Archive for July, 2012

The scandal turns

31/07/2012

As the Bo Xilai scandal turns into the Gu Kailai scandal reports mention that “Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai, is expected to be tried for poisoning the old Harrovian businessman with cyanide within the next two weeks. But as she prepares to face justice, Mr Heywood’s former colleagues and acquaintances are wondering if her claims that she feared for the “personal security” of herself and her son Bo Guagua, in the face of unspecified threats from Mr Heywood, mean that he is now also in the dock”.

The report adds that “While Mrs Gu is almost certain to be found guilty – 98 per cent of all criminal cases in China result in convictions according to a 2009 Harvard study – she is unlikely to face being executed by lethal injection”, the report goes on to note that “Some legal experts have speculated that the maximum sentence she will receive is 15 years, leaving the prospect of her being released within a decade with good behaviour. The possibility that Mrs Gu may receive a lenient punishment aside, it is her claims about Mr Heywood making threats over unknown business dealings that has left those who knew him reeling and no longer sure what to believe about the man whose death is at the centre of the biggest political scandal in China for two decades”.

It adds that “Gu’s trial is expected to start on August 7 or 8 in Hefei in eastern Anhui Province. It is standard practise in China for high-profile cases to be tried in neutral locations, but Mrs Gu is sparing no effort to fight the charges. The lawyer leading her defence is Jiang Min, chairman of the Anhui Lawyers Association and a vice-chairman of the All-China Lawyers Association. Many legal experts believe that Mrs Gu’s testimony that she felt Mr Heywood presented a danger to her and her son’s safety will be seen as a mitigating factor by the three judges who will try her case”. Of course, there is little doubt that Gu will be found guilty in what passes fof justice in China

The report goes on to mention that “Also charged with Mr Heywood’s murder is the Bo family retainer Zhang Xiaojun, and there is speculation that he may be the one who will bear the brunt of the Chinese legal system’s wrath”, adding later that “Gu’s trial expected to be concluded within a month, her husband is likely to be charged soon after with corruption offences. The arrival of Patrick Devilliers, the French architect who was Mrs Gu’s former business partner, in China 12 days ago to be questioned by CCP officials about his business relationship with the Bo family is a signal that Mr Bo’s trial date is drawing close. Now believed to be in Beijing, Mr Devilliers is thought to be the key to providing evidence of how Mr Bo and his wife squirreled away the billions from bribes and illegal business dealings they are alleged to have acquired during his time as mayor of the booming cities of Dalian and Chongqing. There is little doubt that the CCP want both Mrs Gu’s trial and Mr Bo’s wrapped up before the all-important 18th Party Congress in the autumn”.

What is clear is that the trial is taking place is amid the previoisly mentioned leadership transition and at the same time as the economy is under going significant contraction, for China, all at the same time as people are becoming increasingly restless.

Negative watch

31/07/2012

The day after Moody’s placed Germany as a whole on negative outlook, it placed Bavaria and five other German states on negative outlook as well. While the German government reacted quite stoically – saying it had “taken note” of the decision – the response from Bavaria to its ‘outlook downgrade’ was far more robust”.

Problems on his doorstep

31/07/2012

After talk of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s manageralism and chumocracy others have noted similar trends.

In a piece in the Economist, senior ministers in the government are reported by the magazine that “the trouble with David Cameron, according to one of his ministers, is that he does not identify himself staunchly with yeoman party issues like immigration, low taxes and a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Instead he lurches into rows over legalising gay marriage and House of Lords reform—subjects that neither he nor the public much cares about”.

It goes on to mention that “Voters increasingly deem the Tory leader woebegone. Mr Cameron remains tolerated as a leader. But a poll by YouGov shows the proportion of Britons who think he “sticks to what he believes in” has collapsed, from 30% in late January to just 17%. Worse still, a different survey showed Labour was considered the most competent of the three big parties for the first time since the coalition was forged in May 2010”.

It adds that “Economic uncertainty is the root cause of alarm: prime ministers are forgiven a good deal if people feel secure. Yet frustrations abound even among the previously supportive. Chief among them is a lack of certainty about the prime minister’s priorities and intentions. He needs a gospel to preach. At the moment, nobody quite knows what Cameronism means”.

The article mentions that on “Cameron’s watch, the welfare state is replacing labyrinthine entitlements with a single “universal credit” intended to favour those who work over long-term benefit recipients who try not to. Free schools and academies, which are outside local-authority control, are expanding at a gallop. Whitehall is being pruned and civil servants’ performance better monitored. The police are to be held to account by elected commissioners. Quieter but useful reforms are being made to criminal justice. And much greater openness about the standards of services in hospitals and police forces is being demanded to deter tax-funded bodies from hiding their shortcomings. Yet Mr Cameron is strongly associated with little of this”.

The reason for this is says is, that Cameron “has tended to contract out reforms to strong ministers like Michael Gove in the education department and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary. As a result, key policies tend to end up more associated with these men than with the prime minister”.

It concludes “The ghost of Downing Street past nonetheless has a point. Prime ministers are remembered for what they dedicate themselves to changing—even at the cost of bearing more of the scars”.

Pushed out?

31/07/2012

Fr Uwe Michael Lang, stauch defender of Summorum Pontificum and the reform of the reform and consulter to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments left his position with no explanation.

“Panic in Riyadh”

30/07/2012

The informed Simon Henederson has noted that on 19 July “the Saudi government orchestrated its equivalent of Washington’s Friday afternoon news dump: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of the late crown prince and defense minister, Sultan, was appointed the new intelligence chief”.

He writes that Prince Bandar’s appointment is “is a reflection of King Abdullah’s concerns about developments in the Middle East, particularly Syria, and the limited talent pool in the House of Saud to meet the challenges. Frankly, it suggests panic in Riyadh”. He mentions that “the prevailing story about him recently has been about his mental state. William Sampson, a (friendly) biographer, noted that Bandar’s ‘first period of full-blown depression’ came in the mid-1990s. Another biographer, David Ottaway, described Bandar as a ‘more than occasional drinker,’ and most conversations about him seemed to revolve around, only partly mischievously, whether he had finished detoxification or not”.

Henderson posits the theory that “In June, when his uncle Crown Prince Nayef died, the Saudi Press Agency published a photo of Bandar, saying he offered his condolences. A week ago, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited Jeddah, Bandar was also listed as attending his audience with King Abdullah. Although the kingdom’s main obsession is Iran, its immediate pre-occupation is Syria. On that issue, Bandar may indeed be the man for the moment. Over the years, he has acquired a reputation for discreet diplomacy and intrigue in both Syria and Lebanon. According to a source close to the ruling family, King Abdullah regards Bandar, who bad-mouthed the then crown prince during his tenure as ambassador to the United States, with caution”.

He writes, somewhat confusingly, that “Abdullah is often depicted as a Syriaphile, the monarch changed his attitude, especially after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad castigated his fellow Arab leaders as “half-men” for their failure to support Hezbollah. Another more recent example of Saudi willingness to play in Syrian politics was the welcome that Bashar’s uncle, Rifaat, received in Riyadh when coming to pay his respects last month after Nayef’s death. Rifaat has lived in Paris since 1984, having tried and failed to stage a coup after President Hafez al-Assad, his brother and Bashar’s father, fell ill. Rifaat is related to King Abdullah by marriage — one of Rifaat’s wives was a sister of one of Abdullah’s wives, the mother of deputy foreign minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah. The closeness between Rifaat and Abdullah is more than just kinship: They worked together in the early 1980s when Rifaat was leading the Defense Companies, Syria’s praetorian guard, and Abdullah was commander of the Saudi Arabian national guard”.

He adds that “the kingdom may be adjusting its Syria policy, there is no denying that the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Saudi CIA, is badly in need of a shakeup. Its recent record is, to say the least, mixed”. He goes on to write that “Both Muqrin and Nawaf, the men who served as Saudi intelligence chiefs between Turki and Bandar, lacked flair. Muqrin, who has now been shunted into an undefined advisory role, trained as a fighter pilot, like Bandar. But his primary credential for the job was that he was loyal to King Abdullah. His other qualification was that, like the king, he was not a Sudairi — the largest group of seven full brothers who have dominated Saudi royal politics for decades and still do, despite the passing of three of them. Nawaf, who took over from Turki, was even more of an Abdullah yes-man. The fiction that he was leading Saudi foreign intelligence was unsustainable after he suffered a stroke during the 2002 Beirut Arab summit. He is still alive, but confined to a wheelchair”.

He notes that the problems for Bandar, and the kingdom are great with “Even if Bandar has regained some of his previous form, the troubles of the Middle East, from a Saudi perspective, are surely more than can be handled by one man. In Syria, Riyadh wants Bashar out but does not want the contagion to spread to Jordan. To Riyadh’s fury, it also finds itself competing for influence in Syria with tiny Qatar, which appears to be just as generous with money and weapons but much far more nimble in responding to events on the ground. Meanwhile, Iran looms over the horizon”.

He concludes “for some reason, King Abdullah has chosen Bandar for a role that, without too much hyperbole, might be described as saving the kingdom. It’s an interesting choice”.

Arrested for murder

30/07/2012

Apparently, “Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, one of China’s most powerful Communist party leaders, has been arrested for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood”. Proving true the previous assertion.

Justice in Philadelphia

29/07/2012

So after months of waiting it finally arrived, the verdict for Msgr William Lynn in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

A native of the city Rocco has coverage noting that the “first church official in the English-speaking world to be held criminally liable for his handling of sex-abuse cases, this morning a Philadelphia judge sentenced the former archdiocesan head of clergy personnel, Msgr William Lynn, to a prison term of three to six years”.

He goes on to write that “the 61 year-old cleric was convicted in June on a single count of endangering the welfare of a child in a 1999 case involving a since-laicized priest who had been kept in ministry and continued abusing despite archdiocesan officials’ judgment that he had long been ‘guilty’ of previous assaults on minors”, he goes on to mention importantly that “attorneys have vowed to appeal the conviction, and a high-court review could come as early as this fall”.

Rocco powerfully paints a scene in the courtroom when he says that “In a statement before handing down the sentence, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina rapped Lynn for having enabled ‘monsters in clerical garb… to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.’ ‘You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn,’ the judge said, ‘but you chose wrong.'”

Such powerful words are fitting for such immoral acts. It is fitting that the trial took place in the United States where the scale of the abuse was first uncovered in 2002 under Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston.

