bring any real stability.

Worse, he writes that Gaddafi is trying to play the coalition forces off against the Russians and Indians and Chinese. He mentions that “Qaddafi suggested that the oil companies headquartered in countries currently bombing him would suffer dispossession of their fields (what he precisely said was that ‘oil will not be left to the United States, France and Britain.’). A day or so earlier, Qaddafi had suggested that he might turn the oilfields over to Chinese and Indian companies”.

For this reason alone Gaddafi needs to go. His compound should be bombed and then this thorn can be removed, this just happens to dovetail nicely with want some of the Libyan people want.

Major Archbishop Schevchuk

28/03/2011

After his election on 23 March, Svistoslav Shevchuk, was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, as Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on 25 March. Shevchuk, who will turn 41 in five weeks, is the third youngest bishop of the Catholic Church. He was elected to succeed Cardinal Husar who resigned on 11 February after years of failing eye sight.

Rocco says that the new Major Archbishop, “A moral theologian and graduate of Rome’s Angelicum, Shevchuk has spent practically all his 16-year priesthood in priestly formation, serving as a vice-dean of theology, vice-rector and rector at the UGCC’s seminary in Lviv, now the church’s former seat”. Shevchuk was only ordained a bishop on 7 April 2009, and so has only been a bishop for barely two years.

Rocco says that “it’s worth recalling that Ukraine’s considerable Greek-Catholic branch has a significant history of youthful leaders”. He cites Andrei Sheptytsky, who took over the leadership of the UGCC at age 35, leading the largest numerical group of the Eastern Catholic Churches for over fourty years.

It has been commented that the 45 bishops of the UGCC who chose Schevchuk sidelinded”the ‘transitional’ generation of Ukrainian eparchs who ministered through the years of the church’s public reestablishment there have been passed over in favor of a decisive option for the future and long-term consistency as the church’s rebuilding continues on its native turf. And further beyond, the selection of the pastor of Argentina’s 300,000 UGCC faithful signals both an open hand to the church’s diaspora”. Furthermore it was noted that ” it won’t be too much time before the new UGCC chief becomes the longest-standing top leader in the Catholic world”.

Not only that but he adds that “with the venerable Husar freshly turned 78 — just one of a glut of cardinals set to lose their electoral rights on reaching their 80th birthdays over the next two years — his heir could receive the post’s traditional red hat as soon as age 42, five years ahead of the youngest cardinal of the modern era, and no less than a decade and a half faster than the junior member of today’s papal “‘senate'”. He is of course refering to Cardinal Marx who was elevated at the last consistory in November 2010. It is doubtful that Schevchuk will be made a cardinal for some years, The pope, whoever that is could wait, perhaps close to a decade, to elevate him. Even if that were that case he would still be the youngest cardinal in the College. Rocco says that the “lack of seasoning in high office apparently pushed the Synod’s deliberations to their final day” allowing him to be elected by simple majority.

It is unclear what course the new major archbishop will take with regards to the powerful Orthodox Church and the rights of the UGCC itself. Complicating matters further Pope Benedict has the long held wish to visit Russia and the patriarch of the Russia Orthodox Church. Schevchuk will be recieved in Rome next week to see Benedict when relations with the Orthodox will be discussed under the guidence of Archbishop Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

On the same day as Shevchuk was confirmed, ecclesial communion was extended to Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï.

When will it all end?

26/03/2011

The disorder it seems to be spreading with no end in sight. Protests continue across the Mid East and may spread further. It has been asked who the rebels in Libya, and beyond, are.

David Rothkopf asks the question, “who our allies are among the Libyan rebel forces”. He argues that “the prospect of a more extended, costly, risky endeavour to follow through and produce regime change not only on the horizon but being driven by a very real sense that this operation will be a failure if Qaddafi remains in office”. He notes how al-Qaeda have links to some of the rebels. Others have made this link also, but it is at the very least, uncertain, how the demands of those how began the revolt against Gaddafi would take to it being controlled, indeed taken over, by others who want something radically different.

While there is so much uncertainity about the rebels and their trustworthiness, some have argued that the Western powers should arm them. This is exceptionally short sighted as many are unsure what the rebels true intentions are. Indeed, such a suggestion was carried through in the 1980s when the US was trying to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan, and look where that got us. The only reasonable hope is for the National Transitional Council to work. France has already recognised it, perhaps in too great a haste. Naturally the coalition should remain suspicious of this group but should work with them for the time being.

Some of speculated that “Eastern Libya’s Zuwaya and Misratah tribal chieftains, who enjoyed great power before Col Gaddafi took over, sense an opportunity to seize control of oil revenues. In the west, the Warfala, under pressure from the regime since an abortive 1993 rebellion, see a chance to settle scores”. If this were the case the country could disintegrate into tribal regions with a quasi civil war being entirely possible. Not only that but “Fighters have established an Islamic emirate in Derna, 775 miles from Tripoli”. He goes on to say, worringly, that “when a group of military officers led by Col Gaddafi overthrew King Idris bin Muhammad as-Senussi, they won neither a nation nor a state – and kept it that way”.

