Archive for February, 2012

Unwise

26/02/2012

In naive blog post, Rorate copies a piece from the LA Times, that after their recent veto at the United Nations, Russia and China might have actually helped Christians in Syria. This naivety is dangerous. Homs is coming under sustained bombardment from the Assad regime. The post seems to ignore the fact that the Greek Melkite Catholic archeparchy of Homs even exists, to say nothing of Orthodox Syrians and Muslims.

Important as ever

24/02/2012

There are signs that the gap is closing between President Obama and his Republican rivals. However the all importance swing states are vital to any candidates election. Obama “may be vulnerable in the swing states that will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2012 election”.

A piece mentions how “Obama will likely need to win about half of the electoral votes supplied by Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire if he is to secure a second term”. It goes on to note that the president won all of these in the 2008 election against Senator McCain.

It adds that Obama will have a hard time in these states as “In one-third of the swing states – Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada – the unemployment rate at the end of 2011 was well above the national average. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in the country at 12.6 percent, North Carolina (which Obama won by a slim .4 percent in 2008) and Florida were tied for the 45th worst at 9.9 percent, and Michigan had the 41st worst at 9.1 percent”.

The margin is tight for Obama in these states with “Real Clear Politics average of polls in Florida, for example, shows Obama with a 0.4 percent advantage over Romney, a narrower margin than in recent national polls, and the latest survey of North Carolina from Public Policy Polling shows the president with only a one point lead over Romney”.

Worse still for the Obama campaign in Iowa, Pennsylvania Ohio and Wisconsin “Only 41 percent in those four Rust Belt states say they approve of the job the president is doing, while 47 percent say they disapprove”.

Not all the bad news is for Obama. The presumptive GOP candidate, Mitt Romney is facing trouble. After a string of defeats to Rick Santorum and the Michigan primary on 28th to avoid serious questions being asked things will have to improve for the Romney campaign quickly.

Apparently, “Romney has pulled back into a tie with Rick Santorum in his home state of Michigan, according to the latest NBC News-Marist poll.” The poll notes that “Romney leads with 37 percent followed by Santorum at 35 percent, but that’s a statistical tie considering the poll’s 1.8 percent margin of error. Ron Paul is in third place at 13 percent and Newt Gingrich rounds out the field with 8 percent”.

Yet again the Tea Party raises its head. The article adds that ” voters who identify as Tea Party supporters prefer Santorum by nearly 20 percent, and those who don’t support the Tea Party prefer Romney by more than 20 percent”. Even worse for Romney, “a number of other polls have shown Santorum as the clear front-runner nationally, and a Quinnipiac University poll of Republican voters released on Wednesday confirms this trend. Santorum has 35 percent of support nationally, followed by Romney at 26 percent, Gingrich at 14 percent and Paul at 11 percent. Santorum extends that lead in a head-to-head match-up against Romney nationally, 50 percent to 37 percent”.

The article closes on the interesting point that “Chris Christie is the overwhelming favorite among those rooting for a brokered convention, at 32 percent, followed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush”.  Latest Gallup polls show Santorum has a strong lead over Romney among the GOP with 34% to 27% respectively. This could be Obama’s dream come true and  almost guarantee another term.

The last generation?

22/02/2012

As Vice President of China Xi Jingping traverses the globe there much discussion predictably follows.

While visiting the United States, Xi called for “deep” ties and said that there two nations “were at a ‘new historical starting point’, Mr Xi said, stressing that their intertwined interests were an ‘unstoppable river that keeps surging ahead'”. It was also reported that he said “China welcomes the United States playing a constructive role in promoting the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region,”. He added however that “At the same time we hope the US side will truly respect the interests and concerns of countries in the region, including China.”

Some  are giving interesting background saying that one school of thought is ” the ‘China-first school — believes the People’s Republic is an ascendant superpower, whose newfound confidence is well-justified, and which America must do more to accommodate as the United States itself declines”. The article importantly adds that “In this view, America’s existing position in Asia is unsustainable. Military surveillance in international waters near China is too provocative to continue indefinitely. America cannot reasonably continue to control the maritime approaches to China, in the Western Pacific and East and South China Seas, without a justified Chinese counter-reaction”.

The second “school of thought – call it the ‘Asia-first’ school — reverses the China-first logic of the perspective above. It focuses on influencing Beijing’s strategic choices by constructing a robust balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region that hedges against Chinese assertiveness — and reassures America’s many friends and allies that we will not subordinate their acute concerns about China’s growing strength out of deference to China’s grievances, real or imagined”. It adds that “they believe that Chinese assertiveness is best managed through coalitions of states that share a determination to sustain the rules and norms that have made possible the Asian economic miracle. They also believe that American leadership is a surer foundation for continued stability in Asia than a managed American retreat”. The first school obviously has little explanatory power as it over-hypes China’s “rise” and underestimates US resilience.

