Archive for October, 2012

A decision by the House?

30/10/2012

MY ONLY PRAYER for next week’s election is that it ends with a winner. I say this because of the threat of an unresolved result, an Electoral College tie. That would set the stage for (pick one) arm-twisting, blackmailing or bribing electors to change their votes on or before meeting Dec. 17, or House/Senate action in January producing a Romney/Biden administration. As you no doubt know, an Electoral College tie goes to Congress, where the new House, presumably Republican, picks the president, while the new Senate, presumably Democratic, picks the vice president“.

Qatar, isolating Iran

30/10/2012

An article on Qatar discusses its role in Palestine and Israel.  It opens “Doha continues to exert a disproportionate influence on regional politics. Emir Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani’s latest move was a dramatic visit to the Gaza Strip, becoming the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Hamas wrested control of it in 2007″.

It goes on to note “Unlike some of its less imaginative Arab rivals, Qatar saw Hamas’s regional isolation as an opportunity rather than a problem. Despite its alliance with the United States, Doha has been nurturing its ties with the Palestinian Islamist group for some time: Its worst kept secret is that Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader, has had a house there for many years and has been increasingly seen in Doha since Hamas was forced to leave Syria in early 2012. Doha has also opened its pocketbook to Hamas, pledging $250 million in February — a gift that was increased to $400 million upon the emir’s visit”. He goes on to write that ” By breaking Hamas’s regional isolation and explicitly recognizing its rule over Gaza, Doha has strengthened the militant group’s hand against its Palestinian rivals”. He mentions Israel’s reaction which aside from the usual bluster, may, for once, contain some truth, “Israel felt no need to soften its criticism. An Israeli spokesman carped bitterly about the emir’s trip, saying that the emir was ‘throwing peace under a bus.'”

He goes on to describe the Iranian element of the emir’s visit, noting that Iran viewed “proceedings in Gaza with glum resignation. Tehran officials are doubtlessly looking back nostalgically to happier times only a few years back, when their proxy Hezbollah all but defeated the Zionist Entity — winning Iran no small degree of Arab support”. Roberts gets to the point of the whole article when he argues that “The emir’s visit is part of a larger Qatari policy to unseat and reorient crucial Iranian allies around the Middle East — and by extension, amputate a long-used, effective limb of Iranian foreign policy. This is a remarkably forthright policy, for Iran will not — and cannot — take it lying down”.

He goes on to note “Qatar is explicitly and unashamedly supporting the 19-month insurgency with money, equipment, and at the very least light weaponry”, this Roberts argues, is a virtual declaration of war against Syria and therefore Iran.

He concludes “That Qatar’s supports the Brotherhood is not in doubt — indeed, it hardly tries to conceal its efforts at engaging with the Islamist movement in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and now with Hamas, another Brotherhood offshoot”. This has already been seen with Qatari money in Egypt as well as support for the Syrian rebels. It is clearer now then ever that the Arab revolutions are turning more Islamist then ever.

50 years ago at Vatican II

30/10/2012

another Church leader took the floor, also eventually breaking one of the council’s rules. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, blasted the schema on the liturgy, criticizing its acceptance of priestly concelebration of the Mass, its openness to distributing Communion under both species to the faithful and its permission for greater use of the vernacular. ‘The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation,’ Ottaviani continued. Speaking without a text because he was nearly blind, the cardinal went on, exceeding his 10-minute limit. After 15 minutes, the presiding cardinal rang the warning bell. Either Ottaviani didn’t hear the bell or he ignored it. Finally, his microphone was turned off and Ottaviani walked back to his seat humiliated, as the council fathers erupted in applause. It was two weeks before Ottaviani returned to the council“.

Will there be leadership?

30/10/2012

In the context of a once in a decade leadership transition from the “old guard” to the new in China, two articles discuss the role of the future president of China, but more importantly leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

An article in Foreign Policy discusses the myths around Xi Jinping. It opens “It was here that Xi spent seven formative years, working among the peasants and living in a lice-infested cave dug into the silty clay that extends around the Yellow River. Gradually, the selfless peasants and the unforgiving “Yellow Earth” — a term for China’s land that symbolizes relentless toil and noble sacrifice — transformed this pale, skinny, and nervous-looking teenager into the man who in November will take control of the world’s second-most powerful country”. It goes on to say that Xi set “up his personal narrative as a leader who has toiled with the masses, in contrast with an increasingly corrupt governing elite. He was also alluding to the idealistic creation story of the Chinese Communist Party, in which his own father, former Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, played a starring role”. He notes that Xi will only become CCP leader in November but “In March 2013, he will take the title of president, and depending on the outcome of apparently fraught backroom negotiations, he will also take control of the military at some point in the next three years”.

An article from the Economist argues that Xi must change things radically if he is to keep China stable. It notes “after the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which starts in Beijing on November 8th, a short line of dark-suited men, and perhaps one woman, will step onto a red carpet in a room in the Great Hall of the People and meet the world’s press. At their head will be Xi Jinping, the newly anointed party chief, who in March will also take over as president of China. Behind him will file the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme body”.

The piece gets to the point quickly arguing that Xi faces a “slowing economy, corruption and myriad social problems are causing growing frustration among China’s people and worry among its officials. In coping with these tensions, Mr Xi can continue to clamp down on discontent, or he can start to loosen the party’s control. China’s future will be determined by the answer to this question: does Mr Xi have the courage and vision to see that assuring his country’s prosperity and stability in the future requires him to break with the past?”

A middle paragraph is long but worth quoting in full as it sums up what has been said here on a number of occasions  “Until recently, the Chinese were getting richer so fast that most of them had better things to worry about than how they were governed. But today China faces a set of threats that an official journal describes as “interlocked like dog’s teeth” (see article). The poor chafe at inequality, corruption, environmental ruin and land-grabs by officials. The middle class fret about contaminated food and many protect their savings by sending money abroad and signing up for foreign passports (see article). The rich and powerful fight over the economy’s vast wealth. Scholars at a recent government conference summed it up well: China is ‘unstable at the grass roots, dejected at the middle strata and out of control at the top'”.

Interestingly it mentions “ordinary people today protest in public. They write books on previously taboo subjects (see article) and comment on everything in real time through China’s vibrant new social media”. Of course once these voices begin to be given a voice and indeed, be heard, it is virtually impossible for them to return to the bottle from whence they came. The article adds that “Last week Qiushi the party’s main theoretical journal, called on the government to ‘press ahead with restructuring of the political system'”. It expands on this theme saying that the government has lost ideological legitimacy and is fast losing economic legitimacy due to the economic slowdown. The article suggests a slew of reforms from land privatisation to reform of the judicial system to a free press as well as a host of others.

It concludes “Xi comes at a crucial moment for China, when hardliners still deny the need for political change and insist that the state can put down dissent with force. For everyone else, too, Mr Xi’s choice will weigh heavily. The world has much more to fear from a weak, unstable China than from a strong one”. While this last view is fundamentally incorrect, or at the very least, overstated, there will be pressure from reform but at the same time far greater pressure to tighten CCP power, or worse, use the trouble with Japan to attack it and start a war.

A new player?

30/10/2012

Sandy also will batter the other elements of the region’s infrastructure, in which America has failed to invest for the past half century or so. She will destroy weakened roadways and bridges and breakwaters. She will lash ancient port facilities. She will paralyze an air-traffic control system and railway systems that lag behind the world in their use of modern technologies. She will say, ‘Why aren’t you spending your precious resources to protect your people and your economy? Why are you frittering away money building roads and airfields on the other side of the world when you should be taking care of business at home?‘”

More bumbling from Baghdad

30/10/2012

An interesting piece in Foreign Policy discusses the oil sector in Iraq. The writer opens noting “In 2006, an Iraqi technocrat named Tariq Shafiq was charged with crafting an oil law. A Berkeley-trained engineer, he began his career in the 1950s, rising through the consortium of foreign firms that comprised the Iraq Petroleum Company — until the Baathists nationalized the oil sector and sentenced him to death, in 1970, for conspiring with the imperialists. Luckily, Shafiq had been out of Iraq at the time”.

He goes on to write “In a country that receives 95 percent of its revenue from oil, his oil law would not only shape the management and regulation of the national economy but also determine the extent to which power would be centralized in Baghdad. It was the centerpiece of Iraq’s own version of the Federalist Debates”. He summarises the debates inside Iraq, noting that the Kurds “argued that dispersing state power could prevent the kind of oppression that had been fueled by Saddam Hussein’s complete, unwavering control of oil revenuesIt would be a safeguard against tyranny. The centralists, on the other hand, argued that a Balkanization of the oil sector would lead to conflict, with local governments fighting over cross-border oil fields”.

He writes that “Six years later, Shafiq’s draft is languishing in a Parliament committee, and the debates over federalism still rage. On the ground, however, where both sides have signed billions of dollars’ worth of contracts, the battle has been lopsided: The federalists in Kurdistan are winning, for the simple reason that their best ally is more powerful than any of Baghdad’s. That ally is ExxonMobil”. Indeed this has been noted upon here before but now matters are becoming more urgent for the government in Baghdad.

He mentions that Exxon “agreed to invest billions of dollars in a super-giant oil field in Basra called West Qurna 1, aiming to increase output there to more than 2.8 million barrels per day by 2017 — a level roughly equal to Exxon’s current total worldwide production” but adds later on in the article that “Exxon was by far the largest company to align with the Kurds, and it openly betrayed Baghdad to do so. Iraq’s top oil official, Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani, had warned Exxon that signing with the Kurds would be illegal, and constituted a breach of the West Qurna 1 contract. But Exxon’s lawyers disagreed. Baghdad was on weak legal footing, since — in the absence of a modern oil law to bolster its position — the Oil Ministry’s claims, of primary authority over contracting, rested on subjective interpretations of Iraqi law”.

