Archive for December, 2011

February consistory?

31/12/2011

All reliable sources indicate that a consistory to create new cardinals will probably take place in February 2012.

The date, if all goes as expected will be the 18th and 19th of February. The Feast of the Chair of St Peter, 22nd February, falls on Ash Wednesday next year so a repeat of the 2006 consistory is all but impossible.

If Pope Benedict keeps to the limit of 120 electors he will have 13, or at most 15 places for those under 80 to fill. Among the names to be announced on 18 January are Fernando Filoni,  Domenico Calcagno, Giuseppe Versaldi, Giuseppe BertelloJoão Braz de Aviz, Edwin O’Brien, Santos Abril y Castello. Other curial names that are cited are Francesco Coccopalmerio and Salvatore Fisichella.

Naturally this excludes a number of others such as Antonio Veglio, Zygmunt Zimowski and Claudio Celli. It is unclear whether Cardinal Levada’s replacement, expected to be Bishop Gerhard Muller, will be appointed in time to be included in the consistory.

Of the diocesan bishops that are mentioned are those of Dominik Duka of Prague, Timothy Dolan of New York, Rainer Woelki of Berlin, Thomas Collins of Toronto, Willem Eijk of Utrecht, John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, and Mar George Alencherry and Bechara Rai  of the Maronites.

This list excludes Florence, Toledo, Quebec, Rio, Westminster, Seoul, Riga, Marseille, Cebu, Manila, Turin, Kampala, Detroit, Wellington and Bangkok, among others. As with the CDF post, the patriarchate of Venice is currently vacant and it is unclear whether a new patriarch will be named in time to be included in the list.

Of course, what should be done is either wait until 8 December 2012 and hold a consistory with 24 names or have all 24 electors included in the February consistory and let those who become 80 over 2012 bring it back to its 120 limit.

This would mean that fewer would be excluded and another smaller consistory could be held in 2013 or 2014, or both.

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How to stay in power

30/12/2011

How Abdullah II of Jordan stays in power amidst the tumult.

Russia = China?

30/12/2011

An article in the Economist discusses the recent disturbances in Russia.

The article notes how “tens of thousands of middle-class Russians came out to demonstrate their indignation, not only at fraud in the December 4th Duma election, but also at being treated with contempt by their rulers. The biggest protests since the early 1990s marked not a revolution, but a transformation of the middle class from consumers to citizens”.

It adds that these same middle class Russians were “allowing Vladimir Putin to consolidate power. Now they want the state’s respect as successful citizens whose votes have been stolen by the ruling United Russia party. There was anger, but no aggression, even though the crowds included liberals, communists, anarchists and even some nationalists”.

It mentions how “the main demands were not party political: the removal of Vladimir Churov, head of the electoral commission, the release of political activists, registration of all political parties and fair elections. Unlike the 1980s, the protesters are not looking for a leader, but for new rules for politics”. While it is unclear as to the groups exact demands, much will depend on how the regime responds to the protests.

Should it crack down brutally, as President Assad in Syria is doing currently, or Mubarack did in Egypt then the regime, eventually, will fall. The article notes how “A key figure was Alexei Navalny, a popular blogger, who has used social networking to shake the Kremlin’s power and undermine United Russia”.

Crucially it says that “The Kremlin is trying to sit out the protests, hoping that they will dissipate into the holiday period. But a social shift looks to be under way. The old social contract, with a weak, passive middle class enriching itself while staying out of politics, cannot become an indefinite right to rule”.

Indeed it would be naive to think that the technocrats in Beijing are not terrified of what it going on it Russia. The two nations have similar foreign policies and consistently thwart the United States in international fora, most recently over Syria.

“A decade of economic growth has made Russia’s middle class more numerous and more active. It now accounts for some 20-25% of the population, says Mr Dmitriev. Having reached a Western level of consumption, it wants respect, independent courts, lawful police, good health care and education and intelligent television. It is tired of Mr Putin and seeks genuine political representation”.

The same could be said the middle class in China, who are reasonably silent, for now.

The “logic” of the market

29/12/2011

The banks with the biggest capital shortfalls are those from Spain, Greece and Italy. Several may have to tap government bail-out funds to raise the capital, creating the circular prospect of governments bailing out their banks that are in turn supposed to bail out the government“.

It continues

29/12/2011

After the recent reports of disturbances in China, there is news of more. Importantly the article is subtitled, “Dispatch from a city that wasn’t supposed to be on the brink”.

The article discusses how Dalian with is, by Chinese standards, an excellent place to live. Yet, she says that on 14 August an “estimated 12,000 people packed the manicured grass of People’s Square opposite Dalian’s city hall and lined many surrounding streets. They had come to demand that a chemical plant perched on the coast be shuttered and relocated, immediately. The local government and international media sat bolt upright — the former issuing promises to move the factory; the latter, surprised praise”. She mentions that 90,000 protests to do with the environment occured last year, she adds that the concern is  what will happen in the future.

Explaining she writes that “a typhoon had grazed the coast and breached one of the factory’s protective dykes, raising an ominous question: If a future storm ruptured its chemical storage tanks — situated less than 100 yards from the sea — would the entire city be wiped out in a toxic flood?”. She mentions that the main product of the plant can cause nerve damage, in large quantities. She adds that the people were unaware of the dangers of the plant when it was being built and recently “public fears had caught fire in the weeks preceding the protest as the government failed to disclose information about the factory and blocked subsequent efforts by Chinese media to report on the real risks”. This says as much about the importance of a strong media as it does about the Chinese government.

People however soon found out about the factory and its risks when “In early August, when the heavy winds that would become Typhoon Muifa were just gathering force in the Pacific, a CCTV film crew flew to Dalian to investigate what would happen if the storm triggered a leak in the factory’s chemical storage tanks. But the reporters were stopped at the gate and then beaten, reportedly by workers ordered to do so by factory bosses. News of the incident spread online”.