Dr Walt seems less than interested in Xi’s visit. He writes that “as a good realist, I think that the basic state of Sino-American relations will be driven more by balances of power and configurations of interest than by the personalities of individual leaders. As I’ve noted before, if China continues to grow more powerful, Bejing and Washington will view each other with an increasingly wary eye and are likely to find more issues about which to conflict. A serious security competition — especially in East Asia — will be likely”. He continues, writing that “he will only be president for a maximum of ten years. A lot can happen during his tenure, but China’s overall power position isn’t going overtake America’s in that period and I believe the odds of a serious Sino-American quarrel will still be rather low while he is in office. The real test of Sino-American relations will still lie some distance into the future”.

Finally Kerry Brown writes that Xi is the “the cleanest, least offensive, most loyal politician the party could find”. Brown goes on to write that “Xi, the son of a former vice premier, with an easy smile and the paternalistic manner of a well-seasoned Chinese leader, seemed destined to rise to the top. During the Cultural Revolution, Xi, like many educated youth, spent a decade farming in the backward inland province of Shaanxi; residents named him party secretary of the village soon after his arrival”. His career took off when “His real political career took off in the wealthy coastal province of Fujian, where he worked himself up to governor in the 1990s and avoided being implicated in a massive smuggling scandal. Appointed party boss in 2002 of the dynamic Zhejiang province, he briefly ran Shanghai after the felling of Party Secretary Chen Liangyu for corruption in 2007 before being elevated to the all-important Politburo Standing Committee”. Brown goes on to describe how “In 1997, Xi, while still in Fujian as deputy party secretary, came in dead last in a vote by delegates for the 344-strong Central Committee, composed of the elite leaders of the Communist Party, largely because of a backlash against princelings, the sons and daughters of high-level officials”.

He adds that ” Xi used his family connections to his advantage, mobilizing support by calling upon his extensive networks of military and party elite”. Brown notes that Xi has gotten the prestigious jobs like “managing macroeconomic policy, overseeing the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and running the Central Party School” while skillfully avoiding “knotty issues like health-care reform and social unrest”

Brown concludes writing that “Xi’s slogan might as well be ‘the buck stops there.’ Xi shares the skill for deflection with his predecessor, Hu”. He mentions notably how “Some Chinese Internet commentators have claimed he plagiarized all or part of the Ph.D. thesis he wrote while governor of Fujian. And some see his decision to send his daughter to Harvard University as a vote of no confidence in the country’s education system” as well as the fact that Xi will keep a low profile and repeat Hu’s line on everything until the party convention in October.

Worryingly for America and its Asian allies Xi, “During a 2009 visit to Latin America, he was caught on record railing against foreigners ‘with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country.’ To which he added: ‘China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty, nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?'”. Such paranoia has been seen before but not in such blunt terms.

Much can change in the ten years of Xi’s leadership, assuming all goes to plan in October. He could easily be the last generation of his type to “lead” China. His brief stop over in Ireland might help that nation but it was more to do about there being so few protesters. There is little chance his native land will remain docile for much longer.

Going nowhere

21/02/2012

At the end of his speech to the new cardinals Pope Benedict said “pray also for me, that I may continually offer to the People of God the witness of sound doctrine and guide holy Church with a firm and humble hand”. He has seemingly reversed his prior public statements that he would abdicate.

Saved

20/02/2012

As the Greek’s get the €130bn needed to tie them over for the payout next month, questions remain, still.

Not the end of order, thankfully

20/02/2012

A world where the United States turned in on itself would be more violent, dangerous and unstable. Such a world would obviously be a diaster, and hardly worth thinking about, let alone welcoming.

Nations that are weak would be under threat and the public goods that America provides would cease. It has been reasonably speculated that nations such as Georgia, Taiwan, South Korea, Ukraine, Afghanistan and others would all be at risk of internal strife leading to regional instability.

In a piece about the usefulness of America’s global role in the world, Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that “a high-ranking Chinese official, who obviously had concluded that America’s decline and China’s rise were both inevitable, noted in a burst of candor to a senior U.S. official: ‘But, please, let America not decline too quickly.'”

Brzezinski succintly makes his point noting “if America falters, the world is unlikely to be dominated by a single preeminent successor — not even China. International uncertainty, increased tension among global competitors, and even outright chaos would be far more likely outcomes”. He adds that another massive crisis would not lead to another successor to the United States but effective violent multipolarity. He goes on to write that “No single power will be ready by then to exercise the role that the world, upon the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, expected the United States to play” as he says “Rather than a world where dreams of democracy flourish, a Hobbesian world of enhanced national security based on varying fusions of authoritarianism, nationalism, and religion could ensue”.

He adds tellingly that “The Japanese, fearful of an assertive China dominating the Asian mainland, may be thinking of closer links with Europe. Leaders in India and Japan may be considering closer political and even military cooperation in case America falters and China rises”.

Of the EU he writes that it “would likely be pulled in several directions: Germany and Italy toward Russia because of commercial interests, France and insecure Central Europe in favor of a politically tighter European Union, and Britain toward manipulating a balance within the EU while preserving its special relationship with a declining United States”.