He reveals an update on the previous article dealing with Exxon, the Kurds and the government in Baghdad that the Kurds as well as offering better terms to Exxon, Baghdad “A year later, Baghdad still has not backed up its threats to kick the company out of Basra”. He shows Exxon’s support for the nascent Kurdish state by noting ” Exxon is preparing to break ties with Baghdad altogether. The company is actively seeking buyers to take over West Qurna 1″ that is located at the other end of the country in Basra.

In a recurring theme with oil companies dealings with the Iraqi Oil Ministry he writes that “Other oil giants are following Exxon’s lead. France’s Total and Russia’s Gazprom both signed deals in Kurdistan over the summer, despite also holding contracts with Baghdad that are now in jeopardy. Chevron signed for two Kurdish exploration blocks in July. Unlike the others, however, Chevron had never even bothered with the central government in the first place: The company’s leaders thought Iraq was driving too hard a bargain”.

He ends the article mentioning that the central government reduced to having oil companies bid on tv like a gameshow and not allow a more holistic approach into the discussion of contracts. The result of this he implies is “At West Qurna 1, for example, the original production schedule is now in shambles because Iraq is so far behind with key infrastructure. The government has also failed to make prompt payments for the output that has been achieved. As a result, the cost of financing the project has eroded Exxon’s profit margin. To cap it off, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s top oil adviser, Thamer Ghadhban, recently announced that Iraq is cutting its production ambitions by one-third — an implicit admission that its original goals were too optimistic”. 

He rounds off the story noting that “Kurdistan’s minister of natural resources, Ashti Hawrami, whose development strategy has centered on oil contracts that promise generous rates of return, padded to offset the political risk that comes with the territory. That risk is substantial. Not only does Baghdad consider the Kurdish deals illegal, but it also controls the country’s network of export pipelines. As of now, Kurdistan’s oil producers have made most of their money by selling crude at roughly half price to domestic refiners within the region”.

He ends with evidence for what will surely be the start of a growing trend, “The British government just announced it is closing its consulate in Basra, partially to shift resources to Erbil. More importantly, Kurdistan is enjoying a renaissance in its relations with Turkey. Historically the Turkish government has been wary of supporting Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, for fear of emboldening its own Kurdish minority to expect similar levels of independence. Yet a series of regional dynamics has been pushing the two sides closer together: the civil war in Syria, Maliki’s worrisome alignment with Iran, and Turkey’s booming economy, which is ever more hungry for energy. On all three counts, the Iraqi Kurds could be valuable allies”.

It has been discussed here before that while Iraq is tilting to Iran it also must be aware of America at the same time. As for the Turkish economy there have been reports for some time now that it is overheating. Neither of these reasons however substantially detract from his reasoning.

Tied in Ohio

28/10/2012

A new poll shows President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney locked in a dead heat in the key battleground of Ohio. A new Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio News Organization poll released late Saturday shows both candidates receiving 49 percent support from likely voters in the Buckeye state”.

“Transfer jurisdiction”

28/10/2012

In a speech at the end of the Synod on the New Evangelisation, Pope Benedict gave reasons for holding the small consistory next month, but he also, in the same speech, stated, ” I would like to make an announcement. In the context of the reflections of the Synod of Bishops, ‘The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,’ and at the end of a process of reflection on the themes of seminaries and Catechesis, I am pleased to announce that I have decided, after further reflection and prayer to transfer jurisdiction over Seminaries from the Congregation for Catholic Education, to the Congregation for the Clergy and competence of Catechesis from the Congregation for the Clergy, to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation. The relative documents will be forthcoming in the form of an Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio”.

As ever Rocco has the context. He writes “In impromptu remarks to the gathering, B16 announced a small, but significant shift of functions within the Roman Curia, transferring the Vatican’s oversight of seminaries – held until now by the Congregation for Catholic Education – to the auspices of the Congregation for the Clergy, while the latter’s longtime authority over catechetical programs and materials will be given to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation”.

He goes on to mention that the moving of authority is important because “it defies the traditional understanding of the hierarchy of the Roman dicasteries, where – as a general rule – executive authority over matters of the church’s internal life is held” by the oldest offices of the Curia, the congregations, he adds “hile the newer pontifical councils (the so-called ‘new Curia’ established following Vatican II, now numbering 12 offices) do not exercise governance, but instead promote initiatives and conduct dialogue with constituencies that fall outside the Holy See’s realm of direct control”. Rocco goes on to write that ” the desk-shuffling is likely to fuel a long-standing criticism voiced by some top prelates: namely, that official efforts toward a fresh evangelization push end up placing their emphasis on a re-proposal of church teaching at the expense of a primary focus on the “living encounter with Christ.”

Rocco then mentions the remarks of Pope Benedict explaining the November consistory adding later on in the article that “While the fifth consistory of this pontificate – the smallest since 1977 – is indeed heavily weighted toward the East with the elevation of two heads of self-governing Oriental churches, it bears noting that another of the group who’s been a lead voice at this Synod was conspicuously left off the list: the de facto patriarch of the largest Eastern fold, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev, head of the world’s 6 million Ukrainian Greek-Catholics”.

Yet just a few lines after his paragraph he answers his own question noting that Cardinal Husar MSU who led the UGCC until his retirement in 2011 will turn 80 and lose voting rights next year. Therefore it would not be hard to foresee Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk becoming a cardinal in 2013 or 2014.

Consistory explained

28/10/2012

With this little Consistory I wanted to complete the Consistory of February, in the context of the new evangelisation, with a gesture of the universality of the Church, showing that the Church is the Church of all peoples, she speaks in all languages, she is always a Church of Pentecost; not the Church of one continent, but a universal Church. This was precisely my intention, to express this in this context, this universality of the Church, which is also the beautiful expression of this Synod“.

Cracks in the SSPX

28/10/2012

A number of developments have taken place in the dialogue between the Society of Saint Pius X and the Church.

The first is that Richard Williamson, the Holocaust denying member of the SSPX has been ejected from the society. Rorate notes “The removal comes at the end of an internal procedure that included repeated entreaties by the higher authorities of the Society regarding Williamson’s decisions and actions that apparently went unheeded”. It then goes on to carry a press release from the SSPX, “Williamson, having distanced himself from the management and the government of the SSPX for several years, and refusing to show due respect and obedience to his lawful superiors, was declared excluded from the SSPX by decision of the Superior General and its Council, on October 4th, 2012. A final deadline had been granted to him to declare his submission, after which he announced the publication of an ‘open letter’ asking the Superior General to resign”. Williamson’s fate is now uncertain, though it would not be hard to predict him slipping into sedevacantism and becoming the head of the Society of Saint Pius V. It is somewhat ironic that a group that is so hierarchical cannot even control its own members.

In related news the Press Office of the Holy See released a statement, which Rorate has also carried, noting “The Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” takes this occasion to announce that, in its most recent official communication (6 September 2012), the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X has indicated that additional time for reflection and study is needed on their part as they prepare their response to the Holy See’s latest initiatives”. The statement goes on to mention “The current stage in the ongoing discussions between the Holy See and the Priestly Fraternity follows three years of doctrinal and theological dialogues during which a joint commission met eight times to study and discuss, among other matters, some disputed issues in the interpretation of certain documents of Vatican Council II”.

What is most interesting however is the fact that the statement describes the talks as “the ongoing discussions” as though there was more to discuss when it is clear to those who have been following these issues that the talks are stalled over the refusal of the SSPX to obey Pope Benedict.

The statement goes on to note “on 13 June 2012, the Pontifical Commission presented to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X a doctrinal declaration together with a proposal for the canonical normalization of its status within the Catholic Church. At the present time, the Holy See is awaiting the official response of the superiors of the Priestly Fraternity to these two documents. After thirty years of separation, it is understandable that time is needed to absorb the significance of these recent developments”.

Yet it would be a true miracle for the SSPX to accept these documents and return to the Church.

An explosive trial

27/10/2012

Reports note that “The disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been formally stripped of immunity from prosecution, paving the way for a potentially explosive trial”. While at the same time others mention that Bo Xilai, “has been formally placed under investigation “for alleged criminal offences”, after he was stripped of his legal immunity and expelled from the country’s parliament”.

Still close

27/10/2012

Three articles continue to note the closeness of the US presidential election.

The first describes “Romney has opened up a 5-point lead in Florida, while President Obama holds a 4-point lead in Iowa, a 3-point edge in New Hampshire and single-point advantages in Colorado and Nevada. The Florida poll, conducted by Sunshine State News, shows Romney topping the 50 percent threshold with a 51 to 46 percent advantage. According to the survey, the Republican nominee held a 15-point advantage with men, while the president only led Romney by 5 points among women. The poll also found that voters in Florida favored Romney when asked which candidate was better on the issue of jobs creation by a 2-1 margin”. The fact that President Obama only leads by 5% from Romney in this category shows how well Romney has campaigned targeting this segment of the population that has been heavily Democratic. It also is a great worry for the Obama campaign when polls are tight, with some showing a lead for Romney. The article goes on to mention ” there are encouraging signs for the Republican challenger. Romney leads among independents in the state 48 to 36 percent, and more Iowans say the country is headed in the wrong direction by a 4-percentage-point margin”.

The second article notes the crucial point that “Obama hit the crucial 50 percent threshold in the latest poll of Ohio and now leads Mitt Romney by 4 points in the pivotal battleground state, according to a new poll released Friday by CNN. The slight but significant lead mirrors other recent polling in the state, and should come as a relief to the president’s campaign, which has largely staked its reelection hopes on holding the Buckeye State. The poll carried a margin of error of 3.5 percent, just below the president’s lead. The president was boosted in the state by a significant lead among women, leading Romney 56 to 42 percent. Romney posted a smaller advantage among men, leading the president 50 to 44 percent”.  The piece adds importantly that “No Republican president has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio, and Obama would likely need a surprise win in Florida or Virginia to offset a Romney victory there”.