While this is happening in Libya, Syria is looking increasingly unstable.  Baashar al Assad, who inherited the presidency of Syria from his father, has offered concessions to the demonstrators. Assad now has two options; to clamp down on the demonstrators, most likely with brutal force, or reform the regime and institutions and sack most of his cabinet in an attempt to cling on to power.

With Yemeni president Saleh saying he will resign after more than thirty years in power further instability is almost certain with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula (AQAP) an active force in the region. Con Coughlin has argued that “Syria and Yemen, two countries that, in their different ways, pose an active and current threat to our everyday well-being”. Syria links to terrorist groups supported by Iran and operating in Israel and beyond is well know. He says that “we should give our wholesale support to the brave protesters who have recently marched through the Syrian city of Deraa demanding freedom from the Assad tyranny”. The only problem is that we are unsure what will replace Assad. Finally in Yemen he notes how “Anwar al-Awlaki, the mastermind behind the recent ink cartridge bomb plot at East Midlands airport, is based in the country”.

The need for order and stability is greater than ever in the Middle East with rising oil and food prices. Where the protests go from here is impossible to say.

“Has the U.S. forgotten how to pass the buck?”

25/03/2011

No, but pass the buck to largely ill equipped and disorganised Europeans, no thanks.  

Neocon plot?

25/03/2011

The answer, very clearly, is no. As the coalition hands control of operations from the United States to NATO, (effectively the US which NATO relies on for funds and equipment) Dr Stepen Walt seems to be addicated to the belief that the “neocons”, whoever they are, are still pulling the strings.

Dr Walt says that “liberal inteventionists are just ‘kinder, gentler’ neocons, and neocons are just liberal interventionsts on steroids”. Firstly there is no such group as neoconservatives. It is a label wrongly applied to the  students of Leo Strauss, who spent his time studying ways of interpreting classical texts. In no way were any of his courses related to foreign policy. The term is used by those on the left as a term of abuse and is usually followed by “arguments” such as President Bush is “stupid” and is controlled by Jews like Dr Paul Wolfwitz. It only does this conspiracy not hold water it is anti-Semitic as there were only two Jews in minor, but notable positions in the Bush administration, the other being Doug Feith. Why would these people in quite minor positions be able to control the president of the United States? Also, if there was a Jewish conspiracy, then surely it would have made more sense to have a Christian conspiracy as by far the vast majority of President Bush’s advisers were Christians?

Walt however does say rightly that “The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on U.S. power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance”. It should be noted that Bill Clinton, long put into the liberal interventionist category, used the US Armed Forces a number of times, without UN approval. Not that the UN is any real mesure of legitimacy.

Importantly, underlining what has been said here, namely the US foreign policy doesn’t really change, Walt says that President Obama “brought with him a group of foreign policy advisors whose basic world views were not that different from the people they were replacing. I’m not saying their attitudes were identical, but the similarities are probably more important than the areas of disagreement”.

Eternally passive

24/03/2011

After all that has affected Ireland the country is surprisingly peaceful when there were Greek riots, huge Spanish marches as well as the usual French demonstrations.

This passivity and lack of any real public protest has been examined recently, the writer says that “weak infrastructure of dissent explains this moderation/passivity”. He says that “those at the top – be they bankers, bureaucrats or politicians – have paid little if any price for whatever role they played in the disaster”.

He writes to explain this requires historical analysis is needed. He notes how social passivity in Ireland is not new and how the “Civil War, for instance, was a brief and unbloody affair compared with other conflicts of that kind in Europe over the course of the 20th century – from Finland in the 1920s to the Balkans in the 1990s”.

He says that fascism and communism that were sweeping Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, from the UK with Oswald Mosley to Stalin in the USSR, where all but ignored in Ireland, he notes that, “Those (anti-democratic) ideas were almost completely ignored and, more generally, no country in Europe has been so little influenced by new political ideas”. He cites as another example Irish passivity to the economic crisis of the 1980s that affect Ireland.

The reasons for this he says,  Ireland has an “underdeveloped infrastructure of dissent” and the reason for this is chiefly due to the lack of any real divisions within Irish society. Since the 1920s Ireland, at least the 26 counties, have been overwhelmingly Catholic, and collectively have had a perception of historical oppression with further united the country together. The journalist writes importantly how, “Among the most important reasons in explaining the absence of such divisions was the long struggle for statehood, which unified many forces in society that would otherwise have been at loggerheads”.

He cites how the State has a high degree of legitimacy, as there was a clean slate with no past injustices, as a result, “An anecdotal example of this legitimacy and the limited suspicion of how the State exercises power is that political conspiracy theories are far less frequently heard in Ireland than in other European countries”.