He says that China has a vested interest in maintaining the system that currently exists “even if it does not view the prevailing hierarchy as permanent. It recognizes that success depends not on the system’s dramatic collapse but on its evolution toward a gradual redistribution of power”.

He concludes that “Another consequence of American decline could be a corrosion of the generally cooperative management of the global commons — shared interests such as sea lanes, space, cyberspace, and the environment, whose protection is imperative to the long-term growth of the global economy and the continuation of basic geopolitical stability. In almost every case, the potential absence of a constructive and influential U.S. role would fatally undermine the essential communality of the global commons because the superiority and ubiquity of American power creates order where there would normally be conflict”.

Thankfully America is not declining.

Consistory 2012:titles and deaconries

18/02/2012
As has been the case in the days before a consistory in this pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday convoked the members of the College of Cardinals and the  cardinals-designate for a day of reflection and prayer.  Of the total of 213 members of the College of Cardinals, including the twenty-two new cardinals, 133 were present. The main theme of the day will be “The announcement of the Gospel today, between missio ad gentes and the new evangelization” and it was introduced with a talk by Cardinal-designate/”rockstar“, Timothy Dolan. There will also be a communication on the Year of the Faith presented by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Following the shortened consistory ceremony  and revised prayers the new cardinals, dominated by Italian curialists were given their new style ring, biretta and titular church in Rome linking them to the ancient clergy of the diocese.
Non electors:

This is the first time since 1946 that the archbishop of New York has not recieved the titular church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo due to the fact that Cardinal Egan is the first archbishop alive to have is resignation accepted by Benedict. As with the 2007 and 2010 consistories, there were new titular churches created, with 1 new title and 4 new deaconries. Cardinal Collins of Toronto now holds the Irish national church of Saint Patrick, while Cardinal Dolan holds one of the churches most associated with Mexico.

Now the creations of Pope Benedict are in the majority, ahead of John Paul II. As with the last consistory, this one brings another German who again becomes the youngest member of the College. Cardinal Woelki is just 55, and takes over from Cardinal Marx.

There are now 125 cardinal electors who could vote in a potential conclave with  Italian accounting for well over 30 of the 125 electors. The composition of the College is now “from seventy-one States, distributed as follows: Europe 119, North America (U.S.A. and Canada) 21, Latin America 32, Africa 17, Asia 20 and Oceania 4”. Most striking, in these balances, is the weight of the Roman Curia: after today they are 44 of the 125 cardinal electors, that is more than a third. The College will return to its theoretical limit on 26 July when James Francis Cardinal Stafford loses his voting rights.

By the end of 2013 there will be 16 vacant electoral slots to fill. By the end of 2014 there will be an additional 12 electors reaching 80. Pope Benedict could continue his preference for small, regular gatherings of the College and have a consistory in 2013 and 2014, or hold one large one in 2014.

Weaker and weaker

16/02/2012

Irrelavance of Iran in Arab revolutions shown.

Same as before

16/02/2012

An interesting article on how homosexuality is viewed in the Islamic world reveals a pattern of history repeating itself.

It mentions how “Of the seven countries that impose the death penalty for homosexuality, all are Muslim. Even when gays do not face execution, persecution is endemic. In 2010 a Saudi man was sentenced to 500 lashes and five years in jail for having sex with another man. In February last year, police in Bahrain arrested scores of men, mostly other Gulf nationals, at a ‘gay party'”.

It goes on to note how there is something of a double standard with “Gay life in the open in Muslim-majority countries is rare, but the closet is spacious. Countries with fierce laws, such as Saudi Arabia, also have flourishing gay scenes at all levels of society. Syria’s otherwise fearsome police rarely arrest gays. Sibkeh park in Damascus is a tree-filled children’s playground during the day. By night it is known for the young men who linger on its benches or walls. Wealthy Afghans buy bachabazi, (dancing boys) as catamites”.

At the same time it notes the current situation across much of the Middle East. “where homosexuality is legal (as in Turkey), official censure can be fierce. A former minister for women’s affairs, Aliye Kavaf, called it ‘a disease’; the interior minister, Idris Naim Sahin, cited it (along with Zoroastrianism and eating pork) as an example of ‘dishonour, immorality and inhuman situations'”.

The writer goes on to mention how the Arab revolutions have had little impact on the situation. It goes on to say that “One small source of hope is the internet: life online offers gays safety, secrecy and the chance to make their case. In a campaign called ‘We are everywhere’ Iranian gays and lesbians are posting protest videos on Facebook”.

It rightly takes care to note the enormous differences in the region with “Earlier Islamic societies were less hardline. An 11th-century Persian ruler advised his son to alternate his partners seasonally: young men in the summer and women in the winter. Many of the love poems of the eighth-century Abu Nuwas in Baghdad, and of other Persian and Urdu poets, were addressed to boys”.

