Archive for April, 2012

Stirring up trouble

30/04/2012

There has been “news” that China has been causing trouble in the South China Sea.

Reports note that “Philippines and China are contesting sovereignty over a small group of rock formations known as Scarborough Shoal. The shoal, known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal but which the Chinese call Huangyan Island, is about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon, near a former US navy base in Subic Bay”. It goes on to say that “a Philippines Navy surveillance plane spotted eight Chinese fishing boats in the shoal and Manila’s largest warship, a US Hamilton-class cutter, was sent to check on the Chinese presence. Two Chinese surveillance ships arrived soon after the crew from the warship inspected the fishing boats on Tuesday. The surveillance vessels were then placed between the warship and the fishing boats to prevent the arrest of any fishermen”. It vitally adds that “Tension has risen in the past two years over worries China is becoming more assertive in its claims to the seas”.

Worryingly China seems to think that it has a right to claim the entire South China Sea for itself, this was seen when “A statement issued by the Chinese embassy said 12 fishing boats had taken shelter from harsh weather in a lagoon. It said the Philippine ‘gunboat’ blocked the lagoon entrance, preventing the Chinese surveillance vessels from ‘fulfilling the duties of safeguarding Chinese maritime rights and interests’. It said the embassy immediately contacted the DFA and ‘reiterated China’s sovereignty over Huangyan Island, (and) urged the Philippine side to stop immediately their illegal activities and leave this area'”.

Others have reported how tensions are rising “as China warned the United States that its joint naval exercise in the region has raised the risk of armed confrontation”. It goes on to report that “An article in the Liberation Army Daily warned that the standoff could turn into full-on conflict and said it was largely the fault of the US, which has been staging joint military exercises in the region with the Philippine navy”, the report concludes that “China has developed long-range ballistic missiles with a range of 2,700km (1,680 miles), known as ‘carrier-killers’, which seem aimed at keeping a lid on any attempts by the US navy to gain maritime dominance in the seas around China”.

While all this is going on “the Philippines has announced an enlarged estimate of gas reserves in the Reed Bank, a disputed area of the sea near the island of Palawan. Collectively, this activity raises the temperature among China and its neighbors, not to mention the U.S”, adding “the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that some 20 billion barrels of oil underlie the South China Sea. Yet Kang also sees hydrocarbons and fish as a “pretext” for discord. The Philippines, Taiwan, China, Vietnam and the others, Kang says, would quarrel regardless of the presence of oil or fish”.

It is no wonder that Secretary Clinton has turned to the Navy, when she “signaled the Obama administration’s embrace of the vision set forth in the U.S. Navy’s Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapowerthe 2007 strategic guidance document linking maritime power to the success of the liberal international order, and may have tipped the administration’s hand with regard to how the defense realignment of the next decade will play out”.

The writer reassuringly adds that “The U.S. Navy’s ability to conduct multifaceted relief operations in the Asia Pacific littoral (a capability that the Chinese Navy currently lacks) highlights the persistent utility of a U.S. leadership role; the U.S. Navy effectively makes itself an indispensible part of any major multilateral maritime operation”.

He finishes writing, “Regional navies undoubtedly already note the contrast between the U.S. Navy’s focus on partnership and Bejing’s confrontational attitude in the South China Sea”.

Another string to his bow?

30/04/2012

Vice-President Petraeus?

Time to drop the shield

29/04/2012

News that Lord Justice Leveson will not rule on whether disgraced Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt broke the Ministerial Code has meant that  the pressure of Cameron mounts.

Media reports write that “Sources said that Lord Leveson, who is carrying out a public inquiry into media standards, ‘does not consider himself to be the arbiter of the code’. The judge has turned down a request from Mr Hunt to bring forward his session, ‘in the interests of fairness to all’, a spokesman for the inquiry said”.

In an effort to save face with voters who already despise them Liberal Democrats are putting on Cameron  “to insist that Mr Hunt should face an inquiry under the code”, yet at the same time, “Downing Street and Conservative ministers have attempted to argue that no Whitehall investigation should go ahead while the Leveson Inquiry continues. But their position has now been challenged by senior Lib Dems, Labour and some Conservatives. Downing Street said again on Friday that the public inquiry would investigate Mr Hunt’s conduct, meaning no separate Whitehall investigation was required”.

Cameron was reported as saying, “‘If evidence comes out through this exhaustive inquiry where you’re giving evidence under oath – if he did breach the ministerial code – than clearly that’s a different issue and I would act,’ said Mr Cameron. Mr Cameron offered qualified support to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is facing calls for his resignation over his handling of the BSkyB deal”.

It is clear that Cameron is using Hunt as a shield to protect his own position in office. It is doubtful that this shield will last very long.

Facing ruin

28/04/2012

As has been said before China is facing demographic ruin. An article in the Economist notes “Shanghai reported fertility of just 0.6 in 2010—probably the lowest level anywhere in the world. According to the UN’s population division, the nationwide fertility rate will continue to decline, reaching 1.51 in 2015-20. In contrast, America’s fertility rate is 2.08 and rising”.

Plugging the leak?

28/04/2012

After the continuing fight between, Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, SDB and Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a note was released from the Press Office of the Holy See saying:

“In the wake of recent leaks of reserved and confidential documents on television, in newspapers and in other communications media, the Holy Father has ordered the creation of a Commission of Cardinals to undertake an authoritative investigation and throw light on these episodes.

His Holiness has determined that the said Commission of Cardinals, which will act at all levels on the strength of its pontifical mandate, shall be presided by Cardinal Julián Herranz, and shall have as its members Cardinal Jozef Tomko and Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi.

The Commission of Cardinals celebrated its first sitting on 24 April to establish the method and timetable for its activities”.

John Allen reportsthat “the cascade of leaks created impressions of administrative disarray in the Vatican, as well as political axes being ground”. Allen goes on to write that “Two official investigations of the leaks have already been launched, one by a Vatican tribunal and the other by the Secretariat of State, in addition to an informal probe by the Congregation of Bishops. The new Commission of Cardinals, however, is the highest-level inquest and will report directly to the pope. The choice of three cardinals over eighty is significant because it means they have no roles within any Vatican department, either as officials or as members. Theoretically that avoids a conflict of interest, since they won’t be investigating any office to which they have direct ties”.

It is anyone’s guess as to whether the commission will be successful.

To the right

28/04/2012

A piece in the Economist notes that the economic policies of Romney are facing justifiable criticism.

It notes that Romney greeted Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget which shockingly “proposed to slash income-tax rates, especially for the rich and businesses, and replace traditional Medicare with vouchers for the elderly to buy health insurance” the first time around caution, but as he got closer to winning the nomination, the article notes that Romney “steadily warmed to Mr Ryan’s plan as he faced a series of rivals from his political right. By December he was attacking Mr Gingrich for criticising it, and this past February he released a new tax plan of his own that slashed all personal tax rates by 20%. And when Mr Ryan produced a new, very similar, version of his budget on March 20th for next fiscal year, Mr Romney was effusive. ‘It`s a bold and exciting effort,'”.

The article goes on to mention how “His 2010 book, ‘No Apology’, reads more like a McKinsey report than a memoir” with “It ranges from the business practices of Japanese doctors to how much profit Comcast, a cable company, invests. Leaf through it and last September’s policy platform with its 59 specific proposals, and you will encounter sober discussion of ways to deal with greenhouse gases, international trade and retraining”.

It goes onto examine his policy advisers who “are Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s business school, and Greg Mankiw, a Harvard economist and author of bestselling textbooks. Both served as chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; neither is a fire-breathing conservative, having advocated policies anathema to the right such as cheap government-backed mortgage refinancing (Mr Hubbard) and higher petrol taxes to counter global warming (Mr Mankiw)”.

It adds that “Less than two months after the election, Mr Bush’s tax cuts and Mr Obama’s temporary payroll-tax cut will expire, while savage cuts to defence and other domestic spending will automatically kick in, thanks to the deal that raised the debt ceiling last August and the failure of a congressional committee to come up with an alternative. The combined fiscal effect would be worth 3.5%-5% of GDP, enough to tip the economy back into recession”.

It notes that Romney’s own economic proposals consist of “cut the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 25%, end taxes on companies’ foreign earnings, and eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends for those earning less than $200,000 a year. On personal taxes he promised only to preserve Mr Bush’s tax cuts (which would keep the top rate at 35% rather than returning it to 39.6%), while murmuring that one day broader reform, involving lower rates and a broader base, might follow. But those proposals increasingly looked timid next to the heftier, and more irresponsible, tax cuts his rivals rushed to embrace”.

Yet there is no room to tax cuts of any description, and they are exactly want is not needed at this time. Taxes on the wealthiest must raised and cutting capital gains taxes and Romney and Ryan propose are ludicrous and reckless.

