Archive for March, 2012

Power to the government

31/03/2012

In this time of economic instability Chancellor George Osborne acknowledges that only a strong government can restore order and protect the common good.

Increasing unease

31/03/2012

Amid the upcoming change in leadership in China, the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to bolster its credibility but is only showing its increasing unease within itself amid the changing tide.

The Economist notes the terse official renouncement, “Bo Xilai, the party chief of the south-western region of Chongqing, had been replaced by a deputy prime minister, Zhang Dejiang”. It all went wrong when for the rising star of the Party when “Mr Bo’s political prospects had slumped on February 6th, when a deputy mayor and former police chief of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, Mr Bo’s right-hand man in a very public campaign against organised crime, fled to an American consulate and spent a day there”.

Bo was well known to be a revivalist of the Mao worship, with revolutionary poems and songs regularly preformed around what was his city, Chongqing. The article reports that “Wang walked out of the consulate into custody after Chongqing’s mayor, Huang Qifan, had gone in to talk to him. Since then it has been widely thought the real point of the investigation into Mr Wang was to undermine Mr Bo himself.”

The article crucially mentions how “Since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the Communist Party has been at pains to keep its power struggles under wraps. It was partly the awareness of high-level infighting that emboldened citizens to join the protests that year. The drama in Chongqing suggests the facade of unity may crack”.

The article goes on to note that “Wen also gave an unusual hint of his own doubts about political stability. He said that without political reform a ‘tragedy like the Cultural Revolution’ could happen again. This was remarkable: very few of even the most bearish observers of Chinese politics believe that the bloody internecine strife of the 1960s and 1970s is likely in the foreseeable future”. Yet, it mentions how “What Mr Wen means by political reform, however, may be no more than a gradual extension of elections of sorts (no opposition parties allowed), from the village level up to higher tiers of authority”.

A separate article notes that “Bo’s dismissal came just one day after China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, took a thinly-veiled swipe at Mr Bo during a nationally televised press conference, at the close of the annual full session of parliament“. It goes on to add that “Bo’s rather transparent attempts to harness popular support for his own advancement within the Party marked a sharp departure from the way top-level politics are handled in China. This too may have played a role in his downfall. Readers of tea leaves will now be looking closely to see what becomes of Mr Bo: whether he is to be investigated, disciplined or prosecuted”.

An article in Foreign Policy argues that “Bo was a good Communist, but also a bit too much of a populist for China’s tightly controlled system. He made the mistake of trying to rally public opinion in favor of his now-defunct bid to join the Politburo Standing Committee — behaving almost like China was the democracy he said it was — instead of leaving the decision entirely up to the party”. The piece mentions how Bo’s rule in Chongqing was exemplified by “cracking down on the mafia and resurrecting the Communist Party’s red roots through patriotic singing campaigns, while hounding defense lawyers and threatening newspapers with lawsuits“. The article concludes noting that

Others have said that “Bo Xilai’s ouster was about power, rather than ideology. From the central leadership’s rhetoric, especially Wen Jiabao’s statements about the need to avoid another Cultural Revolution, one would think that Bo’s fall from grace had mostly to do with his embrace of some form of Maoism”, instead he metions how “it’s a convenient picture for the central leadership to paint for an international audience — that they ousted Bo to prevent China from making a ‘left turn.'”

Instead, the writer argues that “Bo was aiming for a place in the Standing Committee to increase his own power. And his real “crime” according to the leadership is not what he did in Chongqing, but how he did it. In executing his dual “sing red strike black” campaigns, Bo established a separate center of power around himself that did not rely on the central leadership”, and in adds importantly that “China is now run more like a mafia state with a dozen or so powerful families in charge. Bo’s was one of them. The rules of the game are as such: “If you go after us, then we will go after you.” This might be another contributing factor to Bo’s demise. His deputy was allegedly probing Bo’s own family for corruption, and Bo responded by allegedly interfering in the investigation and attempting to sideline his once powerful chief. Unfortunately for Bo, his power struggle with Wang was not as important as Beijing’s struggle with him”.

Yet the fundamental point about Bo is that “Even more so than the sacking of Bo and the evident tension it is creating, the existence of a struggle over the future of the Chinese economy demonstrates a lack of consensus in China” and perhaps even worse than that, “it behooves us to remember that one of the reasons outsiders are paying attention to the idea that there may be a coup in China is that the military is the only institution that can keep the country together”.

The only questions are whether the Party will reform, or collapse, and what an ultra-nationalist military regime would look like for the rest of the world and world order if it were to take power.

No going back

30/03/2012

As the US Supreme Court begins to hear arguments of the revised health care law of President Obama, Justice Kennedy, unsuprisingly, as well as Chief Justice Roberts key to the decision. So, whatever way the Court decides,  more antagonism, more division and less agonism will follow and from this, the discourse suffers.

Still tense

30/03/2012

Many have noticed that little has changed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when much of the rest of the Middle East is in turmoil.

The much anticipated “Day of Rage” never really occurred and now others are questioning what is next for the country.

The writer notes that the protests, “concentrated in the Eastern Province fell short of producing a national consensus around demands for political reform”. He says the stability of the regime is as a result of “the country’s domestic stability has been attributed to a combination of three factors: the regime’s ability to rely on an influx of oil reserves to buy-off political unrest, its domestic alliance with a conservative religious establishment and powerful tribal groups as a means of dividing and controlling sources of dissent, and the long-standing support of Western powers for external security”.

He argues, largely correctly, that groups protesting the regime have lacked any cohesion and have been thus unable to rally mass support. Yet, interestingly, he implies that this choesion could soon come about. He mentions that “Official unemployment stands at 10 percent, but unofficial estimates place it as high as 20 percent. The latest official figures reveal that 670,000 families—approximately 3 million out of a total population of 18 million—live in poverty. Nor is hardship restricted to rural areas: a recent documentary on poverty in Riyadh, Maloub Alayna (The Joke’s on Us) recorded testimonies of families living on one meal a day, with as many as twenty people living in the same home”. Of course, those figures are large, but given the country’s high birthrate and large youth population, these figures are not all that surprising.

Even worse for the ruling family, he argues that “Saudi Arabia’s position as the leading exporter of oil is threatened by unrestrained domestic fuel consumption, which grows at 7 percent annually. At this rate, the Kingdom is set to become a net oil importer within the next twenty-five years. Long-term plans to diversify the economy have made little impact: the government derives almost 75 percent of its revenueand 90 percent of export earnings from oil, and the country still has the lowest GDP per capita within the Gulf Cooperation Council—lower than Oman or Bahrain”. Not only that, but some have speculated that the kingdom is not as wealthy as many think. Following on from this he notes, uncontroversially, that the  $130 billion spending package/bribe given by the increasingly frail King Abdullah.

He adds that opposition is further stifled as a result of “the Al Saud have built a state fused around a single cultural and religious identity, to the exclusion of competing historic identities from the Hejaz and Eastern parts of the country. The benefits of this alliance to the regime are clear: as opposition activists began to mobilize in early 2011, the country’s Council of Senior Scholars issued a fatwa denouncing protests as ‘un-Islamic,'”. In addition to this he mentions how the tribal and religious elites have been co-opted into supporting the monarchy with “key ministerial and military positions [which] have been delegated to a core of wealthy tribal families–institutionalizing powerful loyalties within the state and creating a strong elite with vested interests in the status quo”.

He adds worryingly, that “Institutionalized discrimination has fueled affinity with other Shi‘a abroad”, most obviously Iran. He concludes arguing that “the country faces a host of challenges that may provide the opportunity for the formation of cross-sectarian and cross-political alliances along a common set of demands, as demonstrated in 2003 when a group of liberals and Islamists from various sects signed a petition calling for democratic change”.

It is far from certain that the demands of these nebulous groups can and will be met, yet, on the other hand, if some gradual reform is not introduced the country could be known for much more than its oil reserves.

Cavet emptor

29/03/2012

It has been reported that the Brookings Institution “says that U.S. intervention in Syria involving on-the-ground forces could require between 200,000 and 300,000 troops and cost up to $300 billion per year to be executed properly. While no one is advocating a strategy involving an invasion, the report from the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy highlights the difficulties of accomplishing the Obama administration’s goal of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power”.

Pivot?

29/03/2012

The much discussed article by Hillary Clinton extolling the virtues and neccessity of America’s “pivot” to Asia has come under scrunity.