Now however Ireland is undergoing huge strain, with great pressure being put on the relationship between what is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as an increasingly out of touch and unrepresentative establishment and the worst off in society suffering most.

Perhaps this passivity is beginning to change?

How to set up a country

22/03/2011

Interesting piece on how South Sudan starts up.

Definition of hypocrisy

21/03/2011

The Church may have a divine mission, but this shows that it is run by humans and thus prone to sin and hypocrisy.

In the Philippines, bishops have told people to come out, “because there is nothing to be ashamed of about their sexuality”. This is perfectly in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357-2359 which says that homosexual acts are “gravely disordered” as they do not conform to procreation, while the orientation itself is neutral.

This overlooks, or indeed ignores, the fact that homosexuals are born homosexual through no fault of their own. As well as the fact the Church allows infertile couples to marry and indeed have sex, even though they are unable to procreate. The Church is thus denying homosexuals the right to be fully human by condemning them to a life of solitude, often with extremely negative consequences, for their emotional and mental health.

By drawing an overly legalistic and narrow distinction between the orientation and what the person does with others, they contradict the very message of Christ, who openly despised hypocrisy and legalism.

It is right that the Church’s teaching on this is ignored.

Half legitimate?

19/03/2011

Just a day after vowing to show “no mercy” to the citizens of Benghazi, Gaddafi has, after the passing of UNSC Res 1973 to enforce a no fly zone over Libyan air space, declared a “ceasefire”.

The resolution, which forbids the landing of ground troops, allows for the above mentioned no fly zone as well as allowing “all neccesary means” to protect civilians. Notably, the number of votes the resolution recieved were few, with Brazil, Germany, and India, with and permanent members China and Russia abstaining. Any belief that China’s resurgance would automatically result in a checked America and therefore mean a better world has been proved radically wrong. China is said to have “expressed serious concerns about imposing the no-fly zone”.

Germany’s absention shows that country’s dismal failure to step up to the plate. It is exemplary of Baroness Ashton and the so called EU “foreign policy” that the Germans seem to want but are unable, or unwilling, to persue.  Chancellor Merkel said that Germany’s absention was due to “significant dangers and risks”.  It must then be asked what is the point of having even a compentent foreign polciy chief if Germany is afraid of danger? Germany must realise that only Europe is a Kantian paradise, the rest of the world is still a Hobbesian anarchical, jungle.

Just hours after the so called ceasefire was announced Gaddafi was continuing to send his armed forces to rebel held terrorities.  It has now been confirmed that French jets have opened fire on Libyan forces, with other forces including the UK and some Arab countries expected to follow soon. 

It is interesting to note the lack of liberal carping. When, during the Iraq war, there was no France or Germany and it was deemed illegimate, whatever that means, even though it had UN sanction, not that it mattered. So why is no one saying that the current action, of which France was a main proponent, is only half legitimate as Germany is needed as well?

Dr Walt said that the action in Libya “ought to be a European operation, because Europe has far more significant strategic interests at stake than we [the U.S.] do”. He makes the vaild point that “this is an ideal opportunity for Europeans to learn that they should stop adopting lofty moral positions and then expect Uncle Sucker to do the heavy lifting”.

President Obama has said that Gaddafi must be stopped bombing his own people, but it is doubtful that Obama wants Gaddafi to go completely.

What is vital now however is that a plan is formulated for the resumption of oil production and the smooth transtition to a new government as Gaddafi is unwilling to come to heel. Dr Walt makes the point that “Qaddafi doesn’t have a lot of attractive options besides fighting on, which is precisely why he’s chosen to act as he has”.

Troops in Bahrain

18/03/2011

A dangerous move with only greater instability the result.

Patriarch Rai

18/03/2011

Béchara Raï, 71, formerly of the eparch (bishop) of Jbeil has been elected 77th patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant of the Maronites.

Voting began to elect a new patriarch on Saturday 12th with all the bishops of the Maronite Catholic Church being eligable to participate with two rounds of voting every day. If there was no candidate elected within fifteen days, Rome, i.e. the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, would choose.

As per custom, the new patriarch will take Pierre or Peter in addition to his name after St Peter who was bishop of Antioch before he moved to Rome. Patriarch Béchara Pierre Rai’s first act will be to formally petition ecclesial communion with Pope Benedict. It has been commented on that the election of Rai took longer than expected.  Rai will be elevated to the cardinalate when a new consistory is called, possibly as soon as late 2012 or early 2013.  

Next up the election of the successor to Cardinal Husar as the next major archbishop of Kiev, home to the  Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Ireland vs EU

15/03/2011

Ireland vs EU showdown coming.

Grand Master Emeritus

15/03/2011

A previous post which stated that John Patrick Cardinal Foley, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, met Pope Benedict for a “general update” was now incorrect.