The final article mentions that “polls showed Mitt Romney maintaining a lead over President Obama on Friday even as the incumbent kept his advantage in several swing states. The national and swing-state data confirmed a tight race that will leave both candidates in an all-out sprint through Election Day to win the race for the White House. Gallup’s daily tracking poll on Friday found Romney expanding his lead over Obama to 5 points from a 3-point lead earlier on Thursday. Romney takes 51 percent to Obama’s 46 in the poll of likely voters, released Friday”.

Lastly, the economically illiterate Tea Party Richard Mourdock (R-IN) campaign for a Senate seat has taken a blow. “Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) has jumped to a 7-point lead” due to “Mourdock’s controversial comment that pregnancies resulting from rape are ‘something God intended to happen,’ according to a poll conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee”.

 

If these figures are accurate and translate into voters turning out then President Obama will win a final four year term.

Chinese provocation

26/10/2012

First there was Chinese bullying of Cambodia at the failed ASEAN summit, then Japan. Now “Four Chinese maritime patrol ships illegally entered Japanese territorial waters Oct. 25 near the disputed Senkaku Islands, the Japan Coast Guard said. This is the sixth such incursion by Chinese patrol vessels since Sept. 11, when Tokyo purchased three of the islands from private ownership. The last occurrence was on Oct. 3. The group of five uninhabited islets and reefs in the East China Sea are administered by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu. The islands are additionally claimed by Taiwan. Japanese coast guard ships maneuvered abreast of the ‘Hai Jian’ Chinese vessels and warned them to leave”.

America’s economic challengers

26/10/2012

In a refreshing piece, Broken BRICS in Foreign Affairs, Ruchir Sharma destroys the notion that the BRICS are the economic future of the world and the engines of all growth.

He opens, setting the scene, “The world was witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime shift, the argument went, in which the major players in the developing world were catching up to or even surpassing their counterparts in the developed world. These forecasts typically took the developing world’s high growth rates from the middle of the last decade and extended them straight into the future, juxtaposing them against predicted sluggish growth in the United States and other advanced industrial countries. Such exercises supposedly proved that, for example, China was on the verge of overtaking the United States as the world’s largest economy-a point that Americans clearly took to heart, as over 50 percent of them, according to a Gallup poll conducted this year, said they think that China is already the world’s ‘leading’ economy, even though the U.S. economy is still more than twice as large (and with a per capita income seven times as high)”.

There is still much ignorance and even misinformation concerning America’s supposed economic weakness. From this can flow bad policy which, as Bob Kagan has warned, can lead to real decline rather than merely the feeling of it. He goes on to argue cogently “As with previous straight-line projections of economic trends, however-such as forecasts in the 1980s that Japan would soon be number one economically-later returns are throwing cold water on the extravagant predictions. With the world economy heading for its worst year since 2009, Chinese growth is slowing sharply, from double digits down to seven percent or even less. And the rest of the BRICs are tumbling, too: since 2008, Brazil’s annual growth has dropped from 4.5 percent to two percent; Russia’s, from seven percent to 3.5 percent; and India’s, from nine percent to six percent”.

Indeed, the countries are now is the classic middle income trap, unable to exit from it, and in some cases if nothing is done, damning them to decades as merely middle ranking countries. He writes “The notion of wide-ranging convergence between the developing and the developed worlds is a myth. Of the roughly 180 countries in the world tracked by the International Monetary Fund, only 35 are developed. The markets of the rest are emerging-and most of them have been emerging for many decades and will continue to do so for many more”. He goes on to argue “It was only after 2000 that the emerging markets as a whole started to catch up; nevertheless, as of 2011, the difference in per capita incomes between the rich and the developing nations was back to where it was in the 1950s” with the gap between the two growing again.

He gives further evidence noting “Malaysia and Thailand appeared to be on course to emerge as rich countries until crony capitalism, excessive debts, and overpriced currencies caused the Asian financial meltdown of 1997-98. Their growth has disappointed ever since. In the late 1960s, Burma (now officially called Myanmar), the Philippines, and Sri Lanka were billed as the next Asian tigers, only to falter badly well before they could even reach the middle-class average income of about $5,000 in current dollar terms. Failure to sustain growth has been the general rule, and that rule is likely to reassert itself in the coming decade”.

As ever he notes the growth of China has disguised the rest of the the BRICs, “From 1987 to 2002, developing countries’ share of global GDP actually fell, from 23 percent to 20 percent. The exception was China, which saw its share double, to 4.5 percent. The story of the hot emerging markets, in other words, was really about one country”, he adds “The huge losses suffered during the global financial crash of 2008 were mostly recovered in 2009, but since then, it has been slow going”. This is especially true of China where a failing economy does not only have economic consequences but extremely serious political ones also.

He then rightly mentions the clumsiness of the term BRICs arguing “Russia’s economy and stock market have been among the weakest of the emerging markets, dominated by an oil-rich class of billionaires whose assets equal 20 percent of GDP, by far the largest share held by the superrich in any major economy. Although deeply out of balance, Russia remains a member of the BRICs”.

Indeed, he rightly demolishes the myth of Chinese economy power forcefully writing “In the decade to come, the United States, Europe, and Japan are likely to grow slowly. Their sluggishness, however, will look less worrisome compared with the even bigger story in the global economy, which will be the three to four percent slowdown in China, which is already under way, with a possibly deeper slowdown in store as the economy continues to mature. China’s population is simply too big and aging too quickly for its economy to continue growing as rapidly as it has. With over 50 percent of its people now living in cities, China is nearing what economists call ‘the Lewis turning point’: the point at which a country’s surplus labor from rural areas has been largely exhausted”. Even if there is not political turmoil or revolution in China, which is by no means uncertain, at the very least China will fade economically and therefore militarily from view adding weight to the theory that America is managing China’s long decline. He goes on to write “During the boom of the last decade, the average trade balance in emerging markets nearly tripled as a share of GDP, to six percent. But since 2008, trade has fallen back to its old share of under two percent. Export-driven emerging markets will need to find new ways to achieve strong growth, and investors recognize that many will probably fail to do so”.

He mentions how China’s demographic bulge fueled growth and that as a result “consultants now scour census data looking for similar population bulges as an indicator of the next big economic miracle. But such demographic determinism assumes that the resulting workers will have the necessary skills to compete in the global market and that governments will set the right policies to create jobs”, neither of which are necessarily happening in the BRIC countries.

America and Western Europe have huge problems that must be solved, however their economic position although not certain, is much more assured than many hope, or think.

Weigel on the Second Vatican Council

26/10/2012

The degree to which each of us brings the Gospel to others is the degree to which we understand Vatican II at its golden anniversary“.

Shake up in Japan

26/10/2012

Following on from the second chance Shinzo Abe is receiving in his political fortunes with elections due in no more than a year, but perhaps by the end of this year, the political map of Japan is shifting dramatically.

An article in the New York Times notes that the effective one party state in Japan dominted by the Liberal Democratic Party is cracking. It opens noting “It took more than six decades, including nearly 20 years of economic stagnation, to persuade Japan’s change-averse voters to kick out the governing party long enough to move to a true two-party democracy in 2009”.

The piece goes on to describe the new party, “That party, the Japan Restoration Association, was formally inaugurated this month by its sharp-tongued leader, the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto. The boyish-faced 43-year-old former television commentator came out of nowhere four years ago to electrify this gritty business city with his very un-Japanese, in-your-face style — and his ability to do what few national leaders have seemed able to: push through painful changes. Mr. Hashimoto battled labor unions to slash deficit-ridden budgets and impose performance requirements on schoolteachers”. The piece mentions “he is taking his antiestablishment insurgency to the national stage, naming about 350 candidates, most of them political neophytes trained at Mr. Hashimoto’s own political ‘cram school,’ to run in parliamentary elections”.

This strategy is untested, to say the least. In a country where politeness is everything and respect for elder people and their wisdom is heavily embedded in Japanese culture, Hashimoto’s strategy is politically dangerous. However as a strategy it has great potential in a populace that is tired of the political elite. As the article mentions, “Beyond Mr. Hashimoto’s personal appeal, his rise reflects the desire for bolder change in a nation anxious over its chronic economic drift and fed up with a lack of leadership by the two main political parties, according to political analysts and lawmakers. His ascent is also the most potent evidence yet that last year’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is leading to some fundamental rethinking of the country’s priorities, at least among ordinary Japanese who no longer trust the closely knit political elite. This new distrust reached a climax with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s unpopular decision over the summer to restart a nuclear plant, a move opposed by many Japanese as an effort to go back to the pre-Fukushima status quo”.

The article discusses his character, “His combative style was on display during the news conference. When a reporter for a major daily newspaper asked a question, Mr. Hashimoto berated the paper for using the word “dictator” in a recent front-page story about him”. The piece ends “He has also made remarks that have helped paint him as a right-wing firebrand, even though he has not embraced such conservative causes as rewriting the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan a full-fledged military, with his party instead calling for a referendum on whether to do so. Last month, he challenged South Korea to produce evidence that the Imperial Japanese military had forced Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II, diverging from the Japanese government’s official view that the army played a role”.

However, there is more news in this vein, in a country normally known for its extreme, almost fossilised, stability. A news article reports that “Shintaro Ishihara, the firebrand governor of Tokyo whose obsession with a set of disputed islands prompted Japan’s latest spat with China, declared on Thursday that he was quitting local politics to start a national party, a move that could escalate the territorial dispute and shift allegiances in Japan’s soon-to-be-called elections”. The article goes on to mention that Ishihara, “who has said that Japan should develop nuclear weapons and abandon its pacifist Constitution, has scarce hope of building a party big enough to form a government. But with polls suggesting no clear winner in elections that must be called by August, even a small upstart could use a swing position to punch above its weight and to wreak havoc with foreign policy”.

