Archive for July, 2011

Power to the president

31/07/2011

As the US creeps ever closer to default with no clear end in sight questions are rightly being asked of Congress and indeed the party system itself.

Some have quite rightly criticised the parties with both Democrats and Republicans at odds and seemingly unwilling to work together as the system demands that they do. It has been noted that “From the Clinton years through the middle of George W. Bush’s second term, partisan division had been accompanied by a growing ideological gulf in Congress, and along with it had come a decline in institutional loyalty and other norms, the near disappearance of meaningful debate and deliberation”. He notes that all the major legislation passed since 2009, “were passed after contentious, drawn-out, partisan battles that left most Americans less than happy with the outcomes”.

Orstein says that the GOP “repeating a tactic employed with great political success by Republicans in 1993 and 1994 against a newly elected President Bill Clinton, they immediately united fiercely and unremittingly against all the Obama and Democratic congressional initiatives”.

He goes on to note that “in an unprecedented fashion, to block a large number of Obama administration nominees for executive branch positions and draw out debate to clog the legislative process and make an already messy business even messier. The session’s legislative accomplishments occurred because Democrats maintained enough discipline — and had large enough margins — to enact their bills with the support of Democrats alone”. This is the same as a parliamentary system with strictly enforced party whip system except institutionally it is still a congressional system. Orstein adds that “Mitch McConnell said in an October 2010 interview that ‘single most important thing’ he needed to achieve was making Obama a one-term president, as pure an expression of the permanent campaign as one could find”.

He goes on to describe the conservative Southern Dixiecrats and the country club Republicans of the liberal Northeast and how, things got done with compromise, more or lesss, the order of the day. He adds that “There is now no overlap ideologically at all between the parties. Only nine of the remaining small number of conservative House Democrats (now called “Blue Dogs”) were to the right of the most liberal House Republican. That Republican, Mike Castle of Delaware, was dumped by his party in a primary as he ran for the Senate and is now out of Congress, as are the bulk of the Blue Dogs”.

This does ignore that fact that the Democrats can be just as bad as shooting their own party in the foot. When Jack Lew was nominated for a second stint as OMB director in 2010, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) refused to let it be voted on due to her insistance that her own narrow concerns take precedence. She refused to let the primary official reponsible for the federal budget at a crucial time take up his role.

Others have noted “that real policy happens only in the two- or maybe four-year windows when White House and Congress are of the same political persuasion”. This is a result of the entire House being elected every two years. The result, Congressmen are more in line with their electorate, no matter how ill informed, than real policy debates in Washington.

Ideology is a good and necessary thing. Yet, as it currently stands “there is little chance that a suitable climate for compromise and bipartisanship will take hold anytime soon”. It is clear therefore, that the Founders system of checks and balances has outlived its usefulness. A powerful executive is needed to keep pace with the world of today.

“Anyone who thinks Europe has solved its debt crisis is deluding themselves”

31/07/2011

And so it rumbles on and on and on.

No one to blame but themselves

30/07/2011

The euro crisis has the possiblity to destroy the EU itself. Ignore “the markets” and people should not/will not accept what the Franco-Germanic axis has created but is now unable to control.

There is “a sense of alienation and incomprehension and done-unto-ness. People feel they have very little economic or political agency, very little control over their own lives; during the boom times, nobody told them this was an unsustainable bubble until it was already too late. The Greek people are furious to be told by their deputy prime minister that ‘we ate the money together’; they just don’t agree with that analysis. In the world of money, people are privately outraged by the general unwillingness of electorates to accept the blame for the state they are in. But the general public, it turns out, had very little understanding of the economic mechanisms which were, without their knowing it, ruling their lives. They didn’t vote for the system, and no one explained the system to them”.

Finally he says “If European monetary policy is run according to German national interests, huge structural imbalances will accumulate. The Germans will then either have to pay to correct those imbalances, or agree that the euro should not be run primarily according to German national interests. If they are unwilling to do either of those things, the euro can’t survive”.

It is not impossible to see a whole continent of people totally disillusioned with democracy and the great “European project” itself that was meant to bring peace and stability but instead brought disorder and chaos. It will all be down to their ignorance and unwillingness to listen.

American decline?

30/07/2011

Fareed Zakaria can’t seem to make his mind up. One day he thinks the US is finished, the next it’s only getting started.

The spoilt child of Asia

28/07/2011

After the illicit ordaination bishops China deems the excommunication “extremely unreasonable and rude”.

Time to give in?

28/07/2011

There has been much talk among the Left of legalising drugs and essentially admitting defeat in the War on Drugs. In a recent article however the consequences of this increasingly popular belief have been rightly challenged.

The author notes that less and less cocaine is travelling through Mexico into the United States each year and that at the same time “the cocaine market today is worth about half as much as it was just 15 years ago — $88 billion compared with $165 billion in 1995”.

Yet, this ignores the fact that in “2006 saw just over 2,000 deaths attributed to drug violence, in 2010 there were an estimated 11,000 such killings, according to data from Stratfor and local press accounts”, similarly, “In 2001, there were just 16 murders for every 100,000 Ciudad Juárez residents. In 2010, that number reached 93 — an increase of nearly sixfold”.

The author answers those who argue for legalisation simply by arguing that “The cartels are becoming less like traffickers and more like mafias” adding that “They now specialize in running protection rackets of all kinds, he says, which might explain why the violence has gotten so bad: Mafias enforce their territorial control by force, killing anyone who resists or gets in the way”.