The writer,Michael Green, argues that the “Obama administration has written a new chapter in American foreign policy, saying that the United States will now “pivot” away from two wars in Southwest Asia to focus on the rising power of China”. Yet, in some ways this is no different to what the  United States has always done, with the Monroe Doctrine in the 19th century and the pivot to Europe in the 20th century. Indeed, like much of US foreign policy, President Obama is following a path trend by President Bush, and before him, President Clinton.

Green goes on to note that focus on Asia is certainly merited, not just as a result of China, but emerging states like Vietnam and Burma. He writes that “Under President Clinton, the Europe directorate of the National Security Council was three times larger than the Asia directorate. George W. Bush rebalanced things with Europe and Asia directorates of equal size, but then 9/11 caused the counterterrorism and Iraq/Afghanistan directorates to grow larger than either. It is logical for this administration and the next to restore the focus on Asia, given the power dynamics and economic vitality of the region”.

He continues in the same vein noting “As China has asserted its territorial claims in the South China Sea, Vietnam and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have embraced the United States in ways that Mrs Clinton is wisely reciprocating. The final merit of the Asia pivot is that it has signalled to the Departments of State and Defence that Asia’s share of the budget will increase in relative terms. The commander of US forces in the Pacific has been told that the President’s proposed $500 billion defence cuts will not come out of his command”. Green argues that basic “pivot” described by Secretary Clinton and President Obama will endure but questions other aspects of it.

He writes that the word “pivot” itself “suggests that Europe is now less important. If the administration’s main concern is managing the peaceful rise of China, however, then nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, China’s challenge to the prevailing structure of international relations requires more – not less – transatlantic co-operation”. Interestingly he also argues that much of the Middle East  is still vital for Asia, with “more than 90 per cent of Northeast Asia’s hydro-carbon imports come from that part of the world and Tokyo, Seoul and even Beijing look to Washington to provide a lead on maintaining stability in the region it is apparently pivoting out of. A grand strategy of pivoting also has to raise questions in Asia about when the pendulum might swing the other way”.

Green goes on to criticise President Obama because he “has not presented a clear picture of how the US will seek to build a region that protects stability while integrating China. Without that inclusive vision, the Chinese have chosen to interpret the pivot as being primarily about containing them”.

He mentions how the “administration symbolically began its engagement with meetings with Japan in March 2009 (Japan’s prime minister was the first Oval Office visitor from abroad and Mrs Clinton’s first overseas trip was to Tokyo). By November 2009, however, Obama and China’s leader Hu Jintao had signed a joint statement promising to respect each others ‘core interests’ and US officials were arguing that the main priority was ‘strategic reassurance’ with Beijing. To much of the world this looked like a new condominium with Beijing. Then, after China’s assertive push for sovereignty over the East and South China Seas and passive support of North Korea after attacks on the South, the administration shifted into balance-of-power mode, and then finally the pivot”. Green goes on to say that the strategy of focusing on Asia is as much political as not, as it attempts to look “muscular” having left Iraq and leaving Afghanistan.

Concluding he notes worryingly that ” the Pacific Commander does not actually own his forces. If there is a crisis with Iran over the Strait of Hormuz, the US Air Force and Navy will shift assets from the Pacific to the Arabian Sea”. He ends noting “If Obama or his successor makes the case for resourcing US commitments in Asia, then the Asia pivot will be viewed in history as one further step in a steady post-Cold War rebalancing of American global strategy. If not, the pivot may end up looking like so much election year politicking”.

History will judge Obama harshly, if there is no genuine movement East, as basic realism warrants.

Oil discovered in Ireland

27/03/2012

The first phase of Providence’s well testing programme in the Barryroe basin discovered flow rates of 3,514 bopd (barrels of oil per day) – double the target of 1,800 bopd that had been considered a commercial threshold“.

Nine years early

27/03/2012

Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury has announced, as expected, he is to retire at the end of 2012 to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. The normal retirement age in the Church of England is 70, Williams is therefore retiring nine years early.

statement issued by the archdiocese of Westminster, notes the remarks of Archbishop Vincent Nichols, “‘In the last three years I have grown to appreciate more and more the fine qualities of Archbishop Rowan: his kindness, his sharp intellect, his dedication to striving for harmony between peoples, especially within the Christian family, his courage and his friendship. These will be much missed when he steps down from his demanding office in December. I will miss him.'”

It was reported that “in a statement on his website, the head of the 85 million-strong Anglican Communion said serving as archbishop had been ‘an immense privilege’. He said stepping down had not been an easy decision and that during the time he had left there was ‘much to do'”. The article also notes that “Under his leadership, the Church of England has come close to splitting over the ordination of gay clergy and women bishops. Dr Williams has consistently supported the ordination of women, and previously showed no objection to the appointment of an openly-gay bishop in Reading”. The report mentions how “Williams said: ‘The worst aspects of the job, I think, have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won’t go away, however long you struggle with them, and that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation. ‘But I certainly regard it as a real priority to try and keep people in relationship with each other.'”

The Washington Post writes that, “The odds-on favourite, according to numerous observers, is Uganda-born John Sentamu, the current archbishop of York and the No. 2 official in the Church of England”, the article adds that “Sentamu has gained a reputation in some circles as a ‘cleric of the people’ for his actions, including cutting up his clerical collar on live television in 2007 to protest the rule of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe. Another prospective candidate is Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who gave the address at the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton last year and has a record as a strong campaigner on environmental issues. Other prospects include Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, who has gained a reputation as a ‘blogging’ bishop for his use of modern technology; and Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens, leader of the Anglican bishops who sit in the House of Lords. Whoever it is, Williams told reporters his successor will need ‘the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.'”

It adds that Williams “issued invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops from around the world, he refused to extend one to openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. At the same time, Williams faced an insurrection on his right flank as influential Anglican bishops in the Third World dismissed him as irrelevant for not taking a harder line on Western liberals. His attempt at compromise — an ‘Anglican Covenant’ that would bind member churches that agree to its traditional tenets — has so far been met with tepid enthusiasm by conservatives who don’t think it will work and liberals who say they will not be bound by outside interference”.

The Economist,  in an interesting, though not surprising piece, mentions how the Anglican Communion is fracturing. It mentions how “40% of Anglicans attend evangelical parishes these days, up from 26% in 1989. That is against a background of overall decline; he thinks the number of regular worshippers in the Church of England will have fallen to 680,000 by 2020, down from about 800,000 now and just under 1m a decade ago. The lukewarm are falling away, leaving the pews to the more fervent”. Indeed, this is exactly like what is occuring in the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict. Groups like the Neocatacumenal Way and Focolare one one hand and the Tridentine mass going traditionalists are, sadly, squeezing out those in “the middle”.

It cites a number of churches of an American inspired, evangelical bent that “have in common is a reluctance to do the Church of England’s traditional job of marrying, baptising or burying people who have no real religious commitment. That is a break with Anglicanism’s familiar role as the undemanding ‘default mode’ of faith for a secular country”.

Predictably however, this is reflected in ordainations, “Of the 515 people accepted as candidates for ordination in 2010, fully 108 were under 30, up from 74 the previous year. Compare that with the Catholic church in France, which ordained only 83 priests in 2010. Yet many of the budding clerics—perhaps a third—are firm evangelicals”.

The article concludes saying, “the archbishop’s strongest challengers are liberals outraged by his compromises on women bishops and by his opposition to the government’s plans to allow gay marriage. (It is now certain there will be women bishops; the question is how generously to accommodate clergy or parishes who will not submit to their authority.) But when the current generation of ordinands hit their stride, the balance may swing in a conservative direction. They are likely to give their bishops a hard time”, yet at the same time argues that “Evangelicalism, like Anglicanism as a whole, is a fairly broad church. So powerful is the nation’s resistance to “narrowness” that even religious fervour rests on compromises”.

However, it is doubtful that the Anglican Communion will continue for much longer as it is currently constructed.

Incapable?

25/03/2012

Romney appears incapable of capturing the large margins among white working-class voters that Republican candidates need in order to win a general election. In a just-released NBC poll, Romney’s margin among these voters was a mere 5 points, far less than McCain’s 18-point margin in 2008 and less still than the 25 points or more Romney probably would need in order to win, given the United States’ shifting demographics”.

Too effective

25/03/2012

The former British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, in an article lauds the American Constitution. However, he does say that “Worrying whether a particular country’s constitution is fit for purpose can seem a pointless activity. In the end, these problems are self-correcting: if a constitution doesn’t do its job, if it doesn’t strike the right balance between the interests of the governed and the need for good governance, then it collapses”.