Larson says the the local Dalian party boss, who helped approve the pant, Xia Deren is  “widely despised in Dalian as corrupt and inattentive to popular will — in marked contrast with his predecessor”, Bo Xilai. Larson finally gets to the point when she notes that “people of this otherwise safe and comfortable city had no regular, trusted channel to press the issue. And so they marched”.

Apparently what happened next was that the local party boss “said the PX factory would be moved out of Dalian. He made a promise. And then, with a wave of his hand, he told everyone to leave the square and go home. But no one moved. Then someone shouted from the crowd: ‘When will it move?’ Tang stared into the crowd and did not answer. ’10 days! 10 days!’ people in the crowd began to shout. And then they shouted, ‘Stop the production! Stop the production!'”.

This not only shows the pointlessness of the Chinese system as it is currently constructed but also its danger. As should be expected people “wanted some proof of action being taken and began to march down Yellow River Road. Now outnumbered by security forces, some were chased and reportedly beaten”.

Larson concludes tellingly, that “It would be more satisfying to celebrate last week’s protest if there were some glimmer of hope that the public will have a real say in what happens next. But currently in China, trends seem to be moving in the exact opposite direction”.

It is by no means certain that the Chinese will tolerate being treated this way for much longer, especially if dramatic protests such as the recent self immolation continue.

Chinese frustration ≠ revolution, but….

28/12/2011

Indeed, there is a palpable sense of frustration in Beijing, especially compared with the last time I lived here in 2008. You can see it on the dour faces on the metro, hear it in raspy voices at dinner conversations, and especially sense it in the new gruffness of taxi drivers

Worth considering

28/12/2011

Analysis of the death of Kim Jong il continues in a New York Times opinion piece.

Victor Cha writes bluntly “North Korea as we know it is over. Whether it comes apart in the next few weeks or over several months, the regime will not be able to hold together”.

He says that the result of this is that the “Great Successor”, Kim Jong-un who “is surrounded by elders who are no less sick than his father and a military that chafed at his promotion to four-star general last year without having served a day in the army. Such a system simply cannot hold”.

Cha writes that “Washington remains powerless. Any outreach to the young Mr. Kim or to other possible competitors could create more problems during the transition, and would certainly be viewed as threatening by China”. Yet would this be such a bad thing? An unstable North Korea would force China to step up to the plate, for basic realist reasons if nothing else. Admittedly, with the rouge state having nuclear weapons matters are complicated significantly.

Cha argues that America’s and its allies plan “is to wait and see what China does. Among China’s core foreign-policy principles is the maintenance of a divided Korean Peninsula, and so Beijing’s statements about preserving continuity of North Korea’s leadership should come as no surprise”.

He notes how “even as Beijing sticks close to its little Communist brother, there are intense debates within its leadership about whether the North is a strategic liability. It was one thing to back a hermetic but stable regime under Kim Jong-il; it will be harder to underwrite an untested leadership. For Xi Jinping, expected to become China’s president over the next year, the first major foreign policy decision will be whether to shed North Korea or effectively adopt it as a province”.

Cha says that the new Chinese leadership will hug North Korea close, and thus implies that this is out of fear that if it were to cut it loose it would threaten China’s stability. He says that in return for aid, the economy of the North would have to be opened up.

He adds that ” even China’s best-laid plans may come apart. The assistance may be too little, too late, especially given the problems the new leadership will face”. A power struggle, either in the near future, or in the short to medium term more generally, could lead to two factions  attempting to govern the country. This of course would have disastrous consequences for regional stability.

He concludes that “With so little known about the inner workings of this dark kingdom, miscalculation by any side in response to developments inside the North is a very real possibility given the hair-trigger alerts of the militaries on the peninsula”.

To end the instability and uncertainty, a timed strike should be at least considered.

Wise words

27/12/2011

Europe is undergoing an economic and financial crisis, which is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent“.

Justifiable credit

26/12/2011

President Bush gets justifible credit for his work with AIDS.

Benedict the part time antipope?

26/12/2011

After new of Pope Benedict’s illness there is a report that he is feeling weak.

It says that “People who have spent time with him recently say they found him weaker than they’d ever seen him, seemingly too tired to engage with what they were saying”. While this does not mean that the first papal abdication for 500 years is about to take place, it is a sign that Benedict is not a young man.

The report does say, rightly that “it’s remarkable he does as much as he does and is in such good health overall: Just this past week he confirmed he would travel to Mexico and Cuba next spring”. It adds that “it seems the daily grind of being pope — the audiences with visiting heads of state, the weekly public catechism lessons, the sessions with visiting bishops — has taken its toll. A spark is gone. He doesn’t elaborate off-the-cuff much anymore”.

It speculates that if Benedict leaves office, “Might the existence of two popes — even when one has stepped down — lead to divisions and instability in the church? Might a new resignation precedent lead to pressures on future popes to quit at the slightest hint of infirmity?” Of course this is nonsense. When Benedict does step down he will be too old and too disinterested in becoming a rival power centre to any successor. On the contrary, Benedict will wish to be left alone during his remaining years.

Again, just because he does not ad lib as much is not a sign of imminent abdication, indeed the report notes that “Benedict insisted that he had no intention of resigning to avoid dealing with the problems of the church, such as the sex abuse scandal”. The report then, tellingly, quotes a passage from Light of the World which says “‘One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it,’ he said”.

Yet a sign of this tiredness reveals itself when John Allen reviews a book by an Italian journalist on Benedict. Allen says that “As Politi sees it, Benedict dips in to running the church or acting as a global leader only when circumstances require it. His passion, however, is focused on his private theological studies and his own writings”.