Rocco goes on to write that “even Lynn’s defense conceded that the leadership of the Philadelphia church — a place once perceived in church circles as a ‘model’ bastion of ironclad Catholic fidelity — conducted a sweeping, systemic cover-up of allegations and reassigning of accused clerics that spanned generations, the monsignor and his lawyers asserted that, as Secretary for Clergy from 1992-2004, the defendant was a third-tier functionary who sought to do the good he could within the parameters of a policy established by the auxiliary bishops who served in turn as vicar-general and, ultimately, the then-archbishop”, Cardinal Bevilacqua.

He adds that “The monsignor was acquitted of a conspiracy charge and a second child-endangerment count at the close of the three-month trial”. He mentions that two other trials of “a religious priest and lay teacher both indicted for abuse” will begin the the autumn.

He mentions that “In a statement released shortly after today’s ruling, the national office of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests said that, while it was disappointed that Lynn did not receive the maximum jail-time, ‘this sentence sends a powerful message: cover-up child sex crimes and you’ll go to jail. Not house arrest. Not community service. Not a fine. You’ll be locked up.'” Yet outrageously Rocco notes that ” In a late-day statement, meanwhile, the Philadelphia Curia — which issued a ‘heartfelt apology’ to victims on last month’s verdict — said that ‘fair-minded people will question the severity of the heavy, three to six year sentence imposed on Msgr. Lynn today,’ voicing its ‘hope that when this punishment is objectively reviewed, it will be adjusted.'”

This talk does the Church no good as it seems to be putting the victims before those fairly accused and tried before a court, which it seems to have little regard for. If the local Church is to recover in any way it should applaud the jury and justice officials for conducting the trial and protecting the integrity of the justice system and therefore the common good of society at large.

“Run its course”

29/07/2012

For three decades China has depended on robust growth, largely from ever-increasing exports, to maintain high levels of employment and raise living standards, thereby assuring social tranquillity. This era may have run its course”.

Decaying support

28/07/2012

A little over a year after the death of Osama bin Laden a poll finds that support for his decaying movement has fallen.

It notes that “al Qaeda is widely unpopular among Muslim publics. A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted March 19 to April 13, 2012, finds majorities – and mostly large majorities – expressing negative views of the terrorist group in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon”.

It notes that “In Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals, 13% of Muslims hold a favorable view of al Qaeda, 55% an unfavorable view, and roughly three-in-ten (31%) offer no opinion”. However, this should not be confused with support for the United States. Pakistani-US relations are at an all time low and the Pakistani populace have little understanding of America or its role in the world. What these numbers also reveal that the ISI, Pakistani military intelligence, with close links to the Taliban in Afghanistan are effectively a force unto themselves with little or no direct government control, worrying for a country with nuclear weapons.

The report mentions that “Support for the organization is in the single digits among Turkish and Lebanese Muslims. In Jordan, just 15% express a positive opinion, essentially unchanged from last year, but down significantly from 34% in 2010”, yet worryingly it adds that “Al Qaeda receives its highest ratings in Egypt, where 21% hold a favorable and 71% an unfavorable opinion”. This is unusual as President Obama gave a speech in Cairo in which he explicitly rejected the premise that America was fighting against Muslims. The number of supporters in Egypt is particularly alarming as it comes at a time when the country is in a political transition with a new and untested president.

The piece adds that “Before his death, support for bin Laden had waned considerably among Muslims around the world.  Perhaps the most striking decline occurred in Jordan, where in 2005 61% had expressed confidence in bin Laden to do the right thing in world affairs.  The next year, this number plummeted to 24% following al Qaeda suicide attacks in the nation’s capital, Amman.  By 2011, only 13% expressed confidence in him”.

A victory for who?

28/07/2012

After the explosion in Syria and the confirmed deaths “which Syrian state media blames on a suicide bomber but Free Syrian Army officials insist was caused by a remote-detonated device, are Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha; his ‘deputy’ Asef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in law and one of the regime’s most feared strongmen; and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani, a former Defense Minister”.

A new leading light?

27/07/2012

As Libya proceeds down its difficult path some have mentioned how “Less than 48 hours prior to elections, the National Transitional Council (NTC) stripped the to be elected national congress of its core mandate: supervising the drafting of Libya’s new constitution. Rather than being appointed by the new congress, the constitutional commission actually drafting the charter will theoretically now be directly elected in a second set of polls that give all parts of the country equal representation. This legal bombshell risks acrimony later this year between different parts of the country as well as rejection by the newly ascendant political parties, who on paper find themselves in charge of a congress suddenly relegated to bystander status on constitutional matters. A Libyan proverb has it that ‘laws are made in Tripoli, observed in Misrata and die in Benghazi.’ It captures Tripoli’s status as the seat of government, the highly organized nature of the commercial port city of Misrata, and the hotbed of activism that is Benghazi”.

Others meanwhile have argued that “Both those who advocated the NATO bombing campaign which led to the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi, and those who opposed it, can now find grounds for vindication. It’s early days, and no one can foretell Libya’s future”. He goes on to argue that “The common refrain among critics of the NATO campaign was, “We don’t know who they are.” Islamists figured prominently in the Libyan militias; Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a former leader of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, led rebel forces in Tripoli. But now we do know who they are. Jibril’s National Forces Alliance roundly defeated the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, taking almost six times as many votes”. Yet, as some have noted the vote for Jibril was more about personal reasons for anything else.

Traub posits the theory that “There are many explanations for the Islamists’ poor performance. The National Democratic Institute, a democracy promotion group, conducted focus groups in Libya this spring in which, according to Carlo Binda, the country director, ‘people almost universally said that anyone using Islam as a political device can’t be trusted’ — because all Libyans profess Islam. Diederick Vandewalle, a Libya scholar who has been in the country during the elections, says that ‘the last thing anyone wants is a powerful leader who is going to be  a reincarnation of Qaddafi.’ Libyans, that is, have had it with ideology. After 42 years of planned chaos, Libyans just want a normal country”.

He goes on to note that “A secondary fear among critics of the air campaign was that Libya, long held together by authoritarian rule, will break up along the east-west axis that defined the rebellion against Qaddafi. A group called the Cyrenaica Transitional Council (CTC), based in Benghazi, had been demanding autonomy for the east. But after the election, Jibril pointedly praised the federalists as “patriots,” and invited them to join the coalition he is seeking to assemble. The CTC’s leaders have responded warmly, and have spoken of dissolving their organization”.

He adds, as others have argued that the militias and the thousands held in informal jails remain a significant problem. He writes that “. A senior U.S. government official bridled at the Wild West analogy, and said that the security atmosphere has improved significantly over the last six months. Vandewalle pointed out that the brigade that had taken over the Tripoli airport last month had been successfully disarmed (by another militia)”.

He concludes that “Oil production has inched close to the pre-war level of 1.77 million barrels per day, and the International Monetary Fund estimates that national revenue this year will reach about $45 billion — this in a country with just 6.7 million people. Rosy projections of oil revenue in post-war Iraq were upended by sabotage and terrorism, but so far Libya’s oil infrastructure, though desperately in need of modernization, has not been damaged”.

As has been stated before, if these major issues can be solved quickly and peacefully, then Libya could overtake Tunisia as the Arab world’s leading light.

SSPX leak

27/07/2012

Letter from Secretary-General to regional superiors on discussions.

Consequences of a bigger stick

27/07/2012

As Iran moves closer to acquiring nuclear weapons an article in Foreign Affairs argues against famed realist Kenneth Waltz’s piece in the same magazine.

It mentions that “Kenneth Waltz is probably right that a nuclear-armed Iran could be deterred from deliberately using nuclear weapons or transferring a nuclear device to terrorists (“Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” July/August 2012). But he is dead wrong that the Islamic Republic would likely become a more responsible international actor if it crossed the nuclear threshold”. He adds that ” Waltz mischaracterizes Iranian motivations and badly misreads history. And despite the fact that Waltz is one of the world’s most respected international relations theorists, he ignores important political science research into the effects of nuclear weapons, including recent findings that suggest that new nuclear states are often more reckless and aggressive at lower levels of conflict”.

He goes on to write that “Waltz correctly notes that Iran’s leaders, despite their fanatical rhetoric, are fundamentally rational. Because Iran’s leadership is not suicidal, it is highly unlikely that a nuclear-armed Iran would deliberately use a nuclear device or transfer one to terrorists. Yet even though the Islamic Republic is rational, it is still dangerous”. Yet, if it is not rational to say it is dangerous is putting it mildly. This was seen by the incompetent attempt to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US.

The piece goes on to mention that ” Iran is not a status quo state, and its support for terrorists and militants is intended to be for more than just defense and retaliation. Such support is an offensive tool, designed to pressure and intimidate other states, indirectly expand Iran’s influence, and advance its revisionist agenda, which seeks to make Iran the preeminent power in the Middle East”. The same could not of course be said for countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Worryingly he argues that “To further enhance its image in the eyes of domestic and regional audiences as the leader of an anti-Western resistance bloc, a nuclear-armed Iran might respond to regional crises by threatening to use all the means at its disposal to ensure the survival of the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah, or Palestinian groups. And Iran might be emboldened to play the spoiler in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by encouraging large-scale militant attacks and might try to destabilize its neighbors through more coercive diplomacy and subversion in Iraq and the Gulf states”. This latter reference refers of course to Qatar. He sums it up neatly when he writes that “To be sure, a nonnuclear Iran already engages in many destabilizing activities. But equipped with nuclear weapons, Tehran would likely dial up its trouble-making and capitalize on its deterrent to limit the response options available to threatened states”.

He broadens the focus noting that “Waltz also asserts that “India and Pakistan have both become more cautious since going nuclear.” But Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons has in fact facilitated its strategy of engaging in low-intensity conflict against India, making the subcontinent more crisis-prone. As the political scientist S. Paul Kapur has shown, as Islamabad’s nuclear capabilities have increased, so has the volatility of the Indian-Pakistani rivalry. Since 1998, when both India and Pakistan openly tested nuclear devices, Islamabad has appeared more willing to back militant groups fighting in disputed Kashmir and to support groups that have conducted terrorist attacks elsewhere in India. Furthermore, in 1999, Pakistan sent conventional forces disguised as insurgents across the Line of Control in the Kargil district of Kashmir, triggering a limited war with India”.

The author concludes, being more of a realist than Waltz arguing, “The threat from a nuclear-armed Iran might not be as grave as some suggest, but it would make an already volatile Middle East even more conflict-prone. Preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold should therefore remain a top U.S. priority. Because a preventive military attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure could itself set off a series of unpredictable and destabilizing consequences, the best and most sustainable solution to Iran’s nuclear challenge is to seek a negotiated solution through a combination of economic pressure and diplomacy”. If this doesn’t work there is always the Green Movement.