She notes that these new mafias have “distinctive zones of influence, complex organizations, and a wealth of manpower on which to draw, they act as shadow governments in the areas they control, collecting “taxes” on local establishments and taking a cut of the profits from illegal immigration to the United States”.

Even worse, the rules the Mexican government are trying to impose on the gangs are being distorted by them. She notes how the government has “limited the amount of cash one could use to buy things like airplanes or cars. So the cartels started engaging in actual trade, which helps them launder their drug profits”. The cartels are also engaged in oil smuggling with the State oil company, “Pemex, filed a lawsuit accusing nine U.S. companies of colluding with criminals linked to the drug trade to sell as estimated $300 million worth of stolen oil since 2006. That’s an amount equal to the entire cocaine market in Mexico”.

Only now does she mention the illicit gun trade fueled by lax gun laws in United States, she notes that “according to a recent U.S. Senate investigation, some 87 percent of the weapons used by the cartels are sourced from the United States”. She quotes someone saying “‘Legalization is a fake solution to the problem of security,’ he argues, citing a 2010 Rand Corp. report that found that legalizing marijuana in California would cut cartel profits by just 2 to 4 percent”.

The Mexican government also has problems which excerabate the situation including corruption on a wide scale and a failing judicial system.

Finally she concurs with the argument that “creating “citizen security” — empowering local communities to resist organized crime. That means not only improving policing but also reintroducing the state in other ways, through education, economic opportunity, and a judicial system that investigates and punishes crime”. One thing is certain, giving in to the drugs lords won’t work.

As easy as 1,2,3, regrettably

26/07/2011

U.S. style divorce getting easier to acquire in the UK. The societal rot continues unabated and unchecked.

Perry the conservative?

26/07/2011

There has been much talk of a lacklustre GOP field for the upcoming presidential election. However, many conservatives of a certain bent are looking to the governor of Texas, Rick Perry to answer their prayers.

Perry will pobably enter the field though though if he does decide to it will have to be soon. He is widly popular in his home state having been elected in his own right three times and is thus the longest serving governor in Texas history, the Economist notes that “There is, after all, a decent chance that he might win”. Not only that but “His most recent primary, against the popular Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2010, was not expected to be a walkover but he made it one”.

Texas is booming unlike much of the rest of the United States, and the article notes that it “It is already the second most-populous state after California and is growing fast. Newcomers are attracted by the absence of state income and capital-gains taxes, cheap housing and, compared with most other parts of America, a steady stream of jobs. How much of this is Mr Perry’s doing is debatable”.

The article argues that much of Perry’s record chimes in with the Tea Party mood but it concludes that “closer national scrutiny will expose the seamier side of Texas’s low-tax model, including an underfunded school system and an inadequate safety net”. Not only that but people for all their talk of “freedom” from the state they actually like having a net their when things get bad.

A seperate article notes that Perry’s conservative credintaials are not as strong as some might think. It notes that “he bypassed the Texas Legislature and signed an executive order mandating that all girls entering the sixth grade receive a vaccine that helps protect from some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer”. The article notes that social conservatives were enraged by Governor Perry’s actions and forced the State Legislature to overturn the order, which it did by a massive majority. The article argues that “Perry’s reasoning for the order was simple: Cervical cancer was a public health hazard, and requiring vaccinations was no different from provisions mandating polio vaccines”.

It goes on to note how an Arizona anti-immigration law was passed, after which Perry said “‘I fully recognize and support a state’s right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas'”. The article also notes that he endorsed Rudy Giuliani in 2008.

Like it or not, should Perry run and get the nomination, Americans will be faced with a proper choice as to want kind of government they want, one way or the other. All the debate would need after that is some politeness.

The Chinese moment

25/07/2011

A debate was carried out between Charles Krauthammer and Francis Fukuyama at the end of ther Cold War after Krauthammer had written an article entited The Unipolar Moment.

Now, many are rightly discussing the re-emergence of Chiese power. Although there is much to be said for the fact that those who laud Chinese power now may find it is a historical blip as some have mentioned.

Zakaria breaks down his argument into economic, political and geopolitical. He takes each of these in turn and argues firstly that “China will follow that law of large numbers and regress at some point to a slower growth rate – perhaps a little bit later than the others because it is a much larger country. But it is also worth pointing out that there are massive inefficiencies built into the Chinese economic system”. He again mentions specifically the property bubble but there is more bubbles in China than that. He goes on to note, importantly, that “In terms of foreign direct investment, China attracts every month what India takes in every year. Still China only grows two percentage points faster than India”.  A post on the UK Economist site cites the Financial Times as saying that total Chinese debt is “well over 150 per cent of China’s GDP in 2010,” according to Victor Shih, a political economist at Northwestern University in the US. The US has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 93 per cent, while Japan’s ratio is over 225 per cent”.