The only problem with this is that it may take decades or centuries for a country to collapse, as he puts it, all the while the citizenry either do not see, or refuse to see the problem with their governing structures. This may be because of the media or vested interests or even the politicians themselves who refuse to see that the way a country is governed is not working anymore.

He goes on to write, justifably that “For more than two centuries the US Constitution has regulated the affairs of a great continental democracy, steering it through good times and some pretty bad times. For many Americans, the Constitution is an almost sacred text”.

He goes on to describe how difficult running the mission in Afghanistan was. He notes that the Constitution “seemed to obstruct rather than encourage the better governance of the world’s greatest republic” and how it reminded him of a previous report he wrote in the early 1990s on a similar topic.

He mentions, rightly how “the most obvious difficulty was in generating what I call strategic stamina. Stabilising a country in the state Afghanistan was in when the American-led coalition precipitated regime change in the autumn of 2001 takes decades, not years. But a political system in which most elected representatives are running for office most of the time finds it almost impossible to give such projects the sustained attention – and resources”. This is an echo of Niall Ferguson’s  Colossus which argues that America has two problems it must fix if it is to remain powerful, its debt and its ADD problem.

He concludes arguing that “The distribution of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government, and within the executive branch, also seemed to create more problems than it solved. In so many respects, the Constitution is an 18th century solution to an 18th century problem – an over-mighty Georgian monarch. The result – the shackling of the chief executive through a series of legislative controls – means that the executive can hardly spend a cent without the prior consent of the legislature.”

Finally he writes that “Worse, and perhaps more corrosive, the legislators have a big say in how that money is spent, thus exposing those running almost continually for re-election to huge outside pressures from lobbies of one kind or another. Within the executive branch, the hundreds of posts filled by political appointment mean that few if any senior federal officials spend more than four years in a job. Those chosen for such posts may be well-qualified professionals, but too often an 18th century system of patronage is used to reward political loyalty”.

He closes noting ” I cannot help observing that, while Europe’s problem may be that it does not have a working constitution, America’s may be that it has a constitution that works too well”. Now more than ever with no end to a return of agonism in sight, a powerful Hamiltonian system is needed to correct the excesses in the system and end the needless checks and balances that used to work.

“Now considered completed”

24/03/2012

On 20 March, the Press Office of the Holy See released a summary, available, here, here and here, of the Apostolic Visitation that took place last year in Ireland.

The summary document, the full reports have not been released, states that the Visitors, having seen “the four Archdioceses, to Religious Institutes and to the Irish Seminaries”. It opens almost immediately noting “It should be borne in mind that the Visitation was pastoral in nature; the Holy Father’s intention was that it should ‘assist the local Church on her path of renewal'” and that the Visitation was “not intended to replace or supersede the ordinary responsibility of Bishops and Religious Superiors, nor to interfere ‘with the ordinary activity of the local magistrates, nor with the activity of the Commissions of Investigation established by the Irish Parliament, nor with the work of any legislative authority, which has competence in the area of prevention of abuse of minors'”.

Interestingly, it notes that ” These four Visitations included meetings with the suffraganeous Bishops and yielded sufficient information to provide an adequate picture of the situation of the Church in Ireland, such as to obviate the need to extend the Visitation to the suffraganeous Sees”. It adds that “the Visitators were able themselves to see just how much the shortcomings of the past gave rise to an inadequate understanding of and reaction to the terrible phenomenon of the abuse of minors, not least on the part of various Bishops and Religious Superiors”.

It mentions how “the Visitators were able to verify that, beginning in the 1990s, progressive steps have been taken towards a greater awareness of how serious is the problem of abuse, both in the Church and society, and how necessary it is to find adequate measures in response. The Visitation was also intended to determine whether the structures and procedures put in place by the Church in Ireland from that period onwards are adequate to ensure that the tragedy of the abuse of minors will not be repeated” and goes on to list a number of recommendations which” include; ” Visitators acknowledge that, beginning with the Bishops and Religious Superiors, much attention and care has been shown to the victims, both in terms of spiritual and psychological assistance and also from a legal and financial standpoint. It has been recommended, therefore, that, following the example given by Pope Benedict XVI in his meetings with victims of abuse, the Irish diocesan authorities and those of the Religious Institutes continue to devote much time listening to and receiving victims”, “It is recommended that this process of covering all Dioceses and Religious Institutes by regular audits will be implemented in a prompt manner”, “the work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church has been thorough and far-reaching, for which reason it should be supported by the Bishops, Religious Superiors and the whole community of the Church in Ireland, and it should continue to receive sufficient personnel and funding”. This support for the NBSC while naturally welcome is somewhat odd as it is not within the official Church structures per se, but equally giving it funding and personnel means that the Church in the future could exercise a greater role, for the better/worse in it.

Among the other recommendations to seminaries it notes that  “offering a more systematic preparation for a life of priestly celibacy by maintaining a proper equilibrium between human, spiritual and ecclesial dimensions”, more rigorous entrance criteria as well as a clause in the summary that drew most media attention, “to show greater concern for the intellectual formation of seminarians, ensuring that it is in full conformity with the Church’s Magisterium”.

The document ends noting “the Apostolic Visitation should now be considered completed”.

There was no mention of the suppression or merging of dioceses, though this is expected in the coming months. Secular journalists have noted that the summary was made public at a press conference “attended by the Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, the papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown and the secretary general of the Conference of Religious of Ireland Sr Marianne O’Connor. The visitation report called on the Irish church to update its child protection guidelines in accordance with those published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome last May”. The writer also notes that the document said that semanarians should be separated “to ensure a well-founded priestly identity”.

In other reports Cardinal Brady said the Church in Ireland “had been looking at a reconfiguration of its 26 dioceses even before Pope Benedict announced the apostolic visitation to Ireland two years ago. He said ‘that preceded the visitation’ and that the Irish church had a committee which had ‘made some initial proposals’. The church in Ireland did not want this reconfiguration ‘linked with the abuse issue’, he said”.

Elsewhere it was reported that the highly regarded archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, “described the summation as a ‘wide-ranging, comprehensive summary of what is in all the reports’. ‘I recognise in this everything that was said in the draft reports I saw,’ he said. Dr Martin said the report’s recommendation for changes to seminaries and admission criteria for would-be priests did not mean they would be cloistered. ‘I certainly think that as a trustee of Maynooth I would be very careful to ensure we don’t have a system that would build a new clericalism,’ he said.

However, the group representing those who had been abused, with the disingenuous name of One in Four, responded that “‘While we welcome the findings of the visitation that the Irish church now has good child protection practices in place, we feel it is a lost opportunity to address the role played by the Vatican in perpetuating the policy of protecting abusive priests at the expense of children,’ said executive director of the organisation Maeve Lewis. One in Four founder Colm O’Gorman said the seven-page summary of the visitation reports offered very little of value and was ‘almost farcical’ in places”. The report rightly accepts O’Gorman’s point that, “‘Nowhere in this statement or in any statement the Vatican has ever made, has it acknowledged its responsibility for the cover-up of these crimes for its failure to properly address these crimes at any point,’ he said”.

Unless the role of Rome has been admitted and solved then there will be little claim to real change in a Church that continues to do great things.

Still swirling

24/03/2012

Talk still swirls around Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller as the next prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Rorate deems him theologically unfit, just as  John Allen notes that “you can sometimes tell a rumor is serious when pot shots start falling on the would-be nominee”. If it goes ahead as expected, Muller will be appointed after Easter.

Rove’s hypocritical advice

21/03/2012

Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie write that President Obama should not be so confident when it comes to his foreign policy.

They argue instead that “the Republican nominee should adopt a confident, nationalist tone emphasizing American exceptionalism, expressing pride in the United States as a force for good in the world, and advocating for an America that is once again respected (and, in some quarters, feared) as the preeminent global power”.  Yet, there is little to suggest that President Obama has done anything but this. Admittedly, he has toned down the historically dubious references to exceptionalism.  They go on arguing that “Voters also sense he is content to manage America’s decline to a status where the United States is just one country among many”, yet this does not chime with reality either. In his most recent State of the Union President Obama spoke of how “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about”.