The gaffes continue

27/07/2012

In an attempt to woo the UK government Romney instead insults them saying they are not prepared to hold the Olympics.

Reality bites in Asia

27/07/2012

A previous post Robert Kaplan has written about the dangers of conflict in the South China Sea. In a post from the Council on Foreign Relations about tensions in the South China Sea he writes that “Tensions in the South China Sea have risen to their highest level in at least two years in the wake of the disastrous breakup of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh. Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, an eternal optimist, admitted that the summit was an ‘unprecedented’ failure in ASEAN’s history”.

He goes on to write that this was happening at almost exactly the same time as a Chinese vessel ran aground on Filipino territorial waters. He mentions that “While noting that the United States does not have any claim on the South China Sea, the Obama administration has more vocally backed the ASEAN claimants’ rights on territorial claims, even saying that freedom of navigation and a resolution of claims accepted by all nations was a U.S. ‘national interest.'”

He adds importantly that “Tensions over the South China Sea, which is strategically vital and believed to contain rich deposits of petroleum, go back decades, but over the past two years they have escalated dramatically. China, which in theory claims nearly the entire sea, has in recent years publicly advocated its claims more forcefully. This can be attributed to various causes: Perhaps U.S. economic problems distracted it from Asia in the latter half of the 2000s; China’s leadership recognizes Beijing’s own rising naval strength; China’s government is responding to growing nationalism; China’s resources companies want to expedite exploration of the sea; or some combination of these and other factors”.

He goes on to write that “This spring and summer, the Southeast Asian claimants (except Malaysia, which has taken a more passive role) and China have hardened their positions by putting into place more physical manifestations of their claims. The sides have turned virtually uninhabited rocks into new provinces and states. Earlier this year, China announced that the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands, as well as another area of the sea, have become a Chinese administrative area called Sansha City, with its own governing officials. They have begun staking out oil and gas claims as another physical manifestation of their power: China National Offshore Oil Company recently invited foreign oil companies to offer it bids to explore potential blocks that are just off of the coast of Vietnam. And they have increasingly used non-military boats to make their points. Last month, for instance, Beijing declared that it would expand the fleets of fishing vessels it will be sending to disputed regions of the sea”.

Some have noted the 5 flashpoints of the South China sea here.   An article in Foreign Policy mentions that “Chinese vessels carrying amphibious troops and operating under fighter cover from nearby Hainan Island engaged a South Vietnamese flotilla bereft of air support. One Vietnamese destroyer escort lay at the bottom of the South China Sea following the daylong battle. China’s flag fluttered over the islands. The skirmish was real — and the date was Jan. 17, 1974. History may not repeat itself exactly, but it sure rhymes”. He goes on to write that “Now, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has announced plans to station a military garrison at Sansha, a newly founded city on the 0.8 square-mile Woody Island in the Paracels. Formally established on July 24, Sansha will act as China’s administrative center for the Paracel and Spratly islands and adjoining waters”. He adds that “Beijing is reaching for its weapons once again” later writing that “Chinese leaders are doing so at a time when peacetime diplomacy seemingly offers them a good chance to prevail without fighting. I call it “small-stick diplomacy” — gunboat diplomacy with no overt display of gunboats”.

He writes that China has the option of ” surveillance, fisheries, or law-enforcement ships to protect Chinese fishermen in disputed waters, stare down rival claimants, and uphold Chinese domestic law. And it can do so without overtly bullying weaker neighbors, giving extraregional powers a pretext to intervene”, yet interestingly he writes that this approach takes time. Crucially he adds that ” Rival claimants like Vietnam are arming. They may acquire military means sufficient to defy China’s threats, or at least drive up the costs to China of imposing its will. And Southeast Asians are seeking help from powerful outsiders like the United States”. He writes tha honour is still a fundamental force in how China views its position in the world.

He concludes that “Hanoi announced plans to buttress its naval might by purchasing six Russian-built Kilo­-class diesel submarines armed with wake-homing torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles. A Kilo squadron will supply Vietnam’s navy a potent “sea-denial” option. But Russia has not yet delivered the subs, meaning that Hanoi can mount only feeble resistance to any Chinese naval offensive”.

America will once again come to the world’s rescue.

Conclusions delivered

27/07/2012

The leaking of documents in the Vatican has taken another turn with reportsnoting that “Paolo Gabriele, the former papal butler suspected of leaking confidential documents, was released to house arrest on Saturday after two months in secure confinement as he continues to await a decision on whether he will be tried on a charge of aggravated theft”. While at the same time a note from the Press Office of the Holy See has mentioned that on “26 July, the Holy Father received in audience the Commission of Cardinals which is undertaking the administrative investigation into the leaking of reserved information: Cardinal Julián Herranz, Cardinal Jozef Tomko and Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi. The cardinals were accompanied by Fr. Luigi Martignani O.F.M. Cap., secretary of the Commission; Examining Magistrate Piero Antonio Bonnet, and Promoter of Justice Nicola Picardi of the Tribunal of Vatican City State. The Holy Father was informed about the conclusions reached by the Commission of Cardinals, and about the progress of the criminal procedures currently underway. He thanked them for the information he had received and invited the Vatican magistrates to proceed expeditiously”. The report interestingly concludes that also present at the meeting were  Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, and “Gregory Burke, communications consultant of the Secretariat of State”.

Ignoring the solution

25/07/2012

After the Citizens United decision some have defended it, arguing that it has not significantly altered US elections.

By way of introduction he writes that “The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this: Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the corporate takeover of American politics”.

He writes that “Go back to, say, 2007, and pretend you’re a conservative donor. At this moment, you would still have been free to write a check for any amount to a 527 — so named because of the shadowy provision in the tax code that made such groups legal. (America Coming Together and the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were both 527s.) Even corporations, though they couldn’t contribute to a candidate or a party, were free to write unlimited checks to something called a social-welfare group, whose principal purpose, ostensibly, is issue advocacy rather than political activity. The anti-tax Club for Growth, for instance, is a social-welfare group. So, remarkably, is the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. There were, however, a few caveats when it came to the way these groups could spend their money. Neither a 527 nor a social-welfare group could engage in ‘express advocacy’ — that is, overtly making the case for one candidate over another. Nor could they use corporate money for ‘electioneering communications'”.

He goes on to write that “So under the old rules, the Club for Growth couldn’t broadcast an ad that said “Vote Against Barack Obama,” but it could spend that money on as many ads as it wanted that said “Barack Obama has ruined America — call and tell him to stop!” as long as it did so more than 60 days before an election”. He adds that “Now any outside group can use corporate money to make a direct case for who deserves your vote and why, and they can do so right up to Election Day. The second change is that the old 527s have now been made effectively obsolete, replaced by the super PAC. The main difference between a super PAC and a social-welfare group, practically speaking, is that a super PAC has to disclose the identity of its donors, while social-welfare groups generally do not”.

Crucially he writes that “while it is true that corporations can now give money for specific purposes that were prohibited before, it seems they aren’t, or at least not at a level that accounts for anything like the sudden influx of money into the system”. He mentions that “in the era before Citizens United, while individuals and companies could still contribute huge sums to outside groups, they were to some extent deterred by the confusing web of rules and the liability they might incur for violations. What the new rulings did, as the experts like to put it, was to “lift the cloud of uncertainty” that hung over such expenditures, and the effect of this psychological shift should not be underestimated. It almost certainly accounts for some rise in political money this year, both from individuals and companies. Even so, the Supreme Court’s ruling really wasn’t the sort of tectonic event that Obama and his allies would have you believe it was”. He makes the valid point that “the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, popularly known as the McCain-Feingold law. The new law stamped out soft money for good, but it also created a vacuum in political fund-raising. The parties could no longer tap an endless stream of soft money, but thanks to the advent of the 527, rich ideologues with their own agendas could write massive checks for the purpose of building what were, essentially, shadow parties”.

An Economist blog argues that “What’s not so clear is that Citizens United is the culprit”. The solution is clear.

Reprisals?

25/07/2012

Vincenzo Di Mauro resigned from his post as archbishop-bishop of Vigevano. He previously served as secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See but was moved due to disagreements with Cardinal Bertone. Some have suggested that he resigned with “two possible reason for the resignation of the Archbishop: one — a possible — entanglement in the disappearance of documents from the Vatican or — more likely — sexual indiscretions“.

Cause for conern

25/07/2012

Iran gives yet more cause for concern as reports state that “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are overseeing a massive expansion of the country’s nuclear weapons programme in an attempt to bring forward the date when the regime can produce its first warhead, according to a leading Iranian dissident group”.

The report adds that “A specialist team of 60 nuclear scientists has been seconded to a specially-designated unit called the New Defence Research Organisation which answers directly to the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force under the control of Iran’s supreme leader. Having previously revealed the existence of Iran’s top-secret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) says it has now uncovered conclusive evidence of how the Revolutionary Guards are quietly expanding the weapons programme”.

Apparently “Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, had told a select group of senior civil servants that, at the current rate of progress, Iran would be able to have a nuclear device within two years. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader who has overall responsibility for Iran’s nuclear programme, is keen for Iran’s nuclear scientists to intensify their efforts to achieve the technological expertise required for making an atom bomb”.

The article goes on to mention that “Israel’s deepening concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme has raised fears that the Jewish state may be planning to launch unilateral air strikes against Iran’s key nuclear facilities later this year. Tom Donilon, the US National Security Advisor, visited Jerusalem at the weekend for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli security officials amid mounting concern in Washington that the Israelis are in the final stages of planning an attack. Mr Donilon, who sought to reassure Mr Netanyahu that Washington would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, is one of several high-ranking Obama administration officials to visit Israel in recent days to try to persuade the Israelis to refrain from taking unilateral action”. There has been mcuh discussion as to whether a military attack on Iran would be in the best interests of the West. Naturally, Isreal is pushing for such a strike though it is doubtful what real military assistance they could provide.

It concludes, “With no signs of a breakthrough, State Department officials claimed that the purpose of her trip was to “exchange impressions” about the impact of the Arab Spring on the Middle East, but there was little doubt that Iran was at the centre of her real agenda”. The danger of course is that the nuclear armed Iran could lead to a nuclear armed Middle East, or weapons in the hands of terrorists.