As has been noted here before, he argues that “There is no point in human history in which you have had a dominant power in the world that is also declining demographically”. Another article in the Economist has said that “total population for mainland China of 1.34 billion. They also reveal a steep decline in the average annual population growth rate, down to 0.57% in 2000-10, half the rate of 1.07% in the previous decade. The data imply that the total fertility rate, which is the number of children a woman of child-bearing age can expect to have, on average, during her lifetime, may now be just 1.4, far below the “replacement rate” of 2.1”. Not only that but the same article goes on to note that “People above the age of 60 now represent 13.3% of the total, up from 10.3% in 2000 “. Crucially it notes for the internal stability of China that “Among newborns, there were more than 118 boys for every 100 girls in 2010. This marks a slight increase over the 2000 level, and implies that, in about 20 or 25 years’ time, there will not be enough brides for almost a fifth of today’s baby boys—with the potentially vast destabilising consequences that could have”. Any nation that currently has this poblem is much of the Middle East, espeically Saudi Arabia.

Zararkia argues that the politics of China are also dangerous. He notes that “China is a country ruled by a political system that is in crisis. It is unclear whether the next succession that China goes through will look anything like this current one. China has not solved the basic problem of what it is going to do when it creates a middle class and how it will respond to the aspirations of those people”. Similarly a seperate article argues that party officials “They have massively increased spending on domestic security, which in this year’s budget has overtaken that on defence for the first time. The government has been reviving a Maoist system of neighbourhood surveillance by civilian volunteers. In the past few months the police have launched an all-out assault on civil society, arresting dozens of lawyers, NGO activists, bloggers and even artists”, not to mention priests. Worringly for regional stability it notes “Looking towards the 2020s, many Chinese economists worry about falling into a “middle-income trap”: losing competitiveness in labour-intensive industries but failing to gain new sources of growth from innovation”. When things get back at home, China turns on up the nationalism valve, with uncertain consequences.

Finally on geopolitics, Zakaria argues succinctly that “China is not rising in a vacuum. It is rising on a continent in which there are many, many competitors”.

Let’s hope the Chinese moment will be peaceful, but we should be prepared if it’s not.

The discussions begin

21/07/2011

In an interesting piece written by John Allen he examines the new archbishop of Milan, Angelo Cardinal Scola, formerly, patriarch of Venice.

Allen notes that “no health scare flared up around Pope Benedict XVI, and there’s no other reason to believe his papacy is nearing an end”. Indeed as has been said before, Pope Benedict is in excellent health for a man in his mid 80s, that doesn’t mean that a conclave might be closer some people think. He argues, not unreasonably that the see of Milan is “one of a handful of pace-setter dioceses, such as Paris or Westminster or New York, whose occupant automatically is a worldwide point of reference”. Allen goes on to note that sending Cardinal Scola back to his home town was an unmistakable nod of respect by Benedict to one of his closest advisers. Not only that but Scola is an intecullal heavyweight and this latest move along with Cardinal Scola being recently appointed as among the first members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evanglisation, along with other Church notables including Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, who was also being considered for Milan, and Tim Dolan, archbishop of New York. In addition to this Benedict and Scola have know each other for decades as both were heavily involved in the conservative theological journal, Communio.

As Allen says “From now on, Scola will be the lead paragraph of every speculative piece about the next conclave, and everything he does or says will be scrutinized with one eye toward a papal election”. Allen concludes his piece arguing that “Love him or hate him, however, Scola is now firmly ensconced as the Crown Prince of Catholicism. Regardless of what might happen in a future conclave, it will be fascinating to watch how he chooses to spend that political capital in the here-and-now.”

There is however a second Crown Prince of Catholicism that Allen didn’t mention. Recently Marc Cardinal Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and formerly primate of Canada and archbishop of Quebec has also made news. Cardinal Ouellet was asked about the prospect of being elected pope. He replied that being Pope “would be a nightmare.” Cardinal Ouellet went on to say that seeing the work Pope Benedict does makes the job “not very enviable”. Finally he notably said that, “It’s the kind of thing you don’t campaign for.”

All of this is strictly true yet, what Cardinal Ouellet did was not to categorically exclude himself from the running. Such an instance occured when Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, SJ then archbishop emeritus of Milan during the 2005 conclave that he did not want to be considered due to his age and the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

What Cardinal Ouellet really said was that while the papacy might not be “very enivable”, he implies that it is a little enivable. If he were elected he would be the first Canadian elected.

Who’s next?

20/07/2011

The phone hacking story that began at the new defuct News of the World newspaper has taken serveral turns. The royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, was jailed for bugging phones and was subsequently imprisoned in 2007.  Shortly after the incident and despite repeated warnings, then Leader of the Oppostion, David Cameron hired the editor of the same paper, Andy Coulson to be his director of communciations. Coulson was replaced as editor by Cameron’s good friend, Rebekah Brooks.

When Cameron entered office as prime minister in May 2010 Coulson was brought into government in Cameron’s office. Now however it is all unraveling after more phone tapping by the News of the World but also other papers in the News International empire of Rupret Murdoch was discovered.

Cameron’s friend and practical neighbour, Brooks has resigned as chief executive of News International over her obvious knowledge of phone tapping at NotW and later in her other position.  For several weeks she refused to resign, it is thought, partly to protect Rupert’s son and current chairman of News International, James from resigning also. With her resignation others have followed.

It has become clear the the police have been turning a blind eye to the practice of phone tapping, and in some cases even assisted in it, with some senior officers even getting jobs at News International papers just months after their retirement from the police force.   Following these revelations the head of the police in London, Sir Paul Stephenson has resigned over his inaction in stopping the force from getting too close to the media but in an obviously pointed statement has criticsed Cameron when he noted that  “Now let me turn to the reported displeasure of the prime minister and the home secretary of the relationship with Mr Wallis. The reasons for not having told them are two fold. Firstly, I repeat my earlier comments of having at the time no reason for considering the contractual relationship to be a matter of concern. Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation”.