Not only that but as the article mentions, “Romney claims that this plan would be neutral in terms of both revenue and distribution, meaning it would not change the level of tax take or the relative position of rich and poor”, this claim is of course ridiculous.

The faster this outdated neoliberalism is ditched the better society will be with a far greater chance of the common good becoming reality.

2012 Curial assignments

27/04/2012

The last piece of the 2012 consistory has been completed. The new cardinals have received their assisgnments in the Roman Curia.

  • Cardinal Filoni: Doctrine of the Faith, Oriental Churches, Catholic Education
  • Cardinal Monteiro de Castro: Saints, Bishops, Migrants and Itinerants
  • Cardinal Abril y Castelló, Saints, Bishops, Propaganda Fide
  • Cardinal Vegliò: Divine Worship, Laity, Family
  • Cardinal Bertello, Bishops, Propaganda, Justice and Peace
  • Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Doctrine of the Faith, Signatura, Promoting Christian Unity
  • Cardinal Braz de Aviz: Clergy, Catholic Education, Congresses
  • Cardinal O’Brien: Oriental Churches, Cor Unum, Catholic Education
  • Cardinal Calcagno: Prop, Health Care Workers, State of the Vatican City
  • Cardinal Versaldi: Bishops, Religious, Signatura
  • Cardinal Alencherry: Doctrine of the Faith, Oriental Churches
  • Cardinal Collins: Catholic Education, Social Commutations
  • Cardinal Duka, OP: Religious, Justice and Peace
  • Cardinal Eijk: Clergy, Catholic Education
  • Cardinal Betori: Catholic Education, Culture
  • Cardinal Dolan: Oriental Churches, Social Commutations
  • Cardinal Woelki: Catholic Education, Promoting Unity
  • Cardinal Tong Hon: Prop Fide, Inter-Religious Dialogue

Interestingly, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Scola were at the same time both made members of the CDF.

On the doorstep

27/04/2012

As the phone hacking scandal continues, with Jeremy Hunt’s position looking increasingly tenuous, reports are now clearly showing the depth of Prime Minister David Cameron’s  role in the scandal.

Media reports note that while Rupert Murdoch was giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry he “showed that the two men had met on at least seven occasions since Mr Cameron became Prime Minister. Downing Street has previously acknowledged only that the Prime Minister had met the media tycoon twice since May 2010”.

In the immediate aftermath of the hacking scandal Cameron “published details of his meetings with media executives and editors. In the House of Commons, he pledged to MPs that ‘every contact’ had been made public”. Therefore, only two possibilities emerge, either Cameron was incompentent and did not know what he was doing, in which case his hold on office will be tenuous, or he knew what he was doing and lied to the House of Commons, in which case the consequences are as of yet unknown, but undoubtedly extremely serious.  Either way the sharks are circling Cameron.

The article goes on to say “it emerged that only one-to-one or ‘substantial’ meetings were disclosed officially, whereas Mr Murdoch recorded meetings at social dinners and other events. Mr Cameron had previously been reluctant to disclose details of his interactions with people connected to the Murdoch empire, including the recent admission that he had ridden a horse owned by Rebekah Brooks, one of Mr Murdoch’s former key executives. The inconsistencies between the recollections of the two men regarding their meetings are expected to form a key part of Mr Cameron’s cross examination at the inquiry when he appears within the next two months”. Whether will still PM by that time is hard to tell.

The report mentions that Cameron “admitted ‘we all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch’. But a Downing Street spokesman denied the meetings listed by Rupert Murdoch took place. ‘We are confident the list we published is correct,’ he said. Sources said the situation might be explained by different definitions of what constitutes a meeting”. The article goes on to note that “Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, officially raised the issue with the Speaker of the Commons, asking whether the Prime Minister had ‘misled’ MPs”.

During his evidence Murdoch Snr said that there was a cover up at the now defunct News of the World “newspaper” and conveniently he didn’t know anything about it.

Peter Oborne has discussed the very real possibility that this could sink Cameron, and perhaps even the government. He writes, “if even a fraction of the allegations are proven, then the case of News International will go down as the greatest criminal/corruption scandal, by far, in modern British history”. Interestingly he makes the point that “News Corporation did not publish yesterday’s deadly emails out of spite, as some have claimed, in order to take down David Cameron’s government. They were obliged to publish them only after Lord Justice Leveson ordered it”.

Oborne goes on to write that “incidental details, such as Mr Cameron’s employment of the disgraced ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson or the Prime Minister’s ill-judged socialising with Rebekah Brooks, are enjoyable. But they don’t matter that much. However, there is emerging circumstantial evidence that the Cameron government entered into what looks suspiciously like a Grand Bargain with the Murdoch newspaper empire before the last election. It may have gone like this: the Murdoch press would throw its weight behind the Conservative Party in the 2010 general election, and in return the Conservatives would back known Murdoch policy objectives”.

Oborne adds, “in an important development, it emerged that Mr Hunt spent five days at the NewsCorp headquarters in the United States, very shortly before James Murdoch personally told Mr Cameron that he would be swinging his newspapers behind the Tory party at the looming election”.

He concludes “the charge that the Cameron government has done commercial favours for the Murdochs in return for political support is very serious. This, if true, would amount to corruption. Certainly, if proven, it would force the resignation of Mr Hunt. But it is not impossible that the Government would fall”.

As has been noted, Cameron’s lack of firm belief in any ideology, and therefore agonsim, has lead him down a path were power is the only goal and everything that gets in the way, no matter how immoral, can be explained away in these deeply relativistic times.

Deeper and deeper

26/04/2012

So the phone hacking story takes another interesting turn. Yesterday, given evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, James Murdoch implicated very senior government figures in his failed attempt to take over BSkyB. These allegations, come just two months after Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of UK News International.

In December 2010 the bid was being examined by Dr Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business. However, after a Cable was caught on camera saying he would make war on the Murdoch bid to take control of the company, Prime Minister David Cameron removed it from Cable’s remit and gave it to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

However, during his evidence to the Murdoch showed how both aides in Hunt’s office and people connected to Murdoch had exchanged dozens of communications that repeatedly show Hunt’s obvious bias in favour of the Murdoch bid. Reports mention how “News Corporation released more than 170 pages of ‘evidence’, consisting of internal emails and text messages, detailing the company’s extraordinary efforts to lobby the Government. The emails largely contain messages sent by Frederic Michel, the head of public affairs, to James Murdoch and other senior executives at News Corp detailing his discussions with the Government. The company also released emails and text messages between Mr Michel and Adam Smith, Mr Hunt’s main special adviser. In one message, Mr Michel detailed what the Culture Secretary would say to Parliament the next day on the BSkyB takeover, noting that it was ‘absolutely illegal’ for him to obtain the information”. The article goes on to say how “Another email, dating from January last year, reported Mr Hunt’s belief that it would be ‘game over’ for opponents of the BSkyB takeover once plans to spin off Sky News into a separately listed company were announced. On Sunday, Jan 23 2011, he sent another email to James Murdoch, relating ‘a very constructive conversation with JH’ which mentions a ‘plan’ that would help create ‘game over for the opposition’. Two days later, Mr Hunt said he was minded to refer the BSkyB takeover to the Competition Commission but delayed doing so while he considered proposed concessions from News Corp. Later that day Mr Michel emailed Mr Murdoch to say: ‘JH believes we are in a good place tonight.'” A slew of other contacts between Hunt’s office, Hunt personally, Michel and Murdoch have been released, making simply amazing reading. In effect, Cameron removed the biased Cable, and gave it to the equally biased Hunt.

At the same time, Murdoch gave evidence saying that David Cameron was implicated. This comes just days after Cameron declared that he would do better and put what was seen as a bad month behind him. This was called for, especially when the disastarous budget was taken into account with the so called “granny tax“, hitting those who are the most firm supporters of Cameron’s Conservative party, in addition to making it harder to give to charities as well as Cameron personally hosting dinner for six figure sums with major business figures.

Predictably, and somewhat hypocritically, the opposition Labour party have called for Hunt to resign. Yet, as was thought, his adviser, quit, presumably under pressure in an attempt to keep Hunt in his job. Cameron has backed Hunt, though it is unclear how long this support will last. Indeed, some have acidly, but correctly noted Cameron’s own links to the Murdoch machine.

Yesterday, James’ father, Rupert gave evidence to Leveson saying Gordon Brown was not ‘in a balanced state of mind’. Murdoch Snr also made comments regarding Tony Blair and other governments.