Irrigationist PM

25/07/2012

News that “Mohamed Morsi has appointed Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Hisham Mohamed Qandil as prime minister. The announcement came after the Supreme Constitutional Court suspended Morsi’s ruling to reinstate the Islamist majority parliament that had been dissolved prior to the final round of presidential elections. The appointment of Qandil, who is not well known outside of the country, has disappointed many who expected Morsi to appoint an economist, considering Egypt’s economic challenges. Mohamed Radwan from Pharos Securities said, This is quite a surprise as most of the names put around had been from the financial sector. The market is definitely reacting negatively.’ Morsi touted Qandil as an “independent patriot” who has not belonged to any political party, either before or since the revolution. He has a PhD from the University of North Carolina in irrigation”

Egypt’s tilt to Iran?

25/07/2012

In a piece examining the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, people have argued that his election is giving the Saudis worries. He writes that Morsi in addition to dealing the SCAF “is also performing a less publicized high-wire act in trying to court vital benefactors in the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. How this endeavor plays out could prove just as consequential for his political survival”.

He adds that after Morsi “became president last month and resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood, he has worked hard to ease tensions with jittery Gulf countries. Dubai’s police chief has been warning Gulf leaders since March that local Brotherhood cells”want to stir the streets” against them, but Morsy’s real challenge is to reassure a visibly nervous Saudi Arabia”.

Interestingly, he mentions that Morsi also needs Saudi Arabia noting “In an effort to secure Saudi aid, Morsy has done all the right things: pledging not to export Egypt’s revolution, describing the Gulf countries’ security as a ‘red line’ that should not be crossed, and making the kingdom his first foreign destination as president”. He argues that “Morsy’s overtures appear to have placated the Saudis, who have continued sending Egypt financial support. But while there are similarities between the Brotherhood’s ideology and Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi brand of Islam — both are Sunni, religiously zealous, and critical of Western influence in Muslim countries — it’s safe to say that the Saudis preferred Egypt’s old order”. Yet, although there is significant evidence to support this view of compatibility between Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood it would be a mistake to say that the Brotherhood is a monolith with all members thinking the same.

He mentions that “last year, the Saudis doled out nearly $130 billion in aid packages to their citizens to assuage discontent. But they did not simply rely on cash to save themselves. The kingdom’s leaders also preempted planned “day of rage” protests in March 2011 by sending thousands of troops to Shiite-majority provinces, locking down the capital, and unleashing loyal clergy to threaten potential protesters with violence”. This paints the Saudi regime as being on a knife edge. This is untrue, with large numbers of still very conservative Saudi’s backing the regime. However, if anything is to upset the balance is that the reforming King Abdullah goes too far, too fast.  As evidence for this view he cites the news that “Violent protests erupted last week in the Eastern Province — home to the country’s oil and most of its Shiite population — after security forces shot and arrested prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr for instigating ‘sedition.’ With restless Shiite citizens in the region already chafing at the state’s discrimination”. Yet, the vast majority of Sunni Saudi’s are taught to despise Shiite’s both theologically and politically, with constant claims that the Shiite’s are in league with Iran.

Again he overstates Iranian-Egyptian ties arguing that “Although Egypt and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 1980 because of Egypt’s close relationship with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and its signing of a peace treaty with Israel, the two countries have maintained economic ties. One example is the Misr Iran Development Bank, a joint venture that was founded in 1975″. China and Tiawan have close economic ties but that does not mean that if Tiawan declares independence China will not declare war on the island.

He mentions that in an attempt to move Morsi away from his supposed Iranian tilt that  “In response to these growing concerns, the kingdom is doing what it always does: throwing petrodollars at the problem. In June, the Saudis gave Cairo $1.5 billion toward the state budget (the Financial Times has reported that the Egyptian government expects a budget deficit this year of 7.6 percent). The kingdom, which currently funds more than 2,300 projects in Egypt and maintains investments there that are estimated to be worth anywhere from $12 billion to $27 billion, also provided Cairo with a $750 million credit for Saudi oil imports”.

He notes that “Since his election victory, Saudi and Saudi-owned pan-Arab news outlets have complained that challenger Ahmed Shafiq’s campaign was undermined by mistrust and intimidation, and that Iran may be able to manipulate Morsy. They have also questioned Morsy’s current affiliation with the Brotherhood, in light of his resignation from the group after assuming the presidency”.

He concludes that Morsi is basically a realist, like the Saudi’s and the new president “desperately needs Saudi money to repair Egypt’s economy and has virtually no choice but to accept the terms that come with it. Unlike Iran, the Saudis are free to sell their oil. And for now, they have Morsy exactly where they want him: over a barrel”.

More and more oil

25/07/2012

After initial indications of oil being found in Ireland, “Providence Resources said today its Barryroe oilfield off the south coast of Ireland may be four times bigger than originally anticipated. In a statement to the Stock Exchange, the company said it now estimated the oilfield contained between 1 and 1.6 billion barrels of oil.The latest assessment is based on data from six oil wells drilled on Barryroe together with 3D seismic data alongside other regional data”.

Curia talk and cardinals

25/07/2012

After the recent changes to the Curia and the appointment of Archbishop Muller it has been noted that “in the top roles of the Roman curia properly speaking (secretariat of state, congregations, tribunals, pontifical councils, and three offices), the Italians maintain a solid majority. They are 13 out of 28, 46.4 percent. When at the beginning of the pontificate, in 2005, they were 7 out of 27, 25.9 percent. But if one also counts the figures in deputy roles (secretaries and the like), the number of Italians is dropping significantly. Now they are 21 out of 58, 36.2 percent. While in 2005 they were 42 out of 83, 41.8 percent. And it is also on the decline if one looks at the minor managerial figures (undersecretaries and the like): today 36 out of 88, 40.9 percent, while in 2005 they were 42 out of 83, 50.6 percent”. This marks an interesting point the the debate of Italian dominance of the Curia.

The piece goes on to mention that  “beyond these boxes still to be checked, the organizational chart of the Roman curia now appears substantially stabilized for a couple of years, seeing that the next to reach the retirement age of 75 will be in 2013 the cardinals Angelo Amato (causes of saints), Manuel Monteiro de Castro (penitentiary), Antonio Maria Vegliò (migrants), and Francesco Coccopalmerio (legislative texts), and in 2014 Cardinal Grocholewski. But for each of them can be anticipated, as usual, an extension of at least one year”. It also posits the theory that an Italian priest will become the regent of the Prefecture of the Papal Household. If it is true, it would be the first firm indication that Msgr Georg Ganswein will become bishop of Regensburg, replacing Muller.

The piece notes regarding the succession of Cardinal Bertone that “no replacement for him should be expected in the short term”, adding that “Benedict XVI kept the previous secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in office until the age of 78 and ten months. And if he does not want to dismiss Bertone earlier than he did with Sodano, then the current “prime minister” could remain at his post at least until October of next year. This extension is made all the more plausible by the fact that it is still difficult to identify the figure of the churchman whom the pope – out of respect, understanding, and personal familiarity – might call to his side in the place of Bertone”. However, this notion can be contested with a host of candidates able to take up the role from Cardinal Bertone. All Pope Benedict has to do is chose does he want continunity with Bertone, in which case he could chose Archbishop Mamberti, or a different style, PEA trained Cardinal Sandri.

The article adds that “At the end of 2012, in fact, if the unwritten rule is applied that assigns the red hat only where there is no other cardinal with the right to vote, the awards could go to the traditionally cardinalate sees of Bogotà (Jesus Ruben Salazar Gomez), Rio de Janeiro (the Cistercian Orani Joao Tempesta), Seoul (Andrew Yeom Soo-jung), Manila (Luis Antonio Tagle) and/or Cebu (José Serofia Palma), Westminster  (Vincent Nichols), Toledo (Braulio Rodriguez Plaza), Quebec (Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of the secular institute Pius X), Venice (Francesco Moraglia)”. It also mentions names such as  Cesare Nosiglia of Turin,  Murilo Sebastiao Ramos Krieger of  Sao Salvador da Bahia with Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, SDB of Santiago de Chile among others being mentioned.

Benedict will only have 16 slots to fill if, as expected he holds a consistory next year. Among the more certain names are the patriach of Venice and archbishop of Turin along with a small number of curialists. After that the choice is seemingly endless, but Latin America and Asia should feature after this year’s Italian and European dominated list.

A Patriarch’s thoughts

23/07/2012

Patriarch Gregory III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church on the situation in Syria

Watching the slide

23/07/2012

There has been much discussion about the revival of religion, especially in Europe. It has been noticed that where there is growth it is with demoniations that are conservative, or theologically orthodox, in their thinking.

An article in the New York Times questions this assumption and argues for liberal Christianity. He writes that the leaders of the Episcopal Church (Anglican/Church of England) have “spent the last several decades changing and then changing some more, from a sedate pillar of the WASP establishment into one of the most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States”.

He goes on to write that “today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes”. Of course, if Benedict ever did this there would be no end to the demands by the reforms, until almost nothing of value was left. Undoubtedly the first thing the “liberal pundits and theologians” would abolish it the Latin Mass which has rightly been restored to a par with the vernacular Mass.

He goes on to mention that “instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase”. However, it may to too simple to equate modern reforms with declining attendence.

He makes the point that “This decline is the latest chapter in a story dating to the 1960s. The trends unleashed in that era — not only the sexual revolution, but also consumerism and materialism, multiculturalism and relativism — threw all of American Christianity into crisis”. Of course, not just the United States but “the West”, broadly defined. Indeed, it is these “values” of individualism and greed that societies are reaping now with the financial crisis and societal breakdown that Pope Benedict rightly attacks.

He writes that “if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves”.

He goes on to write, with a note of caution that “Few of the outraged critiques of the Vatican’s investigation of progressive nuns mentioned the fact that Rome had intervened because otherwise the orders in question were likely to disappear in a generation. Fewer still noted the consequences of this eclipse: Because progressive Catholicism has failed to inspire a new generation of sisters, Catholic hospitals across the country are passing into the hands of more bottom-line-focused administrators, with inevitable consequences for how they serve the poor. But if liberals need to come to terms with these failures, religious conservatives should not be smug about them. The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction”.

He concludes arging that “the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world”. While the American Conservative commenting on the same article writes that “The various conservative Christianities may not be fully reconcilable, but they all point to a source of authority, or sources of authority, beyond individual experience and subjectivity. That gives them their force, and their staying power”.

Kingdom of India?

23/07/2012

In a charming article in Foreign Policy an author makes the case for a monarchy in India.

Bigger problems

23/07/2012

After the House of Lords reform debacle, the bad news keeps on coming. Reports note that “More than a third of people who voted Conservative at the last election will refuse to back David Cameron in future”, yet to the horror or some, especially Peter Bone and others detached from reality, it adds that “the Tories will not stay in power by drifting to the Right”.