While one of the Assistant Commissioners, John Yates also resigned a day after Sir Paul. Yates went after he brushed aside an investigation into the role of the media in the police force. In addition to the alvanche of resignations, Les Hinton, chief executive of the Murdoch owned, DowJones, resigned. The reason being given was that Hinton had been in charge of an arm of the News International empire during the now revealed phone hacking scandal.

The phone hacking is now spreading. There is now allegations that the U.S. victims of the 11th September attacks phones’ being hacked with the messages used in Murdoch’s News Corp papers. Both Rupert and James attended a Parliamentary committee in London on phone hacking but little of note in the two hours of testimony and was consistently evasive and legalistic in their answers. The same day Rebekah Brooks also gave evidence but little additional information was revealed.

However, many are now asking questions as to the judgement of David Cameron with many drawing a similarity betwen Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation for his lack of judgement in hiring Neil Wallis and Cameron hiring Andy Coulson despite repeated warnings from his own advisers as well as senior staff at the Guardian newspaper. Many in Cameron’s Conservative Party are watching to see how the public react to Cameron’s thus far lacklustre response.

Indeed the backbench MPs on whose support Cameron depends are getting increasingly skittish over his judgement in hiring Coulson despite repeated warnings. They must decide if changing leader is worthwhile and Cameron’s response is persistantly slow and out of touch. However it was revealed that George Osborne had been in awe of Murdcoh. It notes that Osborne “sold Coulson in hard. He unashamedly talked of making a study of Blair’s success and copying everything Blair had done, including building relations with Murdoch.'” Interestingly the writer notes that “that this story undermines Cameron’s authority to talk about those things, too – especially problematic with the economy doing poorly. The Prime Minister’s personal brand is at risk. He has always worried that he is seen as too distant from ordinary people. But while no one much minded his being posh, they might well mind his associations with sleazy posh.”

The whole eposide is a lesson of how business coupled with an essentially unregulated media have toxic consequences. The previously deeply unpolular but recently elected, leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, has made political hay out of Cameron’s folly.

Miliband has justifiably called for much stricter regulation of the media. What is clear is that it is too important to be left to “the market”.

Obama doctrine

18/07/2011

Daniel Drezner examines what he sees as the Obama doctrine, the general rule as to how his administration conducts itself in international relations.

After a long winded discussion as to the efficacy of having a strategy, he finally mentions what Obama’s strategy is. Drezner argues that Obama has three “strategic convictions”, Drezner says these are “domestic rejuvenation was crucial for any long-term grand strategy”,  “United States was overextended in all the wrong places, fighting two counterinsurgencies and a war on terrorism in the Middle East while neglecting other parts of the globe” and finally “the Bush administration’s mistakes had pushed the United States’ standing in the world to an all-time low. Though the Bush administration mistakes had more to do with communications than acutal policies.

Drezner notes that “a multipolar world was actually a ‘multipartner’ world, in which the United States would call on other countries — rivals as well as allies — to assist it in preserving global order”, with the U.S. leading by example where possible. Drezner notes that this did not work with both China and Russia not playing ball with the administration as had been hoped. This he says is due to the fact that “the  administration, and many others, erred in believing that improved standing would give the United States greater policy leverage. The United States’ standing among foreign publics and elites did rebound. But this shift did not translate into an appreciable increase in the United States’ soft power. Bargaining in the G-20 and the UN Security Council did not get any easier. Soft power, it turns out, cannot accomplish much in the absence of a willingness to use hard power”. Coupled he notes that China and Russia did not see themselves as allies of the US. The administration response Drezner says was to become more assertive with the one constant being “the administration is still focused on restoring American strength at home, but it has been increasingly comfortable using the specter of rising foreign powers as a motivational tool”.

Finally he notes that “Obama linked U.S. foreign policy to American exceptionalism”. Drezner concludes that “When explaining his decision to intervene in Libya, he [Obama] said, ‘To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. . . . Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.’ These are not the words of a man who believes only in realpolitik”.

Domestic problems for the strategy abound however with “the administration argues that the key to U.S. foreign policy is the domestic economy, then it increases the likelihood of domestic discord. Based on the tenor of the debates about the rising levels of U.S. debt, the possibility that the president can hammer out a grand bargain over fiscal and tax policies is looking increasingly remote.”

Drezner concludes arguing that “Obama administration seems to have found a useful strategic map, but it still needs to persuade the other passengers in the car. Clear communication is rarely a cure-all. In the wake of bin Laden’s death, however, the administration has a golden opportunity to explain its revised grand strategy”.

Others have taken a simpler, more regional look at the Obama doctrine.

Half baked intolerance

17/07/2011

In an speech made by the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Sacks, warned of the dangers of a society becoming increasingly intolerant on any religious belief.

It was reported that Lord Sacks said “Orthodox Jewish leader claimed that anti-discrimination policies had fuelled an ‘erosion of religious liberty’ in Britain that was leading to a new ‘Mayflower'”. 

He added that “there was ‘no doubt” numbers of religious believers in Britain were ‘extraordinarily” low. He continued: ‘I share a real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty. We are beginning to move back to where we came in in the 17th century – a whole lot of people on the Mayflower leaving to find religious freedom elsewhere.'”