Interestingly, Allen goes on to add that “Perhaps most damaging, according to Politi, is that the geopolitical relevance of the Catholic church accumulated under John Paul II is in free-fall. For instance, he asserts that Benedict has had little incisive to say about the Arab Spring, arguably the most significant mutation of the global order since the collapse of Communism”.

Indeed this is broadly true as Allen notes that “The governance gap occasionally erupts in in the form of a public meltdown, such as the cause célèbre over a Holocaust-denying bishop, or explosive public commentary from some Vatican officials on the sex abuse crisis. More routinely, the gap registers in a quiet lack of direction and disengagement from the issues of the day. Declining media interest in the Vatican and the papacy over the last six years reflects this reality; in effect, the Vatican has become largely a Catholic insider story, a stark contrast with the John Paul years”.

Verbum caro factum est!

25/12/2011

“With the poor and mean and lowly, lived on earth our Saviour Holy”

Happy Christmas!

United no more?

24/12/2011

A break of the United Kingdom entirely possible.

Chinese “benevolence”

24/12/2011

In a piece with an excellent point, China is not benevolent, and has no interest in being, the results of this are examined.

Thompson notes that “Imagine what would happen if America barged its way into a developing country, buttered up its homicidal dictator and agreed a back-of-the-envelope deal in which he signed over his nation’s mineral wealth in return for roads, railways and sports stadiums. Everyone would benefit, no? No. The problem is that the infrastructure turns out to be worth a hell of a lot less than the minerals. Fortunately, Washington has had the foresight to top up the dictator’s Swiss bank account”.

He adds correctly that “since these things are actually being done not by America but by the People’s Republic of China across the entire African continent, the ‘anti-colonialist’ Left just yawns.” He goes on to note how “The subject of China will loom large in Monday’s election in Congo, though since President Joseph Kabila has arranged to be re-elected, it won’t affect the result. It was Kabila who approved a $6 billion copper-for-infrastructure barter deal with China”. Of course there are already objections over the vote.

He adds that “the benefits of Beijing’s ‘investment’ are elusive, because the Chinese don’t usually employ Africans to perform anything but menial tasks. Chinese construction engineers build motorways and hospitals without passing on the skills to maintain them. The result: everything falls into disrepair within a decade, by which time the copper is safely out of the ground.”

Thus, whatever “good” Beijing does washed away by the fact that its sites are so unsafe and workers treated so poorly. This shows not just the immorality of the Chinese but flies in the face of whatever long term benefits the Chinese are meant to bring.

People will are already starting to miss American “imperialism”.

Coincidence?

23/12/2011

Violent bombings in Iraq just as US forces leave.

Gossip lives, unless……

23/12/2011

In an interesting piece, Fintan O’Toole examines the role of gossip in the Leveson Inquiry. Cameron’s own, albeit, indirect, role in the scandal, sleeps, for now.

He cites the evils the tabloid journalists who went to “some creep putting a note in the schoolbag of the five-year-old daughter of JK Rowling; the picture of Sienna Miller playing on the floor with a child, cropped to make it look like she was crawling around in a drunken stupor; the Sun counting down the days to when Charlotte Church, still a child, would be 16 and then, by implication, available for sex; the decision by the Sun to publish a picture of Anne Diamond and her husband with the coffin of their baby son, in spite of her explicit pleas that they not do so”.

He mentions how “the prevalence of scandalmongering can be judged by the number and vehemence of complaints against it. The ancient Egyptian sage Amen-Em-Apt, writing more than 3,000 years ago, compares the scandalmonger to ‘the blast of the desert sandstorm’. The Old Testament forbids Jews to ‘go up and down as a slanderer among your people’. In the Christian and Jewish traditions, the ultimate scandalmonger is Satan, the ‘father of lies’ – not the best poster child to have. The Koran promises ‘woe to every kind of scandal-monger and backbiter'”.  He argues that “The religious injunctions against scandal-mongering reflect the reality that gossip has an innate tendency to be cruel and nasty. Why? Because it’s more entertaining that way. The more salacious the tale becomes in the telling, the more thrilling and titillating it will be”. Of course society has no time for religion, which regrettably means that the huge moral and societal benefits it brings are lost.

He highlights the importance of urbanisation and how “Rural societies are relatively transparent: the nosy parker can sniff out all the gossip after Mass or in the pub”. However, in cities he says, rightly that “as cities become bigger, more diffuse and less community-centred, gossip is less easily available as a free social exchange. It becomes a commodity to be mass-produced, packaged and purchased.  And in this process it becomes unlimited. Social gossip and scandalmongering are limited by reality checks”.

Bizarrely, he writes that “Implicit in the whole genre [of tabloid journalism] is the idea that the person being exposed is immoral and that the journalist doing the exposing is restoring or protecting the moral order. The ghost of Puritanism lurks somewhere in these bushes”. This idea is frankly ludicrous. Much to our detriment, society creased to exert any social pressure decades ago.

This fact, in addition to the worship of neoliberalism and the notion that profit is the absolute goal, drove Mudoch and his media empire to seek out these stories, irrespective of how immoral or amoral obtaining them might be.  This not only points to the innate sin we all have, but also worryingly, to the lengths these people were willing to go, in order to sell their “newspapers”. This second point marks a new low for society.

He notes the the tabloid is dying because “scandal is migrating into two other forms: virtual gossip and auto-gossip”. The first he describes as “Virtual gossip is a self-contained process” and that auto gossip is “the practice of gossiping about oneself”. He adds that “the old culture of gossip depended on two things: an enormous interest in other people and the belief that those people had secrets. Each of them is trumped by the narcissism of the 21st century. When everybody wants to tell you everything about themselves and nobody is ashamed, the thrill of the scandal will be gone for good”.