The piece adds “Ishihara said at a news conference in Tokyo that he intended to join forces with two other small nationalist parties — including one recently formed by the populist mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto — to challenge what he characterized as feckless politicking by the governing Democratic Party and its main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party”. This would in some ways swap Hashimoto’s party and move it much further to the right in its realtions with both South Korea and China.

As the article says “A return to the national stage by Mr. Ishihara could escalate the islands dispute.” The article finishes mentioning “Hashimoto told reporters that he welcomed Mr. Ishihara’s move, though he said any cooperation would hinge on how closely they could align their policy goals”.

The fact that Japanese politics is going through such radical change after stagnation for so long, at such a delicate time for Asia but also for America, as well as the wider world, will only make the upcoming elections in Japan more delicate. China will be watching closely to see if they can use the situation in flux to their advantage.

Speeches from the Synod

26/10/2012

As the Synod on the New Evangelisation continues, Pope Benedict has opened the Synod noting that the “Church exists to evangelise”, in a  speech the relator-general Donald Cardinal Wuerl has also spoken. Meanwhile Benedict has noted the two pillars on which the new evangelisation rests, while the importance of penance has been noted. Lastly, outgoing Archbishop Rowan Williams, has spoken at the synod.

A harder edged Japan

26/10/2012

A number of developments have come out of Japan in recent weeks.

The first is that Shinzo Abe described by the New York Times as “a nationalist former prime minister, was elected to lead Japan’s main opposition party”. The article adds that this gives Abe “a chance of regaining the nation’s top job”. With Japanese elections taking place before September 2013 this means that Abe could become leader of the country again if the election goes his way. The article goes on to say “Poll ratings for Mr. Noda and his Democratic Party have been pulled down by the party’s handling of last year’s disasters and gridlock in Parliament that has crippled policy making”.

The article adds crucially that “It is a striking return to the spotlight for Mr. Abe — who called for a stronger and unapologetic Japan when he took office in 2006, but stepped down just a year later, citing a health problem — after his party suffered a defeat in an interim election. At the time, Mr. Abe’s nationalist agenda seemed off the mark for a public that was more interested in jobs and economic recovery”. If Abe become prime minister again Japanese relations with China could worsen even further. The piece goes on to mention some of his policies during his time in office, “he angered China and South Korea with moves to change Japan’s pacifist Constitution, denials that Asian women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II, and efforts to alter school textbooks to present what critics called a whitewashed version of Japan’s wartime history. But in some ways, he kept tensions with China from boiling over, picking Beijing for his first official trip overseas and refraining from visiting a contentious Tokyo war shrine”.

The piece adds that “Abe promised to take a strong stand in the dispute with Beijing over the islands, even as he referred to Japan’s strong economic ties with China. He said he would also seek to strengthen Japan’s defense cooperation with the United States by taking a more active military role”.

Yet Abe, in election mode has already visited the “contentious Tokyo war shrine”, as another report notes “paid his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including Class A war criminals. In the past, such visits have angered China and South Korea, two victims of Japan’s early 20th-century militarism, who view the large Shinto shrine in central Tokyo as a symbol of Japan’s refusal to atone”. This could simply be Abe trying to gain potential voters and while at the same time establishing his credentials again with the party.

The article goes on to say “Opinion polls show his party in the lead with national elections expected as early as December, making Mr. Abe the most the most likely candidate to replace the current prime minister, the unpopular Yoshihiko Noda”. The article goes on to make the point that “Many Japanese have felt growing insecurities about the rising power of China, and their own country’s declining economic and political influence in Asia. But at the same time, most analysts agree that a majority of voters still oppose making waves in diplomatic issues, and would balk at causing further economic damage to Japan’s ties with China”. This however would not automatically mean Japan “backing down” from its rift with China, instead the very opposite reaction could occur where a frightened Japan could lash out just as China’s economy is slowing, exposing that country’s weakness.

The piece concludes “American analysts say the United States might balk at risking war with China if Japan is the one provoking a confrontation over the disputed islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China”. Thus even if Abe does not win the election his rhetoric could skew the debate and make other politicians take positions they otherwise would not. This in turn could mean the public would demand action after the election. If these events were to happen America would be left “picking up the tab” both literally and metophorically.

Naturally, the best policy is for the United States to stand by Japan and at the same time urge them to moderate their behaviour, the same strategy of “dual deterrence” that has worked so well for China-US-Tiawan relations.

No certainty on Iran

24/10/2012

When it comes to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, we may be living with great uncertainty for some time to come. Regardless of who’s elected president in November, 2013 may be no more determinative in deciding the fate of the mullahs’ bomb than 2012 was“.

Time for a new model

24/10/2012

As the 18th Chinese Communist Party and a once in a decade hand over to a new leadership begins has the model run out of steam, if it ever had any?

An article opens noting “In 1989 Deng Xiaoping, “made a long-term calculation that is now receiving its most severe test. Deng knew that China’s authoritarian power structure, in which officials at each level are beholden to the people above, had one glaring weak point. Who appoints the person at the very top — where by definition there is no superior to do the appointing? In China before the twentieth century, the seed of the emperor normally performed this function (as so it is even today in North Korea). If Mao had left a healthy son, his regime might have gone this way as well. But Mao had no such heir, and the top spot was left open for jockeying among peers”.

He goes on to mention “Deng named the then Shanghai Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, who had successfully managed his city during the nationwide student protests that culminated in the June 4th massacre in Beijing, to general secretary, and named Hu Jintao, who was from a different interest group within the power elite, to succeed Jiang”.

He goes on to state the fundamental point, “Wang Lixiong, noting that Hu’s apparent successor Xi Jinping is allied with the Jiang camp, has written a shrewd analysis of Deng’s long-term plan: Two elite groups, one originating with Jiang and the other with Hu, will exchange 10-year periods of center stage while the other waits in the wings. Each group — knowing that the other will get a turn later — will have an incentive to be civil. With luck, long-term stability will result”. A similar system operates in Kuwait between the different branches of the ruling family. Yet one of the many problems with this deal, is that it exposes the very obvious fact that the CCP tries to hide. It shows that there are, at least, two factions within the Party. Were this to become common knowledge in China there would be uproar as the Party tries to present an image of total agreement even within itself. Not only that but a far more interesting consequence is that if one group blames the other for failures it could lead to very obvious splits.

He goes on to mention “Wang points out that Deng’s vision calls for neither ideology nor charisma in the people at the top; such things could rock the boat and be dangerous. On the surface, the leader should display no outward disagreement and pretend one has no ambition other than to answer the call of the masses; and under the surface, serve the interests of the power elite. Bland managers like Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, interchangeable parts in the system, are ideal candidates, no matter how unsatisfying their personalities or governing styles may be to the Chinese people”. He adds that “Bo Xilai, ambitious, charismatic, flamboyant, and until recently party secretary of the metropolis of Chongqing and member of the Politburo” is a direct threat because he is all of these things and therefore a threat to the dull ruling elite.

He interestingly posits the theory that during the Tiananmen Square massacre, Deng “chose tanks and machine guns. His calculation that a dramatic show of force would buy him about two decades of popular docility all across China was correct”.

He ends on a warning “China’s transition toward a democratic system has been rocky, and will likely continue to be so”.

Romney on drones

24/10/2012

I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends“.

November 2012 consistory

24/10/2012

In a move that has shocked even the most expierenced Vatican watchers Pope Benedict XVI has called a consistory to create new cardinals to be held in exactly one month’s time, Feast of Christ the King, 24 November. This gathering will be the second consistory to be held under the new rules for the creation of cardinals that was first used in February. This is the second consistory of the year. Those to be elevated in order are:

  • James Michael Harvey, prefect of the Pontifical Household
  • Bechara  Boutros Rai, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronite Catholic Church
  • Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankar Catholic Church
  • John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja
  • Jesús Rubén Salazar Gómez, archbishop of Bogotá
  • Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila

The last time that two consistories were held in a  year was 1929 when there was a one in July and a second in December. There was only one cardinal created in July 1929 and six in December. There are no Italians on the list which though understandable given that the consistory of Feburary contained so many but what cannot be explained is that there was no real curial presence in those to be created with the new CDF prefect, as well as a host of others all absent.

The only curialist is Archbishop James Michael Harvey, prefect of the Papal Household. Even more unusual is that Archbishop Harvey was not appointed as archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls. The announcement merely stating “whom the Pope plans to appoint as” the new archpriest. This gives the impression that the decision to hold the consistory is rushed. In the February consistory that was announced on 6 January, Benedict had appointed Archbishop Manuel Montiero de Castro as the major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary the previous day in preparation for the announcement. The fact that Harvey was not even appointed as archpriest lends an air of disorganisation to the event. Not only that, but the inclusion of Harvey also speaks volumes with regard to his role in the Vatican leaks scandal. Harvey’s time as archpriest will easily be 15 years, in a job that is meant as a reward for ex-nuncio’s and senior curialists. Instead Archbishop Harvey’s new assignment will only stoke the talk that he is the leaker attempting to oust Cardinal Bertone from his post of secretary of State to His Holiness. The appointment allows Pope Benedict, or perhaps more accurately, Bertone to name someone more in line with his agenda, or at least less opposed to it.

Benedict has moved the composition of the College of Cardinals away from the Italian dominated consistory in February by including the archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria as well as Archbishop Tagle of Manila. He has also included Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankar Catholic Church to be elevated to the cardinalate is not only the first to recieve the red hat but at 53 is set to become the youngest cardinal in the entire College overtaking the archbishop of Berlin, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, who was elevated in February.