The report carries news that “Voters are growing increasingly alarmed that an ‘air of competence and leadership’ has been undermined by a series of policy reversals. A detailed analysis compiled by Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative Party’s former deputy chairman and polling expert, found that Mr Cameron faces a ‘formidable’ challenge to win the next general election”. It adds that “Overall, the poll of more than 8,000 adults found Labour enjoyed 40 per cent support, the Conservatives 31 per cent, Liberal Democrats 10 per cent and the UK Independence Party 9 per cent. Focus groups were also convened to assess the views of key groups of target voters”.

If there was a general election Labour would trounce the Tories and produce a large absolute majority. Interestingly the formerly tiny UKIP would be effectively tied with the Liberal Democrats. Which would be a humilation for the Lib Dems and a triumph for UKIP.

The piece goes on to note “The Tories are still seen as more competent in this area and Lord Ashcroft’s research suggests they should focus on this rather than confusing voters with pledges about constitutional reform, referendums on Europe and an overhaul of the NHS”. This is partly as a result of the NHS reforms being an umitigated disaster, being only saved by the Lib Dems.

Ashcroft “who ran the party’s campaign to win marginal seats at the last election, says: ‘Unfortunately, the air of competence and leadership needed to provide confidence in the party’s economic management is being eroded. An accumulation of small mistakes and U-turns, each forgivable in itself, has prompted people to wonder whether policies are being thought through properly. The ‘pasty tax’ debacle is remembered with derision.'”

In another blow for the detached from reality Tory Right it notes that “The research also found that a majority of people believe the Liberal Democrats should have more influence on the overall direction of the Government. 51 per cent said that Nick Clegg should have more influence, with only 23 per cent saying the Lib Dems exerted too much sway”. Yet it bears out reality with Dr Cable speaking out against greed and immorality of the financial world to the horror of the rabid neoliberals. It also explains how the Lib Dems managed to water down the NHS “reforms” with the consent of Cameron to the disgust of Andrew Lansley.

The piece concludes mentioning that “Cameron must win over four groups of potential Conservative voters to win the next election. Lord Ashcroft has characterised them as the loyalists, defectors, joiners and considerers”. These groups are defined thus, “loyalists tend to be aged above 65 and in higher social groups and to back the Prime Minister on most issues. The joiners back the Conservative management of the economy, with 95 per cent supporting” Cameron.

The piece concludes that “the considerers, also back the Conservatives on the economy but are yet to be convinced on social or other policies. Lord Ashcroft concludes that encouraging all four groups to vote Conservative depends on strong leadership and ‘sticking to the right priorities for the country'”.

Following in Egypt’s footsteps

22/07/2012

Reports mention that following in the footsteps of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates “has given the green light for the construction of the UAE’s first nuclear plant. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) is set to pour the first concrete tomorrow at the coastal site of Baraka, where four nuclear reactors supplied by a South Korean consortium are scheduled to come online between 2017 and 2020”.

All too easy

22/07/2012

One of the things that sets the United Kingdom apart from other nations is its lack of a single written constitution. In some ways this is something to be proud of. However, one of the main consequences is that it makes altering the constitutional makeup all too easy.

As has been noted here before, House of Lords reform is generally not needed.

Apparently Cameron “has told his own MPs that he is willing to reduce the number of elected peers to win their support. The concession came less than a day after 91 of his MPs mounted the biggest revolt since the Coalition was formed in 2010. The proposals caught Mr Clegg’s team off-guard last night, with one aide saying: ‘This is not something that has been put to us. We are going forward on the basis of a Bill as it is.'” The report goes on to say that ” If no deal is done by the end of the summer, he will withdraw the Lords Reform Bill entirely, putting the Coalition at risk”. While this might be taking it too far, the Coalition would certainly come under increased strain.

Cameron, in order to juggle both Lib Dems and his own backbenchers must try to please both camps. How successful he is will set the tone for the rest of his term in office. The piece adds that “Cameron said there would be no deal with Labour – who had threatened to vote against last night’s motion despite backing the Bill’s Second Reading – because they ‘cannot be trusted’. He told the influential 1922 committee of MPs in the Commons: ‘There is not going to be endless haggling with the Lib Dems either. We are going to have one more try to see if we can secure a way forward and achieve a smaller elected element'”.

Others have noted the lack of communication on the part of the government.

It has been argued by Peter Oborne that the “U-turn over House of Lords reform marks a decisive shift in the national political landscape. Old certainties are being dissolved, new working assumptions are emerging. The first of these concerns Ed Miliband, who was almost universally written off as a hopeless case 12 months ago. He is the overwhelming beneficiary of the recent series of fiascos. Were a general election to be held tomorrow, all opinion polls suggest that he would secure, if not a landslide, then certainly a very comfortable governing majority”. Tellingly he writes that “Cameron, who at first seemed so capable and sure-footed, is coming to resemble John Major after the economic debacle of 1992, or Edward Heath after his U-turns in the early Seventies: adrift and at the mercy of events”.

He goes on to distinguish three different groups “of Conservative MP overlapped in this massive and potentially government-destroying revolt. The first comprises those who detest David Cameron and have done so from the very start. Many of them are driven by class resentment, personal envy and disappointed ambition”. The second he says are “driven by dislike not of their leader, but of the Coalition. Well led and increasingly an organised block, they have come to convince themselves that the Liberal Democrats lie at the heart of the Government’s problems. The fact that there is very little evidence for this view does not deter them”. He adds that this group think that “once their beliefs are put into practice, the party’s electoral problems will vanish”, a view which is of course garbage. Lastly he describes “the Conservative intellectuals, of which an unusually large number entered Parliament at the last election – not necessarily a good thing. Many of these are fond of the Prime Minister, and wish him well. They are driven by the remorseless force of their own logic into opposing what they – correctly – perceive to be Nick Clegg’s intellectually catastrophic plans for an elected second chamber”.

He concludes that “the members of these three factions have little in common. But they are bound together by a shared rejection of the fundamental premise which lay behind the grand bargain that brought the Coalition together two years ago – namely that two great political parties with honourably divergent traditions should compromise and even on occasion act against their own most deeply held beliefs in order to serve the national interest at a time of economic emergency”. He says that the remedy for this is that Cameron “could speak out loudly and publicly for the Coalition, thus recalling the marvellous idealism when two warring parties came together after the last election. Mr Cameron has never sounded more statesmanlike than when he made his ‘big, open and comprehensive offer’ to the Liberal Democrats in the fusty surroundings of St Stephen’s Club in May 2010. Never before or since has he so completely spoken for the nation as a whole, and I believe that the Coalition government is far more popular among ordinary voters than tribal Westminster activists understand”.

The Economist has argued that “big shifts in power within the Lords, such as the one that made Labour the largest party there in 2005, go largely unremarked on. Yet the House of Lords is powerful: it can delay legislation for longer than the upper houses in France and Spain, both of which are elected. Governments frequently cut deals with the upper house for the sake of speed. These trades are not trivial. But for the Lords, Britain would have abolished trial by jury in some terrorism cases and inciting religious hatred would be a criminal offence”. The piece gets to the numb of the point that “Fully 92 hereditary peers still sit in the Lords, together with 26 Anglican bishops. The remaining 700 are appointed in a process which often gives the prime minister huge powers of patronage. Tony Blair appointed 374 lords during his decade in office. David Cameron has packed the chamber at an even faster rate. This process is rightly distrusted”. The piece concludes interestingly that “the place works fairly well. The Lords often scrutinises legislation that the Commons has not had time to look at (it has carved out an important role examining edicts from the European Commission). It also has some virtues the Commons lacks. The Lords contains more people with impressive private-sector experience than the Commons. Members are astonishingly polite to each other”.

Yet, the logic of the Liberal Democrats is correct. An unelected second chamber is undemocratic. However, logic does not enter into large parts of the British government, thankfully. The problem is compounded by the fact that parties need a majority in the Upper House so are forced to create hundreds of peers after each general election. This demeans the peerage. Instead, peerages should be awarded for exceptional service to society with experts from all walks of life so honoured, as is currently the case, instead of the usual host of political apparatchiks from all parties. By limiting the peerages created, to a dozen or so a year, it would end any pretense of party politics and simply by a place for experts.

Alternatively, to please everyone, or perhaps no-one, tricameralism could be created. A properly elected senate and commons, and the expert peers of no more than 100-200. Of course this position would not have occurred if previous ill thought out tinkering had not happened, which may not have happened at all had there been a  single written constitution.

“By their fruits you shall know them”

21/07/2012

For the third time “Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of U.N. diplomacy aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 15,000 dead and brought the country to the brink of a full-fledged civil war”.

Asleep at the wheel

21/07/2012

So more revelations from the LIBOR scandal flow out.

Reports mention that “Members of the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) also claimed the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) had been “asleep” in letting Barclays promote Jerry del Missier to chief operating officer last month, after establishing he had instructed colleagues to fix the key inter-bank lending rate”.

The report goes on to say that the “criticisms came as Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, warned that banks’ ‘unacceptable behaviour’ was ‘undermining confidence in financial markets’ and applauded the ‘quick’ response of the Federal Bank of New York, which first uncovered evidence of rigging in back in 2008. He said: ‘Importantly, it informed all the relevant authorities in both the US and the UK.’ Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, denied that the Bank had been warned, saying: ‘Neither the Fed nor anyone sent us any evidence of misreporting.'”

The piece adds that “according to documents seen by committee member John Mann MP, US regulators were dismayed by the UK response to the scandal. He quoted a Federal Reserve employee, also in 2008, saying: ‘US confidence in the London market was being severely shaken… by the slow reaction time of the London authorities. They had to be continuously prodded by us.’ Turning to Bank Governor Sir Mervyn King, Mr Mann said: ‘You appear to still be in denial that it was known there was Libor rigging going on.'”

A separate piece notes that “Emails and notes of meetings between the Bank, other regulators and banking industry representatives, which were disclosed today, show there were clear indications that banks’ rate setters could have been deliberately falsifying Libor submissions at the height of the financial crisis. The emails reveal senior figures at the Bank, including deputy Governor Paul Tucker, were given a number of separate alerts in 2008 – by their own officials, the British Bankers Association (BBA) and US regulators – about the potential for manipulation”.

Other reports note that “newly published emails showed that the Bank of England urged the BBA, the body responsible for Libor, for ‘greater energy’ in overhauling the lending benchmark at the height of the financial crisis. There were widespread concerns about the rate at the time. Barclays, which admitted rigging the rate between 2005 and 2009, is just one of 16 banks being investigated by US, UK and EU regulators. Paul Tucker, now deputy governor at the BoE, said in 2008 that he did not expect the BBA to do a ‘root and branch review’ of Libor, despite concerns raised by over ‘misreporting’ of the rate by Tim Geithner, US Treasury Secretary who at the time was head of the New York Fed”.