Rove and Gillespie go on to write that “Republican nominee should use the president’s own words and actions to portray him as naive and weak on foreign affairs. Obama’s failed promises, missed opportunities, and erratic shifts suggest he is out of touch and in over his head”. This is hugely hypocritical as all of what Mitt Romney, and even Rick Santorum have said is remarkably similar to what President Obama has done. If Obama is weak and naive than he is so simply as a result of following the policy of George Bush, who agreed the Afghanistan draw down of 2014 and the Iraq withdrawal date also.

Yet the writers seem to want it both ways when they write that “the Republican candidate should not hesitate to point out where Obama has left his Republican predecessor’s policies largely intact. He will be uncomfortable if the nominee congratulates him for applying President George W. Bush’s surge strategy to Afghanistan, carrying through on the expanded use of drones, reversing course on the handling of terrorist detainees, and renewing the Patriot Act after previously condemning it as a ‘shoddy and dangerous law'”. Either he is weak and followed a different path to President Bush or has followed the same path as President Bush and done well. Anything else is mean spirited and nasty.

They continue bizarrely noting that “Obama recognizes that he’s seen as ‘cold and aloof,’ and the Republican nominee should hammer this point home. The president has few real friends abroad”. It seems a bit strange but this is exactly the same criticism that has been rightly levelled at Romney. Similarly, to say that Obama has “few real friends” makes little sense. His speech in Cairo was a great success and he is lauded in much of Europe, still, which merely shows the hypocrisy of Europeans.

They conclude writing that “the Republican candidate must condemn the president’s precipitous drawdown in Afghanistan and his deep, dangerous defense-budget cuts”. They will be delighted to here that the sequestration cuts will not happen to DoD but the planned cuts, will rightly go ahead. If the GOP do not support cuts of any kind to DoD then it is not only wasting taxpayer money but encouraging waste when there is less money to go around.

They miss the same point, not only is their cross party consensus that President Obama is doing a good job in this difficult area but that his successor when ever that will be, will do nothing radically different.

“Dialogue”

21/03/2012

John Cardinal Tong Hon has said he will continue dialogue with China even though the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which runs the Catholic dioceses and controls the bishops in China, has said it will consecrate more bishops as it sees fit, with or without the Vatican’s approval“.

Halting progress after the Arab revolutions

19/03/2012

With a few exceptions, though, the authorities do not actively seek out people to prosecute. The cases that come to court often do so by accident or for unrelated reasons. This is mainly a result of denial: large numbers of prosecutions are to be avoided since that would cast doubt on the common official line that ‘we don’t have gay people here.'”

Another day, another leak

19/03/2012

The case of Archbishop Carlo Vigano goes on and on and on.

John Allen gives excellent analysis. He notes that ” only the Vatican could invent a scandal that manages to be almost comically silly and overblown, then suddenly ugly and mean, and finally deadly serious, all wrapped into one wildly complicated Italian melodrama”. He goes on to recap the scandal saying, “Letters written to the pope and to the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, by the current papal ambassador in the United States, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, complaining of corruption in Vatican finances and a campaign of defamation against him “, he adds that “An anonymous memo written about a new Vatican law against money laundering, which suggests the law contains an enormous loophole — that it blocks action against any offense before April 1, 2011, when the law came into effect” in addition to these he mentions ” anonymous document, written in German, describing a conversation Italian Cardinal Paolo Romeo of Palermo, Sicily, allegedly had during a trip to China, in which he predicted Pope Benedict XVI would be dead within 12 months and replaced with Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Italy. Retired Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos passed that document along to the pope”.

Allen writes that the irony of these leaks themselves not the content is doing most harm. He goes on to say that the financial leaks show “a picture of ongoing cronyism and occult transactions despite pledges of reform. The Vatican has issued unusually detailed, point-by-point explanations, trying to argue that either the document’s conclusions were mistaken, or that it offered a snapshot of an internal debate that has already been resolved”.

Of the Vigano affair he writes that “the publication of the Viganò letters that began the avalanche of leaks may have done the Vatican a favour”. Allen gives the example of how the Vatican has tried to reframe the issue, he writes that Cardinal Filoni said that “the documents demonstrate the existence of robust internal debates within the Vatican, just like in ‘any other institution.’ Their disclosure therefore offers a rebuttal, Filoni said, to critics who ‘always say there’s no democracy or open discussion in the church.’ In the end, however, there are two elements of the Vatileaks crisis that can’t just be explained away, or dissolved by spin”. The first of these Allen says is the “administrative and managerial drift during this papacy” and secondly  “this is one of those rare scandals that have the Vatican’s allies and supporters riled, not just its critics and foes”.

In a separate piece in an attempt to tidy up his own uncertain reputation at governance, Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo has openly attacked Archbishop Vigano, stopping just short of calling him a liar.

Yet in addition to this another leak was reported recently. An Italian newspaper “published two confidential letters documenting a failed 2011 effort by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s powerful Secretary of State, to take control of an important Italian Catholic university and hospital system”. In this case Cardinal Bertone lost with Benedict siding with Cardinal Tettamanzi. This ” is a rare case in which Benedict XVI actually sided against Bertone”.

It has been written that “the recent torrent of leaked documents is intended to paint a picture of the Vatican as a ‘ship without a helmsman’, thereby undercutting the moral leadership of Pope Benedict XVI”. In the interview, Cardinal Lajolo goes on to defend his reputation and defend the costs of monies spent and lost during his tenure as president of the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City and president of the Governatorate of the Vatican City.

In yet another twist, only a few days ago it was reported that Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, substitute for General Affairs, has been asked  to open an enquiry into the leaks and find those responsible. However, it appears that this investigation will not occur. Amazingly, the same report however, notes that as Cardinal Bertone turns 78 in December the possibility of the appointment of a pro-secretary is mooted. The article gives little detail but describes the role as dealing with the diplomatic arm of the Secretariat of State. There are dozens of potential candidates but perhaps the most obvious being Archbishop Mamberti.

Time up

17/03/2012

Vatican statement on SSPX ultimatum: “the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X was invited to clarify his position in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI”.

Getting desperate

17/03/2012

After news of the Chinese property bubble bursting, there are reports that “Wen Jiabao cut his nation’s 2012 growth target to an eight-year low of 7.5 per cent and made boosting consumer demand the year’s first priority”.

This has all the classic signs of desperation in order to prop up the Chinese economy and save his pension and jobs for the next generation. The article notes that “Lower growth will allow Beijing to reform key price controls without causing an inflation spike, so monetary policy can stay broadly expansionary to ensure a steady flow of credit to the small and medium-sized firms the government wants to encourage”. It goes on to mention that Wen’s task is to increase the amount of domestic spending.

The article concludes saying that  “Sources had earlier indicated that the growth target would be cut to 7.5 per cent. Growth of level would be the lowest since 1990. In reality, the target acts more as a bar to get over. The 8 per cent target set in the previous eight years was comfortably exceeded each year – including in the aftermath of the 2008/09 financial crisis”.

The Economist writes that having regularly been accused of exporting too much it is now the opposite. The articles mentions how “a Chinese trade deficit. At $31.5 billion in February, the imbalance was bigger than any deficit on record—it was bigger even than many of China’s monthly surpluses”. It goes on to say that “The fear is that China’s economy will slow sharply, hobbled by declining exports to crisis-racked Europe and a rising bill for commodities like oil. The hope is that China is rebalancing, moving away from an economic model reliant on foreign demand”. Yet the hope for rebalancing is only that, a hope. The sharp slow is indicative of a housing collapse, nothing more. It that article says, “China has rebalanced externally without rebalancing internally. Its current-account surplus has narrowed largely because of an increase in domestic investment, not consumption”.

Yet for all of this talking down the lowest growth figures in eight years and at a time when the leadership is changing, the “Communists” in Beijing cannot but be worried about what might happen if growth falls lower, especially as structural work is needed to right to economy but the chances of this occurring during the transition are slim. It may just be to their peril, and America’s gain.

Walt the realist?

16/03/2012

In a blog post, Dr Walt responds to the question put to him about international institutions.He says that in relation to a previous post, where Walt “argued that NATO’s decision to conduct ‘regime change’ in Libya under the auspices of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, even though the resolution did not authorize this act, may have contributed to Russia and China’s decision to veto a proposed resolution on Syria”. Such thinking is laughable. Syria and Russia vetoed the UNSC resolution because it wasn’t in their interests, not because of Libya. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, UNSC 1973 did under no circumstances allow for “regime change” in Libya but it also stated quiet clearly, that civilians were to be protected by an means necessary.