It mentions how “some Muslim thinkers are now finding theological latitude. ‘The Koran does not condemn homosexuality,’ says Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, an American Muslim convert who teaches Islamic studies centuries”. It concludes saying “The story of Lot, he argues, deals with male rape and violence, not homosexuality in general. Classical Islamic theologians and jurists were mostly concerned with stifling lustful immorality, he says. Koranic verses describe without condemnation men who have no sexual desire for women. Arash Naraghi, an Iranian academic at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, suggests that the verses decrying homosexuality, like those referring to slavery and Ptolemaic cosmology, stem from common beliefs at the time of writing, and should be re-examined”.

Is this not how the Western world behaved for so many centuries until attitudes changed?

Incorrect

14/02/2012

So on it goes, another article about “American decline”. Charles Kupchan argues that Mitt Romney is wrong to think of a second century of American leadership.

He writes that “Romney’s hackneyed rhetoric is woefully out of step — both with an American electorate hungry for a less costly brand of foreign policy and with a world in the midst of tectonic change”. Yet at the same time there is little evidence that this is true. Even if it was true there is little benefit in basing a foreign policy on the opinions of the public. He goes on to say that “A sharp economic downturn and expensive, inconclusive conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left Americans ready for a focus on the home front”. Again there is little to prove this correct. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were/are certainly expensive but there is some good results and while there is much wrong with America at home retreating into itself will not solve its problems, let alone those of the world, who still look to America for leadership.

He argues that “the charge for the next U.S. president can hardly be to stick his head in the sand and deny that the global distribution of power is fast changing. On the contrary, it is to react soberly and steadily to the implications of such change”. Yet is this really true? Not really. India, Brazil and others are hardly examplars how states should behave but certainly these two states have neither the mood or muscle to seriously challenge American global pre-eminence.

He does praise President Obama noting “Amid China’s rise and the economic dynamism building in its neighborhood, Obama is right to downsize the U.S. presence in Europe and orchestrate a strategic “pivot” to East Asia. The move constitutes a necessary hedge against Chinese ambition and ensures that American workers will benefit from expanding markets in the Pacific Rim”. This of course totally ignores China’s real problems that have been discussed here before.

As evidence for this withdrawing into itself he writes that “According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 46 percent of Americans want the United States to ‘mind its own business’, and 76 percent think the country should ‘concentrate more on our own national problems’ than on foreign challenges”. Yet it would be interesting to see what these numbers are when the global economy is moving again.

Predictably he writes that “The World Bank predicts that the dollar, euro, and China’s renminbi will become co-equals in a ‘multi-currency’ monetary system by 2025. Goldman Sachs expects the collective GDP of the top four developing countries — Brazil, China, India, and Russia — to match that of the G-7 countries by 2032″. The euro is about to collapse, the Chinese currency is plays a large part for the current economic crisis and all that leaves is the dollar. India and Brazilian growth is strong but not that strong, China’s economy is built on sand and Russia’s on the high price of oil. Hardly a stable footing for either.

Despite of all of this there is little difference as to what a President Obama is doing as to what a President Romney would do.

Cardinal Becker

12/02/2012

Reports are that Fr Becker will now take part in the consistory next week.

Dropping the pilot?

10/02/2012

The scandal that started some weeks ago has become increasingly public and increasingly embarrassing for the Church.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, currently nuncio to the United States since October 2011, previously served as secretary-general of th Governatorate of the Vatican City State for two and a half years, under Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo. Archbishop Vigano as has been mentioned here before turned a large loss into a huge profit. For this work he was expected to take over from Cardinal Lajolo when he retired.

This did not happen. Archbishop Vigano was pushed out to the prestigious post of nuncio to the US, despite having no desire to leave Rome and mentioning this to Pope Benedict via letters. It has emerged that Vigano, along with other curialists, had appeared on an Italian documentary The Untouchables  where he showed letters saying that his transfer to Washington would effectively undo all the good work he did at the Governatorate. Vigano said that money had gone missing and contracts were awarded in strange ways and when they were completed monies were overpaid.

In light of this documentary the Press Office of the Holy See released a note  (English version) from the Governatorate signed by Cardinal Lajolo, Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello, secretary-general Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca and former vice secretary-general Bishop Giorgio Corbellini. The note effectively rebuts all of Archbishop Vigano’s assertions in very strong, and public, language.

John Allen notes that the effect of all of this scandal is that “You can often tell how upset someone is with a story by how many statements they put out denying it, and how detailed those statements are. By that standard, the Vatican seems mightily piqued indeed by the recent scandal”.

He adds that “Vatican analyst Sandro Magister, for one, devoted a recent piece in L’Espresso, a major Italian newsmagazine, to arguing that the Viganò affair is the latest indication of mismanagement on the watch of Bertone, whom Magister accused of serving his own agenda more than the pope’s. According to Magister, Bertone’s influence, under the weight of the Viganò revelations and other implosions, is waning: ‘His trajectory is at an end,’ Magister said”.