The only way to stop this ever happening again is the banning of these tabloids. This will not only raise education levels it will defend the common good and attack the evil individualism that continues to beset our society.

Not serious but

22/12/2011

Pope reported to have arthrosis.

All changed, changed utterly?

22/12/2011

So said W.B. Yeats in his poem, Easter,1916. Some have said that change has come to Afghanistan as well.

Charles Kenny argues that “the answer to ‘was it worth it’ is yes. For all the waste, corruption, and death, Afghanistan is a much better place to live than it was 10 years ago, and the international community can take a considerable part of the credit for that.” He continues saying “the country remains considerably more peaceful and united than it has been for most of the past 40 years”. This just shows how violent it was beforehand!

He says that “The 1990s saw battle deaths in Afghanistan average around 9,000 a year, according to World Bankdata. From 2003 to 2008, though, despite an uptick of violence in the last few years, that average was down to below 3,000 deaths”. He goes on in the same vein noting that “militant attackswere down by more than a quarter in the three months to September this year over the same period last year. Asia Foundation polling suggests people feel more secure, support for the government is up, and more than two-thirds of the country reports no sympathy for the Taliban.”

Even the economy is improving with “World Bank data, [noting that] GDP per capita climbed from $569 to $879 between 2002 and 2008, a rate of growth that suggests average incomes might have doubled over the course of the decade since the fall of the Taliban”, add to this the fact that “the growing numbers of kids who survive to school age are far more likely to actually end up in class. In 2001, 774,000 Afghan children were in primary school, virtually none of whom were girls. By 2009, nearly 5 million kids were in primary school, 40 percent of them girls.” Kenny does note how “The Afghan government suggests it might need as much as $10 billion in aid each year over the coming years — about $300 per person in the country each year”.

Despite this who said invading Afghanistan was a bad thing? A reduction in terrorism for realist reasons has been accomplished. Let us hope it can be maintained.

Sense from Walt

20/12/2011

I’ve never really understood why U.S. leaders were so worried about the credibility of our commitments to others. For starters, given our remarkably secure geopolitical position, whether U.S. pledges are credible is first and foremost a problem for those who are dependent on U.S. help“.

Beginning of the end

20/12/2011

In a series of articles on the death of Kim Jong Il the Korean peninsula faces deep uncertainty, yet this could be the time to change its future for the betterment of Asia and the United States.

The differences between Kim and his father were mentioned  by some who said that Kim “who died on Saturday, Dec. 17, of a heart attack according to North Korean media, was a mystery, nearly ubiquitous and distant at the same time”. For a man that ruled North Korea absolutely, “Shin Dong Hyuk was born in a North Korean concentration camp and said he ‘had no idea’ who Kim Jong Il was until he escaped 22 years later. He says inmates never saw his picture.”

Others have noted the muted reaction of the South Koreans to Kim’s death. His death “came as a surprise. The South Korean government seemed to be caught off guard as well. President Lee Myung-bak called an emergency Cabinet meeting and the Unification Ministry set up a new commission to monitor all developments up North”. The author writes that “most South Koreans here really just don’t seem to care about what happens in the North”.

This is despite the fact that their northern neighbour’s have nuclear weapons and a million man army. Of course, they should care, as the coming instability in North Korea is going to affect them the most. He notes that “a state-run think tank estimated the cost of merging the two economies could run as high as $203 billion”.

As for the future a Chatham House article notes that “There will be a harsh succession process within a fractured internal system and there are no solid external relations to sustain its economy. Kim Jong-un is unlikely to last long as leader”. The author goes on to write that “the DPRK will go on, headed by Kim Jong-un under direct patronage by Chang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui. However, Kim Jong-un’s leadership could be challenged by Kim Jong-nam, the first son of Kim Jong-il”.

Others have argued that the only way the regime can survive is to adopt the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism. He notes that “Most South Koreans long ago abandoned hope for the ‘Sunshine Policy’ of engagement and economic aid, and now favor a tough response to Pyongyang’s outrages”. Interestingly he argues that “Improving North Koreans’ access to information and facilitating communications — not merely issuing harsher sanctions or tough vows to meet steel with steel — are the best ways to hasten the demise of one of the world’s most odious regimes”. However, he does not suggest how this might be done in what is a backward and closed society with barely any outside information allowed into the country. He adds that ” highly inefficient collective farms and dilapidated factories with intermittent access to electricity and inputs remain the rule”. He does mention that mobile phone ownership is on the rise, albeit slowly.

Yet surely now the regime is at its weakest and thus the best time to lance the boil that is North Korea now. The old pattern of blackmailing “the West” by provocative actions is past its sell by date. It is time to break the pattern once and for all. For example it has been cited that as “South Korea’s government switched parties to a less appeasement-minded President Lee Myung Bak, North Korea launched a missile test(April 2009), an underground nuclear test (May 2009), sunk a South Korean warship(March 2010), and shelled a South Korean island and debuted a secret, previously unknown uranium enrichment facility (Nov. 2010)”.

He argues that “A coordinated effort can open North Korea, weaken the regime, and lead it to a soft landing that benefits all of its regional neighbors, while helping the North Korean people to rise up and take ownership of their nation”. He goes on to argue that “A collaborative slate of full sanctions, particularly targeting luxury goods, technology, weapons proliferation, offshore bank accounts, and key regime figureheads would cause critical damage to North Korea at the precise moment when it most needs financial stability”.

Tackling the China issue he argues that “China is not married to North Korea’s leadership or political system. It is simply looking out for its own interest and leveraging North Korea’s misbehavior for increased political capital. The solution here is straightforward: cut a deal with China”.