Cardinal Foley, Rocco reports, has been “diagnosed with ‘an incurable type of leukemia,’ compounded by an aggressive anemia”.  It seems clear now that the meeting he had with Benedict was to submit his resignation. Cardinal Foley in an outrageous, spiteful and wholly un-Christian act once described gays who had contracted AIDS as recieving “natural sanction for certain types of activities”.  

Rocco continues saying that “the cardinal’s resignation has already taken effect, a public Vatican note on its acceptance by the Pope likely won’t be made until his successor is named… and, well, there are some interesting possibilities floating around on that count”. Normal candidates for the post would include Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello and Archbishop Pietro Sambi among others.

However, if Rocco is to be believed, and there is not doubt that he shouldn’t be, candidates could include anyone from William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who will turn 75 in April and thus submit his resignation. It is well known that Benedict is not pleased at his successor’s decisions at the CDF and thus naming Cardinal Levada to the position would allow Benedict a second chance at naming a CDF prefect, however it is more likely that Benedict will simply wait until next year to replace Cardinal Levada.

Another possibility that is perhaps more likely is the appointment of Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, currently prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Cardinal Grocholewski has been in office as prefect since November 1999 and is the only congregation prefect Benedict has not named since he was elected pope. If Benedict were to name Cardinal Grocholewski he would have a free hand to name his preferred candidate to this congregation and would thus have named all nine prefects of the congregations in addition to eleven of the twelve pontifical councils, the only exception being Stanisław Cardinal Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Sign of the times

14/03/2011

Pope Benedict has warned us of this in society. We are going down a dangerous path that can only end in disaster if it continues. It is however of course more complicated than that. There are two principle issues, the nature of homosexuality and the Bible generally and secondly, the nature of children and adoption.

The Johns’ objection to homosexuality makes no sense. Basing their objections of homosexuality on the Bible doesn’t stack up. These arguments have been made elsewhere persuasively, not only that, but this is also the case when Luke 10:1-12 has been read.

There is however the other issue of children where it is more complex. The couple who wish to adopt have every right to practice their faith and let others know of it. However, this particular problem could be solved by having only those children where their sexuality is not know i.e. before they become teenagers.

It does not bode well however when the judgment says that the conscience of believers should be effectively sidelined.

Don’t count your chickens……

14/03/2011

Who said China was the future when this happens?

Damp squib

13/03/2011

Saudi Day of Rage turning out to be anything but, with no real rage witnessed.

Saudi Arabia teetering

13/03/2011

Simon Henderson, noted Saudi expert, discusses the present Middle East and North Africa chaos in the context of the kingdom and what the near future may hold for the strategically vital nation.

It has been noted that Saudi Arabia along with others have increased production by a million barrels a day to offset Libyan production, which is effectively at a standstill.

Henderson notes that King Abdullah is not long for this world, the consequences of which have been dealt with earlier. Henderson argues that the recent $36 billion bribe of “a 15 percent salary raise for public employees, reprieves for imprisoned debtors, and financial aid for students and the unemployed” is merely “preventive medicine”.

He thankfully says that “few serious analysts of Saudi Arabia think that politics in the kingdom could play out as dramatically as the events in North Africa”. He adds that “it is unlikely that much will come of a Facebook campaign calling for a day of protests” set for the 11 March.

Henderson notes however that the sewage system of Jeddah which he describes as ” basically nonexistent” has due to recent floods been overwhelmed. He says that in addition to this, he says that “Saudi Arabia has huge earnings but, by virtue of its relatively large population, has a GDP per capita much lower than those of neighboring Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Even this wealth is badly distributed, and, in Jeddah, many still face real hardship”, which of course is not helped by corruption at all levels of that state.

Worringly Henderson says that next in line to the throne, Crown Prince Sultan “is reportedly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and, anecdotally, does not even recognize government ministers who he has known for years”.

He concludes saying that those pulling Sultan’s strings are hoping he will become king and thus be able to name a crown prince from one of his own relatives while at the same time, “Abdullah and the wider Allegiance Council would still have to outmaneuver Sultan’s surviving full brothers, who would continue to form the largest single voting bloc in the institution”.

Henderson is unsure if regular Saudis will allow a clean succession as they have done in the past. If not and they seize their moment and take a stand there will be a perfect storm of rising oil prices, political instability and the risk of even greater contagion in the future.

Safer America

10/03/2011

Big surprise. America will be a safer place for it.

New government formed

10/03/2011

The new session of the Irish parliament began after the recent general election. As feared, Fine Gael and Labour joined together to form a government and have produced a coalition agreement. Gone is any hope for agonism, for now.

Fine Gael which holds 76 of the 166 seats is expected to receive ten ministries with their coalition partners getting the remaining five in addition to the attorney general’s post. Enda Kenny was elected prime minister by the newly assembled parliament by 117 votes to 27 and has received his seal of office from President McAleese.