What would Walt have NATO do? Erect a temporary no fly zone around Benghazi and then leave after six months when Gaddafi would then promptly resume bombing the city, or alternatively is he advocating a permanent and hugely costly no fly zone. Of course the only way to ensure the interests of the European continent are met is to get rid of Gaddafi altogether and bring lasting protection to the civilians which is exactly NATO did. Finally, even if it was against “international law”, so what? Where are the international police to haul the UK, France and the US off to “jail”?

On a more general point, Walt goes on to discuss international organisations. Walt writes that “Of course realists ‘believe in’ international law and institutions: they exist, and we’d have to be blind to deny that basic fact. Moreover, realists have long acknowledged that international law and international institutions can be useful tools of statecraft, which states can use to achieve their national interests”. He rightly goes on to mention the usefulness of air traffic control and the international law of the sea as well as more unusual examples. These are indeed useful and should not be forgotten. However, the only reason these rules in the air and sea are abided by is because all nations have voluntarily decided to keep them, nothing more.

Walt rightly adds that “realists part company with some (but not all) liberal idealists is in their emphasis on the limits of institutions: they cannot force powerful states to act against their own interests and they usually reflect the underlying balance of power”. He continues writing that “a realist like me isn’t surprised when a powerful country like the United States ignores the fine details of a U.N. resolution, and proceeds to undertake unauthorized regime change”.

Yet on the fundamental point Walt does seem to agree that the UN doesn’t work and therefore is basically a realist. Yet, he is sadly unable to see the benevolent role the United States, his own country, plays in the world today.

Santorum wins in Alabama and Mississippi

15/03/2012

Santorum takes Alabama and Mississippi as expected.

A new French revolution

15/03/2012

There are signs that something is changing in France. While the streets might not flow with blood and regicide might not take place any more there is a feeling that the French attitudie to the European Union is changing as well.

In a piece Ambrose Evans Pritchard writes somewhat exaggeredly that there is a “revolt” but certainly a quiet revolution is underway. He writes that “Carolingian union is all that anybody in French public life can really remember. It worked marvellously for two generations, levering French power on the global stage, and the euro was of course their own creation, intended to tie down a reunited Germany with ‘silken cords'”.

He notes that “While German unemployment has fallen to a post-Reunification low of 5.5pc, France’s jobless rate has crept up to a post-EMU high of 9.9pc and is certain to rise further as recession bites again”, in the same vein he go on noting, “While both countries had the same sorts of export surplus in the early 1990s, they have diverged massively since the D-Mark and franc were fixed in perpetuity. Germany has a current account surplus of 5pc of GDP: France has a deficit of 2.7pc, anathema for Colbertistes. You can see from IMF data that the silent coup took place in the fat years of the global boom when Germany forced down unit labour costs; -1.7pc in 2003, -4.0pc in 2004, -3.3pc in 2005, -1.8pc in 2006. France lost ground year after year due to wage creep and weaker productivity”.

Such is the increasing disparity that Sarkozy “has clung to the fig leaf of Franco-German parity, staking all on ties to Chancellor Angela Merkel, rather than seizing leadership of the Latin bloc to force a radical change of policy. His gamble on the status quo has failed. Mrs Merkel has not yielded an inch, and has now forced him to swallow a fiscal treaty that erodes French sovereignty without offering any remedy to the crisis at hand. Her contradictory medicine for half of Europe has itself cost France its AAA rating”.

He mentions that “it has fallen to the Socialists – less compromised lately – to start the rebellion. ‘We cannot let the Germans alone appoint themselves experts and judges,’ said party leader François Hollande. He called for ‘substantial modifications’ to the fiscal compact if elected president”. While Hollande leads in the polls currently, there is uncertainty as to whether it will translate into real resistance to German actions should he be elected, much of the evidence suggests that he too will tow the German line.

He concludes noting that “Germany has overplayed its hand badly and will face a whirlwind diplomatic retribution. Its narrative of the EMU crisis – virtuous Northerners rescuing profligate Greco-Latins – was oppressively dominant for two years but has at last been discredited”, he goes on to mention that the “Soros-Roubini narrative has replaced it – a tale of self-feeding contraction as austerity cuts into the muscle and the bone itself, a ‘German taskmaster’ bent on deranged policies that will destroy the EU itself. As Portugal’s elder statesman Mario Soares put it, the strategy is leading nowhere and everybody knows it”.

As others have written the Merkozy jibe is really only an illusion with Merkel as the leader, “Almost all the elements of a solution—resolving the Greek crisis, creating a firewall round solvent sovereigns, recapitalising wobbly banks and redesigning the euro zone’s rules—have run into French obstacles. In the end, though, France has usually had to yield to Germany”.

Should Hollande be elected and fail to stand up to Germany, there will be uproar, with the extreme parties lead a rise in nationalism, and a backlash against the EU and gaining ground. From this the very benefits of French EU membership called into question. If this occurs Germany will only have itself to blame.

Ever more complicated

13/03/2012

Syria becoming even more of a mess now than when it was before. With al-Qaeda trying to overthrow Assad, yet for once we share the same short term goals, “Like al-Qaeda, we are interested in undermining Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon. In Libya, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy threw their weight behind the destruction of Gaddafi’s government and its replacement by a new regime which reportedly embraces al-Qaeda-connected figures. We and the terror group have come to share the same hostility to the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and for very much the same reason: we both agree that he takes his orders from Tehran”.

 

Peaceful development?

13/03/2012

A piece in the New York Times brings to light China’s worrying so called, “peaceful development”. Yet this phrase is hard to believe when they persist in claiming the entire South China Sea as their own and at the same time build a “new” aircraft carrier.

The piece notes how the Chinese authorities have “announced a double-digit increase in military spending”. The article goes on to mention that the increase, “reported to be 11.2 percent, is in step with the increased pace of military spending by China over the past decade, but the official statement did not give details of what weapons systems China is developing or offer a description of military strategy beyond protection of the country’s sovereignty”

However, it is notoriously difficult to gauge accurately whether the increase is even accurate such is the secrecy surrounding the actual defence spending in the PRC. The article goes on to note that “China, which is heavily dependent on imported energy, has shown that it wants greater control of the sea lanes off its coast and wants to protect the heavily populated and increasingly wealthy cities on its east coast”. A Chinese official responded that the increased spending “was relatively low, as a percentage of gross domestic product, compared with other countries, specifically the United States and Britain. The total defense budget for 2012 would be increased to $106 billion from $95.6 billion last year”.

Unsurprisingly the article mentions how the “Chinese Navy, Air Force and the Second Artillery Corps, which runs the strategic nuclear forces, benefit most from the increased defense spending, experts in both countries say. Among the navy’s acquisitions are a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and more sophisticated radar systems that allow for improved over-the-horizon targeting”.

As expected the article confirms the fear of many when it notes that “the Pentagon estimated that China would spend $160 billion instead of the announced $95.6 billion”.

It is expected that country who is currently centre stage should increase its military power, yet, there is a worrying question that few seem able to answer, why does China need all this equipment? It is certainly not to bring order to an anarchic world as the United States does. America and the rest of the world should continue to balance against China for the sake of good order.

Grading the professor

11/03/2012

A group of distinguished scholars have a range of viewpoints have rated how President Obama has done on his foreign policy.

The always excellent, Republican, Bob Kagan notes that Obama’s policy in Asia was excellent which, “By taking advantage of China overplaying its hand in the South China Sea and generally unnerving most of the region, the Obama administration has reconfirmed the central role of the United States in East Asia. The opening of a new base in Australia is a powerful symbol of America’s enduring strategic presence in the region. The opening with Burma obviously has both strategic motives and strategic implications”. Dr Kagan goes on to praise the “Obama administration [that] has fortunately ignored the ‘realists’ call for standing by the collapsing dictatorships in the Middle East. (How people can call themselves ‘realists’ when advocating such hopelessly unrealistic policies is a source of wonderment.) In Egypt, especially, while the reaction to events has sometimes been slow, the administration has generally moved in the right direction”.

Kagan rightly continues to praise Obama writing “Obama deserves particular credit for not joining in the general panic at the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood” and going on to say “Obama has made steady moves in support of democracy. After treating it like a dirty word in its first year and a half, the administration has returned to a pro-democracy posture not only in the Middle East, but also in Russia and Asia”. Kagan notes that of Obama’s setbacks, “topping the list is Obama’s failure to work out an agreement with Iraq to maintain a U.S. troop presence beyond the end of 2011. This has been a disaster and may prove to be one of the gravest errors of Obama’s first term, for which either he or his successor will pay a high price”. Kagan concludes noting a lack of entitlement reform should have been desirable.