Could Benedict do as the Punch cartoon illustrated in 1890 with the sacking of Otto von Bismarck by Wilhelm II with Cardinal Bertone? If this is the case Benedict will have to move quickly.

Not licked yet

08/02/2012

For all the talk of “American decline” there are still some who thankfully believe otherwise.

Dr Walt writes that “the issue isn’t whether the United States is about to fall the from the ranks of the great powers, or even be equaled (let alone surpassed) by a rising China. The world may be evolving toward a more multipolar structure, for example, but the United States is going to be one of those poles, and almost certainly the strongest of them, for many years to come”.

He argues that “the real issue is whether developments at home and overseas are making it harder for the United States to exercise the kind of dominant influence that it did for much of the latter half of the 20th century. The United States had a larger share of global GDP in the 1940s and 1950s, and it wasn’t running enormous budget deficits. The United States was seen as a reliable defender of human rights, and its support for decolonization after World War II had won it many friends in the developing world. It also had good relations with a variety of monarchies and dictatorships, which it justified as part of the struggle against communism. These features allowed the United States to create and lead combined economic, security and political orders in virtually every corner of the world, except for the portions directly controlled by our communist rivals”.

Yet again however he misses the point. Certainly America had a larger share of GDP in the 1940s but does this does mean that other countries are becoming less poor and more stable, partly due to US influence? Walt bemoans the fact that America “was seen as a reliable defender of human rights”. Is it not still the case? Did Hillary Clinton not deliver a widely praised speech on the rights of gays and lesbians recently, in addition to the repeal of DADT? Of course there is Gitmo, and Abu Ghraib but these are relatively minor in the large scheme of things and must be viewed in the current context of the War on Terror. America continues to believe in, and promote, universal human rights.

He concludes, predictably saying that America remains incredibly powerful “but its capacity to lead security and economic orders in every corner of the world has been diminished by failures in Iraq (and eventually, Afghanistan), by the burden of debt accumulated over the past decade, by the economic melt-down in 2007-2008, and by the emergence of somewhat stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere”.

Yet others thankfully disagree with this flawed reasoning. Daniel Drezner argues that “Walt is concerned that an overestimation of American power will lead to stupid foreign policy decisions, but I’d wager that an overestimation of Chinese power would lead to equally stupid foreign policy decisions”. Drezner adds that ” Walt overestimates America’s influence during the Cold War, he also underestimates American influence now.  The funny thing about the “stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere” is that they’re siding with the United States on multiple important issues.  Coordination between Turkey and the United States on the Arab Spring has increased over time, and their policy positions on Iran are converging more than diverging.  Brazil has turned a cold shoulder to Iran and has been warier about China’s currency manipulation and rising influence in Latin America.  India seems perfectly comfortable to be a partner in America’s Pacific Rim pivot, as are Australia, Japan and South Korea”.

Lastly, others weigh in supporting Drezner, arguing “The inconvenient truth behind this claim [lack of American decline] is that most the Obama administration’s foreign policy successes have come from adopting policies and strategies from the Bush administration”. Yet the article notes how President Obama “On the one hand he strongly affirms American global leadership and repeats Madeleine Albright’s description of the United States as the ‘indispensable nation,’ but on the other hand he says it is ‘inevitable’ that China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy”.

Few friends

08/02/2012

Iran is becoming more isolated. China has now is distancing itself from Iran, for now.

It has been noted that “Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, issued Beijing’s clearest condemnation yet. ‘China adamantly opposes Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons,’ he said”. The report goes on to mention that “The Washington Post reported that China trimmed its oil imports from Iran in January from a daily average of around 550,000 barrels to 285,000 barrels a day. Chinese foreign policy experts said the statement demonstrated that Beijing would not allow its international position to end up beholden to Iran”.

The report says that “Wen’s trip to three of the world’s biggest oil-and-gas producers was decribed by some commentators as an attempt to seek alternative energy sources, although he politely denied this was the case”, adding that “With a second front of pressure opening up on Iran over its support for the Syrian regime’s crackdown on nationwide protests, Tehran has moved closer to global pariah status. French officials yesterday told Le Figaro newspaper that Iran was training 50 members of Syria’s elite Republican Guard in anti-sedition techniques in Tehran”.

It was noted that ” the regime has also hinted that it could be open to negotiations by claiming that it was entertaining a secret invite from President Barack Obama to open direct talks. Iran claimed the appeal was contained in a secret letter to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader that also warned Tehran against closing the Strait of Hormuz”.

It is clear that the regime is getting weaker and weaker. All that needs to occur now is a well timed, co-ordinated and home grown movement to unseat the regime and bring in something different.  If only there were one that could be used…….

Not so simple

07/02/2012

As Greece again misses its targets an article in The World Today argues that the situation in Greece is more complex than initially thought.