His Cabinet consists of:

  • Taoiseach Enda Kenny
  • Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore (Labour)
  • Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Jimmy Deenihan (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte (Labour)
  • Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn (Labour)
  • Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Richard Bruton (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Health James Reilly (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin (Labour)
  • Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton (Labour)
  • Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael)

Kenny has created a new ministry that of Children which previously been a secondary post under the Minister for Health. Notably, the Finance Ministry has been split into two with one being held by a Fine Gael while the other, Public Expenditure and Reform, being held by a Labour. Also notable is the merging of the Defence and Justice Ministries into one. What should be borne in mind is that of the fifteen Cabinet ministers, ten have prior experience in previous governments, albeit, quite some time ago.

Some in the media are arguing that the number of women is low and that they are not given better ministries – this is of no significance to the running of Ireland or fix its current crisis. Commendably at its first Cabinet meeting the government took a pay cut. Kenny’s first engagment will be to “travel to Brussels this afternoon for a meeting with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, ahead of meetings of the European Council and the euro zone heads of government”. This is notable as at the same time the EU changes its mind, not that is will alter Ireland’s inevitable default.

Any belief that Irish politics has changed is not to be believed. Fine Gael and Labour having a history of coalition government before, though admittedly not with this majority,  and Fianna Fail on the opposition benches.

Labour will be forced to make cuts, often to the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and it is possible that they too will face a Fianna Fail type moment at the next election with massive losses by being attacked by and ideologically much purer party. While any middle class support drifts away to another party, possibly Fine Gael.

What is certain is that Ireland’s politics is in flux with no outcome determined yet.

Myth of privatisation

08/03/2011

In a policy launch by David Cameron recently, the UK prime minster, set out a new agenda where the State would effectively cease to do its job.

In a speech Cameron said that the reforms, if they can be called that, “will put in place principles that will signal the decisive end of the old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you’re-given model of public services. And it is a vital part of our mission to dismantle Big Government”.

Discussing health care for his son he says that, “I never understood why local authorities had more control over the budget for his care than Samantha and I did”. He assumes that there is those who are less well off have the time to pore over the budget of their local hospital! Not too mention the expertise needed that few ordinary people understand that is best left in the hands of experts, who are accountable.

He does have a point when he says that, “stories about bureaucracy over-ruling common sense, targets and regulations over-ruling professional discretion, and the producers of public services over-ruling the people who use (and pay for) them – became the norm, not the exception”. Indeed this should be tackled, as personal responsibility for people’s decisions is at an all time low and needs to be addressed.

Yet, he says mistakenly, “that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service”. He goes on to list all the usual “arguments” about choice and competitiveness for the betterment of society. As has been shown time and again there are a limited number of areas where the State must control certain services, namely education and health care. There are other areas where a strong case can be made on the grounds of national security for state ownership, such as oil and gas and water utilities.

The arguments that are proffered for privatisation remain the same, but the evidence does little to support them. The oft cited examples of Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands where the State has a monopoly on health care with no exceptions, paid for by high tax with what is essentially a “top down model” but with a strong sense of community. In the related case of privatisation of the state broadcaster, the arguments made for more choice and better service are the opposite to what happens. Those who are interested in minority programmes, that are not profitable, are simply not produced, while the result is a mass of sameness due to lowest common denominator hunt for ratings and advertising revenue.

Cmaeron writes that his party “will give more people the right to take control of the budget for the service they receive”. This is another myth, that people can influence, and indeed change the policy of huge organisations just by engaging with them.  What normally happens however is that business gets involved and simply due to the amounts of money available to them they shout loudest and get heard most.

Not only that, when business gets involved there maybe competition initially, but the invisible hand really is invisible and a quasi monopoly begins to form with little difference between prices and new entrants finding it difficult to enter and compete.

This very American model, widely regarded as one of the most unequal societies on the world. Not only that, Cameron’s affinity for the Swedish model fails to recognise that nations like Sweden are highly ordered societies with very high taxes, neither of which Cameron has expressed much agreement with.

“Extinction”

08/03/2011

Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria, and of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, has said that “Christians risk demographic extinction” in the Holy Land.  If it were to happen it would be a great shame, the richness and cultural diversity of the Holy Land would be lost and the world would be worse off.

GOP Senate but Dem WH?

07/03/2011

GOP Senate in 2012? No GOP confirmed candidates yet gives Obama a head start though.

Irish election – Part III

07/03/2011

Now that an outline of the seats held after the Irish election and the make up of the next government have been discussed. Lastly, it is pertinent to discuss the meltdown and future of what was once the dominant force in Irish politics, Fianna Fáil.

How did a party that since 1932 managed to form nineteen governments and along the way craft Ireland’s current constitution, end this year going from 77 to 20 seats, with four short years as its longest period out of office.