This is the danger that Pope Benedict has warned about during his excellent speech in Westminster Hall. The danger is that society is, to put it bluntly, shoot itself in the foot. With religious liberty being eroded, as Pope Benedict has warned, other liberties could also be under threat.

In a related note and amid the continued fallout from the Cloyne Report, the Fine Gael administration there, has come up with the ridiculous half baked plan to “force priests to disclose information on child sexual abuse obtained in the confessional”. Apparently, “priests could be jailed for up to five years for failing to disclose information on serious offences against a child even if this was obtained in Confession.”

While such a plan may seem sensible initially, even on the slightest examination reveals this to be intolerant garbage. Firstly, how would such a law be enforced, and what would the penalties be for those who broke it? How would such penalities be enforced? The government would need to bug every confessional box in Ireland. That is just one of the practicalities to consider.

There is of course the legal issue. Article 40 3. 1° of the Constitution of Ireland states that “The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen”, not to mention Article 40 2° which states that “Laws regulating the manner in which the right of forming associations and unions and the right of free assembly may be exercised shall contain no political, religious or class discrimination”.

Tensions between the Holy See and Ireland currently at their nadir with talk that Pope Benedict may not even go to Ireland for the close of the International Euchristic Congress to be held in Dublin next year.  It is likely however that Benedict will attend.

However regarding such ludicrous proposals, they should be, by force of argument, crushed.

Moving forward?

17/07/2011

After the party’s election decimation in February, Fianna Fail have been discussing how to recover their position. They will never again be the largest party in Ireland and should act morally for once, do that nation a favour and just dissolve themselves.

Another disgrace

15/07/2011

Another report into the sinful and immoral acts of the leadership of the Catholic Church in Ireland was published this week.

The Diocese of Cloyne, headed by Bishop John Magee until last year was under investigation for the last number of months. The report’s findings are that:  The Vatican was “entirely unhelpful” to any bishop who wanted to implement procedures for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse in the Irish church; the response of the Diocese of Cloyne was “inadequate and inappropriate”; Primary responsibility for the failure to implement agreed child sexual abuse procedures lies with then-bishop of Cloyne John Magee; Bishop Magee “took little or no active interest” in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008, 12 years after the framework document on child sexual abuse was agreed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

The coverage  rightly condemned Bishop Magee and his underlings. It notes that “the Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, misled the minister for children by claiming the church’s guidelines for handling abuse cases were being fully complied with. It also found he falsely told the Health Service Executive (HSE) that allegations of abuse were being reported to gardaí. In fact, two-thirds of complaints made between 1996 and 2008 were not reported to the Garda [Irish police] and no complaint was passed to the HSE during this period.”

Similarly, “Bishop Magee is described in the 341-page report as ineffective and faulted for taking little real interest in the implementation of the guidelines on child sexual abuse for 12 years. He assigned responsibility to Msgr Denis O’Callaghan, who was ‘uncommitted’ to the guidelines, frustrated their implementation and acted in what he perceived were the best interests of the church.” While “Msgr O’Callaghan admitted that in some cases he became ’emotionally and pastorally drawn to the plight of the accused priest, to the detriment of the pastoral response I intended to make to complainants’.”

Even worse the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, Sean Cardinal Brady gave the usual pathetic excuses. Irish prime minister Enda Kenny said “I think this is absolutely disgraceful that the Vatican took the view that it did in respect of something that’s as sensitive and as personal with such long-lasting difficulties for persons involved,” he said. “The law of the land should not be stopped by a collar or a crozier,”. One MP called for the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland to be expelled for the Vatican’s role in the hideous affair. Apparently “Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore met papal nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza over the findings of the report today. Speaking after the meeting, Dr Leanza said he was ‘very grateful’ to Mr Gilmore for the meeting. ‘I think it has been a useful meeting . . . he has given me a copy of the report, and I will bring it immediately to the attention of the Holy See'”.

Sadly this undermines the work that the Church is doing, slowly but surely to right these disgusting wrongs.

Their on the run

15/07/2011

Thanks to both parties, so far so good. Now let’s finish the job.

“In the end, Rumsfeld won the Doctrine War.”

13/07/2011

Rumsfeld wasn’t the cartoon the Left made him out to be.

Euro crisis slides further into chaos

13/07/2011

With Ireland now joining Portugal as having its debt rated as junk, markets have turned their attention to Italy in a country whose economy hasn’t grown for 10 years. One knowledgeable analyst notes  that “the omens are getting worse for Italy day by day.”

He notes that Italy had “no housing bubble, as Italian banks demand copper-bottomed collateral before they will lend the ordinary housebuyer a cent. There were almost no toxic assets, as banks are amazingly conservative”. Yet he argues that “its debt is the second highest in Europe – at 120 per cent of GDP”. This makes it the third most indebted nation on earth after Japan and America. If the euro crisis didn’t exist, it is arguable that this wouldn’t be an issue, yet he mentions that fact that the ever optimistic Berlusconi  “falls flat because there are too many Italians underpaid, unemployed, or underemployed; too many companies are either struggling or have given up the ghost. In Italy, he is no longer credible and abroad, the EU, the ECB and the ratings agencies look at Italy’s debt and wonder where it will end.”