Opening his article he notes that “High defence spending, tax evasion chiefly by the comprador-cum-financial oligarchy and the ship-owning elites, and a large but inefficient public sector constitute the main domestic sources of the Greek debt”. He continues writing that “the Greek economy lacks a robust industrial sector. This has had two significant consequences. First, the state and the ruling party elites used every method possible (clientelistic practices, patrimonialism, corrupt deals etc.) to bloat the public sector via recruitment and favouritism in order to secure re-election” and secondly “Greek industry and companies have always been small and medium size. At times of hardship, such as in the 1950s, Greek Bank Governors could devalue the drachma and re-organise the export capacity of the country. No such alternative existed after 2001, when Greece joined the Eurozone. The country became easily outcompeted within the single currency structure, since they did not enjoy the advantage of currency devaluation to address imbalances. Greece has today mounted some 350 billion euros of sovereign debt. Other peripheral countries have similar, although not identical problem”.

Indeed Ireland has many, though admittedly not all of the problems that caused the Greek mess, a hyper-sensitive political system, corruption and favouritism, although nowhere near on the same scale as Greece. He goes on to make the excellent point that “By strengthening the institutional ties of the EU between core members, the periphery’s problems continue to remain unresolved, because this creates a two-tier EU with further isolation and austerity on the populations of the periphery and a relative, medium-term and rather unsustainable prosperity for the core and the future of the Euro itself”.

As has been argued here before , he says that “It is a myth that financial markets work better when unregulated and untaxed. The financial markets work better when they are regulated and taxed and their capital is invested in material production, not in speculation and futures”.

He writes that “At the time of writing, official unemployment in Greece is nearly 1,000,000 million, out of a population of 11,000,000 million. The countryside is devastated and barter agreements have already appeared among the poor and the petite bourgeoisie. The two-party system built around the parties of New Democracy and PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement) is disintegrating. Growth is –6.5 percent, a contraction that mirrors the conditions of civil war in  the 1940s”.

The answer he says is default. Which he argues “If Greece defaults and exits under this condition, it would be in a position to reverse the negative growth rate, nationalise the banks and re-orient them towards productive investment in agriculture and industry, thus addressing the unemployment issue. At the same time, new energy alternatives can be opened, such as solar energy projects, which have the potential of becoming a key export sector for Greece’s European partners. Shipping capital, as well as the Church’s property and immense wealth, should be taxed.”

Would this be worth the pain of default?

Quite an achievement

06/02/2012

Today Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years on the throne, giving stability to an increasingly fraught world.

One less?

06/02/2012

On 3 February in a surprise announcement the Press Office of the Holy See said the Fr Karl Josef Becker, SJ would not be included in the cardinals to be created on 18 February, due to ill health.  It added that he would be created a cardinal, “privately at another time”. It did not say when this private ceremony would take place.

Salvador Miranda has said that “This announcement concerning Cardinal designate Karl Joseph Becker, S.J., is problematical. The Office needs to clarify if the cardinal will not be created and published (creato e pubblicato) in that consistory but in another one to be celebrated later or, if because of health, he will not be present in the ceremony to receive the cardinalitial insignias but will be created cardinal in the consistory of February 18, 2012. This latter instance has happened in the past more than once”.

Interestingly, Rorate reports that “Becker, an 83-year-old Jesuit, had had his name ‘blocked by the Secretariat of State’, that a ‘rumor’ would follow that he would ‘be made a cardinal in a future consistory’, but that actually it had actually ‘been decided that he should not ever receive the honor'”. It adds that “Becker was one of the pioneers of the need for a “hermeneutic of reform in continuity”. For instance, see his most interesting text on the question of the “subsistit” in Lumen Gentium published a decade ago (available in the EWTN library)”.

In related news, though somewhat unexpectedly Fr  Julien Ries has said that he will become a bishop as canon law stipulates. It was thought that Fr Ries, 91, would be too old to undergo episcopal consecration. The date of the ceremony is to be 11 February in Belgium where he will become Titular Archbishop of Bellicastrum, the titular see once held by Pietro Sambi.

Expecting too much?

04/02/2012

In an interesting piece, both for its bi-partisan nature and realist argument, Stephen Hadley and John Podesta argue that now is the time to talk to the Taliban. There are strong arguments for talking to them, as have been discussed here before.

They argue that “Over the past two years, the United States has made enormous strides in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has undertaken a devastating campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as members of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This military pressure has made Americans safer”. They note that “U.S. policy is now entering a new and complex phase of this conflict, where diplomatic efforts in support of a robust political strategy for Afghanistan and the region will become even more essential”.

As a result of this they say that military force is not enough to win in Afghanistan. They argue that “This broad political settlement must include all elements of Afghan society — opposition groups, non-Taliban Pashtuns, ethnic and religious minorities, women, and civil society. Many of these groups are currently excluded by a government in Kabul that they rightly view as corrupt, closed, and unaccountable”.