What future, if any, is there for the party? There have been numerous accounts of Ireland’s rise and spectacular crash but perhaps the best is What went wrong in Ireland by Professor Patrick Honohan now governor of the Irish Central Bank. It was the property crash that burst in 2008 and took the country down, but it was tying, by way of wholesale bank guarantee, the vast debts of the reckless and incompetent banks who foresaw only rising property prices, to the large but manageable debts of the State, in addition to those of the banks that drew so much anger at the ballot box.

There has understandably been much talk that Irish politics would “never be the same again” and that the “era of Fianna Fáil dominance, which lasted for three-quarters of a century” was over. However, this does not mean that they will not be back in government in four or five years time. All it does mean is that they will not be as strong at the next election. As the author says, “Proportional representation saved Fianna Fáil from total obliteration but whether the party can survive as a serious political force is open to question. One thing is certain; it will never recover its place as the dominant party of power”.

As has been stated here before, “There is an argument in Labour for staying in opposition to try and build the party to a position where it would be a real contender to be the biggest party at the next election” this would mean Labour would be the biggest opposition party and that would allow FF to disintegrate and then be wiped out at the next election.

Noted academic Michael Marsh said that “Political Ireland is now largely a Fianna Fáil-free zone, but remains a long way short of a fundamental realignment of the party system”. He says that the recent election was about “vengeance” but people have short memories and a modern political is not possible until FF are wiped out and Labour take to the opposition benches along with a new electoral system. He does note however that “Fianna Fáil fell from 41.5 per cent of the vote in 2007 to just 17.4 per cent, effectively deserted by six of every 10 people who supported that party last time” as well as the interesting fact that “Proportionally, we would expect a party winning Fianna Fáil’s vote share to win 29 seats, so their total was nine fewer than this. We can often expect a smaller party to get no more than a small seat bonus but not that it would fall so short of an expected share”.

The reason for this he says is that the party ran too many candidates which split the vote as well as the party’s “failure to attract transfers”. He makes the point that “Three-quarters of all deputies are from the three parties who have dominated politics and government to date, but the relative size of these three is quite unlike anything we have seen before”.

A party that has controlled and dominated Irish politics partly because of its flexibility and lack of any clear ideology should be punished in the next election before any real political transformation in Ireland occurs. They are assisted however, by an electorate that simple voted against them this time, rather than for any one else.

It will be interesting to see if the party can rebuild itself from this, let’s hope it can’t.

American decline?

06/03/2011

Yet another paper on American decline has been published.

The writer opens quoting JFK saying “American strength relative to that of the Soviet Union has been slipping, and communism has been advancing steadily in every area of the world.” It may be only a small point, but this was said during the 1960 campaign, referring to the supposed “missile gap”, i.e. the numbers of missiles held by the US and USSR.  Kennedy ruthlessly campaigned on this because he knew he was wrong and Vice-President Nixon knew he was wrong yet was unable to say due to national security.

The writer goes on the say that “Americans can be forgiven if they greet talk of a new challenge from China as just another case of the boy who cried wolf. But a frequently overlooked fact about that fable is that the boy was eventually proved right. The wolf did arrive — and China is the wolf.”

He says that “The Chinese challenge to the United States is more serious for both economic and demographic reasons.” While it is true that the Chinese population is increasing very slowly but steadily at about seven million a year, economically it is not so certain. As has been discussed here before, China is in the middle of an enormous bubble which will burst and cause massive social unrest and instability in the wider region.

He mentions how China has become the world’s second largest economy, while this is true the US despite all its problems remains the largest. That is not to say that the US will remain the largest by some God given right and the deficit must be tackled if it is to remain in its current position. He mentions how “America’s traditional allies in Europe — Britain, France, Italy, even Germany — are slipping down the economic ranks. New powers are on the rise: India, Brazil, Turkey”. What all these European countries have in common is that the have aging populations unlike that of the US or many of the other BRICs. This is not the ignore that fact however that China has an older population as opposed to the US which will not help its long term growth.

Discussing the overestimation of China the author says that “In a recent interview with the Times of London, former U.S. President George W. Bush suggested that China’s internal problems mean that its economy will be unlikely to rival America’s in the foreseeable future”. The author says that “predictions of the imminent demise of the Chinese miracle have been a regular feature of Western analysis ever since it got rolling in the late 1970s”. This may indeed be true however it is not possible to sustain the very high levels of growth forever. The Chinese may have come accustomed to growth rates of 8% a year, often times more but the belief that it will continue just because what has gone before is ludicrous. As he admits “there is plenty of evidence that a property bubble is building in big cities like Shanghai, and inflation is on the rise. Over the long term, China has alarming political and economic transitions to navigate”, not only that but he adds that the “population is aging rapidly as a result of the one-child policy, and China is threatened by water shortages and pollution”. America has huge problems, but not on this scale, besides it has a safety valve of Congress and the media neither of which China has properly.