Things are however complicated further with political instability as Giulio Tremonti current finance minster who “has never been a yes-man and has earned a reputation for solid if not hugely innovative policy. He left the cabinet over policy differences in the last Berlusconi government and for most of this legislature he has been closer to Berlusconi’s coalition partner Umberto Bossi, and making thinly veiled moves towards succession.”

It seems that Tremonti is calling for massive cuts austerity yet Berlusconi knows that “if he fires Tremonti, international wrath would follow. Last month, Berlusconi said pointedly that cabinet decisions were collective and Tremonti could not dictate a budget; last week he accused Tremonti of “not being a team player”. As if that weren’t enough Tremonti is under investigation by the police. Yet, the budget that has been submitted has been spineless with “most of the cuts will affect the next government: €2 billion this year, €5 billion in 2012, and €20 billion each in 2013 and 2014 – with elections due by April 2013 at the latest”.

Crucially he notes that “If it is passed more or less in its present form, then confidence will remain fragile but intact”. Even if this is true  Italy is too big to be bailed out by the ECB but equally with both Italy and Spain are paying unsustainable levels of interest on their debt.

As ever with the euro story there is yet more complications. In Germany the “€500bn bail-out machinery breaches of Germany’s Basic Law – or Grundgesetz – in any significant way, they risk knocking away the central prop beneath the debt edifice of Southern Europe”.

At its core the “judges have distilled a plethora challenges to the Greek, Irish, and Portuguese bail-outs into three complaints. These include one by a group of professors who argue that the Greek loans subvert the Bundestag, violate the “no bail-out” clause of the Lisbon Treaty, and amount to the creation of a fiscal transfer union, by stealth, without the requisite changes in the German Grundgesetz, and “strike a blow at the constitutional foundations of our state and our society”.

The writer notes that the judges “will bend a long way to find a formula that does not set off a banking collapse, or threaten Germany’s strategic investment in post-war Europe. But will they bend enough to satisfy the bond markets when they issue their verdict”. Worringly for the euro integrationists however “Andreas Vosskuhle, the court’s president, noted acidly that the hearings were not about the ‘future of Europe or the handling of the debt crisis’. They are a matter of law.”

The article notes that “one of the litigants, expects the court to reach a ‘Yes, but’ ruling that allows agreed rescues to go ahead, but imposes a strict ‘corset’ on future bail-outs.” There are however “doubts over how far Germany will go to backstop the EMU system risks accelerating capital flight from Spain and Italy”.

It now seems that the EU has deemed a Greek default as the least worst option.

Lessons to learn

12/07/2011

As the international community welcomes the fragile new state of South Sudan, it is becoming ever more apparent to Eurocrats and their half currency, that nationalism is still a powerful force not to be underestimated.

The right amount of change

12/07/2011

While revolution and disorder sweep the Arab world, Morocco is the model of slow, gradual change with support from the public.

King Mohammed VI, on the throne since 1999, made a speech on 9 March in which he said that parliament would receive “new powers that enable it to discharge its representative, legislative, and regulatory mission”. This was on top of the the judiciary being granted indepedence from the King in addition to a new constitution being drafted and voted on last month.

Some have criticised King Mohammed for him for his reforms “lack of specifics about the depth of these reforms creates doubt in view of past experiences”.  The committee that will draw up a new constitution will be comprise “representatives from professional syndicates and human rights groups (such as Amina Bouayach of the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights), political activists, judges, as well as technocrats”.

The author notes that fact that the “largest parties —Istiqlal, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), and the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) — have lauded the initiative and hailed the king as a statesman, while some on the left have criticized the appointed commission, saying it should have been elected”, but bemoans that “some on the left have criticized the appointed commission, saying it should have been elected”. However it is certain that those same people on the left would then have been critical that the King was dragging his feet with reforms.

The writer senses a pattern that when the King came to the throne he appointed a new prime minster who formed a government which “started with high hopes and undertook an agenda of progressive reforms, but much of what was promised never materialized”.

It is notable that there have been no mass violence or disruption due to “respect for the king combined with a regime that is more liberal and less severely policed than elsewhere”. Others have rightly praised the constitutional reforms that “will transfer most authority to an elected prime minister, who will have the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and state officials. The new Moroccan parliament, in effect, will have the same powers as representative assemblies of developed democracies — complete with a bicameral legislature akin to U.S. Congress”. In addition to “adherence to universal values, ranging from human rights to the protection of ethnic and religious minorities to fostering economic justice and protecting the environment. It establishes the primacy of international conventions and the necessity of adapting Moroccan laws to them”.

Others curtly dismiss the new document as “nothing more than a semantic face-lift of the previous constitution. Powers remain tied up and under the control of one man: the king. The positive elements are likely to remain a dead letter as long as the legislative power lacks the independence and nerve it needs to implement these general concepts in an overly conservative society”.

What criticism that was levelled at the document, it has been passed with 98% approval. The report notes that “Whether Morocco proves a model for other monarchs dealing with restive populations remains to be seen”. Some have questioned whether the kingdom should join the Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) and if it would encourge the other members to reform or whether Morocco would buckle under pressure and roll back on the reforms.

Lastly, some have noted that in the preamble “of the newly proposed constitution the official recognition of Tamazight as a state language alongside Arabic, [is] the first official acknowledgement of Amazigh (Berber) identity on a constitutional level in a North African country”. The writer goes on to argue that this is a ploy to make the constitution look new.