They mention that “convincing combatants to leave the insurgency and enter into the political process is the hallmark of a successful counterinsurgency effort. The decision by Taliban representatives to open a political office in Qatar presents an important opening for such diplomatic efforts. Afghan President Hamid Karzai initially opposed this new political office and recalled Afghanistan’s ambassador to Qatar last month, but he has since thought better of the idea”.

They mention how the Karzai government as well as the differing views of the Taliban all pose a threat to the talks as well as the fact that “Many elements in Afghanistan’s parliament and government rightly fear that negotiations could turn out to be a back-door route to exclude other Afghan factions and return the Taliban to power. No one in Afghanistan wants such an outcome — nor should anyone in the United States”.

The rightly add that “the strategic partnership agreement is also an opportunity to offer a long-term commitment to Afghanistan of diplomatic, economic, and military support — including a U.S. military presence after 2014 — in return for commitments by the Afghan government to pursue specific political reforms that address its lack of checks and balance, impunity, and narrow base of support”.

The conclude arguing that ” Hillary Clinton has described the U.S. strategy as ‘fight, talk, and build’ — and that is exactly what the United States and its allies have been doing. U.S. and NATO troops have been fighting bravely for more than 10 years, and diplomats and development specialists have risked their lives providing crucial support to Afghans working to rebuild their society. The goal of this process should be an agreement by all Afghan parties to renounce violence, break with al Qaeda, and respect the Afghan constitution — including its human rights provisions, notably the rights of women and all ethnic groups. Now, after years of painstaking quiet diplomacy, it is time to see if such an outcome is possible”.

The Economist notes that the “secret NATO report on the Taliban leaked to the BBC is full of fascinating stuff, but it mostly confirms what was already known rather than shedding new light on the conflict in Afghanistan”, it goes on to note that the NATO report is rich in anecdotal evidence about the way that Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, controls and sustains the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan”. It concludes that “The report is, however, a timely reminder that despite the mood of (contained) optimism over peace talks, the insurgency remains resilient and confident and is likely to stay that way for as long as Pakistan believes it is in its strategic interests to give it material and moral support”.

There is no certainty that such an outcome is likely, let alone possible.

It continues, again

02/02/2012

After previous unrest has been commented on, in this the year of the dragon, more unrest is getting coverage. Angry steelworkers protested and demanded higher wages. The “three-day strike was unusually large for an enterprise owned by the central government. But, as China’s economy begins to grow more sedately, more such unrest is looming”.

The article reports that “news of the strike quickly broke on the internet. Photographs circulated on microblogs of a large crowd of workers from Pangang Group Chengdu Steel and Vanadium being kept away from a slip road to the expressway by a phalanx of police. Word spread that police had tried to disperse the workers with tear gas. In the end, as they tend to—and undoubtedly acting on government orders—factory officials backed down, partially at least”.

This pattern is common in China but cannot go on the way it is indefinitely. Yet, “strikes have become increasingly frequent at privately owned factories in recent years, often involving workers demanding higher wages or better conditions. Private firms, like state ones, are usually strong-armed by officials into buying off strikers”. However for now this is not a problem as “capitulating keeps a lid on news coverage and helps to prevent unrest from spreading. Yet the explosive growth in the use of home-grown versions of Twitter has made it easy for protesters to convey instant reports and images to huge audiences. The Communist Party’s capacity to stop ripples of unease from widening is waning—just as economic conditions are making trouble more likely”.

Indeed the report notes that “steelworkers complain that the government’s promise of an extra 260 yuan ($41) a month is hardly enough. Many of the lowest-paid earn as little as $190 monthly. But the workers know that the steel industry is struggling—and that vengeance on persistent troublemakers can be fierce”.

As has been mentioned here before, the article notes that “All this is partly a result of the curb on China’s stimulus spending and carefree (reckless, many would say) bank lending in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. There are fewer new construction projects; demand for steel has flattened”. The so called Chinese economic miracle is thus coming to an end and with it any “hopes” for Chinese global “leadership”.

It adds that ” The number of steel firms in the red rose from nine in September to 25 a month later. Even though the government is less worried about inflation now than it was a few months ago, and is releasing the economic brakes a little, the steel industry is expecting a lean period. Some firms might have to close”. What will these workers do after their plants have closed?

Even the EU have have an indirect had in the coming collapse of China when the article says that “Europe is the biggest buyer of Chinese products—and the euro zone’s travails have plunged many manufacturers into despair. Depressed demand in both Europe and America has taken its toll on factories”.

It concludes noting that “Later this year (probably in October or November), the party will hold its five-yearly Congress, the 18th since its founding in 1921, at which sweeping changes in the country’s top leadership will begin to unfold” adding “It is a decade since China experienced a leadership changeover on this scale—and the first time since the late 1980s that the advent of a new generation of leaders has coincided with such a troubled patch for the economy. The previous time, in 1988, an outbreak of inflation threw Deng Xiaoping’s succession plans into disarray, giving conservatives ammunition with which to attack his liberal protégés. The party’s strife erupted into the open the following year as students demanding greater freedom gathered in Tiananmen Square”.