Although there will have been two consistories this year, there will be 11 electors aging out between the 8 December 2012 (Eusébio Cardinal Scheid) and the 25 December 2013 (Joachim Cardinal Meisner). So a much reduced in size consistory in 2013 is still more than likely to happen which will include Archbishop Muller of the CDF as well as others such as Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, SDB, Jose Gomez, Vincent Nichols, Jose Palma and Francesco Moraglia to name but a few.

Rocco, as surprised as everyone else, notes that this consistory “is the smallest to be called since Paul VI’s final intake of four cardinals in June 1977, at which Papa Montini elevated the freshly-ordained 50 year-old archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger.  That gathering was known as the ‘Benelli consistory’ for its linchpin figure – the longtime Curial power Giovanni Benelli, who had been dispatched to Florence earlier that month amid heavy speculation that the move reflected his status as Paul’s intended successor.  In other words, the small intake was seen as the frail pontiff’s taking care of his ‘unfinished business.’ Whether that’s the case again, of course, time will tell”. He also mentions that in “a break from usual practice, all of the diocesan cardinals-designate but one (Salazar) are in Rome for the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization, and so are unable to mark today’s announcement with their communities at home. Reflecting the degree to which the move was unforeseen, statements on the elevations have yet to emerge from the dioceses of the far-flung designates”.

Others have  noted that “This is the first consistory since the one celebrated by Pope Pius XI on December 19, 1927 (X) in which no Italian prelate was promoted to the cardinalate; and the first one in which no Europeans were elevated to that dignity since the consistory of March 24, 1924 (IV) by the same pope”.

 

 

 

Benedict on Vatican II

22/10/2012

Pope Benedict has spoken on his reading of the Second Vatican Council, and in a historical link, echoing the speech given by John XXIII at the end of the first day after Council’s opening, Benedict has, at the end of the first day on the Synod on the New Evangelisation has given a speech.

A hopeless case

22/10/2012

Ireland’s hopes have been dashed. Everything seemed to hinge on an a press release from a mini summit in June. Now Merkel has refused to let the new ESM buy Irish bank debt and separate it from sovereign debt.

Now however it has been reported that “Merkel has upended a carefully crafted plan to resolve Europe’s banking crisis, delivering a sharp setback to Taoiseach Enda Kenny as he battles for a debt relief deal. Moments after Mr Kenny declared in Brussels that he had achieved solid progress overnight at a tense EU summit, Dr Merkel moved abruptly to curtail the scope of the effort to break the link between bank and sovereign debt. The chancellor’s intervention, which took high-level EU figures by surprise, has cast a new cloud of uncertainty over the feasibility of Mr Kenny’s demands. For the first time in public, she backed her finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in his assertion that national bodies must remain responsible for most banking debts”. The report goes on to mention that “This is markedly at odds with the push from Mr Kenny and the leaders of France, Italy and Spain for the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to pay for historic banking losses”, coupled with “Answering a reporter’s question about the possibility that any ESM rescue of Spain’s banks would damage her re-election campaign next year, she ruled out the fund taking on retrospective liabilities. ‘I hadn’t even thought of the elections before hearing such ideas here. The capital needs of Spanish banks have just been evaluated and a programme for their recapitalisation has been agreed,’ she said. ‘Spain only needs to ask for the tranches of funds. There will be no retroactive direct recapitalisation, either.’ These remarks were immediately seen as an implicit rebuff to the demands of Mr Kenny and his supporters for a mutualisation of banking debt. A German government spokesman in Berlin later said her remarks were simply a reiteration of the current legal position and that there was nothing new in them; they were not about Ireland”.

An article in the Wall Street Journal written by Eddie Hobbs notes that “The myth of Irish pluck continues today, even amid the financial crisis. Prime Minister Enda Kenny recently graced the cover of Time magazine. But according to data from the International Monetary Fund, Ireland has displaced Japan as the world’s most indebted economy. Government, household and nonfinancial company debt add up to 524% of Irish GDP”, Hobbs goes on to write that “Funding this gargantuan load at an average cost of 4.5% would swallow nearly 24% of GDP—in other words, Ireland’s entire industrial output”.

Hobbs then goes on to decimate how a much hyped recovery for Ireland will not occur. He argues forcefully that “Having started the crisis with a sovereign debt-to-GDP ratio approaching 20%, Ireland will have added another 100% before it’s over. And in a perverse reversal of democracy, two-thirds of this load was foisted on the Irish under pressure from the unelected board of the European Central Bank to save German, French and British banks—together with a panoply of other bank bondholders—from the consequences of their investment decisions. Nowhere in the euro zone have so few citizens been asked to carry so much to save the union”. He goes on to state that ” The total plowed into banks is €64 billion, about 40% of Irish GDP”.

He elobrates noting that Irish household debt is still high, arguing ” According to the IMF, household debt, which currently is as large as Ireland’s national debt, will stand at 185% of disposable income in 2017. The Irish are expected to arrive at this level from a peak of 210% by saving 14% of their income, nearly half of which would have to be redirected into debt repayments”, he adds to this bleak but accurate picture “One in five Irish mortgages is in arrears. Yet four years into the crisis the Irish government has failed to introduce a modern, balanced and dignified insolvency regime, relying instead on a mishmash of laws”. He adds “Since 1987, the Irish Parliament has callowly transferred wage-setting power to labor unions via the “social partnership” process. But a 2010 deal with public-sector unions, signed amid a brutal period of layoffs and pay cuts in the private sector, goes farther still by fixing pay and pensions for government workers at extraordinarily high levels through 2014. The agreement was named after Ireland’s largest secular temple: Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, where the deal was struck”.

He goes on to destroy the supposed usefulness of Croke Park deal when he argues “Pay for hospital consultants, teachers and nurses is singled out as especially high by the IMF. Local Irish county managers are paid more than most European prime ministers. Brendan Howlin, the minister in charge of reforming the public sector, is himself a former teacher and trade union activist. The inner cabinet of the Irish government—which comprises the prime minister, the deputy PM, the minister for finance and the minister for public reform—brings the intellectual firepower of three secondary-school teachers and a trade unionist to bear on Ireland’s crisis. All support the public-sector cartel”.

He concludes “, the truth is that Enda Kenny leads a Vichy government—captive externally to creditors that still insist on loading bank debt onto the sovereign, and internally to a tribe of insiders led by union godfathers in a deal that protects the government’s own excessive pay and pensions while bankers lean over its shoulders to rewrite insolvency laws”. Yet as ever with Ireland nothing will change because the people are too ignorant and too lazy to fix it.

A joint fund

20/10/2012

The joint fund is to go far beyond crisis firefighting or enforcement of fiscal discipline on states in trouble. EU documents describe it as a fiscal buffer to offset the booms and busts caused by the EMU’s one-size-fits-all interest rates, along the lines of America’s system of fiscal transfers to depressed regions. ‘All other monetary unions have built-in mechanisms that allow them to absorb asymmetric regional shocks in a much smoother and automatic way,’ it said. Mats Persson, from Open Europe, said the plan aims to ‘soften German resistance to the idea of a joint back-stop’. For Berlin, it is preferable to eurobonds, or money-printing by the European Central Bank”.

Worth fighting over

20/10/2012

An article in Foreign Affairs discusses the fact that there has been no wars over water. The authors note “Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a report, Global Water Security, assessing hydropolitics around the world. In it, the authors show that international water disputes will affect not only the security interests of riparian states, but also of the United States”.

The state just how precarious the available of water is, “In many parts of the world, freshwater is already a scarce resource. It constitutes only 2.5 percent of all available water on the planet. And only about .4 percent of that is easily accessible for human consumption. Of that tiny amount, a decreasing share is potable because of pollution and agricultural and industrial water use. All that would be bad enough, but many freshwater bodies are shared among two or more riparian states, complicating their management”.

They note ” In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned that “water scarcity … is a potent fuel for wars and conflict.” Yet history has not witnessed many. In fact, the only official war over water took place about 4,500 years ago. It was a conflict between the city-states of Lagash and Umma in modern day Iraq over the Tigris river”. The authors goes on to note more recent events “About two years before the 1967 War, Israel and Syria exchanged fire over the Jordan River Basin, which both said the other was overusing. The limited armed clashes petered out, but the political dispute over the countries’ shared water sources continues. In 2002, Lebanon constructed water pumps on one of the river’s tributaries, which caused concern for downstream Israel. The project never provoked any formal military action, but with peace in the region already precarious, verbal exchanges between the two countries prompted the United States to step in. Both parties eventually accepted a compromise that would allow Lebanon to withdraw a predetermined amount of water for its domestic needs”.

The finally get to the nub of their argument when they write that “predictions of a Water World War are overwrought. However, tensions over water usage can still exacerbate other existing regional conflicts”.

Yet they then go on to elaborate on this point “According to our research, 24 of the world’s 276 international river basins are already experiencing increased water variability. These 24 basins, which collectively serve about 332 million people, are at high risk of water related political tensions. The majority of the basins are located in northern and sub-Saharan Africa. A few others are located in the Middle East, south-central Asia, and South America. They include the Tafna (Algeria and Morocco), the Dasht (Iran and Pakistan), the Congo (Central Africa), Lake Chad (Central Africa), the Niger (Western Africa), the Nile (Northeastern Africa), and the Chira (Ecuador and Peru). There are no strong treaties governing the use of these water reserves in tense territories. Should conflicts break out, there are no good mechanisms in place for dealing with them”. They go on to note “By 2050, an additional 37 river basins, serving 83 million people, will be at high risk for feeding into political tensions. As is the case currently, a large portion of these are in Africa. But, unlike today, river basins within Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and Central America will also be at high risk within 40 years. Some of these include the Kura-Araks (Iran, Turkey, and the Caucasus), the Neman (Eastern Europe) Asi-Orontes (Lebanon, Syria, Turkey), and the Catatumbo Basins (Colombia and Venezuela)”.