Perhaps this is true but the king has managed to keep stability and order in a region in flames with instability rife. He should be applauded for this if nothing else.

It all becomes clear

09/07/2011

At last, a clear link between the EU and the “bailouts“.

Nurturing a standoff?

08/07/2011

In an article on Pakistan the value of water becomes apparent.

Water’s importance cannot be overstated. The writer notes that “Pakistan is on the dry end of the water stress spectrum. About a third of Pakistanis do not have access to safe drinking water”. Fundamentally , he argues that “a World Bank report, [argues that] Pakistan’s per capita water availability has diminished five-fold from 5000 cubic meters in 1951 to 1100 cubic meters in 2006 due to rising consumption by a growing population coupled with rising water waste”. On top of this, “of 14,000 water sources in 24 major Pakistani districts conducted by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) over a five-year period found that 82% of sources in Pakistan were unfit for human consumption. The major contaminants noted were bacteria, dissolved solids, nitrates and fluoride”.

It is not impossible that Pakistan could be come a failing state if nothing is done to reverse this trend. While militant “Islamic” groups have little sway in the country currently, it would not be hard to imagine a situation developing where they could position themselves as the voice of the disaffected against an incompentent and corrupt government. Such claims are not difficult to level at the government when “97 percent of Pakistan’s freshwater resources are expended in irrigation and agriculture, yet Pakistan has one of the lowest productivities per unit of water and unit of land in the world”.

On a more geopolitical angle, according to a “recent U.S. Senate report, India has made several dams in Jammu and Kashmir, which “could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season.” Pakistani officials have argued that in doing so, India has violated the treaty, worsening the water situation in Pakistan”.

If this situation between the two nations is not resolved amicably in the near future with discussions, two nuclear powers would be in a standoff over the one resource we all need.

Fatally wounded?

08/07/2011

Cameron’s judgement rightly under attack. His priemership under threat, the wolves watching and waiting.

Distorted?

07/07/2011

One of the writers of the recent report on the causes of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has come out in defence of the report and blaming the media for misreporting their findings.

Karen Terry, the author, says that “at no point in the report did we ‘blame’ Woodstock or simplify the explanation of the abuse crisis to the ‘swinging sixties,’ as some papers reported”, in addition to adding that “The bishops did not influence our findings in any way. It is also worth pointing out that I am not Catholic, and I have not historically, nor do I currently have, any personal ties to the Catholic Church”. While this may be true the findings of the report did seem to benefit the Church with little questioning of internal Church practices and doctrine.

Apparently, they “studied the problem from socio-cultural, psychological, situational and organizational perspectives, and we consulted with psychologists, sociologists of religion, statisticians, and theologians.”

Terry, said that “abuse was particularly pronounced for men who were ordained in the 1940s and 1950s, a time when there was a substantial increase in Catholic seminarians and inadequate education for them. These men were placed in positions where they were mentoring and nurturing adolescents and, like many non-clergy sex offenders, they regressed to abusive behavior.” She goes on to note that “Few abusers were primarily sexually attracted to children; a very small percentage of priests were clinically diagnosed with pedophilia”.

At the start of the month the writers of the report “traveled to Rome to meet with Catholic Church representatives from 22 countries and Vatican officials, with the aim of discussing how this issue has affected the Church worldwide and whether there are uniform policies that can be implemented to prevent sexual abuse. The Vatican is hosting meetings with Church leaders this winter to help guide the development of guidelines and policies. We are confident that our study has laid the groundwork for such strategies of response by church leaders and the laity.”

Caught out

07/07/2011

Comparing Greece to Lehman Bros is a flawed anology that has been rightly picked apart.

Bridge too far?

05/07/2011

An illicit ordination has again taken place in China by the Communist Party backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The ceremony was attended by bishops who had been ordained canonically, though it is unclear whether they attended of their free will. 

This “is the first ordination since the Holy See issued a declaration on excommunication, which spells out the risks all those, candidates and officiating clergy, run when they participate in an unlawful ordination “.  A seperate “ordination authorised by the pope was scheduled to take place in Handan (Hebei) but was blocked by the CPCA and the candidate was seized by police “.

It seems that a “few weeks ago, an unlawful ordination was announced for Hankou (Wuhan) on 10 June, but was eventually cancelled because of pressure from the faithful”. It was reported that “‘Joseph Sun Jigeng was taken away by police on June 26 and he has not been released,'” a member of the Handan Catholic church in northern China’s Hebei province told AFP”.  The Chinese who are faithful to Rome are battling with the CPCA to stop this attempt to Chinese authorities to strong arm people into following the “party line”. Not unsurpsingly “the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) — which controls the state-backed church — denied Sun, 43, had been detained when contacted”.  

Meanwhile while on a visit to London, Premier Wen Jiabao wrote that, “China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice”. Of course Jiabao means when the Party is ready, and not before, if ever. He adds that “We will steadfastly advance structural political reform, and build socialist democracy under the rule of law. We are committed to respecting and protecting human rights. Pursuant to the law, we protect the right of all members of society to equal participation in that society and its development”. It is unlikely however that this will happen from above, with the Party keen to remain the sole force in Chinese politics for many years to come. If it does reform it will, in all probabilty be too late and will lead to their own destruction.