He adds, somewhat optimistically that “Despite a lack of civil society organizations, North Korea’s history is dotted with uprisings, including large armed clashes in the 1980s in Chongjin, Hamhung, Musan, and Sinuiju. In 1987, North Korea’s Concentration Camp Number 12 in Onson reportedly saw a mass prisoner uprising — with 5,000 inmates slaughtered by a military battalion in response. Since then, Pyongyang has witnessed uprisings and coup attempts almost every other year, to varying degrees”. This does not guarantee a future, successful revolution.

A will timed US drone strike could obliterate the North Korean leadership and cause havoc for China, all the the eventual long term benefit of American interests. Either way the regime will not last long in its current state.

 

Damned if they do

16/12/2011

Merkel can’t win, hyperbole about Germany spreading but no other country has the drive, or money to save the euro.

A short future?

16/12/2011

As President Obama congratulates the troops on a job well done, Gareth Stansfield in an article on the current situtation in Iraq notes that “News about Iraq’s economic performance, government corruption, parliamentary disputes, or inability to pass legislation have, quite frankly, not been as important to report upon as have the events of the Arab Spring”. He adds that “Western governments, caught up in Afghanistan and struggling to comprehend the dynamics and trajectories of the Arab democratic revolutions – let alone decide what their policies should be towards the newly formed governments of the region – have held Iraq at arms length, describing it as fragile, but as a success story and going in the right direction”.

He tellingly adds that “democratic norms and processes remain elusive”. Stansfield adds that “The ability of the Council of Representatives (parliament) to exercise authority over the cabinet has been steadily eroded by the centralising tendencies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Key institutions, including the central bank, the anti-corruption commission, and the independent electoral commission, now fall under the direct control of the cabinet rather than the parliament”.

He concludes that “The stage is set for a struggle between Baghdad and the regions, and for the redrawing of the Iraqi political map”. The very stake of the surival of Iraq could be at stake,

In some ways however this is a good thing, as well as being bound to happen. Iraq is too diverse and too tribal to be ruled any other way, of course this does not mean that it cannot be ruled democratically in the future, under certain conditions. Secondly a strong executive has ruled Iraq since the country was carved out by the British. He goes on to mention how “the manner in which the prime minister has brought the different components of Iraq’s security forces and intelligence services under his direct control, creating in effect his own power base within the country at a time when his political, and perhaps popular, support base is waning”. This is exactly the same tactic used by Saddam Hussein as he rose to power in the mid 1970s. He concludes that “Within the military, for example, the appointment of officers is personally decided by the prime minister, with the result being that the officer corps is overwhelmingly dominated by Shi’as, and particularly those deemed to be supportive of Maliki’s Da’wa party. In effect, Maliki has made himself coup-proof”.

Yet, juxtaposed to this is the concept of federalism. He cites the 2005 constitution which notes the importance of “regions” but says little else on the matter. He adds the main example of this currently is the Kurdish region. It gets “more effective governance, improved economic performance, and more capable public services. But it is also a clear and public strategy to limit the power of Baghdad”.

The regions, most obviosuly Kurdistan, have ” a clear and public strategy to limit the power of Baghdad and the ability of a ‘central’ government of Iraq to ever subjugate the rest of Iraq by force”. This was done when “provincial council voted to declare Salahadin an autonomous region. While, constitutionally speaking, the Salahadin council cannot do this (it needs to submit a request to the cabinet in Baghdad for a referendum to be organised), dissatisfaction with the performance of the central government and fear over Maliki’s ambitions are causing provincial leaders to conclude that autonomy from Baghdad is now attractive”. Others it seems are following Salahadin’s example.

The background to this is that “the Constitution of 2005 gives heightened, if not fully specified, responsibilities to ‘regions’ to manage any previously undeveloped oil or gas reserve in their territory. What it does not do is provide detail of the scale or scope of these responsibilities”. This minefield leaves the oil and gas resources of Iraq in a dangerous position,  “Kurdistan demands full control over its oil and gas sector, including the right to engage directly with international oil companies and to receive payments from them direct to Erbil, with the Kurds then contributing their share to the national coffers. Baghdad conversely demands final oversight over the signing of contracts, and would remain responsible for managing the relationship with companies”.

Apparently, however Kurdish authorities have already engaged “medium sized companies”. Yet, “the announcement in November that Exxon Mobil – the world’s biggest publically traded oil company – would be taking up six exploration contracts in Kurdistan has sent shockwaves through the country and the industry.”

Iraq’s future may be very short and very violent if these two forces are not tamed, or at least come to an agreement.

President Barack Hussein Walker Bush

15/12/2011

Bush administration strategic principles that were either disparaged or disregarded by candidate Obama have now been embraced by  Obama

Ignoring the obvious

14/12/2011

After the final version Vickers report was released there seems to be another twist to the story.

It has been reported that the British Government “is preparing to water down a key recommendation in the Vickers report that would protect savers in the event of a bank going bust”. Apparently, “Investors and banks have argued that Vickers’ suggestion that retail depositors should be paid back before all other creditors if a bank collapses could risk destroying the market for bank debt and cause corporate deposits to flee the UK”. It adds that “The recommendation on ‘depositor preference’ is therefore set to be dropped from the final version of Vickers implemented by the government, according to sources, on the grounds that savers with up to £85,000 in the bank are already protected by an industry-funded insurance scheme”.

This however overlooks the two facts. The first is that the revised proposal places far too much confidence in the insurance industry in paying out in the event of a crisis. Secondly it does not take into account that without citizens spending their money there would be no economy! Lastly what if the insurance companies haven’t enough money to pay? What will happen to the domestic economy then when the banks get their money before hard working citizens?

The report notes that “Giving retail savers additional protection would have minimal benefits and could result in corporates moving their money abroad and bond investors demanding more collateral as they are moved down the debt hierarchy”. However, only the most short sighted companies would do this as the UK currently has a good credit rating, and to do otherwise would start a trend that would mean that few investors would get their money back. Waiting however, under these circumstances, would mean that the money would not be returned immediately but would eventually be returned.