Having left her post as director of Policy Planning, Democrat, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes that Obama “has had a very good run on foreign policy, aided by his superstar secretary of state”. She lists out a host of other achievements that include the success/lucky campaign in Libya, the “institutionalization of the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific through membership in the East Asia Summit”, the “killing of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda”, the “elevation of development (including food security, global health, climate change issues, and economic growth) as a much bigger part of U.S. foreign policy”. She rightly criticses Obama for Israel, for “framing the entire issue in such a way that once the United States had demanded an end to the settlements and Israel refused, any subsequent U.S. accommodation of Israel looks like capitulation”, as well as Pakistan policy which failed to “establish a consistent strategy for Pakistan, alternating between embrace and embarrassment in ways that often make our policy as inconsistent and frustrating”.

Others in the article praise his cutting nuclear weapons with Russia, while others criticise him for his “fooreign policy lacks a guiding set of principles” with such examples as “Why surge troops into Afghanistan only to draw them down before the mission is complete? Why condemn Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya for his crimes against his own people and remain almost indifferent to the same crimes when committed by Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Why knock off a dozen al Qaeda terrorists from the air, and release another group from Guantánamo?”.

Arron David Miller notes that Obama is “in many ways Obama has morphed into a less reckless and certainly less ideological version of Bush 43 in the final years of his presidency: surging in Afghanistan, toughening policy toward Iran (and Syria), whacking more bad guys with predator drones in his first year than his predecessor did in his first term, and keeping the Guantánamo prison open”.

Others criticise his lack of “durable legal architecture for counterterrorism”, peace in the Middle East, “civil military rebalancing”, whatever that means, and the jury still out on Iran, North Korea and what to do next with the global economy.

Overall though there have been plenty of successes and much continuity, which are perhaps not as unrelated as many think,

Don’t forget Congress

09/03/2012

Seats in Congress up for grabs as well this November.

More isolated

09/03/2012

Following on from a previous post relating to Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, SDB more scandal has emerged.

A Reuters piece notes that high ranking officials “said almost daily embarrassments that have put the Vatican on the defensive could force Pope Benedict to act to clean up the image of its administration – at a time when the church faces a deeper crisis of authority and relevance in the wider world”. It goes on to note that “Some of those sources said the outcome of a power struggle inside the Holy See may even have a longer-term effect, on the choice of the man to succeed Benedict when he dies”. It goes on to say that, “The sources agreed that the leaks were part of an internal campaign – a sort of ‘mutiny of the monsignors’ – against the pope’s right-hand man, Secretary of State”.

Unsurprisingly it mentions that “Vatican sources say the rebels have the tacit backing of a former secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano”. Other scandals that are reported is at “the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), is aiming to comply fully with international norms and has applied for the Vatican’s inclusion on the European Commission’s approved “white list” of states that meet EU standards for total financial transparency. Bertone was instrumental in putting the bank’s current executives in place and any lingering suspicion about it reflects badly on him. The Commission will decide in June and failure to make the list would be an embarrassment for Bertone”.

In a similar vein John Allen discusses the letters leaked by the nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Allen writes that “Viganò reportedly warned Benedict that his exit from that position, either to Washington or anyplace else, would send exactly the wrong signal”. Allen goes on to note that “Revealed by an Italian TV program called ‘The Untouchables,’ Viganò wrote the letters in early 2011. In one, Viganò reportedly told the pope that his removal would ‘provoke confusion among all those who’ve believed that it’s possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and dishonesty.’ In another, addressed to Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Viganò said that the management of Vatican investments had been entrusted to a group of Italian bankers ‘who look after their interests more than ours.’ He complained that contracts are ‘always given to the same companies at costs at least double compared to those charged outside the Vatican,’ on the basis of personal connections and patronage ties”.

He concludes that “In the wake of the disclosed letters, a Vatican official insisted in a Jan. 31 statement that Viganò continues to enjoy the pope’s ‘unquestionable esteem and trust.’ The statement also asserted that Benedict and his aides are committed to ‘ever greater transparency and trustworthiness, and to attentive control of economic activity.’ It cited the fact that the same day the Viganò story broke, the Vatican announced it had ratified three U.N. conventions intended to curb illegal currency flows and transactions. The story took another turn with a Feb. 4 statement from the top brass at the government of the city-state. It was cosigned by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the former president of the city-state (and thus Viganò’s former boss), and the current top man, Cardinal-designate Giuseppe Bertello, along with two other officials”.

So where does this leave the scandal prone Cardinal Bertone? Some sources indicate that the Secretary of State is distrusted and in some cases loathed. The current set of leaks are simply a method of embarrassing Bertone into resigning, or to put it more accuratley Pope Benedict asking him to leave. Apparently, Archbishop Vigano “had dangled before him the prospect of a position in the Curia, a promise which he [Bertone] was then unable or unwilling to keep. Rightly or wrongly, Viganò holds him responsible for what he sees as an exile”. Tellingly, the report notes that Vigano’s “enemies speak of a chest of letters that was supposedly sent to America, which is allegedly being guarded jealously. This could all be fantasy, but it still gives an idea of the climate in recent days”. The report notes that Vigano has recieved support against Bertone from Giovanni Battista Cardinal ReAgostino Cardinal CacciavillanPaolo Cardinal Sardi, and notably former Secretary of State, Angelo Cardinal Sodano. The rivaly between Sodano and Bertone goes back years. Sodano refused to leave his Secretary of State’s apartments for months after Bertone took up the top job, which meant Bertone had to stay in St John’s Tower instead.

Even foreign cardinals are against Bertone. All this makes Bertone more isolated and more trusting of fewer and fewer people.

 

Not the time

08/03/2012

So yet again, things in Europe get more complicated. The Irish Attorney-General has advised the Government that a referendum on the Fiscal Compact is needed.

Apparently the “compact, agreed at special EU summit last month, proposes tough new budgetary discipline on each euro zone state, including near-zero public deficits. Twenty-five of the European Union’s 27 countries have signed up to the new treaty, with only Britain and the Czech Republic opposed. Mr Kenny told the House that the Attorney General’s advice at this morning’s Cabinet meeting was that ‘on balance’, a referendum was required to ratify it”.

All major parties apart from the hard Left and ultra nationalist Sinn Fein are supporting the ratification of the treaty. If the referendum was not passed it would “bar Dublin from accessing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the permanent successor to the euro zone’s current rescue fund which Ireland is tapping as part of an EU-IMF bailout that runs until the end of 2013”.

Ironically the compact was created so as to avoid an Irish referendum. The German Minister for Europe, Michael Link admitted this only weeks ago. During a visit to Dublin “for talks with Ministers, officials and members of the Oireachtas, added that Ireland’s constitutional requirements will also help to determine the drafting, at next week’s EU summit, of rules governing the role of the European Court of Justice in enforcing the new pact.’As you know, concerning the next European Council, there are still ongoing negotiations concerning the role of the European Court of Justice. Also there, we are trying to design everything that is on the table in a way which would be okay in the eyes of the Attorney General and the Irish Constitution so that no referendum is needed’ he told The Irish Times“. In the same report he added that “The situation is that many people in Ireland, as far as I understand, are afraid that the compact would affect the Irish Constitution. We have tried everything to make clear that the compact is in line with the Irish Constitution and therefore of course we want, if possible, to have Ireland as an important member of the euro zone, also as part of the fiscal compact,’ he said”. Interestingly his comments “appear to contradict the Taoiseach’s denial in the Dáil this month of a report in this newspaper that parts of the pact were explicitly drafted to give the Government a chance to avoid a referendum”.

The decision to hold a referendum was therefore was a surprise to many with the EU with ” a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said the German leader had ‘taken note’ of the referendum decision but ‘would not comment on sovereign Irish decisions’. It was a line repeated by all political parties in Germany. However, Dr Michael Meister, a budget and finance spokesman for Dr Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) said: ‘Whoever doesn’t accept the treaty has no protection from the ESM bailout fund. If the Irish people think they don’t need any ESM protection they can, of course, reject the fiscal treaty.’ Dr Günther Krichbaum, CDU European spokesman in parliament, said the question Ireland had to vote on was: ‘Do we want to stand together, do we want a stable and prospering union from which future generations can benefit?'”.