Yet their point that there have been no wars over water and therefore there will be none in 40 years is laughable. Using their own numbers it would be almost impossible not to imagine wars, especially in Africa and Asia over water. They tacitly accept this when they note that “Over the years, a number of international water treaties have made rules for the basin, but they are largely limited to small stretches of it. In particular, only Egypt and Sudan are party to the 1959 Nile River Agreement, the principal treaty regarding the river. Egypt, which is the furthest downstream yet is one of the most powerful countries in the region, has been able to heavily influence the water-sharing regime”. Due to the imbalance of power between the two countries a war is likely within the next decades if nothing is done to share the resource equally.

As the continue ” In 2010, Ethiopia signed an agreement with a number of the other upstream countries hoping to balance against Egypt and Sudan. More recently, the country has also announced plans to construct a number of large upstream dams, which could affect the stability of the region”.

They conclude, “If the past is any indication, the world probably does not need to worry about impending water wars. But they must recognize how tensions over water can easily fuel larger conflicts and distract states from other important geopolitical and domestic priorities”. However this is somewhat naive as water becomes more scarce it will only be a matter of time before conflict erupts.

Pleading guilty

20/10/2012

A 58-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiring with Iranian military officials in a plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. while in Washington, D.C., last year. Federal officials have charged Manssor Arbabsiar with three counts of conspiring to commit an act of terrorism against the United States, using foreign commerce facilities while attempting to carry out a “murder for hire,” and conspiring to do so”.

Vocal and powerful

20/10/2012

Salafi, and or, Islamistpolitics is on the rise in the Middle East. If it expands it could have the potential to cause even greater violence and potentially terrorism.

Their power was witnessed yet again when, “A television personality on a Saudi Arabian-funded Salafi satellite channel in Egypt first fanned the flames, and Salafis ranging from the militant Mohamed al-Zawahiri (the brother of al Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri) to the mainstream Salafi political party al-Nour fueled the blaze when they blamed the U.S. government and called for protests against U.S. embassies. Salafis in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere took up the torch, resulting in attacks on U.S. and other Western diplomatic installations across the Middle East”.

The writer goes on to state “Salafi-driven protests are one more sign the ultra-religious right is asserting itself as the guardian of the moral order in Sunni-majority countries revolting against the ancien régime. Their noisy performance on the public stage poses a major challenge to emerging democratic systems, fuelling polarization inside and fears abroad. But the new political realm also poses challenges to the Salafis who are on unfamiliar ground politically and ideologically”. To say that they pose a challenge to the supposedly emerging Middle East is an understatement. More often than not those with the loudest voices get heard the most as they tend to drown out those who are not as involved as they are in how they see the future of a society.

He goes on to argue that “keep four things in mind: their religious beliefs do not predict their political behavior; they are a minority in almost every Middle Eastern country; the countries where they are a majority are incredibly wealthy; and their appeal and power arises from their commitment to an ultraconservative creed that is out of step with the mainstream”. However he again misses the point. While he is broadly correct in stating that they are in a minority these groups are usually very well organised, eg Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which enables them to in some senses overpower all other voices. Even worse their power is enhanced as they more often than not have links, usually financial, to the countries that are wealthy which try to spread their salafism through the rest of the Middle East and beyond.

He does correctly mention “From the movement’s beginning in the 1920s until the late 1970s, Salafis preferred scholasticism, political quietism, and social programs to pressure groups and vocal dissent. They frowned on criticizing Muslim rulers and participating in parliamentary systems of government, which they believed usurped God’s role as law-giver”, adding however that “Things changed in the 1980s for some Salafis. In Saudi Arabia, a new generation of Salafis began to agitate against the royal family, pushing for a more Islamic foreign policy and conservative social reforms. In Kuwait, Salafis formed political groups and stood for elections. More ominously, some Salafis picked up arms against Muslim rulers in a jihad against “apostates” and their Western masters. All of these Salafis shared roughly the same puritanical beliefs and a desire for a state that reflects their ultraconservative values”. He goes on to discuss the various sizes of the movements adding worryingly, “a large community like the one in Egypt (3 to 5 million) can mobilize far more people and resources to compete for elected office, making it an attractive choice when a government makes it available”.

As he admits later in the article, “Kuwaiti Salafis fund a number of the charitable institutions in Egypt; the Egyptian al-Nour party drew political support from these charities in the recent parliamentary elections. Kuwaiti Salafis finance one of the major Salafi militias fighting in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham. And as mentioned earlier, it was a Saudi-funded Salafi satellite channel in Egypt that first drew attention to the Muhammad film clips”.

He interestingly notes ” Islamists did not run the governments of the Arab world (Sudan being the exception), and moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood spoke for the opposition on the religious right. Now that they are in power, the voice of the dissenting right is Salafi, which gives the Salafis leverage they never had before. But it also changes the nature of their political critique and puts them at odds with others claiming the same mantle of religion”. This is perhaps a weak spot that could be exploited to weaken them or have them return to their previous exploits. However, it would be useless if America or any “Western” backed country took this stance. Instead a proxy from inside the relevant country would have to make this point.

The world’s reserve currency, still

20/10/2012

Chinese stock markets will not overtake Wall St, for better or worse, and now its currency the yuan/renminbi, will not overtake the dollar.

Romney, China’s man in the White House?

20/10/2012

A piece argues that were Romney to win the election, China would benefit. He writes, “In 2011, the United States was China’s largest trading partner. With millions of its own jobs at stake, Beijing is not only mindful of the U.S. presidential candidates’ strong views on China’s currency, but on the bigger issue of how each would direct economic policy over the next four years”.

He adds “U.S. policies — along with issues including labor, environment, market access, and intellectual property rights — will directly affect China’s development and prosperity. That in turn will influence China’s domestic stability and perhaps even its government’s legitimacy, especially as its new leadership emerges from the November Communist Party Congress, just days after the U.S. election”. He goes on to argue “Traditionally, Republicans have favored free trade, free enterprise, and less regulation — qualities more or less compatible with China’s present state economic philosophy of development, investment, trade, entrepreneurship, and efficiency — not to mention a shared concern over the economic risk of curbing climate change”. However, this is merely a perception than anything based on facts. President Obama has been pushing the Senate to ratify free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, until it finally did so in the last few months. For all of Romney’s bluster about branding China a currency manipulator, Obama made almost the same speech in April 2008 on the campaign trail, which he has not acted on while in office. So to say the GOP would get along with China because of their economic policies is false. Similarly, the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed because President Obama agreed with the other big polluters also to blame.

He goes on to write that “If Romney does win, he will likely follow in Obama’s footsteps; after all, he’d have to think not only of the U.S. economy, but of his second term. As president, Romney should understand that China can be less a competitor than an opportunity for the United States. The current U.S. economic and financial stress is primarily an outcome of globalization and U.S. overspending, especially due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington could blame Beijing for exacerbating the U.S. financial crisis, or it could engage with China”. Yet, this is exactly the Obama administration has been doing, while dealing with a host of other international problems.

He goes on to argue that “As America’s decade-long war in Central Asia draws to an end, China and the United States will have far less need to cooperate on the anti-terrorism front. And this redistribution of resources could cause problems”, this is certainly true but he understates the possibilitiy for disagreements. Pakistan is becoming increasingly lawless which makes it an ever greater threat to America coupled with the fact that it is loosely being backed up by China makes the potential for serious rows a very real possibility.

Yet, he then seems to reverse his argument saying that “Romney’s foreign policy would not necessarily be all that great for China either. He has promised to sell more advanced weaponry to Taiwan and would likely not care to spare much time explaining America’s Asia security policy to Beijing”. This however is exactly what President Obama has done in dealing with Taiwan. America has sold the de facto country weapons upgrades but has refused to sell it new fighter aircraft to replace its ageing air arm.

He carries on mentioning that Romney’s “blunt statements, if extrapolated into policy, would be more threatening toward Beijing. Nevertheless, because it is so direct, his rhetoric would invite less illusion and misperception, which could in the end be less misleading and less frustrating”, yet there is also a need for subtly, coupled with the fact that most of Romney’s statements have been under the glare of the media while on the campaign. As ever, little real change will occur.

Another loss for AQAP

20/10/2012

A drone aircraft fired into a group of people preparing to attack Yemeni troops on Thursday, killing a man identified as a leader of the local branch of Al Qaeda and at least eight other potential attackers, according to Yemeni and security officials, who said the drone was American-operated. The strike was in an area less than a mile from a Yemeni brigade position in the southern province of Abyan, the officials said. One of the dead was identified as Nader Al Shaddadi, one of the top leaders of Al Qaeda in the region. An explosive belt wrapped around his waist was defused by members of the brigade”.

A Republican president?

20/10/2012

A piece in The Hill says that Mitt Romney is gaining ground on President Obama. The article mentions that Romney “expanded his national lead over President Obama in a key poll, but with less than three weeks left until Election Day, surveys in battleground states that could determine the contest show a tight race”.

The article goes on to say “Romney opened up a 7-point lead among likely voters in the latest Gallup daily tracking poll, gaining 52 percent support to 45 for Obama. Romney also leads 48 percent to 47 among registered voters in the survey”. The poll has a margin of error of only 2% so is much more reliable than previous polls, where the sample used was comically low. With this little time left and Romney this far ahead Obama will have to pull off a miracle to win a second term. This might be too hard for even him to do, despite his enormous, “self belief”.