It seems that “The UK has not finalised its approach to the report in part because it is understood to be reluctant to produce a parallel set of rules on bail-in bonds tailored to Vickers when the EU is already debating the same topic. It could instead try to slot the two regimes together and use the EU rules to flesh out the more vague Vickers proposals”.

So the wait for proper regulation continues.

To put it mildly

14/12/2011

A recent US survey suggested that Europe’s perceived importance in international affairs is in decline“.

24 slots

12/12/2011

Yesterday John Patrick Cardinal Foley, grand master emeritus of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem died, exactly a month after his 76th birthday. As a result of the death, by the end of December 2012 there will be 24 places in a consistory expected to take place next year, either mid year or late November. Though it is known that Cardinal Bertone wants a February date, though this is unlikely.

A deal of sorts

12/12/2011

A deal, of sorts has been agreed. On the day Croatia signed an accession treaty with the EU, the UK  is becoming more distant.

The deal that was struck to save the common currency of 17 nations that use the euro will mean that states that sign up commit to “balanced budgets”, defined as a structural deficit no greater than 0.5% of gross domestic product – to be written into national constitutions, automatic sanctions for any eurozone country whose deficit exceeds 3% of GDP and a requirement to submit their national budgets to the European Commission, which will have the power to request that they be revised.

The agreement means the trampling underfootof whatever sovereignty is left to those nations such as Ireland, Portugal and others that have run afoul of EU budget rules, and their own incompetence. It would seem that “Merkel said she ‘regretted’ that the UK was ‘not able to go along the same path’ as the rest of Europe. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said an agreement of all 27 EU members was not possible ‘thanks to our British friends’. Mr Cameron told the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson that he had demanded certain safeguards in return for a treaty change, concerning the single market and the City of London but they had not been forthcoming”.

Talk of the UK  going it alone are, as it stands, not true. Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic have decided to hold a debate in their parliaments, with ratification uncertain, especially in Sweden. Amid hyperbole of “the European Union split in a fundamental way”, he adds that “So two decades to the day after the Maastricht Treaty was concluded, launching the process towards the single European currency, the EU’s tectonic plates have slipped momentously along same the fault line that has always divided it—the English Channel”.

Importantly he adds that “The agreement is heavily tilted towards budget discipline and austerity. It does little to generate money in the short term to arrest the run on sovereigns, nor does it provide a longer-term perspective of jointly-issued bonds. Much will depend on how the European Central Bank responds in the coming days and weeks.” Of course Dr Draghi has done nothing to change the mood that the ECB might intervene to save the continent from recession, if not depression.

He concludes that “France, on the brink of losing its AAA credit rating and now the junior partner to Germany, this is a famous political victory. President Nicolas Sarkozy had long favoured the creation of a smaller, “core” euro zone, without the awkward British, Scandinavians and eastern Europeans that generally pursue more liberal, market-oriented policies” and that “Cameron’s demand came down to a protocol that would ensure Britain would be given a veto on financial-services regulation (see PDF copy here). The British government has become convinced that the European Commission, usually a bastion of liberalism in Europe, has been issuing regulations hostile to the City of London under the influence of its French single-market commissioner, Michel Barnier. And yet strangely, given the accusation that Brussels was taking aim at the heart of the British economy, almost all of the new rules issued so far have been passed with British approval”. Meanwhile, Ireland has said that it hold a referendum if needed. It is far from certain that that will be passed.

The nation state is being trampled underfoot but only as a result of the current crisis. When this passes it will be back with a vengeance.

As expected

10/12/2011

The Society of Saint Pius X has rejected the Doctrinal Preamble and thus “cannot give the doctrinal reassurances required of them to advance reconciliation with the Catholic Church”.

Apparently Fellay “said his understanding is that the document is ‘not a definite text’ and that it ‘can be clarified and modified.’ In particular, he would like to discuss what the Vatican means when it says that there is ‘leeway’ for a ‘legitimate discussion’ on the documents and legacy of the Second Vatican Council”.

While this may indeed be true, it is doubtful that much will come of it.

Who says the US is not a realist power?

10/12/2011

American realism in action,with idealism in action at the same time.

Idealism in action

08/12/2011

American idealism encapsulated in Hillary Clinton’s speech on promoting the rights of gays and lesbians.

Doubly bad

08/12/2011

People are beginning to realise that the growing gap in incomes is bad both for the common good as well as societal cohesion.

Some have reported that “the independent High Pay Commission publishes the results of a year-long inquiry into corporate excess. It reports that, in the past three decades, top executives have awarded themselves increases of more than 4,000 per cent, with the chief executive of Barclays earning £4,365,636, or 169 times more than the average worker”. How can such ridiculous figures be moral? Large corporations attempt to improve their image by minor projects in the local area and sometimes the developing world. These are largely cosmetic and have more to do with PR than anything else.

She continues “Excessive pay has become the most potent symbol and proof of market failure. The capitalist model promoted by Milton Friedman and others in the 1970s has imploded, and, for all the pain, the consequences have not yet registered”. She adds tellingly that “The myth persists that the market can be as easily subjugated as it was once let rip. If only, causists suggest, we could repatriate powers from Brussels/ cut red tape/ keep foreigners out, all might yet be well”. Speaking in a UK context she mentions that “Nick Clegg describes extreme pay awards as ‘incomprehensible… a slap in the face for millions of people’. Ed Miliband, however, has led the field. The labelling of businesses as predators and producers, initially written off as risible”. Now of course such ideas are, thankfully, gaining traction.