Reports note that James Murdoch “did speak to David Cameron about News Corp’s bid for BskyB at a dinner party held by Rebekah Brooks”. The report adds that “Until now, Mr Cameron has always refused to issue an outright denial that he spoke about BSkyB during the meeting with Mr Murdoch on Dec 23, 2010”. Yet these denials are looking almost impossible to refute. Indeed, the one thing keeping Hunt in his job, for now, is that the scandal is certain to keep going all the way to Cameron himself. Alternatively, Cameron, could sack Hunt in an attempt to look strong, but there would be no guarantee that the party would keep Cameron on for long if he was seen as an electoral liability.

There is of course a wider picture that needs to be addressed. Firstly, like party funding, the role the media plays in a society is far too important to have “the market” play its tricks, with the widely refuted “arguments” it puts forward. Secondly, this continues to show how neoliberalism and morality have no relation to each other, with a heady mix of relativism and greed driving it on to great depths of individualism and immorality all in the name of greater profit, irrespective of the cost to society at large.

In the right company

24/04/2012

Julian Assange begins his TV show by interviewing a terrorist. They must have so much in common.

Choices, choices

24/04/2012

Mitt Romney, has some tough decisions to make. The first and most pressing is who to choose as his vice-president.

An article in the Economist, Enough to make you veep, illustrates the point. It notes that Romney has to avoid the mistakes made by John McCain in 2008. It notes “Should a nominee pick a running-mate to appeal to the sort of voters he finds it hard to reach himself? In that case Mr Romney would be advised to go for a Hispanic (Senator Marco Rubio of Florida?) or a woman (Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire?), or perhaps a Hispanic woman (Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico?)”. It adds, “instead of opting for a running-mate who offers a contrast, and fills in the candidate’s missing bits, a candidate can use a like-minded veep to reinforce his own message”.

The article then goes on to describe how Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is the most likely to be chosen by Romney, as the piece mentions, “If Mr Romney thinks his best chance of beating Barack Obama is to run as a solid man of business who can turn the economy round, Mr Portman would amplify the reassurance. Mr Portman seems unembarrassed about coming over as a sobersides with a head for numbers. What he lacks in charisma, he makes up for in gravitas”. It also makes reference to Portman coming from the “swing state of Ohio”. Yet the article adds that “by that argument the case for Mr Rubio is stronger, since he hails from Florida, a much bigger swing state. The brainy self-made son of Cuban immigrants has a silver tongue and is often called a Republican Barack Obama (in a good way, you understand). Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, says Mr Rubio’s oratory can make grown men cry”.

It then goes on to reftute it’s own argument saying, “All the evidence, says Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, is that Americans vote for presidents and are uninfluenced by who will be vice-president. John Edwards did not carry his home state of North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004; in 1988 Lloyd Bentsen could not deliver Texas for Michael Dukakis; and so on down the years. In general, the vice-presidential choice affects the outcome only insofar as it gives voters useful information about the chooser”. Yet this does not pay attention to is the fact that Al Gore’s state voted for the Clinton/Gore ticket both times. Not to mention Reagan/Bush with the otherwise liberal Northeast voting both times in 80 and 88.

It concludes noting “What about a governor, such as Bobby Jindal of Louisiana? Condoleezza Rice, a former secretary of state, led a CNN poll of Republican voters this week. Mr Romney has turned the initial search over to Beth Myers, a trusted aide. Vetting will be especially critical in the case of Mr Rubio, whose ascent has been so fast (he was elected to the Senate only in 2010). For what it is worth, Lexington is betting on Mr Portman. Major Garrett of the National Journal says that Romney-Portman would be ‘boredom squared’, or perhaps ‘squares squared’. But after the economic excitement of recent years, a bit of boredom might strike voters as just the ticket this time”. Yet there are a host of other governors, notably the overweight Chris Christie, who would bring experience and should not be overlooked, but Romney choosing a senator who has spent years in Congress would be highly beneficial and would, be hard to top.

Emptying pews

22/04/2012

In an unusal move Catholics in the diocese of Trenton, NJ, have participated in market research on lapsed Catholics.

A report in the National Catholic Reporter notes how “Villanova University in Philadelphia asked former Catholics in the Trenton, N.J., diocese why they left the church”. The piece goes on to say that “the study suggests new ways the church can approach Catholics who are dissatisfied with what the church teaches or how it acts — including those so dissatisfied that they have decided to leave”. It goes on to mention how “One of their key recommendations was for pastors, bishops and other church officials to respond consistently to questioning or angry Catholics with constructive dialogue rather than a simple reiteration of church rules or policies”.

It mentions how “Fr. William J. Byron, a professor of business at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — who collaborated in the study with Charles Zech, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Church Management of Villanova’s School of Business — several times cited a response of one disaffiliated Catholic who complained, ‘Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule; you don’t get a ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it’ response.'”

Unsurprisingly the news report goes on to say how “Byron and Zech told conference participants at The Catholic University of America that many of the responses from lapsed or disaffiliated Catholics in the Trenton diocese matched what researchers have known from other surveys: They object to what they see as the church’s unwelcoming attitude toward gays and lesbians or toward the divorced and remarried, they find homilies uninspiring, the parish unwelcoming, the pastor arrogant or parish staff uncaring, or they have suffered terrible personal experiences with a priest or other church official, such as rejection for being divorced”. It goes on to say that “Some of the former Catholics complained of priests being too liberal, while others cited ‘the extreme conservative haranguing’ they heard in homilies – reflecting the intra-Catholic political divisions that reflect similar divisions in the broader U.S. society”.

It says that “Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell said he invited Byron and Zech to conduct the survey of ex-Catholics in his diocese after reading an article Byron wrote last year in America, a national Jesuit magazine, suggesting that ‘exit interviews’ of former Catholics might help the church to understand better why Catholics leave the church and to respond more effectively to their concerns”.

The article in America that kicked off the desire of Bishop O’Connell is prevalent throughout Europe, most recently in Ireland, and is a direct result of  the Church authorities themselves as much as laity unwilling to accept naked hypocrisy.

A further move that will only infuriate many in Europe and North America is the news from Rocco that, “Citing ‘serious doctrinal problems’ found over the course of a four-year study of the umbrella-group representing the majority of the US’ communities of nuns, the Holy See has announced a thoroughgoing shake-up of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), naming Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle as its delegate to conduct an overhaul of the group”. Rocco goes onto note “Despite the lack of official comment, a former LCWR president — and quite possibly the body’s most celebrated member — Benedictine Sister of Erie Joan Chittister told the National Catholic Reporter that ‘When you set out to reform a people, a group, who have done nothing wrong, you have to have an intention, a motivation that is not only not morally based, but actually immoral'”.

Maybe this is exactly want Benedict wants?

Rising belief?

22/04/2012

As France goes to the polls of the first round of the presidential election, the rise in popularity in the left in France shows people want the “certainities” ideology and not the tecnocratic “visions” offered by Hollande/Sarkozy/EU.

Murder most fowl

20/04/2012

The story of Bo Xilai grows more complicated. There are now reports that the wife of Bo, Gu Kailai poisoned British businessman, Neil Heywood.

The article notes that “Gu Kailai, allegedly asked Heywood late last year to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected due to the size of the transaction, the sources said.” It goes on to say that Gu “accused him of being greedy and allegedly hatched a plan to kill him after he said he could expose her dealings”.

It mentions that “Gu is in police custody on suspicion of committing or arranging Heywood’s murder, though no details of the motive or the crime itself have been publicly released, other than a general comment from Chinese state media that he was killed after a financial dispute”.

Yet, even if Gu had a role to play in Heywood’s death, it does little to explain Bo’s removal. Not only that, it fails to answer previous rumours of a coup. The time of Bo Xilai  in Chongqing has been examined here.

Others have examined the continuning fallout in China in a media context. The piece notes that “Chinese companies running weibo services are required by the government to censor and monitor their users, blocking politically sensitive content. Yet despite weibo‘s best censorship efforts, China’s chattering classes have outsmarted the system, using literary allusions, code words, and innuendo to pass around juicy leaks and tidbits from the foreign media about the alleged murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by associates of Gu Kailai”.

Laughably, the article notes “After a long silence by official media on the subject, last week at 11 p.m. Beijing time Xinhua attempted to tweet an official news bulletin announcing that Bo had been stripped of his party posts and was under investigation for “serious discipline violations.” Sina Weibo, the most popular of China’s weibo services, censored Xinhua’s tweet”. Despite this upset, she notes that “While the Chinese government’s tactics may be ham-handed and likely doomed to failure in the long run, they are working well enough to keep the Communist Party in power for the short to medium term”.