The only light for Obama amid the gloom is when the report notes “A slew of swing-state polls, though, show many battleground states remain a toss-up.  A NewsMax/Zogby survey of Florida showed the president opening up a 3-point lead in the state, at 47-44 percent support. That poll is a reversal of other Sunshine State surveys released earlier in the week showing Romney with a 1-point edge”.  It goes onto say that “Two polls of Ohio also released Thursday similarly show Obama with a slight edge. A survey from conservative polling outlet Rasmussen puts Obama up 1, at 49 percent support to Romney’s 48 among likely voters in the state. A SurveyUSA poll of registered Ohio voters gives the president a wider 3-point lead”. If this latter figure is correct, Obama could deny Romney the presidency if he wins both Florida and Ohio.

The article goes on to mention “The first debate between the two presidential contenders, on Oct. 3, significantly altered the race’s momentum and propelled Romney to his first national leads of the election cycle and helped him close the gap in many swing states”, however it would seem implausible that the swing to Romney would be down to just the debate.

In a separate piece but a of little real comfort, other polls show “President Obama leads Mitt Romney in two key battleground states, according to new polling. An MSNBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Thursday evening found Obama leading Romney in Iowa, 51 to 43 percent, among likely voters. Similarly, in Wisconsin, Obama leads Romney, 51 to 45 percent, also among likely voters”.

Greece, the new Weimar

20/10/2012

Referring to the harsh reparations and rampant inflation that brought Adolf Hitler to power – and which form the root of Germany’s instinctive opposition to debt pooling in the eurozone – Mr Samaras said: ‘It’s about the cohesion of our society, which is being threatened by rising unemployment, like at the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany.’ He repeated that Greece wanted more time, not more money. ‘What we need is more time for budgetary consolidation, but not necessarily more aid,’ he said”.

An eventuality

20/10/2012

First there was omnishambles, now there is plebgate which has ended in the only place it could. In an attempt to restart his flagging government David Cameron reshuffled his Cabinet bringing in Andrew Mitchell to enforce party discipline as Chief Whip.

A timeline of events reveals the drip drip nature of the scandal. Mitchell a wealthy ex-banker called a policeman a “pleb” in an altercation in trying to leave his office. The scandal would not fade partly as a result of the Labour Party but also more recently the “1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs” debated Mitchell’s future. There seems to have been little support for Mitchell among those who he was supposedly meant to control and discipline. As a result of this and the fact that the story had not died, Cameron obviously had had enough and demanded Mitchell’s resignation.

Reports note that “Mitchell’s departure from the Government will spark a mini reshuffle – just weeks after Mr Cameron promoted Mr Mitchell in a shake-up of the Cabinet in September. It threatens to call into question the Prime Minister’s judgement in staunchly defending Mr Mitchell for several weeks”. Although this is an exaggeration it is certainly an inconveience. He was replaced by Sir George Young, Bt who had been shuffled out of Cameron’s Cabinet only to be brought back in.

The report adds “In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Mitchell said: ‘Over the last two days it has become clear to me that whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter I will not be able to fulfil my duties as we would both wish. Nor is it fair to continue to put my family and colleagues through this upsetting and damaging publicity.’ The resignation calls into question Mr Cameron’s decision to publicly and repeatedly defend Mr Mitchell for several weeks after details of his outburst were leaked. Senior ministers had privately concluded last month that the chief whip’s position was untenable as his confrontation continued to overshadow the Government’s political agenda”. The piece goes on to say “His promotion to chief whip appeared to seal his place at the heart of Mr Cameron’s team – despite Mr Mitchell’s position as campaign manager for David Davis in the last Conservative leadership contest. It is understood that the Chancellor recommended that Mr Mitchell be moved to the chief whip’s position in last month’s reshuffle”.

An opinion piece notes “Mitchell should have gone weeks ago, when it was still possible to salvage his reputation with a show of grace under fire, and spare the Prime Minister the damage he has endured. The Chief Whip, who trades on his keen understanding of the political arts, should have realised he was doomed”.

He goes on to write, “There are two wider points to consider tonight in the wake of Mr Mitchell’s resignation, and the farcical incident involving George Osborne and the train inspector. These episodes, coupled with Mr Cameron’s cavalier approach to energy policymaking, speak to an impression of careless arrogance. These guys made a lot out of the incompetence of Gordon Brown. But there are too many times for my liking when they appear to have learned nothing, to be deaf to the world around them, to be a bit to cocky. I wonder sometimes whether they are grown ups”.

This is the ultimate insult, whatever about holding views that people disagree with, to be branded incompetent, with such strong evidence backing up the claim, is something else.

More power for those who don’t use it

19/10/2012

German chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded stronger central powers for the European Commission to veto national budgets that breach EU rules, risking a clash with France at a summit of EU leaders today. Addressing parliament in Berlin hours before the 22nd summit since the start of the euro zone’s debt crisis, Dr Merkel also sought to slow the race to create a single European banking supervisor, saying quality was more important than speed.

America’s biggest threats

19/10/2012

An article argues that Iran is not the only threat faced by America.

The first of these threats is Pakistan. He writes that “You name the problem, Pakistan seems to have it: jihadist terrorism, ethnic strife, disputed borders, endemic corruption, and a weak government that seems weaker at every pass. Oh, and it has nuclear weapons, scientists who go on the road to sell them, and a series of governments that openly back the Taliban, among other nasty movements”. Indeed as has been said here before Pakistan is a failed state and without a serious concerted effort by Pakistanis the country will descend further into chaos and destabilise the rest of the region with it. He adds that “Under President George W. Bush, and then under Obama, the United States tried to work with Pakistan while at the same time never trusting it — a policy mirrored by the regime in Islamabad, which believes with good reason that the United States is a fickle ally”. However this is understandable given Pakistan’s obvious collusion with Islamic militants.

The second threat he argues faced by America is that of North Korea. China is propping up the country that continually falls into man made famine. He goes on to write “the North Korean regime often creates foreign policy crises, such as testing its missiles or picking a small fight with South Korea, to build up domestic support”. He adds that “Jennifer Lind and I have argued that the North Korean regime can survive despite the country’s poor economy, collapsing legitimacy, and god-awful political system, but the potential for serious instability or even regime collapse remains quite real”. What he omits however is that China and America both have a vested interest in keeping the country afloat. China being the paymaster, has more leverage however, but it has no desire for a unified Korea under a government in Seoul friendly to America.

The next threat he mentions is China. He describes the relationship between China and the US as “China is not an enemy of the United States. Nor is China a friend”. He goes on to say that “China’s leadership is both nationalistic and cautious, unchallenged yet suffering from declining legitimacy, eager to establish the country’s standing in the world yet prickly and at times obstructionist in solving global problems like climate change or regional problems like Syria”. He adds that the relationship with China is likely to be fundamental, this has been underlined before when others have noted that America’s greatest challenge is managing China’s long decline.

The penultimate threat he writes about is Syria and “jihadists are playing a major role in the anti-regime violence. Perhaps even scarier, Turkey and Syria are exchanging fire across their border, Iran and Hezbollah are sending fighters to aid the regime, Damascus is backing anti-Turkish Kurdish fighters, refugees are pouring into neighboring states by the tens of thousands, and the crisis threatens to radicalize the region”. He notes that “Iraq and Lebanon are particularly vulnerable” to violence as a result of Syria.

Lastly and correctly he writes that the final threat to America is in fact America. He rightly mentions “sky-high budget deficits and an unwillingness to raise taxes an iota will inevitably lead to cuts in spending on defense and intelligence”. He concludes “the American people may be reluctant to make sacrifices to ensure we have a robust foreign policy. Support for foreign aid gets lower and lower, and grinding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made Americans wary (often appropriately) about the risks of intervention. We will still have a massive military and international presence, but we will have fewer resources than before and may be less willing to use them”. Although the dangers of populist foreign policy have been flagged here before America that does not act as the world’s policeman will leave the world a much more dangerous place.

Why sequestration will not happen

18/10/2012

After the failure of the Super Committee, five reasons, laid out, as to why the cuts in the defence budget will not occur.

Banished?

18/10/2012

In two moves Pope Benedict has disptached two high profile figures from the Curia and sent them to their respective home nations.

The first appointment, announced today, means that Archbishop Joseph William Tobin, CSsR, will be the next archbishop of Indianapolis. Tobin was appointed as secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in August 2010. The main reason of his appointment was to smooth over the problems created by the prefect, Franc Cardinal Rode, CM until the arrival of a new prefect could be agreed upon. This was done in January 2011 when Archbishop Braz de Aviz was appointed.

It has been mentioned here before that in May 2011 then-Fr Tobin was appointed “to oversee the professed mens’ portion of the forthcoming Apostolic Visitation of the church in Ireland”.

As ever, Rocco has the context. He mentions that the appointment of Archbishop Tobin comes on the heels of the appointment and controversial installation of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. Rocco goes on to say that “Tobin’s potential homecoming to the Indiana post was first reported by The Tablet’s Robert Mickens in his ‘Letter from Rome’ for the London-based weekly’s 2 June edition”. Rocco writes, quoting Mickens, “Saying the match ‘would be great for the church in central and southern Indiana,’ Mickens likewise noted that – amid significant tensions between the Holy See and the nation’s sisters – losing Tobin ‘would be a blow to the Vatican’s credibility with women religious.'” Indeed, the spat between the LCWR and Rome will likely only get worse unless a compromise can be agreed. The very reason Tobin was brought to Rome was to assure the LCWR specifically, but also groups in the same mold, that Rome would listen more than it had done.

As Rocco mentions, “By all accounts, the choice of the Detroit native was intended as an olive branch to the US’ communities of women in the wake of the tensions sparked by the 2009 apostolic visitation of the nation’s non-contemplative orders of nuns. While his selection was greeted as a ‘ray of hope’ by the sisters and their supporters (and, indeed, with private sighs of relief by many American bishops), the reaction within the Roman Curia was rather different, an enduring divide highlighted by Tobin’s open admission of “ranting” about its ways”. This alone would be enough to have Tobin marked out by some Roman authorities. However, he gave his enemies more ammunition when, as Rocco says, “In a 2011 interview with Catholic News Service, Tobin said that the congregation’s handling of the visitation’s early stages had ’caused real harm,’ adding that ‘some rather unscrupulous canonical advisers’ to the orders were also to blame for fanning ‘rumors’ that Rome sought a full-scale clampdown”.