Others have noted that “The top fifth of households in the United States earn 10 times what the poorest fifth makes and more than the rest of the country combined. The incomes of the richest 1 percent are 67 times those of the poorest 20 percent of households. And over time, that gap has widened. According to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1979 and 2007, the richest 1 percent saw their after-tax incomes climb 275 percent compared with an 18 percent rise for the poorest fifth. The story is similar, if less dramatic, in other rich economies.”

It is surprising to see that even Americans are becoming increasingly worried about the dangerous levels of inequality. In a land were the individual and thus the market, have reigned supreme there are signs that unchecked individualism is a very dangerous thing. The poll notes that “Two-thirds of likely voters say the American middle class is shrinking, and 55 percent believe income inequality has become a big problem for the country”. This would mean nothing less that the end in the belief of the American Dream. Despite the fact that it died many years before this.

Interestingly the same poll found that “Only 14 percent of respondents said the middle class is growing and another 14 percent said it is staying the same, while an additional 19 percent said income inequality is somewhat of a problem for the United States”. It notes that “Majorities across practically all income levels, and all political, philosophical and racial lines agreed that the middle class is being reduced, while the bulk of respondents in each category thought income inequality was at least a moderate concern”.

The realisation that this is the case is actually beneficial, if ameliorated quickly. Societies that are more equal economically tend to be more politically and socially stable and more cohesive generally. It is not only moral but in the common good that the gap between rich and poor be addressed.

Not a forgone conclusion

06/12/2011

The number of Americans who believe their country is on the wrong track exceeds those who think it on the right track by a whopping 54 percentage points. Just 34 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. Yet his polling against a generic Republican opponent is dead even, and he leads head-to-head matchups with Mitt Romney (marginally) and Newt Gingrich (significantly).”

After the horse has bolted

06/12/2011

Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission has, in an interview, said that the euro was flawed from the start.

The article notes the history of the British with Delors and how “In 1988, he enraged Margaret Thatcher by coming to address the British TUC on the joys of the European ‘social dimension’. Her famous Bruges speech later that month was her attempt to stand against the tide of European integration that he represented. It was Mr Delors whose report produced the plan for what we now call the euro. He was such a demon figure for British eurosceptics that The Sun produced the headline “UP YOURS, DELORS” and invited its readers to turn, face the English Channel and make a rude gesture at him in unison”.

The writer mentions that “I ask the man who prides himself on being an architect of European Union whether he got it all wrong. Unhesitatingly, he denies it. It is a fault in the execution, not of the architects which he claimed to have pointed out in 1997”. The writer also notes that “At the time, he says, the best of the eurosceptic economists, whom he refers to as “the Anglo-Saxons”, raised the simple objection that if you have an independent central bank, you must also have a state. Mr Delors thinks “they had a point”, but the way round this problem was to insist on the economic bit of the union as much as the monetary”.

He goes on to say that “There was also a problem of ‘surveillance’. The Council of Ministers should have made it its business to police the eurozone economies and make sure that the member states really were following the criteria of economic convergence. This did not happen.” He writes that “there was a reluctance to address any of the problems. ‘The finance ministers did not want to see anything disagreeable which they would be forced to deal with.’ Then the global credit crisis struck, and all the defects were exposed”.

The article quotes Delors saying that “‘everyone must examine their consciences’. He identifies ‘a combination of the stubbornness of the Germanic idea of monetary control and the absence of a clear vision from all the other countries'”.

Others have noted that Delors’ “intervention comes the day after France and Germany took another step towards the creation of a full “fiscal union” within the European Union and David Cameron insisted that Britain must remain a major player in Europe”.

Of course Delors is an old man and this may be the last, or one of the last, interviews he gives. His reputation is in tatters as a result of the euro and blaming a “fault in execution” would suit his ends. However, it raises the question, why did he not do anything to correct this fault. Surely if his points were valid, he would have raised them and he would have been listened to? A political cowardice afflicted these politicians, who knew that the nations of the European continent would not tolerate handing over powers of taxation and thus effective sovereignty to them but went ahead with the project anyway.

Delaying the inevitable

06/12/2011

Assange case to be heard by UK Supreme Court on a point of law but he has no “automatic right to be heard by the highest court in the UK.”

Too soon

02/12/2011

As America pulls out of Iraq, there are serious questions to be answered as to what America will leave behind.

Dr Walt says that US troops leaving Iraq will be a good thing, both for Iraqis and America. Walt says that “The New York Times reports that the United States is planning to beef up its security ties in the Gulf, in the aftermath of the withdrawal from Iraq”, and adds that “this makes sense given global dependence on stable oil exports from the Gulf region and the damage that the war in Iraq has done to the strategic balance there”.

Walt writes that “On the other hand, a large ground or air force presence in the region is precisely the sort of thing that invites accusations of Western ‘imperialism,’ and puts the United States in a close embrace with regimes like the al-Khalifa family in Bahrain”. Not every country in the world like the United States but surely this is what realism is all about? Or does Dr Walt need to be told what realism is?

He continues that “withdrawal from Iraq could actually bolster our strategic position in other ways, mostly by encouraging greater frictions between Iraq and Iran”. He argues that “once we withdraw, then it is far from obvious that the bulk of Iraqis — including most Iraqi leaders — will want to become a satrap for Iran”. Not only is this a poor argument it is dangerously naive. Indeed it is the same kind of worrying idealism that Walt has accused the post invasion force of possessing.

He concludes saying people “should also expect the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to encourage more regional powers–including Iraq–to take actions to limit Iranian power and influence”.