The expected date is sometime in May or June. As usual the relentless pro-EU Irish press are threatening their readers with one asking Will we vote ourselves out of the game? with others saying that the Vote may decide if Ireland survives storm or faces catastrophe.

Now is certainly not the time for democracy to get in the way of economic stability. Yet, whatever way the vote goes Ireland is set to face years of austerity and further cuts to the most vulnerable and weakest in society.

Another “win”

07/03/2012

The Republicans of Ohio have voted for Romney, just. yet there seems to be a pattern emerging. Bear in mind that  no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying the state of Ohio.  

A report says that “the small margin of victory won’t erase doubts about his campaign and could prolong the GOP race for a few more months. Romney led with 38 percent of the vote and 99 percent of precincts reporting. Rick Santorum followed with 37 percent, Newt Gingrich took 15 percent and Ron Paul had 9 percent”.

This mirrors his narrow win in Michigan and will not inspire confidence among those who already destest him in the GOP that he is not the right candidate. The report adds that “Despite the narrow win, Romney did take the most delegates Tuesday, which will bolster his argument that he is the inevitable nominee”. However, Romney also won in Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Dakota, Virginia, Vermont, Idaho and the state where he served as governor, Massachusetts.

The narrowness of the victory in Ohio lead some to speculate that “the race will drag on”. The report interestingly mentions that “the former Massachusetts governor’s loss in Tennessee means Romney hasn’t won a state yet in the deep South. He lost South Carolina in January and, while he won Florida’s primary”. Next up are Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Hawaii which Romney is not expected to do well in, with the excepption of Hawaii.

Some have posited the senario that “the chronic enthusiasm deficit is a sign that Romney won’t be able to turn out the voters he needs to beat President Obama. The conservative base won’t be interested in a choice between Obama and ‘Obama Lite’ and won’t find voting for ‘the lesser of two evils’ particularly compelling”.

It goes on to say that “Especially worrisome is the prospect that Romney seems to have trouble wooing blue collar workers in Rust Belt states — the stomping grounds of Santorum supporters who don’t connect with either Romney’s region (New England), his wealth (massive), his ideology (moderate), or his record (RomneyCare)”.

What happens next, let alone in November, is anyone’s guess.

“Astronomic growth”

07/03/2012

The last half-century witnessed the greatest period of missionary expansion in the 2,000-year history of Catholicism, fueled by explosive growth in the southern hemisphere. Take sub-Saharan Africa as a case in point: The Catholic population at the dawn of the 20th century was 1.9 million, while by the end of the century it was more than 130 million, representing a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. Overall, the global Catholic footprint shot up from 266 million in 1900 to 1.1 billion in 2000, ahead of the overall rate of increase in world population, and is still rising today“.

Yemen, Somalia and Greece

05/03/2012

Greece joining the list of failed states.

1996 all over again?

05/03/2012

Recent poll numbers but President Obama in a difficult position. The poll finds that “Only 43 percent of those surveyed said they approve of the job the president is doing, compared to 50 percent who disapprove”.

The article goes on to note that “Obama’s approval rating bottomed out last August when only 38 percent said they approved versus 55 percent who disapproved”. However it is important to mention that “Obama is averaging 45 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval for 2012”.

This puts the GOP in an interesting position. Rick Santorum is leading in the valuable swing state of Ohio when matched against Mitt Romney. However, Santorum needs to do well on Super Tuesday on 6 March to catch Romney and dent his gaining momentum. If this were to happen, which is still possible, though not likely, Obama could be almost assured of another four year term seeing as Santorum is seen as divisive on social issues when the average unemployment level is still above 8%. A similar thing happened in 1996 when the GOP nominated Senator Bob Dole (R-KS). President Clinton was subsequently re-elected but failed to achieve more than 50% of the popular vote.

There is still a third option. The RNC could impose a candidate at the convention, though there is little chance that either Romney or Santorum will give up easily if this solution presented itself.

Communication is best

03/03/2012

Amid the weakening of Iran in the region, Islamists, despite gains “are deeply cautious. They may favour an Arab Palestine and the imposition of sharia law, but see these as distant projects. The immediate task is to satisfy the popular demand for growth, jobs and better services and infrastructure. The job ahead, like the expectations, is immense“. They need the West and the West needs them, if not things could turn ugly.

Gaining ground

03/03/2012

Baroness Warsi, on a visit to Rome with Cabinet colleagues which included Jeremy Hunt, Michael Moore, and Alan Duncan, the Minister for International Development, met with Vatican officials in one-on-one talks and then in a round-table discussion.

Lady Warsi, the chairman of the Conservative Party and Cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government, exchanged gifts, giving Pope Benedict “a personal gift during a 20-minute private audience – a gold-plated cube that opens up to reveal 99 tiny cubes, each inscribed with a reference to Allah. In keeping with the theme of interfaith dialogue, she also gave him a copy of the Koran which was translated by an East European Jew who converted to Islam and helped write Pakistan’s constitution”.

In an address to the elite Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy later that day she echoed what Pope Benedict said in Westminster Hall in September 2010.

It it she mentions how the trip she lead was to celebrate “the decision Margaret Thatcher took 30 years ago to restore full diplomatic relations between our countries”.  She then goes on to write that “For a number of years I have been saying that we need to have a better understanding of faith in our country. Why? Because I profoundly believe that faith has a vital and important role to play in modern society. But mistakenly, faith has been neglected, undermined – and yes, even attacked – by governments in recent years”.

She goes on to mention how “I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity. These values shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. And, as I will say today, you cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes”.

She then rightfully decries the “militant secularisation [that] is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; when states won’t fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere”.

She goes on to echo Pope Benedict when she writes that “one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities. That’s why in the 20th century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes was the targeting of organised religion”.

In a note released by the Press Office of the Holy See which stated that “On 14-15 February 2012 the Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, hosted talks between the Holy See and a British Government Ministerial delegation led by the Rt Hon Baroness Warsi”.

The note also mentioned that “The Holy See and Her Majesty’s Government agreed on the urgent need for action to strengthen the universal commitment to religious freedom as a fundamental human right, and to its practical application with a view to promoting respect for all religions in all countries. The Holy See and the British government look forward to working together to combat intolerance and discrimination based on religion, wherever it is manifest. The Holy See and Her Majesty’s Government reaffirmed the need to promote integral and sustainable global development, based on the centrality of the human person and grounded in the principle of the inherent human dignity and worth of each person. Much progress has been made over the last decade in improving health and well-being for many people. However, there are still significant gaps and challenges in the long and complex path towards ensuring integral human development for everybody. Too many people are still hungry, too many people do not have access to education and to decent work, too many women die in childbirth. In view of these challenges we recognise a shared obligation to achieve a fair international financial and trade framework. And we will strive for a better future for all humanity, taking into particular account care for the poorest people in the world”.

It is thankfully clear that the British Government are firm supporters of the work of Pope Benedict when it is so in need of supporters and advocates, especially in Europe.

Benedict’s majority

02/03/2012

After the consistory of 2012, the total number of members of the College of Cardinals is 213, of which 4 were created by Paul VI; 130 by John Paul II; and 79 by Benedict XVI. The cardinal non-electors are 88, of which 4 were created by Paul VI; 68 by John Paul II; and 16 by Benedict XVI. The cardinal electors are 125; 62 have been created by John Paul II; and 63 by Benedict XVI.

Only a matter of time

01/03/2012

James Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of UK News International having been linked to extensive hacking operations at the newspaper group.  He has paid a price for his relentless quest for profit at any price. Morality will only be restored when these papers are closed and staff in jail.

The Declinist Rebuttal

01/03/2012

Bob Kagan in a piece , Not Fade Away: The Myth of American Decline, in the New Republic forcefully rebuts the current declinist fad.

He argues that it has been American power that has built, more or less, the current world order and that this order “reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it”. Kagan adds that “perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century”. He dismisses John Ikenberry’s argument of a post US world order as a “pleasant illusion”.

He argues that the perception of decline is understandable, given the world financial crisis and the “rise” of China and the Asian economies generally. He cleverly adds that “With this broad perception of decline as the backdrop, every failure of the United States to get its way in the world tends to reinforce the impression”.

Interestingly he adds that “Measuring changes in a nation’s relative power is a tricky business, but there are some basic indicators: the size and the influence of its economy relative to that of other powers; the magnitude of military power compared with that of potential adversaries; the degree of political influence it wields in the international system”.