Interestingly, she goes on to speculate that “Bo Xilai’s political downfall actually strengthens the power of the central government, currently led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao”. She elobrates arguning, ”

Bo was a popular — and populist — challenger to the political and economic status quo. He built an independent power base in Chongqing, an internationally celebrated megalopolis in western China. His neo-Maoist ideology gained an impassioned following among conservative nationalists as well as members of China’s growing urban poor who blame the current leadership’s economic policies for unacceptable levels of economic disparity. Bo represented a political threat to the liberalizing economic and financial reforms that Hu and Wen say they are determined to carry out before they pass the baton to a new set of leaders in October”.

Yet, while this point may be correct in isolation, it does open a very public split in the highest levels of the CCP at a time when economic growth is “slowing” and Bo is still popular. She goes on to mention that, “I call its new style of information-oriented governance ‘networked authoritarianism.’ Thanks to the Internet in general and social media in particular, the Chinese people now have a mechanism to hold authorities accountable for wrongdoing — at least sometimes — without any actual political or legal reforms having taken place”.

She concludes writing “The paradox of the Chinese Internet is that despite all of these measures, weibo remain a lively place, where most Chinese Internet users feel freer to debate and discuss matters of public interest than ever before. A wide range of policy positions, political loyalties, and ideologies can be found throughout Chinese society, and thanks to the Internet those differences have become publicly visible for the first time”.

The only question is how long can the CCP stand in their way before something violent happens?

Long road ahead

20/04/2012

First 100 days of Tunisian governmnet, “If the revolution has so far brought little tangible improvement in living standards, freedom from Mr Ben Ali’s ruthless secret police is one gain Tunisians are determined to keep. Yet the government knows it needs to show firmness on law and order, without in any way stepping into the shoes of the old regime. It reluctantly extended for a month a state of emergency that was imposed as Mr Ben Ali fled the country, and which has been applied with some leniency. Chronic unemployment has risen since the revolution. It now pushes 19%, and more in inland regions where tensions continue to bubble. The government has pledged 25,000 civil-service jobs this year, but wants to rethink the public-works schemes that last year’s interim government used for barely disguised handouts to the poor”.

Prolonging the inevitable

20/04/2012

After the stoke of luck that the House of Saud received from the death of Crown Prince Sultan last year it was understandable that they would bring in a slightly less old man as the new Crown Prince, namely Nayef.  Therefore, the several thousand princes agreed to keep the succession of the kingdom to the sons of the founder, Abdul Aziz.

It seems that they have come to an arrangement that would further delay the inevitable of handing of running of the country to a new generation. Simon Henderson writes that the latest delay is in the shape of Prince Salman, who was named defence minister in November after Sultan’s death.

Henderson notes that “the buzz in the Gulf is that there will be not just one, but two, changes in the kingdom’s leadership during the course of the next year. Although there is no fixed succession plan if that comes to pass, the newly minted defense minister, Prince Salman, looks well-placed to ascend to the throne”. Firstly, unless Henderson has some direct line to the Grim Reaper it is hard to know exactly when Crown Prince Nayef will take over from King Abdullah.  Henderson goes on to say that “the 89 year-old King Abdullah presided over the usual meeting of the council of ministers from the vantage point of his own palace in Riyadh rather than travelling to the council building. Propped in his chair, a cushion supporting his back, he looked as uncomfortable personally as he probably was politically with the state of the Arab world”.

He adds recently that Crown Prince Nayef, “initially went to Morocco on ‘vacation,’ but within a week traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, for ‘routine’ medical tests, before flying to Algeria. Such an itinerary — and an absence of photographs of him since leaving Cleveland — has raised speculation that he is unwell. In recent months, he has added a stick to his wardrobe and regained a steroidal puffiness, renewing speculation that cancer, probably leukemia, has returned after an apparent respite of several years”.

Henderson argues that Prince Salman has been increasingly prominent and that “The pages of Saudi newspapers have been filled in recent weeks by reports and photos of Salman visiting military units across the country. And last week, Salman visited London in a major demonstration of Riyadh’s close military supply relationship with Britain, its most significant link after its longtime alliance with the United States”. Of course, this is the most likely explanation, but it could be simply as a result of Salman’s new ministerial duties.

Henderson closes saying that Salman’s own health is poor, and that he “himself has had at least one stroke — photographs suggest that, despite physiotherapy, his left arm does not work as well as his right. And his line of the family has a history of health problems: His two oldest sons, Fahd and Ahmad, have already died as a result of heart problems”. He adds that “it is easy to predict an increasingly open rivalry between the sons of Abdullah, Nayef, and Salman”.

It is therefore incumbent upon the members of the family that they chose a young(er) prince able to steer the still relatively new country, through want are increasingly being seen as dangerous and possibly hard times.

Success?

19/04/2012

On this, the seventh anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict, it would seem that his the short term project closest to him has almost come to fruition.

In mid April it was reported that Rome and the Society of Saint Pius X are “on the verge of reaching an agreement”. It notes that “As soon as it is received in Rome – ‘it is a matter of days, and no longer of weeks’, – it will be immediately examined. If it conforms to expectations, the Holy See will very quickly announce a historic agreement with this group of faithful, known under the name of ‘integrists'”.

It also mentions the enormous efforts that Pope Benedict has gone to to reconcile the Society with the Church notably “The reestablishment in 2007 – as an ‘extraordinary’ rite of the Catholic Church – of the Mass celebrated in Latin, that is, according to the Missal of John XXIII in force before the Council. The removal, in 2009, of the excommunications which fell on the four bishops ordained by Abp. Lefebvre”.

The article concludes noting, “It will probably be done with the creation of a special statute – a ‘personal prelature’ – already experienced by Opus Dei. This structure grants a true autonomy of action at the same time as the Catholic faith is shared. Its superior answers directly to the pope, and not to the bishops”. The response of “Bishop” Bernard Fellay is typical.

This is in addition to the note issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.  The communique mentions simply, “The text of the response of His Excellency Bp. Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, requested during the meeting in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of March 16, 2012, was delivered on April 17, 2012. This text will be examined by the Dicastery and submitted afterwards to the judgment of the Holy Father”.

The response of the Fr Federico Lombardi was “steps forward have been taken, that is to say, that the response, the new response, is rather encouraging. But there are still developments that will be made, and examined, and decisions which should be taken in the next few weeks.”

Others have mentioned “Lefebvrians were cautious when commenting on today’s declaration by the Vatican on the last doctrinal response given by traditionalists ahead of their full reintegration into the Catholic Church. The Society of St. Pius X issued an official communiqué stating that “the press has announced that Mgr. Bernard Fellay has addressed a positive response to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and that therefore the doctrinal issue between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X has now been resolved. The reality appears to be somewhat different. According to the communiqué, the letter sent on 17 April 2012 by the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X was a response to the request for clarification sent by Cardinal William Levada on 16 March, regarding the Doctrinal Preamble text which had been delivered on 14 September 2011”.

Lastly, John Allen notes that “Longtime observers say it remains unclear whether all the Lefebvrites would accept such an arrangement, even if Fellay and other leaders of the Society of St. Pius X embrace it. One possible scenario, they say, could be a further rupture within the society, as some elements enter communion with Rome while others balk”. This is of course a reference to Richard Williamson.

Not till the fat lady sings

18/04/2012

Amid the respectable showing of the Afghan security forces in the recent attacks on Kabul, as well as the certain progress that has already been made in the country Bruce Riedel and Michael O’Hanlon argue persuasively, that now is not the time to leave Afghanistan.

They open forcefully  that “With Osama bin Laden now dead, some are wondering whether it’s time to declare this mission accomplished — or with Afghanistan so troubled, perhaps it’s mission impossible? In fact, it is mission incomplete”. They go on to write that ” The Afghanistan mission is going worse than we had all hoped, but better than many understand. With patience and perseverance, we can still struggle to a tolerable outcome”. Naturally they understand that it is pure realism, not charity that motives the actions of “the West”, with no one expecting to create a new Switzerland.

They argue that “beneath the headlines, international forces are actually making substantial progress. This has been particularly evident in Afghanistan’s south, reflecting Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 2009 concept that the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand represented the heartland of the Taliban movement and that securing the main population and transportation corridors in those provinces would deprive insurgents of their chief support bases”. They also note that “Violence was down about one-third in 2011, relative to 2010. There has been at least some progress in the quality of governance, too — for example under Gov. Mohammad Gulab Mangal in Helmand, where far more provincial and district offices are now staffed and where citizens now line up at government buildings to request officials’ help with their problems and needs”.

On the debit side they urge caution, writing, “Afghanistan’s east was 20 percent more violent statistically in 2011 than in 2010, as insurgents belonging to the infamous Haqqani network and others wreaked havoc”. They rightly point out that “Obama’s decision to accelerate the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 100,000 to 68,000 by this September will impede the previously planned reinforcement of foreign troops there”.