Others take a less rose tinted approach and argue that US withdrawal is not in US interests. He argues that “Iraq’s military remains divided by conflicts between its traditional, nationalist officer corps and Iran-sponsored interlopers, and paralyzed by the dysfunctional politics in Baghdad and the withdrawal of U.S. military support”. He argues how southern (and Shiite) Iraq is a hub for Iranian power. He says that the US has on practice lef Iraq long ago, noting “The die was cast as soon as the 2008 U.S.-Iraq security agreement — in effect, the U.S. withdrawal timetable — was ratified by the Iraqi cabinet on Nov. 16, 2008”. He adds “From that date onward, it became increasingly difficult for both U.S. and Iraqi forces to arrest, detain, or prosecute Iraqi suspects because only Iraqi warrants carried legal weight”.

He says that the Iraqi security forces have two wings, the those who were “members of Badr Corps, the agency formed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to pit exiled Iraqi Shiites against Saddam Hussein’s military. Others are current supporters of Shiite hardline politician Moqtada al-Sadr, or breakaways from his movement” pitted against “the class of traditional Iraqi nationalists that still makes up a considerable portion of the Iraqi army leadership in the south” that fought Iran in the 1980s. He notes that this latter group, “Due to the operational security problem posed by these [politically appointed] newcomers, the veteran officers banded together, forming tight command groups comprised exclusively of their old war buddies”. These “nationalist officers recognize that the United States and Iraq share a common problem — Iran’s influence in the region”.

On top of these, he writes, that political paralysis continues. With an example being cited “as the U.S. and British military involvement in southern Iraq thinned out in 2009, the Iraqi military simply stopped taking new initiatives to secure the country’s borders. Plans for troop redeployments, the creation of new barriers, and the establishment of new electronic surveillance systems have gathered dust for lack of funds and the Baghdad’s sign-off”.

Tellingly he concludes, “The real problem is that the southern militants backed by Iran or associated with Sadr’s movement are politically protected by the same people who run Iraq’s civilian and police intelligence agencies”.  Still others think that “as a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies concludes, ‘Iraq’s military has the ability to contain internal violence with limited help from’ the United States”.

What is clear is that it is too soon to leave Iraq. There is too much at stake.

Hollowed out?

01/12/2011

After the failure of the supercommittee to begin to cut the vast federal deficit, the result means that by the start of 2013 the Pentagon will face cuts that will not only effect the mission of the US in the world but its only security as well. Secretary Panetta has warned about the dangerous consequences of cuts that go too deep.

Stephen Glain writing in Foreign Policy argues that “The burden of global hegemony, the commitment to project force across every strategic waterway, air corridor, and land bridge, has exhausted the U.S. military and will be even harder to sustain as budget cuts force strategists and logisticians to do more with less”. However, Glain either forgets or ignores that America gains almost as much in being a global hegemon not to mention the hard to define but notion that many Americans, believe that the United States is exceptional. Only when these two facts are taken together is the scale of America’s involvement explained

He adds that certain undefined “civilian elites” have “have seen to it that the nation is engaged in a self-perpetuating cycle of low-grade conflict. They have been hiding in plain sight, hyping threats and exaggerating the capabilities and resources of adversaries”. Of course this has nothing to do with the very real, though diminishing, threat of “Islamic” terrorists and rouge states.

He carries in this vein noting that “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. presidents have ordered troops into battle 22 times, compared with 14 times during the Cold War. Not once did they appeal to lawmakers for a declaration of war” yet he seems to think that as a result of the end of the Cold War, “America has been spared foreign invasion for more than 200 years and it can expect to remain inviolate for centuries to come”. What the 11 September showed was that is obviously no longer the case.

Glain does say that “each year, it [America] spends enough money on national security to match the economic output of Indonesia — with money borrowed largely from China, a country with which it is preparing for conflict.” This however has more to do with the general parlous state of US finances than defence spending. He goes on to say that vassal states would give the local empire tribute, now he says that “In return for the global commons, the United States bankrolls a geopolitical welfare state that allows some of its largest beneficiaries to neglect their basic responsibilities as sovereign states and allies”. Again he does have a point but it is as much to do with America as other states cutting their defence budgets.

He says that “In April 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that 95 major Pentagon projects exceeded their original budgets by a total of nearly $300 billion. A year later, it concluded that nothing had changed. In 2009, lawmakers larded the Pentagon’s annual budget proposal with nearly $5 billion in programs and weapons it did not request”. While such waste and inefficiency are outrageous and must be halted, to say there are no threats and to half the defence budget will solve all of America’s (many) woes is fanciful. It also says as much about the power of lobbyists and elections every two years as anything else.

He does fairly mention a “report [which] uncovered more than $1 trillion in unsupported account entries. In September 2010, the Senate Finance Committee issued a report that slammed the Pentagon’s ‘total lack of fiscal accountability’ for ‘leaving huge sums of the taxpayers’ money vulnerable to fraud and outright theft.’

Others naturally take a different view. The author writes that ” Panetta has warned that, as a result of impending across-the-board reductions mandated by sequestration, the Pentagon stands to absorb a $550 billion cut over the next 10 years”. The impact of the failure of the supercommittee mean that “Over the course of the sequester the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be terminated, as would the new bomber program, the littoral combat ship, and all ground-combat vehicle modernization programs. Even in the short term, ship and military construction programs would be seriously reduced. The cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, already well beyond initial estimates, would skyrocket. Training and other readiness accounts would also suffer”. There is time to avert these cuts however with the deadline being 1 October 2012.

The author cites how “Why then, has Panetta warned of gloom and doom if the sequester were to pass? Precisely because the president wishes to keep his hands clean of all cuts, and yet wants to go ahead with them”. Thus “were the Congress to exempt Defense from the sequester, the president would be prepared to veto that exemption”.

He concludes “withdrawal from Iraq, and the drawdown in Afghanistan will further reduce defense expenditures by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years”. Are those cuts not enough? Or do people wish to see America retreat and think that a benevolent China will run the world better? Unlikely.