Being a historian by training Kagan gives context mentioning that “The decline of the British Empire, for instance, occurred over several decades. In 1870, the British share of global manufacturing was over 30 percent. In 1900, it was 20 percent. By 1910, it was under 15 percent—well below the rising United States, which had climbed over the same period from more than 20 percent to more than 25 percent”. He makes the excellent point that “In 1883, Britain possessed more battleships than all the other powers combined. By 1897, its dominance had been eclipsed”. On the impact of the financial crisis he adds that “The United States suffered deep and prolonged economic crises in the 1890s, the 1930s, and the 1970s. In each case, it rebounded in the following decade and actually ended up in a stronger position relative to other powers than before the crisis”.

Kagan adds that economically the United States “despite the current years of recession and slow growth, America’s position in the world has not changed. Its share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady, not only over the past decade but over the past four decades. In 1969, the United States produced roughly a quarter of the world’s economic output. Today it still produces roughly a quarter, and it remains not only the largest but also the richest economy in the world”. Kagan argues that if China does overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world “Chinese leaders face significant obstacles to sustaining the country’s growth indefinitely—it will still remain far behind both the United States and Europe in terms of per capita GDP”.

Kagan rightly reasserts American global military power mentioning that “while consuming a little less than 4 percent of GDP annually—a higher percentage than the other great powers, but in historical terms lower than the 10 percent of GDP that the United States spent on defense in the mid-1950s and the 7 percent it spent in the late 1980s” he reassuringly adds that “American naval power remains predominant in every region of the world”. He continues with the historical analogy saying America “is more like Britain circa 1870, when the empire was at the height of its power”.

Kagan then addresses the rest. He mentions that “The fact that other nations in the world are enjoying periods of high growth does not mean that America’s position as the predominant power is declining, or even that ‘the rest’ are catching up in terms of overall power and influence”, to lend further credence to this Kagan adds that “share of global GDP was a little over 2 percent in 1990 and remains a little over 2 percent today. Turkey’s share was under 1 percent in 1990 and is still under 1 percent today”. He mentions that “matters in international politics, but there is no simple correlation between economic growth and international influence”.  Kagan adds that “In the case of the United States, the dramatic and rapid rise of the German and Japanese economies during the Cold War reduced American primacy in the world much more than the more recent ‘rise of the rest.’ America’s share of the world’s GDP, nearly 50 percent after World War II, fell to roughly 25 percent by the early 1970s, where it has remained ever since”.

Kagan cleverly argues against the declinists like Dr Walt when he argues that “Much of today’s impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic fallacy: that there was once a time when the United States could shape the whole world to suit its desires, and could get other nations to do what it wanted them to do”. He mentions how “NSC-68, the famous strategy document, warned of the growing gap between America’s military strength and its global strategic commitments. If current trends continued, it declared, the result would be ‘a serious decline in the strength of the free world relative to the Soviet Union and its satellites.'” To re-inforce his point he makes the interesting argument that “Douglas MacArthur, giving the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in 1952, lamented the ‘alarming change in the balance of world power,'”. He goes on to make the point that America has not always had things go its way from the British invasion of Suez, “losing” China, lack of British involvment in Vietnam to a host of other issues. Neither, he says was American soft power unviersal, Mosseadegh, Watergate, Vietnam, bombing Cambodia, in addition to the fact that “After the death of Stalin, moreover, both the Soviet Union and China engaged in hot competition to win over the Third World, taking ‘goodwill tours’ and providing aid programs of their own”. Crucially he adds that “Today people point to America’s failure to bring Israelis and Palestinians to a negotiated settlement, or to manage the tumultuous Arab Awakening, as a sign of weakness and decline. But in 1973 the United States could not even prevent the major powers in the Middle East from engaging in all-out war”. He mentions that the 1970s was perhaps the best time for American decline coupled with the rise of Japan.

He concludes that “the United States has been more successful in Iraq than it was in Vietnam. It has been just as incapable of containing Iranian nuclear ambitions as it was in the 1990s, but it has, through the efforts of two administrations, established a more effective global counter-proliferation network. Its efforts to root out and destroy Al Qaeda have been remarkably successful, especially when compared with the failures to destroy terrorist networks and stop terrorist attacks in the 1990s”. He reassuringly adds that “will have a hard time becoming a regional hegemon so long as Taiwan remains independent and strategically tied to the United States, and so long as strong regional powers such as Japan, Korea, and Australia continue to host American troops and bases. China would need at least a few allies to have any chance of pushing the United States out of its strongholds in the western Pacific”.

He discusses the “overstrech” and mentions how “In 1953, the United States had almost one million troops deployed overseas—325,000 in combat in Korea and more than 600,000 stationed in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. In 1968, it had over one million troops on foreign soil—537,000 in Vietnam and another half million stationed elsewhere. By contrast, in the summer of 2011, at the height of America’s deployments in its two wars, there were about 200,000 troops deployed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and another roughly 160,000 troops stationed in Europe and East Asia. Altogether, and including other forces stationed around the world, there were about 500,000 troops deployed overseas. This was lower even than the peacetime deployments of the Cold War”.

He finishes on a  more sombre note arguing that “There have been many times over the past two centuries when the political system was dysfunctional, hopelessly gridlocked, and seemingly unable to find solutions to crushing national problems—from slavery and then Reconstruction, to the dislocations of industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century and the crisis of social welfare during the Great Depression, to the confusions and paranoia of the early Cold War years” he does thankfully add however that “on many big issues throughout their history, Americans have found a way of achieving and implementing a national consensus”.

He closes arguing that “while the nation continues to struggle, Americans may convince themselves that decline is indeed inevitable, or that the United States can take a time-out from its global responsibilities while it gets its own house in order”. Indeed more than any other danger this is perhaps, the biggest threat the United States faces today.

Another one in the bag

01/03/2012

Mitt Romney has won the Michigan primary, just. He beat Rick Santorum into second place in what was going to be a closely run primary, yet as ever, Romney’s money managed to save the day.

Romney got “41 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 38 percent. Ron Paul was in third with 12, followed by Newt Gingrich with 7 percent”. The article notes that “Santorum’s strength in more rural areas couldn’t overcome Romney’s strength in voter-rich areas with large populations. In the wealthy Detroit suburbs in Oakland County, where Romney was expected to do best among the area’s socially moderate, fiscal conservatives, he was more than 20 points ahead of Santorum. Even in Wayne County — home to Detroit and a huge Democratic population that could have cast crossover votes for Santorum — Romney was ahead by almost 10 points”.

The report also notes that “Romney also won the primary in Arizona, but with much less fanfare. Polls had shown him with a lead of about 15 points in the days heading into the vote in Arizona”.

Interestingly it mentions how “Santorum did better among voters looking for a candidate who shared their religious views, a factor that likely helped Santorum perform as well as he did. About 40 percent of Michigan voters identified themselves as either evangelical or born-again Christian”.

Indeed some have written that the ongoing row between the administration and the Catholic Church “led by Catholic bishops — objected to requirements to provide contraceptive-covering insurance in President Barack Obama’s health insurance rules”. He continues writing, “Catholics represent about one in four adults in America, which makes the backlash from bishops to Obama’s new regulations potentially consequential. The rules — which Obama later modified — would have required religiously affiliated institutions to provide health plans that cover birth control, a practice with which they have a moral disagreement”. Interestingly he goes on to write that “Only one in three self-identified Catholics reported attending Mass every week in a January Washington Post-ABC News poll. And even that figure may be an overestimate”, adding later that “Obama’s popularity among Catholics hasn’t taken a big hit, at least in the short term. His overall approval rating among Catholics in Gallup polls ticked down from 49 to 46 percent amid the controversy, a change within the margin of sampling error. While most Catholics in a Pew pollreleased this week said religiously affiliated employers should not be required to pay for contraceptives, just 15 percent said they believe using contraceptives is morally wrong”. He writes unsurprisingly that “Romney has struggled to win evangelicals in early primary contests in Iowa and South Carolina, but national polls show evangelicals overwhelmingly back Romney in a matchup against Obama”.

The Gingrich campaign is essentially finished as he “wrote off Michigan, opting to get a head start on the other candidates in conservative Southern states such as Tennessee and Georgia, his home state” yet he will come under pressure for these votes from Santorum who is far more reliable in this area than Gingrich ever was.