With other banks, notably, HSBC, being drawn into the scandal, many are gunning for the regulators, in the vein hope that there will be less.  Yet despite the fact that it now looks almost certain that the Bank of England knew what was going on, but was unaware of its significance or colluded it covering it up. However, calls for the regulatory powers of the BoE to be split as happened under during the crisis are incorrect. A single all powerful regulator is needed, answerable to the public and accountable for its actions. The only thing that explains the lack of regulation is a naivety in “the market” and how it works. Something that has been corrected, admittedly at great cost.

Critical, again

20/07/2012

An IMF staff report said that a clear timetable for action should be laid out, to restore faith and credibility among member states. It said the ECB must play a bigger role in attempts to preserve the monetary union by lowering borrowing rates and deploying further ‘unconventional measures’ to relieve severe market stress”.

Resource winners

20/07/2012

An informative post by Steve LeVine discusses the dirth of resources.  He goes on to argue that OPEC “has been a major economic and geopolitical force in our collective lives, driving nations to war, otherwise self-respecting world leaders to genuflect, and economists to shudder. The last half-dozen years have been especially nerve-wracking as petroleum has seemed in short supply, oil and gasoline prices have soared to historically high levels, and China has gone on a global resource-buying binge”.

Now of course the opposite has occured with more and more “energy analysts say that technological advances and high oil prices are leading to a revolution in global oil. Rather than petroleum scarcity, we are seeing into a flood of new oil supplies from some pretty surprising places, led by the United States and Canada”. LeVine argues that the US is among the winners with “Jobs increase, wages and productivity go up, the dollar strengthens, the current account deficit becomes negligible, and America has a new day as an economically dominant superpower”. Which of course means the maintenance of global order and stability. He goes on to mention that a slew of states, many African will gain especially, “Cyprus, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Israel, Kenya, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda”. Interestingly, though perhaps too soon to say, co-operation will benefit, arguing “Western suspicion of China has been fueled by its aggressive acquisition of natural resources around the world, especially oil and gas fields. But ‘in a world of plenty,’ said Ed Chow of the Center for Security and International Studies, ‘the zero-sum nature of the discussion could come out of the equation.’ Chow thinks we are already seeing the first stages of this more relaxed future in the U.S. attitude toward billions of dollars in recent Chinese investment in U.S. shale gas and oil fields”. This however, remains to be seen.

The article concludes noting the losers, with states like Equatorial Guinea, Turkmenistan and Iran all losing. He goes on to mention that Russia/Putin will lose, dramatically, “Russia as a key loser since Putin shows no sign so far of genuine economic diversification. For his state budget to break even, Putin requires an estimated oil price of $117 a barrel. Right now it is 12 percent below that threshold, or about $103 a barrel. Struggling to make up the difference but with no tools other than oil and gas to do so, Putin seems headed for a tougher political experience than in his previous tenure as president”.

Lastly, the green movement and of course, OPEC with “prices dropping and competing supplies flowing from numerous new producers, OPEC will lose much relative influence, and may simply cease to be a pivotal economic player. ‘OPEC will descend into chaos as an organization'”.

This is not to say that African states could not be tempted to join OPEC and bolster the power of the cartel, but this would have to be weighed against the political disadvantages of being in a club with the likes of Venenzuala, Qatar and Baharain.

Worth the money?

20/07/2012

After the death of Kim Jong Il and the accession of his untested son, the recent shuffle of generals has been noticed, with others arguing that China’s backing of the North Korean regime comes at a reasonable (monetary) price

Hiding something

20/07/2012

With Romney’s campaign for president mired in trouble related to his vast wealth and honesty, a poll shows that “A majority of Americans believe Mitt Romney should release more of his tax returns”.

It mentions that “Of those surveyed in the USA Today poll released Thursday, 54 percent of all voters and 53 percent of independents say that Romney should release more than two years’ worth of tax returns. Some three in 10 Republicans and three-quarters of Democrats agree that Romney should disclose more”.

Interestingly the report notes that “a plurality of voters — 47 percent — say tax returns are ‘largely irrelevant’ when deciding who should be president. Conversely, 44 percent say it provides ‘legitimate information that helps voters make better decisions.'” It not only provides “legitimate information” it gives a window into a candidate’s character and openness with the electorate. A test that Romney has so far failed.

The article mentions that “44 percent believe the returns would hurt Romney’s campaign, 42 percent say that the release of returns would not likely reveal damaging new information. But 15 percent — largely Democrats — predicted the returns would include revelations that could show Romney is ‘unfit to be president.'” However, the conditions as who is fit to be president are vauge and largely partisan. President George H.W. Bush was seen unfairly as weak despite fighting in WWII in the Pacific as a 19 year old fighter pilot despite family connections and wealth that would have meant he could have avoided such obvious danger.

The piece concludes noting that “the Romney campaign has said repeatedly in past weeks that it had no plans to release additional records. In an interview with the National Review earlier this week, Romney said he doesn’t want to provide the Obama team more ammunition to launch political attacks”.

This is a tacit admission of Romney that his is indeed hiding something by not disclosing it.

SSPX declaration

19/07/2012

The dance between the SSPX and the Church continues with a Declaration after the conclusion of the General Chapter of the Society of Saint Pius X that was sent to Rome.

One priority at a time

19/07/2012

As the US pivot debate to Asia continues, some have argued that America is not doing enough to support democracy in Asia.

Caryl argues that “The pivot, of course, is motivated by the realization that it’s the rise of China (and certainly not a bunch of ragged Islamist revolutionaries) that poses the greatest challenge to U.S. dominance in the 21stcentury. It is Asia that is the new fulcrum of the global economy, and it is Asia that is home to some of the world’s most pressing global security challenges — especially now that some states in the region find themselves directly confronting the Chinese over territory and resources”. Indeed, he is not the first to argue this point.

He goes on to write that “a lot of people have forgotten that the pivot was always supposed to be based on a third ingredient: support for democracy“. He writes that ” Secretary Clinton has used her trip as an occasion to remind us of precisely that point. During her visit to Mongolia, she gave a stirring speech about U.S. efforts to bolster open societies in Asia — even going so far as to describe “support for democracy and human rights” as the “heart” of the new American strategy. She also attended a high-profile meeting with a number of other leaders from the Community of Democracies, the club of democratic countries established in 2000 for the express purpose of furthering their common values”. He adds that Clinton attended the opening of “the LEND Network, a State Department-assisted effort that aims to use personal contacts and state-of-the-art technology to provide leaders in places aspiring to democracy with urgently needed know-how”.

Yet fundamentally he makes the point that “none of the initiatives she mentions apply specifically to Asia. She cited the progress in Burma as evidence of the success of resolute American support for democracy there, and perhaps that’s true. But I doubt that she scored many points. Many in the region continue to argue that it was precisely the engagement policies of regional organizations like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that bore fruit there, and not any grand strategic design on the part of the United States”.

He backs up his argument noting that Clinton in a speech in Vietnam mentioned trade and security and last of all in her speech spoke briefly about human rights.Crucially he mentions that “Vietnam, with an eye to China’s increasingly aggressive play in the South China Sea, is eager to rev up its military cooperationwith Washington. With monster deliverables like these in play, surely even the Politburo in Hanoi ought to be ready to endure some serious lectures on human rights”.

Indeed this is the key to answering the question that Caryl raises. China is the greatest threat to regional stability in Asia and so security and trade come first, for now. America is rightly practising basic realism. It knows that it cannot do it all itself, and that it looks better if countries like Vietnam, Burma and the Philippines   can work with the United States to balance against China. Until the Chinese threat is dealt with realism rightly takes precedence over idealism in the balancing act that makes US foreign policy what it is.

Romney’s choices

19/07/2012

Romney’s potential choices for Vice-President.

Sign of things to come

19/07/2012

A piece in The World Today notes that Argentina under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has experierenced a number of swings.

It notes how “the second largest country in South America has a history of swinging left and right in a wide arc that has sent it crashing repeatedly into an abyss of political and economic chaos, only to re-emerge slowly from the quagmire”. The article goes on to mention how “During most of the past century, Argentina veered between a series of right-wing military dictatorships and populist elected governments. The most notable periods of constitutional rule were the three presidencies of Juan Perón, who despite being himself a general, gained office by popular vote, taking up the cause of the underprivileged working class.That cycle of civilian versus military rule was broken in 1983”.

It mentions how President Fernández de Kirchner a swing is occuring again, with her model consists of “a combination of Perónist nationalism from the 1940s, the kind that led Perón to nationalise seven British-owned railway companies in 1948, and revolutionary Perónism of the 1970s, the fiery generation that the 58-year-old president belongs to, which took up arms with the dream of creating a socialist state, only to be slaughtered in their thousands”.

It adds how she has reversed “the liberal reforms applied by her Peronist predecessor, Carlos Menem, who during his 10-year rule in the 1990s swung the country violently in the opposite direction. Menem freed the state-controlled economy, privatised utilities and oil resources, opened up imports and embarked on what he called a ‘carnal’ relationship with Washington while placing Argentina’s sovereignty claim on the Falkland Islands under an ‘umbrella’ that allowed Buenos Aires to re-establish friendly relations with London”. It mentions how her husband as president undid Menem’s refroms and established a growing economy.

Now however the author writes that after her re-election she “has opted to push all the populist buttons, stridently restating old claims to the ‘Malvinas’, the overnight nationalisation of YPF, Argentina’s largest company, the sudden blocking of imports and the imposition of controls on the foreign exchange market . This has been accompanied by the creation of a fiercely loyal youth organisation ‘La Campora’.The president takes her decisions in solitude, does not hold Cabinet meetings and ignores the press, although she does address the country regularly in carefully staged appearances. Pledges of ‘loyalty and love for Cristina’ have become routine from government officials”.

While it would be foolish to state such a state of affairs exists in the United States now, there are signs that such a regime could come about without too much difficulty should the parties not work with the system created by the Founders, or radically overhaul it, as has been suggested here before.

Run aground

19/07/2012

The Chinese “Defense Ministry was forced to admit in a brief statement that a naval frigate has run aground on the south eastern edge of the Spratly Islands– waters the Philippine government claims exclusive sovereignty over. Though Chinese officials described the vessels as a part of a “routine patrol,” the incident comes barely two weeks after the Philippine navy openly accused China of ignoring a June agreement to withdraw all ships from the Scarborough Shoal”.