The Press Office of the Holy See issued a release on 4th July stating that “the Holy See does not recognise him as the Bishop of the Diocese of Leshan. The effects of the sanction which he has incurred through violation of the norm of can. 1382 of the Code of Canon Law remain in place”. In addition to this the statement noted that “consecrating Bishops have exposed themselves to the grave canonical sanctions laid down by the law of the Church”. This is in effect excommunication for both the new “bishop” and all those bishops who took part in the ceremony.

Something’s not right

05/07/2011

The Church wants to bring people back,  but hard when they say things like this.

GOP priorities made clear

04/07/2011

They chose to cut defence over raising taxes. So the US can have no army but the rich can get richer, makes sense.

Best man for the job?

04/07/2011

The Central Intelligence Agency received a new director in the form of one General  David Petraeus. Some are less than pleased at the prospect of Director Petraeus.

Petraeus’ name was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on 28th June to go before the full Senate. On initial inspection his report card is perfect, PhD in international relations from Princeton, brave commander in the wars of Iraq and recently Afghanistan. The writer not the delicate balancing act between the CIA remaining relevant but at the same time being objective. On the surface it would seem that this is not such a tough balancing act at all.

The writer asks how “he can remain objective about current U.S. foreign policy, given that he is deeply vested in the current strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan”. Surely the whole point of nominating Petraeus is that he knows what things are like on the ground instead of some office in Langley. He has first had experience what the United States and therefore the rest of the world, is up against and what is needed to stop it.

The writer also mentions how “Petraeus has been the champion of a doctrinal transformation in the military, arguing that the key to success in counterinsurgency is the ability to make the government legitimate in the eyes of the people”. Strangely he justifies his position by stating that “This is an increasingly controversial position, not least because it requires an enormous long-term investment in the political and economic development of war-torn countries”. Yet, surely not putting large numbers of troops, equipment and resources into the field is the reason why things have been going so badly in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent, Iraq. Only this can stop failed states from going over a precipice and harbouring terrorist groups that are a threat, both now and in the future.

He concludes noting that “Intelligence fails when intelligence leaders are also policy advocates”. Indeed this is an important point, yet it does not take away from the fact that Petraeus is the right man for the job.

How desperate do you have to be?

01/07/2011

Romeny signs Grover Norquist’s ridiculous anti-tax pledge. Either Romney believes it, in which case he’s wrong, or doesn’t believe it and has no principles.

Food wars

01/07/2011

Following on from the post on the increasing shortage of water in the world, many are now discussing the related problem of food supply.

With the world population expected to reach 7 billion this year how much more will population grow before it starts to fall back? An Economist article reports that population will keep rising to 10 billion by 2100. It notes how “estimates suggests that the global population will cross 10 billion by 2085. By 2100, 22.3% of people will be aged 65 or over, up from just 7.6% in 2010.”

An article that discusses if this amount of people can be fed. It says that “Current predictions place most of the world’s people in Asia, the highest levels of consumption in Europe and North America, and the highest population growth rates in Africa — where the population could triple over the next 90 years.” Of course the diet of these regions varies widely with expensive to produce meat used in Europe and North America with rice, corn, maize and vegatables still the main diet in the developing world, for now.

The example of Malawi is taken with three possible routes. The first option that is reported is that only big farms on an industrial scale will work. Proponents of this view have “called on the European Union to support genetically modified crops and for the United States to kill domestic subsidies for biofuel”. The second view is to remove the blocks to successful small farmers as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has proposed but “Measuring increased yields of maize from fertilizer and starter kits doesn’t necessarily translate into a society that is well-fed and economically viable in terms of agriculture”.  The final option of the three set out is that advocated by “UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, recently argued that the world might be better fed not by pumping the soil with chemicals, but by using cutting-edge ‘agroecological’ techniques to build soil fertility, and using policy to achieve environmental and social sustainability”.

Lester Brown argues that food security will be one of the challenges faced by many countries in the coming years, if not already. Prices are rising he notes but “Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity”. Equally, “for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one”. He goes on to argue that “this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics”.

He notes that the United States was able to bring more grain onto world markets, but now that this is no longer possible on the previous scale. In addition to this he notes that grain prices have doubled since 2007 due to “accelerating growth in demand and the increasing difficulty of rapidly expanding production”.

Yet, there are more food rises to come as a result of the rise in temperatues “water tables are falling as farmers overpump for irrigation. This artificially inflates food production in the short run, creating a food bubble that bursts when aquifers are depleted and pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge”, he says that this is only to get worse with half the world’s population live in countries where water tables are falling. Worringly, the largest food bubbles are in China and India he notes, with the “World Bank reports that 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is concentrated in the North China Plain, which produces half of China’s wheat and a third of its corn. An estimated 130 million Chinese are currently fed by overpumping”. This is just the food aspect, what will happen politically is anyone’s guess.

The result of all this is that countries as acting in classic realist fashion and “are scrambling to secure their own parochial interests at the expense of the common good” with wealthy countries buying or renting arable land for food production to secure their interests. The immediate consequences of this is that “in most cases, the land involved was already in use by villagers when it was sold or leased. Often those already farming the land were neither consulted about nor even informed of the new arrangements. And because there typically are no formal land titles in many developing-country villages, the farmers who lost their land have had little backing to bring their cases to court”. The world he says is leaving the international co-operation that has lasted since the end of Second World War.

Brown finishes arguing not to blame the speculation of the market, as some have done, but to address real causes like climate change and population growth, water policy, as well as energy policy.