They conclude stating some key priorities; “international forces will work to secure areas south of Kabul, so the country’s ring road connecting it to Kandahar can be safely traveled”, “the International Security Assistance Force will deepen its hold over the south, while gradually handing off more responsibility there and elsewhere to Afghan forces”, thirdly, “international forces will continue their efforts to strengthen Afghan security forces to their requisite size and capability — a process that will remain intensive for about two more years, before reaching the goal of at least 350,000 trained and equipped Afghan army and police members who have not only gone through basic training, but spent at least a year in the field in a form of apprenticeship with NATO forces”.

Lastly they write that “As for peace talks with the Taliban, they are only in their earliest days, and international expectations for success should be limited. But it is an avenue worth exploring, especially given the increasing evidence of tension between the Taliban and their Pakistani patrons”. Indeed, this is the same argument that has been made here before.

Even after the troops have withdrawn, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done in Afghanistan, but it will be worthwhile.

Waiting for another Srebrenica

18/04/2012

As UN monitors enter Syria, another Srebrenica is surely not far behind.

The answer to the problem

18/04/2012

The way political parties are funded is an issue of unusual contention.

In the current US electoral cycle much has been made of super PACs as a direct result of the Citizens United decision. An article in the Economist notes that Super PACs power “has already reshaped the presidential campaign—and its influence is only likely to grow”.

It notes that “Laws passed in the 1970s in the wake of the Watergate scandal strictly limit the amount individuals and groups can give to campaigns, to $5,000 per election cycle in most instances. The intention was to eliminate gifts big enough to be seen as bribes”. Naturally however, “determined donors with clever lawyers have long found ways round the limit, largely by spending money through groups that are notionally independent of any campaign and concerned with ‘issues’ rather than elections. Thus in 2004 admirers of George W. Bush spent millions to depict his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, as a cowardly subversive”. The article adds that “in the name of free speech, the Supreme Court not only declared this sort of electioneering legitimate, but also freed unions and businesses to engage in it along with individuals. As long as they are independent of all parties and candidates”. The result is unlimited sums of money that distort the discourse toward wealthy vested interests and away from the common good.

The level of freedom is only enhanced as a result of “the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has defined independence so narrowly that it is almost meaningless. A candidate’s former staff members can (and often do) run super PACs backing them, and the candidates themselves can appear at the super PAC’s fund-raisers”. The notion that these super PACs can remain independent is laughable when such close links are allowed as a result of the judgement of the Court.

Regretabbly, President Obama has joined the fray and “has stopped discouraging outside spending on his behalf, and now says he will send cabinet secretaries to fund-raisers for his super PAC. Most of the presidential super PACs rely on a handful of extremely wealthy individuals. Mr Obama’s received $2m from Jeffrey Katzenberg, a Hollywood mogul. A vast share of the money given to Mr Gingrich’s comes from the family of Sheldon Adelson, a casino tycoon. William Dore, an oil-services magnate, and Foster Friess, a wealthy mutual-fund manager, are the principal donors to Rick Santorum”. This allows a tiny fraction of extremely wealthy people to have their candidate and the views they support get most attention, and support. This all but eliminates any meaningful debate and destroys whatever level of agonism there is left. The article notes that these organisaions can, and have revived campagins that were all but dead, eg Newt Gingrich.

Even worse, the article mentions that, “In theory, super PACs must reveal who their donors are. But the requirement is easy to evade. One businessman who gave $1m to Mr Romney’s super PAC did so through a shell corporation which disbanded shortly after the donation was made. It was only when NBC News revealed the manoeuvre that he identified himself”. Even the IRS has a role in the sorry state of affairs, as the article says that “Another tactic involves giving money to an outfit classified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501(c)(4). These groups, whose main purpose is supposed to be “social welfare” rather than electoral politics, do not have to disclose their donors. In practice, the IRS seems to take a rather lax view of what constitutes electioneering”.

The article goes on to state that most outside spending “goes toward negative advertisements, notes Mr [Anthony] Corrado, and whereas almost all of it used to be devoted to the general election, some is now seeping into primaries. The result, he says, will be to further polarise politics”.

The article concludes, depressingly, that “the current muddle also endures because there is little agreement about what should replace it. The system that prevailed before the Supreme Court blessed super PACs was just as despised”.

The British PM, David Cameron, rightly, come under fire recently for holding dinners, for six figure sums in Downing Street, for wealthy backers of his Conservative Party. Questions about these donors influencing policy abound.

Thankfully, some in America are seeing sense, a poll released by USA Today said that 69% want super PACs outlawed. Notably, the article says that “Seventy percent of Democrats and 55% of Republicans want to outlaw super PACs, as do nearly eight in 10 independents”.

The answer to this is clear. Ban corporate donations, heavily restrict the amount individuals can give, and have them named. Then have the government give money as a proportion of votes recieved to each party after the most recent election and have it all enforced by an independent voice.

Back on the agenda

16/04/2012

The euro crisis has now entered its latest chapter, Spain. It now enters the banking loop, the “idea here is that the fate of the Spanish banks and the Spanish state are becoming increasingly intertwined. The two are always connected: if a state goes down normally its banks will too, while if banks fail the state often has to bail them out to support itself (or at least that is the prevailing logic). As the eurozone crisis has progressed numerous states (PIIGS) have had significant trouble funding themselves (selling debt). In many cases the only people willing to buy a sovereign’s debt has been their domestic banks. In turn, a situation arises where banks pile more and more risky debt while the state becomes entirely reliant on them for financing”.

Options to fix the mess…..

16/04/2012

that is Syria.

Taking the long view

16/04/2012

On this, the 85th birthday of Pope Benedict there has been some analysis of his recent trip to Cuba.

An article in Foreign Affairs notes that Benedict’s visit “will once again reinforce a strategy that the Vatican has allowed the local Catholic Church there to pursue for more than three decades: diligently avoid any political confrontation with the Castro regime, collaborate with Havana to combat the U.S.-led embargo, and support the Cuban government’s incremental economic reforms. In exchange, the Church has been able to maintain a certain amount of autonomy on the island, allowing it to rebuild its presence and position for the possible post-Castro economic boom times to come”.  He goes on to write that “It is a controversial balance. Cubans in the exile community vigorously criticize the Church because they think Church leadership on the island should challenge the dictatorship. But the Vatican takes the long view. Rather than overtly push for change, the Church has come to pursue a strategy of ‘reconciliation.'” There is much to support this view. The Castro regime will not be around forever, and while there is some uncertainty as to what will replace it, there should be little doubt that the reforms implemented thus far will be hard to reverse without serious opposition.

The author goes on to argue correctly, that, “The attitude harkens back to the ostpolitik it practiced during the Cold War — in most communist countries, especially in those where Catholics were a minority, clergy hunkered down, ministered to the faithful, and survived. Today, in countries ranging from Albania and Montenegro to Romania and Ukraine, Catholic communities are thriving”.

He goes on to argue that “with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, Castro lost his massive subsidies from Moscow. Facing near starvation and isolation, he decided to pursue John Paul II, visiting him at the Vatican in 1996 and inviting him to Cuba. By opening to the Church, Castro hoped to gain recognition and trade”, not only that but “Havana regularly grants the Church permits and allows purchase of rationed construction materials to renovate churches. The Church provides everyday services such as daycare centers and care for the elderly. It teaches religion and computer skills, and screens foreign films for teenage groups. As long as the Church restricts its activities to its property, it gets relatively free reign. The Church even opened a new seminary a few miles south of Havana in November 2010, the first church constructed since the revolution”.

The writer also notes the excellent work done by Cardinal Ortega y Alamino, 75, who helped the so called Ladies in White get protection to march peacefully in resistance to the regime. In May 2011 Cardinal Ortega y Alamino “stepped in. By his telling, he wrote a letter to Raúl Castro in May asking that the Damas de Blanco be allowed to march peacefully. Just three days later, government officials called him to arrange a meeting with the women, and the Damas had a chance to request their sick relatives either be released or moved closer to home. Ortega continued to negotiate with the government until July, when he announced he had struck a deal with Castro to release prisoners”.

The writer concludes noting that the Church has gained “three advantages. The Church has gained physical and operational space to expand its presence on the island. Second, Ortega has brokered conflict, which fulfills the Church’s mission (“Blessed be the peacemakers,” the Bible reads) and gives it a recognized role, both in the country and outside. And lastly, and perhaps most important, in taking the long view, the Vatican is laying the groundwork so that it helps facilitate a nonviolent post-Castro transition”.

The “risk the Church runs in a post-Castro future is that it will be castigated for having made a pact with the devil. After the democratic transition in Poland, some 15 percent of the clergy were accused of cooperating with the communists. They were subsequently sidelined. Likewise, the next generation in Cuba might not take the time to acknowledge the Church’s sacrificial role”.