India’s soft power

19/07/2012

After the Economist covered India-Sino relations, the battle is being taken to another level, soft power. An article in The World Today argues that India is winning the soft power war with China.

She naively opens arguing that “The exercise of ‘hard power’ – military muscle and economic might – in the 21st century increasingly carries the threat of global disapproval, while the use of ‘soft power’ lends itself more easily to the Information Age and is becoming a more important asset”. Firstly, the 21st Century has barely begun so to state that the use of hard power/force carries “global disapproval” is laughable. Secondly, even if this was true, and there is no reliable way of proving it, why should it matter. The world is anarchic and always will be and the dangers of allowing ordinary people to dicate foreign policy is nothing short of dangerous.

She writes that China and India are approaching soft power differently. She argues that “Soft power is not about conquering others, but about being yourself; projecting your cultural values on to the global consciousness, either deliberately through the conscious cultivation of foreign publics, or unwittingly through perceptions that emerge from the global mass media. India has been reluctant to devise a strategy based on hard power; there is a sense in which most Indians still think that would be unseemly. This helps to explain India’s growing consciousness of its soft power”. If it is true that Indians think hard power “unseemly”, and there is no guarantee that they do, then India will be a global irrelevance, ignored on all but economic issues. It would be the EU of Asia. Basic realism teaches hard power is needed to project soft power. Without both a nation is severely handicapped.

She goes on to write that “India’s is a civilization that over millennia has offered refuge and religious and cultural freedom to Jews, Parsis, several varieties of Christians, and Muslims”. While this may be true, the other side of this is the recent history of the BJP, which was, and perhaps still is, a virulently Hindu nationalist party, to the exculsion of all others.

She mention how “the idea of India is of one land embracing many. It is the idea that a nation may endure differences of caste, creed, colour, culture, cuisine, conviction, costume and custom, and still rally around a democratic consensus. That consensus is around the simple principle that in a democracy you don’t really need to agree – except on the ground rules of how you will disagree”. Such an idea has been tried successfully elsewhere. She adds that “A nation’s soft power emerges from the world’s perceptions of what that country is all about. Hard power is exercised; soft power is evoked. For soft power is not just what we can deliberately and consciously exhibit; it is rather how others see what we are, whether or not we are trying to show it to the world.  To take a political example: the sight in May 2004, after the world’s then-largest democratic exercise, of a victorious leader of Roman Catholic background and Italian heritage (Sonia Gandhi) making way for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn in as Prime Minister by a Muslim (President Abdul Kalam), in a country 81 per cent Hindu, caught the world’s imagination and won its admiration”.

She contrasts this sharply with Chinese soft power writing “It is also true that China’s extensive outreach is not matched by commensurate benefits in terms of goodwill because its culture is being projected by an authoritarian state that restricts freedom of expression”.

He ends noting “The scandal over the blind social activist Chen Guangchen and revelations about Bo Xilai, the former party chief in Chongqing, have also undermined China’s image. Bo stands accused of terrorising his municipality and plotting to kill his police chief while his wife is a suspect in the murder of a British business associate. Chen’s persecution by the authorities, angered by his campaigns against forced abortions and sterilizations, attracted worldwide condemnation. Both cases have challenged the narrative so assiduously promoted by Beijing of a smooth-running, technocratic and well-ordered nation”.

Another loss for China.

On again, off again

17/07/2012

First there was discussion that the talks had failed and collapsed, then there was talk that the SSPX had turned down unification then there were reports that stated that there was no decision either way. Fellay was interviewed after the conclusion of the SSPX General Chapter with a firm decision expected soon.

Too rich for his own good

17/07/2012

First there was the sketch fiasco, being disliked and distrusted by many on the Right and now the Romney campaign has yet more problems.

First there was the Boston Globe report that seemed to show Romney only left Bain Captial, a company he co-founded, in 2002. Romney has maintained that he left Bain in February 1999, yet the report says that SEC filings show “say Romney remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time”. The report also notes that “a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain “executive” in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings”.

The report mentions that Romney “has said his resignation in February 1999 meant he was not responsible for Bain Capital companies that went bankrupt or laid off workers after that date”. The report adds that “Bain Capital and the campaign for the presumptive GOP nominee have suggested the SEC filings that show Romney as the man in charge during those additional three years have little meaning, and are the result of legal technicalities. The campaign declined to comment on the record”. It may be true that Romney’s involvement was simply due to legal techniciates but he transferred assests to his wife a day before he was sworn in as governor. Why did he not take such care with his other dealings?

The report adds that “Evidence emerged last week in reports by Mother Jonesthat Romney had maintained an ongoing leadership role at Bain beyond February 1999. Citing SEC documents, the magazine said Romney had played a role in Bain investments “until at least the end of 1999” and that a 2001 document listed him as a member of the “management committee” of Bain funds”. The report goes on to mention how “A former SEC commissioner told the Globe that the SEC documents listing Romney as Bain’s chief executive between 1999 and 2002 cannot be dismissed so easily. ‘You can’t say statements filed with the SEC are meaningless. This is a fact in an SEC filing,’ said Roberta S. Karmel, now a professor at Brooklyn Law School. ‘It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say he was technically in charge on paper but he had nothing to do with Bain’s operations,’ Karmel continued. ‘Was he getting paid? He’s the sole stockholder. Are you telling me he owned the company but had no say in its investments?’ The Globe found nine SEC filings submitted by four different business entities after February 1999 that describe Romney as Bain Capital’s boss; some show him with managerial control over five Bain Capital entities that were formed in January 2002, according to records in Delaware, where they were incorporated”.

Others have noted how President Obama has made political hay out of Romeny’s problems noting “The president’s reelection campaign unleashed a hard-hitting two-minute ad two months ago today about the experience of GS Technologies in Kansas City, Mo. The steel company was bought by Bain in 1993 and then put into bankruptcy in 2001, which cost 750 workers their jobs”. The report adds that “a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll last month, followed by a Post-ABC News poll last week, showed that the attacks were working. The story in the Boston Globe would not have gained any traction had the Obama campaign not adopted such an aggressive strategy. And Romney’s media round robin Friday would not have been necessary”.

The New York Times piece  mentions how Romney “and his wife, Ann, made $27 million in 2010. They held millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account and millions more in partnerships in the Cayman Islands. His family’s trusts sold thousands of shares in Goldman Sachs that were offered to favored clients when the storied investment house first went public. The couple’s effective federal tax rate for the year worked out to 13.9 percent, a rate typical of households earning about $80,000 a year”.  The report goes on ot mention that “Romney and his wife collected more than $7 million worth of Bain profits in 2010. That money — about a quarter of the couple’s income during the last two years — came in the form of so-called carried interest. It would be taxed not as deferred regular income, but at the lower 15 percent rate normally reserved for long-term capital gains, thanks to federal tax rules that have sparked intense debate in recent years”.

Naturally, this will only add to President Obama’s fairness agenda, but Romney’s problems are only made worse by not releasing previous years tax returns. The report concludes that “In 2010, about $3 million of the family’s assets were held in a UBS bank account in Switzerland. Mr. Malt said that the account complied with all Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements and that the family had paid all applicable taxes on the interest earned by those assets”.

Yet, this will only follow President Obama’s narrative about vulture capitalism, with Romeny’s other offshore tax havens under scrutinity.

The longer the campaign goes on and the longer these sort of events keep happening to Romney, the less liked he’ll be, not just be the GOP but also be ordinary Americans who have less and less reason to trust him and his morall bankrupt form of capitalism.

172 morons

17/07/2012

A blog post from the Ecomomist mentions how “A letter from 172 German-speaking economists published by the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) lambasts the steps taken towards a banking union by euro-zone leaders at a summit last week in Brussels. It has unleashed a counterblast from government heavyweights and their economic advisers, leaving the public even more confused. The euro-zone chiefs were far from agreeing on anything like a banking union—but let that pass. The 172 academics are indignant and warn of dire consequences for German citizens when they end up guaranteeing balance-sheets three times the size of all euro-zone public debt. A banking union means assuming ‘collective liability for the debts of the banks in the euro-system’ thunder the professors. ‘Dear fellow citizens, please relay these concerns to your constituent MPs; our elected representatives must be alerted to the dangers that are threatening our economy,’ they say”. They fail to say what will happen to Germany, or Europe, if the euro collapses.

Dangers ahead

17/07/2012

Joshi’s recent piece on how Libya is entering a new golden age as a result of one quasi-peaceful election has been rightly chanllenged.

Frederic Wehrey has argued in Foreign Affairs, that there is significant dangers ahead. He importantly notes that “The victorious Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Forces Alliance, has already made signs of reaching out to rival political factions across the country, most notably the federalists in the east”.

Yet, beneath the surface of the election victory he writes cogently that “In the absence of an effective police force and army, the country’s transitional government has pursued a contradictory policy. On the one hand, recognizing that armed militias could destabilize the state, it has enacted some programs to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate the country’s countless revolutionary ‘brigades.'” He goes on to write that “At the same time, however, the transitional government has been forced to harness the militias’ power to project its own authority, because the existing police and army are weak and are associated with the old regime”.

Chillingly, he continues noting that “The strategy of trying to dismantle the regional militias while simultaneously making use of them as hired guns might be sowing the seeds for the country’s descent into warlordism. It has also given local brigades and their political patrons leverage over the central government. Emboldened by the writ of state authority, brigade commanders have been free to carry out vendettas against rival towns and tribes”.

He gives examples of tribal and militia fighting and goes on to mention that the government “has ceded an unhealthy degree of authority to local militias and tribal intermediaries. So the Jibril administration’s first order of business will be to right the security sector and bolster the judiciary quickly. Much of its work will should focus on dismantling or institutionalizing two ad-hoc security bodies that the transitional government created or tolerated: the Supreme Security Committees (SSC), which fall under the Ministry of Interior, and the Libyan Shield Forces, which are nominally attached to the Ministry of Defense. These bodies were intended to provide security in the transitional period by harnessing the zeal and expertise of the revolutionary fighters, but they have rapidly become a force unto themselves. They have become more formalized and have preserved the structures of local militias. They also overshadow the regular police and the national army, who remain weak, ill-equipped, and tainted by their affiliation with the Qaddafi regime”. 