Finally it notes a series of incidents where workers were bullied by the state with little or no recourse. There are questions as to how long this subservience will last given the changes in the regime this year, “A report published this month by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) says that, compared with those in 2010, the strikes of 2011 were better organised, more confrontational and more likely to trigger copycat action”.

Interestingly it cites a report saying, “citizens’ satisfaction with their own lives and confidence in the government, though high, experienced a “big drop” in 2010 and didn’t recover last year. Confidence in the government has fallen by about 10 percentage points, to around 60%”.

What happens next is only a question of when, not if.

Change of mind

01/02/2012

Tim Lynch has admitted his mistake. He previously said that Rick Perry would be the candidate that would beat President Obama. Now he has changed his mind.

Lynch now says that “I was certainly guilty of conflating Perry’s potential for his actual capacity. He had a genuine story to tell about how to run a big state, create jobs in a nation that was otherwise losing them, and translate his religious faith into real-world politics. On each of these scores he beat Barack Obama hands down”. Dr Lynch however again overstates Perry’s role. The governor of Texas is a weak position and Perry had little or nothing to do with the economy of the state.

Lynch goes on to write that “Perry was an ideal Republican candidate. But then his own character intervened. He seems to have decided either to treat the whole campaign with a stunning lack of seriousness or to have accepted very bad advice on how to plot a nomination fight – probably both”, adding that “His lack of seriousness was captured most jaw-droppingly during one of the many GOP debates when he could list only two of the three departments of the federal government he would close. This episode was typical of a wider failure to prepare, learn his lines, and know his policies. Less praying and more prepping were in order”.

Lynch notes that “Like an incompetent sailor, Perry thought that tacking endlessly to the right would bring him safe home. By calling social security a Ponzi scheme he even managed to make middle class conservatives wary of him”. Lynch adds that ” Indeed, from 1964 until Obama in 2008, no man was elected president from anywhere except California and the South (Romney take note). Like me, Perry was guilty of assuming having the Texas Governor’s Mansion on his resume would perpetuate this trend”. Of course, many of the Southern and Western states only became states in the 1900s, so from that measure Lynch is correct but on that logic Romney has an even better chance of becoming president, coming from one of the original thirteen colonies.

Lynch argues, correctly that “Conservative embarrassment must surely accompany Newt Gingrich’s current ascendency. This was the man who single-handedly engineered President Clinton’s political comeback in the middle-1990s”. He goes on to say that “His stunning victory in the South Carolina primary might be interpreted as the GOP forgiving him his past indiscretions. More likely, his win is testament to Mitt Romney’s failure to close the deal, despite some six years of trying. Exit polling suggests that Republicans voted for Gingrich not because he was sufficiently conservative but because Romney was not”.

Lynch concludes that President Obama’s biggest miracle yet could be getting re-elected, just.

It says it all

01/02/2012

Berlin seeks enforcement powers over Greece on budget policy“.

What next?

01/02/2012

A year has passed since the revolution in Egypt began. Among the many , many articles covering the subject, one from Chatham House is worth commenting on.

She mentions how ” The overthrow of the president, thirty years into his rule, was achieved by a wide-ranging coalition of social movements, political groups and individuals, which managed to overcome the usual boundaries of class, ideology and religious affiliation that had traditionally divided the Egyptian opposition”.  She writes that the challenges that face Egypt, notably “It is hardly surprising that this unusually unified coalition has fragmented in the months since then”.

She writes that “It is presumed that the military council now ruling the country, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is seeking to preserve as much of the existing political and economic structure as possible”. Yet this might not be a bad thing. With the Muslim Brotherhood holding a plurality of seats in the new parliament and the ultra conservative Salafists in second place, it would not be in the interests of either the EU or the United States to see the state with good relations with them and Israel go backwards to something akin to Saudi Arabia, or worse, Iran. Therefore until some agreement can be reached it is perhaps best to let the SCAF run Egypt.

She argues that the first “anniversary highlights the delicate position that the military is in, as it seeks to claim credit for the revolution while maintaining as much of its pre-revolution position as possible”. That is why Western powers are so important in keeping their interests intact after all that has happened. She adds correctly that ” the military council has squandered some of that political capital, by taking a heavy-handed approach to protestors, rounding up political prisoners, and by its generally opaque approach to managing the timetable for transition to an elected government”. Yet a long timetable is needed to give more liberal parties a chance to gain support as well as prepare the way for further elections. This balancing act will need Western assistance.

She concludes that “The military council has clearly felt under pressure to deliver some apparent progress in the run-up to the anniversary. Last week they announced the release of nearly 2000 political prisoners, including Maikel Nabil, a prominent blogger – though thousands of other civilians remain in jail after military trials. Last night, Mr Tantawi said that the country’s 31-year state of emergency would be lifted” adding “Expect to see a host of hasty, half-hearted ‘reform’ measures across the Arab world as the season of anniversary uprisings begins”.