Crucially he says that “it would be a big mistake to assume that the Chinese challenge to U.S. power will simply disappear”. This view is not being put forward here, few are saying this, and such an argument would make little sense in light of what has happened to China recently. Interestingly alludes to the end of the unipolar moment/era when he says that “whatever economic and political difficulties it does experience will not be enough to stop the country’s rise to great-power status”.So what we are witnessing is the balancing of the world and the return of bipolarity that realists have long hoped for.

He does say however that America, for all its problems is still “the world’s largest economy, [has] the world’s leading universities, and many of its biggest companies. The U.S. military is also incomparably more powerful than any rival. The United States spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world put together” and that’s before you add in “America’s intangible assets”.

He does say rightly however that the “government’s continuing reliance on foreign lending makes the country vulnerable” on top of the valid warning that “even if China does democratize, there is absolutely no guarantee that this will make life easier for the United States, let alone prolong America’s global hegemony”. Yet if China were a democracy, importantly, it would be working effectively in a Western/American system, eg IMF, UN, WTO etc, not a Chinese created or backed one.

He sums up succinctly saying “America will never again experience the global dominance it enjoyed in the 17 years between the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Those days are over”.

Not enough

03/03/2011

No fly zones will only prolong the instability in Libya. We must to what is necessary to protect our interests, or else others will look after theirs, “one notes that not only are U.S. warships headed to the Libyan coast, but so are four Chinese carriers and a frigate”.

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

03/03/2011

The above title might be an exaggeration currently, yet it is important to consider the future of the region’s most precious resource, water.

It is clear that millions in Central and North Africa, and billions worldwide, are facing a growing water shortage. It was reported late last year that “more people are likely to encounter more severe stress on their water supply in the coming decades, as the climate changes and the human population continues to grow”. The report says that in “developed countries and the Bric group – Brazil, Russia, India and China – alone, “$800bn per year will be required by 2015 to cover investments in water infrastructure, a target likely to go unmet,”

There is already unrest as last year it was reported that Egypt’s water and irrigation minister, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, was accused of taking the Nile’s “vital waters whether that hurt the poorer upstream countries or not”. It was reported that crucially “Five of the nine Nile countries — Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya — last month signed a deal to share the water that is a crucial resource for all of them. But Egypt and Sudan, who are entitled to most of the water and can veto upstream dams under a 1929 British-brokered agreement, refused”. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have not signed either but on;y one more signature is needed to make the agreement binding.

It is noted that “More than 85 percent of the [Nile] waters originate in Ethiopia, which relies on foreign aid for survival and sees hydropower dams as a potential cash cow and central to its plans to become one of Africa’s only power exporters” this would mean that Ethiopia could become increasingly resource powerful in a region of otherwise military powers.

As if the importance of the Nile was not known already, people are discussing the consequences of water shortages in one of the world’s fastest growing population areas where a water “crisis would result from a decline in the availability of water in the region, which would have repercussions on food crop production”.

To underline how stark the problem is all over the Middle East “the flow of the Jordan River at the Dead Sea has declined from 1300 million cubic metres in the 1960s to between 100 and 200 million cubic metres in a wet year and much less in dry years”.

As has been stated here before this is just the beginning.

Back from the brink

02/03/2011

Shutdown avoided, because the Dems would get blamed.

Irish election – Part II

02/03/2011

With the final results for the Irish election in, excluding the speaker, Seamus Kirk, the seat allocation is as follows: Fine Gael 76,  Labour Party 37,  Fianna Fáil 19, Sinn Féin 14, United Left Alliance 5 and an assortment of Independents getting 14 seats. After the last election the parties excluding the speaker were: Fianna Fáil 77, Fine Gael  51, Labour Party 20, Green Party 6, Sinn Féin 4, Progressive Democrats 2, Independents 5,

With the lower house due to meet on 9 March (Ash Wednesday), formal discussions to form a government will be extremely fast with any hope of an FG government backed by like minded independents fast fading. With this, any sort of agonism that was hoped for by having Fine Gael and a number of like minded independents join together is all but gone. The result of which would be to have Labour as the dominant opposition party instead of the disgraced and incompetent Fianna Fail, thereby relegating FF to a long deserved obscurity. Not that it is of any relevance, but FF only have males in the party after the election in addition to only having only one representative for the capital, Brian Lenihan with no MPs in counties Kerry Meath, Tipperary and Roscommon at all, with long time incumbent and prominent member Mary O’Rourke losing her seat also.

However, the 31st Dail should be an interesting one as a small number of Socialists were elected as well as the like minded Sinn Fein and ULA which will challenge the new coalition on every and every measure.