Indeed, John Allen notesthis tension inside the Roman Curia itself. He notes that “Writing for National Review Online, publisher Jack Fowler was even more critical, excoriating the trip under the headline “Benedict bombs in Havana.” Fowler called the visit ‘a failed and tone-deaf pastoral mission that did PR wonders for the Brothers Castro, but not much for the cause of freedom of the people they have tormented for nearly six decades.’ To be sure, Benedict did say that Marxism no longer corresponds to reality and warned of ‘irrationality and fanaticism,’ and he did extract a minor concession allowing Good Friday to be celebrated this year as a holiday. All that, however, seemed cold comfort for those seeking a more robust anti-Castro challenge”.

Allen goes on to note the parralles to China, writing “Benedict’s China policy has also come in for withering criticism, beginning in 2007, when he issued an 18-page“Letter to Chinese Catholics” outlining his vision. Among other things, the letter appeared to suggest that the future for China’s underground ‘church of the catacombs,’ built on a foundation of unyielding resistance to communism, was gradual reunion with the government-approved Patriotic Association. Most notably, Benedict XVI revoked previous directives and special faculties issued for the Church in China. Those directives had advised Chinese Catholics to avoid receiving the sacraments from government-approved clergy and allowed underground bishops to ordain clergy without specific papal sanction”.

He concludes his piece saying “One could also throw Vietnam into the mix, another one-party state where Marxist-Leninism remains, at least officially, the ruling ideology. It’s also, to be sure, a place that doesn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for the Catholic Church. Just last week, Vietnam revoked travel visas for a three-member Vatican commission scheduled to collect testimony for the beatification of the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Văn Thuận, who spent 13 years in prison and under house arrest. Local Catholics say the government fears Văn Thuận’s beatification will shine an uncomfortable spotlight on its human rights record. Yet with Vietnam, too, Benedict XVI has preferred dialogue over confrontation. After a meeting between the pope and Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng in 2007, a ‘Joint Working Group’ was formed to explore diplomatic relations. It’s met three times, most recently in February, and each time, the Vatican issues polite statements hailing ‘significant progress.’ In January 2011, Benedict XVI appointed his first envoy to Vietnam, a nonresident representative, who quickly pledged his “availability both in service and collaboration.'”

It is clear therefore that Benedict is, in these matters at least, a realist, willing to work with the regime in place. The results of this approach of plain to see.

Clearing the path

14/04/2012

It seems that, as predicted, there will not be deadlock at the GOP convention after all. Rick Santorum bowed out.

An article notes, “Santorum announced that he is suspending his campaign at an event in his home state of Pennsylvania — his first public appearance following the release of his daughter Bella from the hospital and after he took a break from the campaign trail for a long Easter weekend”. It goes on to mention that “A Pennsylvania loss would have been a humiliating defeat for Santorum, especially since he argued that his last loss — he lost his seat by 18 points to Sen. Bob Casey (D) in 2008 — was because of a general unpopularity with Republicans at the time. Santorum cited Bella’s recent hospitalization as part of his thought process on suspending his campaign”.

Speaking on the last remaining candidates in the way of Romney, it says, “Gingrich, the former House Speaker, and Paul, the Texas congressman, remain in the race, but they, too, are unlikely to catch Romney in the race for delegates. It takes 1,144 to clinch the GOP nomination. The former Massachusetts governor has 661 delegates, according to a count by The Associated Press. Santorum has 285, Gingrich has 136 and Paul has 51”.

A separate piece examines why Santourm was never a really viable candidate. The article cites five reasons: including “Missed opportunities”, “gaffes of his own” and “disappearing in debates”. Yet the one major flaw that the article fails to stage is that, even among many, though obviously not all, Republicans, Santourm’s socially conservative message wasn’t popular. That is not to say that this is the last time the Rick Santorum will run for the presidency. 2016 is only four years away.

Naturally, this leaves Romney as the GOP candidate. Yet both President Obama and  Romney still face enormous obstacles before they get (re) elected. A recent poll “shows President Obama with a strong edge over likely GOP opponent Mitt Romney on a range of key issues, but still vulnerable on his handling of the economy”. The same article goes on to mention that “Obama holds double-digit leads over Romney on healthcare, foreign policy and women’s issues, and voters say the president is more likable, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.” It goes on to say that “Overall, the poll finds Obama leading Romney by single digits among voters, 51 percent to 44, in a hypothetical November match-up. Obama has a strong margin among women, leading Romney 57 percent to 38. The president, however, trails among men by 8 points. Those surveyed find the president more ‘friendly and likable’ than his opponent by 64 percent to 26. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed say Obama is more ‘inspiring,’ to 29 percent for Romney.

Obama’s populist message is helped with news that 26 top companies paid less than no tax. There will however by one area, where both candidates agree, foreign policy.

Another turn

13/04/2012

Following on from the recent dismissal of Bo Xilai, the story seems to have taken another turn.

A blog post reports the Bo “had been suspended from all his political duties, and named his wife as a suspect in the murder last year of a Briton living in China”. Apparently, “The Communist Party Central Committee had decided to ‘suspend’ Mr Bo’s membership in that body, and in the more elite Political Bureau”. The post goes on to say “A separate and more detailed announcement carried at the same time said that Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, together with a household staffer, was ‘highly suspected… of intentional homicide’ in the death in Chongqing of British businessman Neil Heywood. When Mr Heywood was found dead in a Chongqing hotel last November, authorities initially determined the cause to be an alcohol overdose. But yesterday’s announcement said that after a ‘reinvestigation’ the case has been deemed a homicide”. The report adds the Bo’s wife had “conflicts over economic interests [that] had intensified”.

It mentions how Bo “was among the most colourful of senior Chinese leaders, openly cultivating public support. He also spearheaded controversial and high-profile political campaigns against corruption and organised crime, and in favour of old-line Maoist slogans, songs and sensibilities”. It concludes noting chillingly, “Bo was appreciated as a provider of social welfare benefits to the masses who have found themselves on the losing end of China’s market reforms, and the reaction of his supporters to the latest developments will be something to watch”.

An article in the Daily Telegraph notes that, “Neil Heywood, the British man said to have been murdered by the wife of one of China’s most powerful Communist party leaders, handed documents revealing the overseas investments of Bo Xilai’s family with his lawyer in Britain as an ‘insurance policy’ in case anything happened to him, it has been claimed”. The article goes on to say how Heywood was summoned to Chongqing in November of last year, it adds that “After flying to Chongqing he tried and failed to telephone his contacts in the city. He was left to wait alone in his hotel room. What happened to him next is unclear”. The news article goes on to say that “Heywood is reported to have grown concerned about his safety after a dispute with Gu Kailai. He believed she knew about the leaked documents and she felt Heywood, a member of the family’s inner circle, had betrayed her. Whether the documents do exist, or the identity of the British lawyer who might hold them, is not known”.

Worryingly, for the leaders of China, there have been protests. Reports mention that “broke out after crowds gathered to protest economic issues in the Wansheng district of the sprawling municipality”.While it would be absurd to connect the two events in a country as large as China, the fact that the protests were to do with “economic issues” only puts an emphasis on the fact that Bo still has support in the city, and beyond. The report concludes that Bo, his wife and his son as well as Heywood were blocked by internet censors. This just shows how frightened the high officials of the party are.

As a result, the party have called for unity. An article mentions that, “A front-page commentary in the People’s Daily – mouthpiece of the party – urged Chinese people to ‘fully understand the great significance’ of rising star Bo’s suspension from the party, which had provoked ‘strong reactions’. ‘Chinese people should firmly support the correct decision, and unite around the (party leadership) to push forward the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics,’ it said. State media announced late on Tuesday that Bo, the charismatic former party leader of Chongqing city once tipped for the very highest echelons of power in China, had been suspended from the powerful 25-member Politburo”.

There will surely be more moves to come.

Net importer by 2038

12/04/2012

Following on from the extraordinary claim 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”, there is more on the story.

One more nail in the coffin Pt II

12/04/2012

In the final, and most relevant, part on the consequences of the recently released Mahon tribunal report the future of the political party that lead Ireland for 60 of the last 80 years is now in question.

After the Mahon report there have been a number of recommendations. One of them is that the Courts should have the ability to disbar members of the Parliament from holding office as well as remove their rights to a pension. The article notes that Mahon also suggests “legislation governing elections – the political finance acts – should be changed to place new limits on amounts that can be given in donations. It says the definition of a ‘donation’ should be widened to be seen as ‘any contribution given, used or received for political purposes’. The report says anonymous or cash donations pose corruption risks and that amounts above €55 in a donation to an individual electoral candidate or elective representative and €175 for donations to a political party should be prohibited”, the article also reports that Mahon suggests a register of lobbyists and notes “submissions received by local authorities and the county manager’s report on these submissions should be available on the internet. It maintains that where elected members decide to depart from the county manager’s report, they should be obliged to give reasons”.