He argues that “the more problematic is the SSC. The force is estimated to consist of 90,000 to 100,000 fighters. These men, ostensibly revolutionaries, have acted act as a sort of national gendarmerie, providing transitional security at the local level, particularly during the election period. But ominously, the SCC has not managed to break down the fighters’ old allegiances: entire brigades have joined en masse and their commanders have simply switched hats”. Tellingly, he goes on to note that “Among some Libyans, the incorporation of the Abu Salim Martyrs’ Brigade into the SSC represented a victory: the integration of a troublesome band of fighters into the orbit of the state. But such views are naive: the relationship between the government and local SSC-incorporated brigades will hold only as long as interests overlap”.

Worringly for the future of Libya he adds that ”

The SSC system and the transitional government’s demobilization programs work at cross-purposes. Pay for fighters who join an SSC-incorporated brigade is higher than what most Libyans could hope to make on the outside, so fighters have little incentive to leave and recruits have reportedly flocked to join. Many Libyans have feared the SSC as unruly thugs, who are distinguished only by hastily made logos on their T-shirts. Increasingly, though, there are signs that the SSC is becoming a more formalized unit — the uniforms have gotten better and the SSC now has a Web site. In other words, it looks like the SSCs are not going away anytime soon”.

The one minor sign of hope is mentioned when he writes that “The Libyan Shield Force, meanwhile, is a coalition of militias from the east, Misrata, and Zintan that acts in parallel with Libya’s national army”, yet even this ray of hope is tempered when he writes that “The Shield supposedly acts under orders of the Ministry of Defense to quell tribal and ethnic fighting in Kufra, Sabha, and Zintan. In many instances, however, it has ended up inflaming tensions in these areas”.

He mentions that “One Misrata brigade commander, arguably the most powerful militia leader in the city, plans to transform the Shield into Libya’s reserve military force, which would operate alongside the country’s army, navy, and air force, and would be directly run by the administration’s chief of staff. Under the plan, Shield members would train one month a year and receive a stipend and medical benefits for themselves and their families. In exchange, they would hand over their heavy weaponry — artillery, tanks, rockets, recoilless rifles — to the Ministry of Defense”.

He writes that the Warrior’s Affairs Commission (WAC) has “conducted an exhaustive registration and data collection of nearly 215,000 revolutionary fighters. It also functions as a sort of placement service, moving these young men into the police and the army, sending them on scholarships abroad, furthering their education at home, or giving them vocational training. After being vetted and screened, roughly 150,000 men are now eligible for placement; what happens to the other 65,000 remains to be seen”.

He suggests that “the next government should adopt a dual-track approach of building up the national army and police, focusing especially on training a newer generation of junior and mid-level officers, while downsizing the bloated senior ranks. It should bolster the demobilization and integration programs that aim to give young fighters educational and vocational opportunities, weaning them away from the embrace of the brigades”. He goes on to argue that as there is only a weak criminal justice system, minor crimes go unpunished, leading to reprisals.

He concludes arguing “Many observers have attributed the Libyan transitional government’s impotence on the security and judicial fronts to its temporariness and its lack of legitimacy. If that theory is correct, the successor administration must act swiftly and decisively — or, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, find itself confronted with forces that it cannot control”.

Libya has huge challenges ahead, to pretend otherwise would be foolish and naive.

“Symbol of European solidarity”

15/07/2012

The euro is meant to be a symbol of European solidarity, but in practice it has become little more than a mechanism for maintaining German competitiveness at the expense of others“.

Ending the marriage

15/07/2012

The 500 year old marriage between Church and State in the  UK is under threat do to gay marriage.

It has been reported that “the Church’s formal response dismisses the Coalition’s same-sex marriage plans as ‘divisive’, ‘legally flawed’ and ‘essentially ideological’. It suggests that priests could be forced to marry homosexual couples in churches by the European Court of Human Rights despite assurances that they will be exempt. Senior figures believe the plans could allow Strasbourg to strip the Church of England of its unique power to act as an ‘agent of the state’ by conducting marriages for anyone living within a parish, regardless of religious beliefs. This would, in effect, be a step towards splitting the Church from the State”.

The report mentions that the Church of England “argues that the plans would amount to ‘abolishing’ the centuries-old understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman and replace it with a vague commitment between people. Senior figures involved in drafting the paper privately went further last night, dismissing the proposals championed by the equalities minister Lynne Featherstone as ‘shallow’ and ‘frankly half baked’ and warning that it would create ‘open season’ in Strasbourg for legal challenges”.

Other reports note that some gay ceremonies could take place in church’s. However, this was quickly discarded.

Lord Carey of Clifton, archbishop emeritus of Canterbury has argued that “I am not unsympathetic to the desire of those in civil partnerships for recognition of their relationships, although the impression has sometimes been given that I am. Nor am I opposed to the Government’s wish to nurture a society where all are respected”. He goes on to add forcefully that “What I do vigorously oppose, however, is the Government’s proposal to redefine marriage. In my opinion – and that of 500,000 people who have signed the petition handed in to Downing Street yesterday – this will bring about serious unintended consequences for our country”.

He goes on to argue that “Crucially, it shows that proposals for same-sex marriage would create mutually contradictory versions of matrimony within English law. Canon law, which remains the law of the land, describes marriage as ‘a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace, a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh’. The Government’s redefinition makes marriage into a mutual union of two people, regardless of gender. This puts a question mark over the continuance of current arrangements for the state recognition of canon law. Canons, or laws of the Church – as the Church points out – cannot have effect if they are contrary to the customs, laws or statutes of the realm. The consultation is fatally undermined by historical and legal ignorance of this kind”. He concludes noting that “n the short term, it is unlikely that the British courts will force clergy to act against their consciences, but the Government’s attempt to ring-fence religious and civil marriage cannot last the test of time. Religious bodies will eventually be permitted to conduct same-sex marriage, and how long can it be before a civil right to equal marriage is forced on every denomination? In Denmark, under new laws, the state church has to permit same-sex marriage in all its buildings”.

Indeed, this is exactly what Pope Benedict warned of when he spoke in London two years ago.  Lastly, noted gay historian David Starkey has written about the historical context and argued that “Do gays who clamour for church weddings read their Bibles? Do self-proclaimed Christian Conservative politicians, who ”want to strengthen marriage by extending it to gays’’ listen to the words of their marriage services? It seems that, as in a cooling marriage, relations between Church and State have broken down. The gap between the values and practices of the two, which opened up with the legalisation of divorce, is now, thanks to the even more contentious issue of gay marriage, threatening to become a chasm”.

There are issues, here among which is the Anglican Communion’s inability to enforce a single clear path, with homophobic African member’s sitting along side the US Episcopal branch that has recently allowed some form of marriage ceremony for gay couples.

Dead heat

14/07/2012

“President Barack Obama has a slight 3-point advantage over presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney in Thursday’s CNN Poll of Polls, a sample of three recent national surveys of the presidential race. It shows Obama at 48% and Romney at 45%“.

Populism and another John Kerry

14/07/2012

Continuing his populist campaign theme, it has been noted that President Obama has “said tax cuts introduced by George W Bush should be allowed to expire in January for households earning more than $250,000 (£161,551) a year, and kept in place only for lower earners. Mr Romney and his Republican colleagues want all the Bush-era tax cuts made permanent, and are pledging to torpedo any plan targeting only the rich – potentially throwing the US back into recession. Speaking at the White House, Mr Obama said: ‘I believe our prosperity has always come from an economy that is built on a strong and growing middle class'”.

The report goes on to say that President Obama, “Tying Mr Romney to the ‘trickle-down’ policies of Mr Bush, he said: ‘We’ve tried it their way – it didn’t work’, adding that high earners like him should return to the tax rates they paid under Bill Clinton”. Not only is his the only fair and moral thing to do it is also the only logical policy choice as Americans are undertaxed. The report mentions that “The President’s plan would raise the top federal tax rate for couples earning $250,000 (£161,551) from 33 per cent to 36, and for couples earning more than $388,350 (£250,953) from 36 per cent to 39.6. Some 2.7 million households across the country – the top 1.7 per cent – would face a rise in tax bills from January 1, according to the Tax Policy Centre”.

The report mentions how some call this “class warfare” in an attempt to derail what is an eminently sensible policy, the report adds that “Along with $100 billion (£64.6 billion) in new spending cuts, a looming ‘taxmageddon’, including the expiry of the Bush tax cuts, would suck an estimated $500 billion (£323.1 billion) from the economy”, the same report goes on to say crucially that “While this would help the US government reduce its £1.5 trillion (£969 billion) budget deficit, four out of five households would face paying $3,701 (£2,392) more in tax, according to the Tax Policy Centre”.

It attempts to doom monger noting “Economists warn that such a dramatic shock could knock four per cent off the country’s annual growth figure, throwing the US back into recession with dramatic knock-on effects for the rest of the world”.

Someone who has a vested interest in opposing these rises in taxes is Mitt Romney, yet in addition to his own side not backing him, he has more of the same problems. Some have argued that “Conservative pundits and editorial columns, senior Republicans and two of the big beasts of the business world – Rupert Murdoch and the former talismanic chief executive of General Electric, Jack Welch – have all voiced serious misgivings about Mr Romney’s ability to deliver victory in November”.

The piece goes on to mention how “The ferocity of the public criticism is a sign of the level of frustration with the former boss of private equity firm Bain Capital. America is hurting, manufacturing earnings are slowing fast, middle-class incomes are stagnating, the economic recovery is stalling, unemployment is at 8.2 per cent when Obama promised it would be 5.6 per cent: measured by historical precedent, Mr Romney is facing the equivalent of an electoral open goal, but the latest polls show that he is failing to score points off Mr Obama in those battleground states that decide elections”.

Much of the criticism is that Romney is not engaged. Indeed, this is certainly the one of the larger issues. He is unable to do “the vision thing”. In some ways this is helpful, but it is hard to make a case for someone to the people when the your own supporters have having trouble backing Romney.

As the piece concludes, “the notion of Mitt Romney as steely general, ordering his troops “to hold fire, boys, until you see the whites of their eyes” in the autumn campaign, isn’t washing. Palpably, it has failed to quell the rising fear on the Right that Mr Romney is in danger of ceding the initiative in the character stakes, of becoming another John Kerry: expertly coiffured but ultimately judged by the voters to be ineffectual and empty”.

A worse outcome?

14/07/2012

After recent discussion of China attempting to bid for oil rights in Afghanistan Steve LeVine writes that the “Ministry of Mines has announced eight finalists to bid for an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent in northern Afghanistan. ExxonMobil has been pitted against companies from bitter regional rivals Pakistan and India — Pakistan Petroleum and India’s ONGC. Turkey’s TPAO is also a powerful regional contestant. No finalists from China or Russia were on the list”. The proxy war between India and Pakistan will only worsen as a result.