Now it is almost certain that there will be a Fine Gael/Labour coalition with talks already underway but not expected to take more than a few days due to a lack of any real ideological difference between them. FF are the majority opposition party but only just, however it will be interesting to see what FF do, as the manifesto of Fine Gael is so close to that of Fianna Fail that FF should wholeheartedly back whatever the coalition does in office if not FF will rightly be leveled as hypocritical.

Once the coalition talks are complete the ministries will be assigned.

More Catholic than the Pope

02/03/2011

As the much heralded talks between the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and Rome unsurprisingly flounder and fail, there is talk of a new motu proprio on the clarification of Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007.

Firstly, the discussions that have been ongoing since late 2009 were meant to bring the schismatic SSPX back into the Church, especially after Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of the four illicitly consecrated bishops in January 2009, amid outrage that the Holocaust denying Richard Williamson was included. This does not however change their canonical situation as the men “consecrated” by Archbishop Lefebvre has not changed and they are not bishops.

The Reuters report states that Superior General of the SSPX, Bernard Fellay was “Asked if Vatican officials had changed their minds during the talks, which began in late 2009, he said: ‘I don’t think that you can say that.’ He said the pope ‘has a certain sympathy for us, but within limits.'”

The Church and the SSPX have been discussing the role of modernity in the Church which encompasses inter-religious dialogue as well as other issues. A key demand of the SSPX was the liberalisation of the stunning pre-Conciliar Tridentine Mass, which Summorum Pontificum granted, which also fits in the Benedict’s reform of the reform agenda. Now however it is unclear where, if indeed anywhere, the discussions will go.

Secondly, when Summorum Pontificum was first released it promised that in three years, i.e. 2010, there would be a clarification. Word is now spreading that this document is almost ready and is apparently restrictive. According to easily excitable sources the ordination of priests, other than those using the old mass exclusively eg FSSP, IBP and others will have the rite restricted.

It is doubtful that this restriction of the Extraordinary Form is what Benedict wants but either way there will soon be clarity.

Patriarch Emeritus

01/03/2011

Turning to religious matters, Nasrallah Pierre Cardinal Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites retired last week as head of the Lebanese originated church. Cardinal Sfeir who is almost 91, lead one of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches since 1986.

Rocco says that this is “the first time in memory, the posts overseeing the two largest Eastern churches in communion with Rome are simultaneously vacant” referring to the resignation of Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, formerly major archbishop of Kiev and therefore head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church.

Rocco makes the interesting point that “Like the Pope, Eastern patriarchs are elected for life, but [unlike popes they] may resign if age, health or other circumstances inhibit their function in office”. He notes that “the acceptance of Sfeir’s resignation indicates an agreement on a point of contention said to be of great concern to the Holy See: that replacements for six Maronite bishops who’ve retired over the last year would be in place before a Synod to elect the church’s next head” but adds that the outcome is not known.

The synod of the bishops of the Maronite church must meet within a month of the patriarchate falling vacant while the synod of Kiev will meet on 21 March.

Irish election – Part I

01/03/2011

And the results are in. The General Election that was held in Ireland recently has resulted in a decisive swing against the long time governing party, Fianna Fail, that were decimated, though not destroyed as was hoped for.

With only the last remaining seats to be counted it looks as if Fine Gael will have around 76 seats in the 166 seats in the lower house. It was reported that the “share of first preference votes was: Fine Gael 36.1 per cent, Labour 19.4 per cent, Fianna Fáil 17.4 per cent, Sinn Fein 9.9 per cent, Independents 15.2 per cent and Green Party 1.8 per cent.”. These will translate into “, Labour will take 36 and Fianna Fáil will get 25, including outgoing Ceann Comhairle [speaker] Seamus Kirk.  Sinn Féin looks set to take 12, Independents will win 13, the United Left Alliance will take four and the Green Party will lose all six of their seats”.  Turnout was higher than last time at around 70%.

What is extremely surprising is that the electorate carried through with the threat that the polls had been showing for months and decimated FF. Fine Gael won with “electoral meltdown for Fianna Fáil”. It is extremely doubtful that it was really a vote for Fine Gael as opposed to against FF.

Both Mary Hanafin and Barry Andrews lost in their shared constituency as well as Dick Roche and the disgraced John O’Donoghue not only that the Green Party returned no MPs at all.

Also eliminated was incompetent deputy prime minister, Mary Coughlan, who shared a constituency with “Pearse Doherty [who] was comfortably elected on the first count having won the seat in a byelection last November. He won 14,262 first preferences, almost a third of the vote”.

Unsurprisingly the population of greater Dublin did the most damage to FF with only former finance minister Brian Lenihan retaining his seat, with “Labour’s Pat Rabbitte stormed to victory, being elected on the first count” not only that but “Independent senator Shane Ross topped the poll in the five-seater Dublin South.  He was elected on the first count, having exceeded the 12,108 quota by almost 5,000 vote”, exceedingly rare in the PR-STV model that Ireland uses to elect its MPs.

Interesting times ahead.