Yet, the political fallout is still to be witnessed in its entirity. One commentatornotes that “latest report comes on top of the shocking disclosures in the Moriarty tribunal reports about the vast sums obtained by another former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Charles Haughey and the findings in an earlier planning tribunal report about the behaviour of former senior minister Ray Burke. It is an indictment of the Irish political system that such grave findings have been made against so many of the leading figures who dominated Fianna Fáil from the 1980s onwards”. He adds that “The report has severe things to say about senior government ministers who engaged in a ‘sustained and virulent attack’ on the tribunal while it was inquiring into Bertie Ahern’s financial affairs in 2007 and 2008. ‘It was entirely inappropriate for members of the Government to launch such unseemly and partisan attacks against a tribunal of inquiry appointed by both Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into serious concerns regarding corruption in public life.’ The current relevance is that some of the current members of the depleted Fianna Fáil parliamentary party engaged in those attacks”. Indeed, Independent MP Séamus Healy called for all those who were in the Ahern Cabinet to resign their seats.

The fundamental point as one journalist notes is that “the kind of appalling behaviour on the part of political leaders and businessmen exposed by the tribunal was not an aberration: it was a central feature of Irish political life for the past half a century”. He goes on to write that “Ahern’s electoral record was even more remarkable than Haughey’s. His personal popularity was far higher and he managed to win three general elections in a row between 1997 and 2007 despite the fact that he was Haughey’s protege and the sordid detail of his former leader’s finances had already become public knowledge”, yet in the crucial paragraph he argues correctly that the “collapse in Fianna Fáil support that happened in the years since then has had nothing do with standards in political life but everything to do with the collapse of the economy. It seems that a substantial section of the electorate was willing to close its eyes to unethical behaviour by politicians for as long as the boom continued”.

He concludes “The electoral disaster resulted from the economic crash rather than questions about political standards but the two issues were interlinked. The fact that the speculators and builders who frequented the Galway tent were at the core of the speculative bubble that led to the crash is something the party will find it very hard to live down. Even harder to cope with may be the fact that Micheál Martin and other leading members of the parliamentary party were key figures right through the Ahern era. Even if they did not engage in wrongdoing they will have a difficult time explaining why they turned a blind eye for so long”.

The irony of course is that the very party that set up the tribunal in November 1997, just months after their win in the 1997 General Election, came out worst as a result of the Mahon report. The only real chanllenge that FF has as a test of its political survival is that of the local elections in 2014. If the party loses a significant number of seats then its future fortunes will be all but impossible to restore.

Monti begins

11/04/2012

The proposed reforms of unelected PM Mario Monti have been released. It will be interesting to see if they can be enacted.

Deadlocked?

11/04/2012

In an interesting piece, pollster Dick Morris speculates on the possibility of a deadlocked GOP convention.

He opens arguing that “If Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich split the remaining primaries and caucuses – even if Romney wins most of them – we will not have a nominee until the summer and may not have one until the convention in late August”. He adds that “With a majority of the delegates to be chosen through proportional representation, Romney would have to win virtually all of the winner-take-all states and do well in the others to get the nomination before the convention”.

Morris assumes that Romney takes a host of winner take all states and loses “only Pennsylvania (72) to Santorum and Georgia (76) and North Carolina (55) to Gingrich”. Morris then says that Romney takes some proportional states but shares them with the others, Morris argues that the delegate count by the end of May would be, “Romney: 837; Santorum: 332; Gingrich: 336; Paul: 127”.

He then writes that “let’s assume that Santorum and Gingrich win Texas (155 by proportional representation) but Romney gets his proportional share (a third of Texas’s delegates are chosen on winner take all. Assume Newt wins them).  Then assume Romney and Santorum split Iowa (28) and Mitt wins the proportional representation battle in Washington state (43).  Still no majority for anyone”, he concludes that “It would not be until June 5th that a nominee would emerge if Romney wins the winner-take-all states of California (172), Montana (25) New Jersey (50), South Dakota (28), and Utah (40) and won the proportional state of New Mexico (23).  At that point, Romney would have 1,250 delegates, about a hundred more than he would need for a majority”.

He says that if Romney were to lose just a handful of states listed above there would be chaos in Florida in August. Yet, latest reports are that both Gingrich and Santorum are basically finished. Indeed the assumption Morris makes about Santorum winning in his home state of Pennsylvania, while it was correct is now looking increasingly unlikely. A report from the Washington Post mentions how Santorum’s “lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among likely GOP voters in Pennsylvania has shrunk to a statistically insignificant 30 percent to 28 percent. In February, Santorum led Romney in his former home state 45 percent to 16 percent. But four in five voters are still undecided”. Indeed all this assumes that Santorum can sustain his campaign to the primary in his home state on 24 April.

Morris’s idea, while interesting has little chance of occurring in practice. Romney will be the nominee, eventually, but before the end of the primaries. Then the real action begins.

One more nail in the coffin Pt I

10/04/2012

So what began in 1997 has finally been completed. The final report by Judge Alan Mahon, chairman of the Tribunal of Inquiry Into Certain Planning Matters and Payments was released last month. The tribunal which is estimated to cost €250 million, heard the evidence of 400 witnesses, sat for 917 days with 3 barristers earning €5 million or more in costs.  The words “corrupt” or “corruption” are used 977 times throughout the report. The tribunal also found against Fine Gael and Labour Party councillors.

Media reports said that “Corruption affected every level of government from cabinet ministers to local councillors during two decades of political dominance by Fianna Fáil, according to the final report of the planning tribunal”. The report was particularly damning of former government minsiters and two former prime ministers, with the same media coverage proclaiming “accused former taoiseach Bertie Ahern of untruthfulness. It found former European commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power”, the coverage adds that, “Ahern last night strongly disputed the report’s conclusions, saying he was incredulous at what he described as “objectionable and inaccurate” findings. He said he would be looking to vindicate his name”. The report itself was rightly damning of the political culture of the time noting,” Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated”.

Current Fine Gael Prime Minister Enda Kenny said that he would bring the “report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission”. Though, such is public disenchantment that little, if anything, is expected to come from these referrals.

The same media source says that the “tribunal found Mr Ahern had given untrue evidence about his personal finances, including lodgements to accounts that the tribunal found were large sterling and dollar cash lodgements. The tribunal found Mr Ahern knew the true source of some lodgements investigated by the tribunal, but chose not to disclose their origin. It also rejected the evidence of Mr Ahern and others to the effect that collections or ‘digouts’ occurred in 1993 and 1994 that resulted in Mr Ahern being given £22,500 and £16,500. The tribunal said it was satisfied a lodgement of £28,772.90 on December 5th, 1994, by Mr Ahern’s then partner, Celia Larkin, to an account in her name but to be held for Mr Ahern’s benefit, was not the proceeds of a payment by Manchester businessman Micheal Wall. The tribunal said it was satisfied it was in fact the result of the lodgement of $45,000 in cash”. It adds that “The report said because Mr Ahern did not give a true account as to the source of money lodged to his accounts, the tribunal had not been able to identify where the money came from. For that reason, it could not determine whether Mr Ahern had received corrupt payments from developer Owen O’Callaghan. The report also said while the tribunal was inquiring into matters relating to Mr Ahern in the 2007-2008 period, it ‘came under sustained and virulent attack from a number of senior government ministers who questioned, inter alia, the legality of its inquiries as well as the integrity of its members'”. The media article concludes that “The tribunal made more than 100 recommendations, including the appointment of a planning regulator, wider disclosure of interests by public officials, restrictions on political donations and a code for lobbyists”.

In response to the Mahon report, current leader of Fianna Fail, Michael Martin “proposed that former taoiseach Bertie Ahern be expelled from the party, saying he ‘betrayed the trust’ of the country and the political organisation. Mr Martin said the planning tribunal’s final report, which found Mr Ahern failed to “truthfully account” for the source of bank account lodgments, confirmed the former Fianna Fáil leader’s personal behaviour had fallen short of the standard expected of holders of high office. ‘In the manner in which he received this money while holding high office and in the giving of rejected evidence to a sworn tribunal Bertie Ahern betrayed the trust placed in him by this country and this party,’ Mr Martin said”. Yet, just days after this, Ahern resigned from the party. Martin’s actions are indeed ironic as he one just one of many Cabinet members who attempted to discredit and derail the tribunal.

In a statementin response to the findings of the tribunal Ahern said that the tribunal is “not the findings of a court of law”. The statement continues, ” I have never accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment”, adding, ” After spending over a decade of inquiries and countless millions of euros, the Tribunal has not made – nor could it make – a finding to support the scurrilous and untrue allegation that I had been given a corrupt payment by Mr Owen O’Callaghan”. Ahern adds amazingly, “I am disappointed that the Tribunal has said that I failed to give “a truthful account”.That statement is unfair and inaccurate having regard to the evidence. It is one that I cannot and I will never accept and I will continue to examine ways in which to vindicate my name”. This is in spite of the tribunal being unable to account for  IR£165,000.

The fact that such corruption and greed was so widespread is a damning indictment of the people of Ireland and the politics of that country that have, once again lead to to ruin. The irony of course is that the very party that set up the tribunal in November 1997, just months after their win in the 1997 General Election, came out worst as a result of the Mahon report. The future of the party hangs in the balance and will be dealt with in the final part.

Still supported

10/04/2012

Bo Xilai’s dismissal is the first to enjoy open support among members of the public even after his dismissal. The party, which normally tries to suppress any expression of sympathy for purged leaders, is either failing this time, or else it is not trying very hard. It could well be a sign that Chinese leaders themselves are divided over how to handle Mr Bo’s case and the public reaction to it“.

Adoramus te

08/04/2012

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

Concede nobis tuæ propitiationis effectum

06/04/2012

From the Collect of Holy Thursday:

DEUS, a quo et Judas reatus sui pœnam, et confessionis suæ latro præmium sumpsit, concede nobis  tuæ propitiationis effectum; ut, sicut in passione sua Jesus Christus, Dominus noster, diversa utrisque intulit stipendia meritorum; ita nobis, ablato vetustatis errore, resurrectionis suæ gratiam largiatur. Qui Tecum vivit et regnat.

 
O God, from whom Judas received the punishment of his guilt, and the thief the reward of his confession, grant us the effect of Thy clemency; that even as in His passion our Lord Jesus Christ gave to each a different recompense according to his merits, so may He deliver us from our old sins and grant us the grace of His resurrection. Who with Thee livest and reignest.

Something for everyone?

05/04/2012

Chancellor George Osborne, lowers the top rate of tax to 45%, all because of “the market“, but thankfully increases the amount those can pay without paying any tax to £9,000. The rich benefit more as usual.

Gangster state

04/04/2012

Bo Xilai’s dismissal is also a setback for the ‘Princeling’ faction within the Party — the group of Party leaders whose parents also held high-profile official positions — and a victory for Hu Jintao’s ‘Communist Youth League’ faction. Some net users have even suggested that the real winners are gangsters, who some fear will be able to run rampant in Chongqing now that Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai are gone“.

Wiping the slate clean

04/04/2012

In one of the more unusual moments of this campaign season, aide to Mitt Romney, Eric Fehrnstrom was reported as saying “the morning after Romney’s big win in the Illinois primary, Fehrnstrom blunted the Republican presidential front-runner’s momentum by saying on CNN that Romney would ‘hit a reset button’ in the general election. ‘It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch,’ Fehrnstrom said Wednesday. ‘You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.'” The article mentions how “Suddenly the image of a children’s toy erasing drawings with a simple shake reignited concerns about the certainty of Romney’s conservatism”.

Of course, this is hardly something that other candidates have not done, or would not do, were they going to be in Romney’s shoes in after the convention in August. Indeed, President Obama himself has been guilty of this during his campaign in 2008, making wild promises to unions like abolishing NAFTA other such policies to young activists and seniors, while attempting to get the nomination, then after he became the candidate repudiated all of that in the general election against Senator McCain.

Naturally, the Santorum campaign made hypocritical hay out of the gaffe, and was reported as saying “‘We all knew Mitt Romney didn’t have any core convictions, but we appreciate his staff going on national television to affirm that point for anyone who had any doubts,’ Santorum campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said Wednesday in a statement”.

Another poll released at the end of March, found that “Romney has pulled away from the rest of the GOP field nationally, according to the latest Gallup five-day rolling average of polls. Romney leads with 42 percent, followed by Rick Santorum at 27 percent, Newt Gingrich at 11 percent, and Ron Paul at 10 percent”. The piece mentions how “Romney has a better than two-to-one lead in delegates over Santorum, and is poised for a primary sweep on Tuesday in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin. Many are speculating that Wisconsin is Santorum’s last chance to derail a Romney nomination. The former Pennsylvania senator has tried to frame himself as better able to connect with blue collar voters, but has been unable to close the deal in the Midwest or Rust Belt states, falling narrowly to Romney in Michigan and Ohio”.

In related news, the most recent poll shows that “Obama leads Romney 51 to 42 percent in the latest USA Today-Gallup poll of 12 swing states that was released Monday. Romney holds a 1-point lead among men in the poll, but trails with women by 18 points”. The writer adds that “It’s unlikely that the GOP nominee would be able to win the White House with a gender gap of that magnitude. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suffered a similar gender split in 2008, losing to Obama by 1 point among men but by 13 points among women”. It mentions how President Obama, in states like Virginia, Colorado, Florida, New  Mexico and Pennsylvania, “leads in those states by an average of 9 percentage points”.

It will be almost impossible to imagine anyone else other than Romney campaigning against President Obama over the summer.

All above board

03/04/2012

Nothing illegal about killing traitors, or anyone else who threatens the national interest.

Seven years ago today

02/04/2012

This day, seven years ago, the world lost John Paul II, who was a great man, but also a flawed one.

The paper tiger revealed

02/04/2012

In an excellent article, Gordon Chang explains why he is still correct about China’s coming collapse. Indeed, as has been stated here before, the theory behind China’s aggression, its claims to the laughable claims to the entire South China Sea, its continually rising military expenditure, for no apparent reason, its aggression,  instability,   paranoia,  worryingly nationalistic pressunsettling power struggles, more instability , the lowest growth rate in eight years, isolation and generally failing economy are a dangerous combination. It is never a good sign when those wealthy enough to leave the country do. The world is in fact watching not the rise of the Middle Kingdom, but its “long decline“.

Chang argues that the fundamental reason why China has lasted this long is that “the Chinese central government has managed to avoid adhering to many of its obligations made when it joined the WTO in 2001 to open its economy and play by the rules, and the international community maintained a generally tolerant attitude toward this noncompliant behavior”. Thus exports soared, while the home market was protected.

Such is the nonsensical accolades that China is receiving that “Justin Yifu Lin, the World Bank’s chief economist, believes the country can grow for at least two more decades at 8 percent, and the International Monetary Fund predicts China’s economy will surpass America’s in size by 2016″.

Chang ignores these so called “experts” and says that China has grown economically because of “Deng Xiaoping’s transformational ‘reform and opening up’ policies”, ” Deng’s era of change coincided with the end of the Cold War, which brought about the elimination of political barriers to international commerce” and finally Chang says that  ” all of this took place while China was benefiting from its ‘demographic dividend,’ an extraordinary bulge in the workforce”.

Chang thankfully goes on to say that “the Communist Party has turned its back on Deng’s progressive policies”, that “the global boom of the last two decades ended in 2008 when markets around the world crashed. The tumultuous events of that year brought to a close an unusually benign period during which countries attempted to integrate China into the international system and therefore tolerated its mercantilist policies. Now, however, every nation wants to export more and, in an era of protectionism or of managed trade, China will not be able to export its way to prosperity like it did during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s” and lastly as has been discussed here before, and as Chang mentions “The Chinese workforce will level off in about 2013, perhaps 2014,according to both Chinese and foreign demographers, but the effect is already being felt as wages rise, a trend that will eventually make the country’s factories uncompetitive”.

He adds that “Money started to leave the country in October, and Beijing’s foreign reserves have been shrinking since September”.

Chang posits the interesting scenario that “we will witness either a crash or, more probably, a Japanese-style multi-decade decline. Either way, economic troubles are occurring just as Chinese society is becoming extremely restless. It is not only that protests have spiked upwards — there were 280,000 “mass incidents” last year according to one count — but that they are also increasingly violent as the recent wave of uprisingsinsurrectionsrampages and bombings suggest”.

He concludes that “social change in China is accelerating. The problem for the country’s ruling party is that, although Chinese people generally do not have revolutionary intentions, their acts of social disruption can have revolutionary implications because they are occurring at an extraordinarily sensitive time”. He adds that “Political scientists, who like to bring order to the inexplicable, say that a host of factors are required for regime collapse and that China is missing the two most important of them: a divided government and a strong opposition.” Yet as he says, the rebels in Cairo or Benghazi were not united, the only thing that united them was the hatred of Mubarak and Gaddafi, and look where they are now.

Is this the beginning of the end of the Chinese moment?

Isolated

01/04/2012

The Chinese government, isolated from its people and from the international community.