Importantly, Rocco mentions that the visitation by Rome has finished but “the Vatican’s course of action in response to the three-year study remains to emerge”. It will be interesting to see if Archbishop Tobin’s fingerprints can be seen on the Vatican document, or whether it will be purged of his input. Rocco goes on to write that Tobin “was only ever expected to last until the process had come in for a ‘smooth landing’; his return to lead an American archdiocese was well foreseen even before his ordination as a bishop” with Rocco touting Chicago as entirely possible. The fact that this did not come to pass however seems not to be the end of the matter. Rocco himself notes that, “an Indy move doesn’t necessarily preclude a further shift west; George himself served as archbishop of Portland for all of ten months before his surprise return to his hometown”. However, were such a move to occur the Congregation for Bishops would have to be questioned severly for recommending a move so quickly after Tobin’s appointmet. Instead Tobin should either remain where he is or be moved to Chicago after a suitable time has elapsed, three years or so. Rocco adds, “in a unique history for a top American post – every Chicago pick since 1939 was already an archbishop elsewhere at the time of his appointment to the Windy City”. He concludes that this is Benedict’s “22nd appointment to the nation’s 33 Latin-church archdioceses”, with the 23rd, Portland said to be nearing also.

In another report, Rocco says that the promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr Charles Scicluna has been sent back to Malta as an auxiliary bishop to the ill archbishop. He writes that his job at the CDF was “akin to a canonical ‘district attorney,’ the office’s fourth-ranking official – since 2002, following seven years at the Apostolic Signatura”. Rocco goes on to make the vital point that “What makes this move striking, however – well, among other things – is that while practically every other key alum of Joseph Ratzinger’s team at the ‘Holy Office’ has been launched from the first congregation to a prominent post in Benedict’s Curia or even beyond, at least on its surface, the nature of Scicluna’s transfer stands in something of a marked contrast”. There are naturally a slew of positions vacant that could have been given to Scicluna, not least that of secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education which has been vacant since that official was appointed archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church.

Rocco lauds “Scicluna [who] is credited with constructing the 2010 universal norms which extended the church’s statutes of limitations on reporting cases, in addition to including sexual misconduct with a disabled adult and possession of child pornography by a cleric as ecclesial crimes. Yet beyond dealing with the flood of legal work alongside the eight-member team he assembled, the monsignor has likewise played a significant role in perhaps an even bigger accomplishment: a cultural shift within a timeframe that, for Rome, has been remarkably rapid”. Rocco also notes that Scicluna has been active on other fronts while at the CDF dealing with the disgraced and scandal wracked Legionaries of Christ. Rocco closes noting one Italian headline on the move, “the hunter of pedophiles, has been hunted out of the Vatican.”

Whatever about the theory the Archbishop Tobin was banished, it would be difficult to see the removal of Scicluna as another other than a desire by some to rid themselves of the Maltese priest. Whether this is the case will be seen with the appointment of their successors. If Benedict chooses, or is forced, to choose people with a completely different style than the theory of banishment will have been proven. However, if Benedict manages to find replacements, or even a replacement, in the same mold then they will have been just shuffled out like so many other Vatican operatives. There is another senario however that cannot be discounted. Benedict likes his curialists to have pastoral experiece and Scicluna at just 53, could be back in Rome in less than a decade, the most obvious post being secretary of the Apostolic Signatura where the current occupant is 71 and must submit his resignation in four years time. Alternatively, the post of prefect, currently held by Cardinal Burke, 64, could be given to him in 11 or 12 years when Scicluna would be 64 or 65.

No visa

18/10/2012

Former U.S. ambassador to China and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman was set to give a speech in China last month, but the Chinese Communist Party government intervened and thwarted his visa application, he told Foreign Policy. ‘I was supposed to be there a month ago giving a speech, but they cancelled my visa,’ Huntsman said in an exclusive interview with FP’s resident China hand Isaac Stone Fish. Huntsman was set to speak at the World Money Show in Shanghai in September, but the Chinese government leaned on the organizers to uninvite him, he said”.

Vatican II at 50 Pt IV

18/10/2012

Continuing on from the series marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, an article in the Irish Times, written by former Joseph Ratzinger doctoral student, Vincent Twomey.

He writes “the council had three aims: the renewal of the church, Christian unity, and an opening to the contemporary world. His programme was initially greeted with euphoria”. He adds by way of context that “To understand the impact of the council, the cultural situation of the 1960s needs to be taken into account. Prosperity had replaced the austerities of the second World War. Long in preparation, the sexual revolution erupted with volcanic force. Science and technology were quite literally reaching for the stars. New nations in Africa and Asia were shaking off the shackles of their colonial masters. The first Catholic president of the US, John F Kennedy, had ushered in a new era of confidence. The Soviet Union, the other world power, led by Nikita Khrushchev, was in the process of shaking off some of its Stalinist excesses”.

In a neutral fashion he points out that “Moral theologians were trying to develop an alternative to the legalist approach found in the manuals used to train confessors. Before the council, these developments were confined to a small number of critical theologians, some of whom had been silenced by the Holy Office”, this however was an enormous change. Thankfully the mechanistic approach that Jesus himself condemned was gone, and in came a gentleness and understanding of the complexities of human life that scant attention had been paid to before.

He notes how the Council was reported in the press, that journalists “naturally tended to interpret the intense debates in the Aula of St Peter’s in political terms, namely “progressive” versus “conservative”, thus replacing the traditional terms of orthodox and heterodox. Generally speaking, it was felt that the progressives won most battles at the council, but not without conceding compromises”.

While this was accurate it is impossible to remove politics from any aspect of life, including something that was taking place in such a time of change. He goes on to ask “This led liberal theologians to promote an interpretation of the council that was more true to what they now call “the spirit of the council” rather than the letter. Soon they were calling for even more radical developments (in doctrine, liturgy, discipline and morals), more often than not echoing contemporary currents of thought. They were assured of headlines and public approval. Others felt that the council had betrayed the church’s apostolic tradition. Confusion was rife. Was the council responsible?”

He goes on to write that “Cardinal Ratzinger, though critical of aspects of the council, denied this. The damage, he said, was due to the unleashing of polemical and centrifugal forces within the church and the prevalence, outside it, of a liberal-radical ideology that was individualistic, rationalistic and hedonistic. Those centrifugal forces, Ratzinger claimed, helped to unleash the student unrest in 1968, which he experienced first hand in Tübingen”.  There is indeed much to recommend this view which is the most historically accurate.

Though the Council remains divisive within Catholicism, it rightly continues to shape the very life of the Church.

Afghanistan’s debt problem

18/10/2012

It has been noted that once America and its allies leave Afghanistan in 2014 the country will face a vast shortfall in its budget.  The scale of the problem is seen when, ” In 2010, for example, it received about $15.7 billion in development funding alone. That’s roughly equivalent to Afghanistan’s entire gross domestic product. And with $9.4 billion in public spending versus $1.65 billion in revenues in 2010-11, the country is heading off a fiscal cliff as the international community scales down its involvement ahead of transition in 2014″.

A mixed picture

18/10/2012

After a recent poll showed President Obama ahead in the polls in Ohio, there have been others that have showed a very negative picture for the incumbent.

An article mentions that “Romney has opened a 5-percentage-point lead over President Obama in the 12 battleground states that are critical to determining the outcome of the 2012 election, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday. Romney has 51 percent support among likely voters in the poll, compared to Obama’s 46 percent. Among registered voters, Obama holds a slight 49 percent to 47 percent advantage”. It goes on to add importantly that “The poll was conducted in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. There was no state-by-state breakdown of results”. Naturally enough the article goes on to mention President Obama’s reaction, “The Obama campaign quickly disputed the poll’s findings”.

However, just because the campaign disputes the findings does not mean that such a poll does not worry Obama or his staff. In separate news the campaign for the Senate seat in Massachusetts between Warren and Brown mentions that  “Warren has taken a steady lead in polls over Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in her bid to win the most hotly-contested Senate race in the country. Polls show Warren leading the incumbent by as many as six points, and she out-raised Brown by $4 million in the last fundraising quarter”.

The piece goes on to say “While Republicans and Democrats alike emphasize the race is tight and say Brown could turn moment around with a solid performance in the last debate, the money and lead make Warren a favorite in solid-blue Massachusetts, a result that would boost her party’s chances of holding a majority in the Senate”. This chimes in with the prediction that these elections will change nothing in Congress or the presidency.

The article gives a slice of the Brown campaign “Obama is expected to beat Republican Mitt Romney in Massachusetts by double digits, which forces Brown to convince thousands of voters to split their tickets. To repeat his huge surprise victory in 2010, when he won Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat months after the party elder’s death, Brown has again highlighted his image as a truck-driving, beer-drinking everyman who is independent from his party. The idea was to play off his likability — which polls suggested was his greatest strength with Massachusetts voters — while making voters dislike Warren. But in recent weeks, Brown has stumbled with that effort”.

Questions over Benghazi

16/10/2012

The events in Benghazi over the death of Christopher Stevens continue, with Vice-President Biden contradicting the State Department, Hillary Clinton saying she is to blame and the US Senate saying President Obama is, all hours before the second debate.

An Iranian proxy?

16/10/2012

After the argument of Egypt’s closeness to Qatar and Saudi Arabia has been noted here before, a question that has long been asked, and in some circles, answered, has again been posed. Is Iraq a proxy for Iran?

He opens mentioning that ” the U.S. media has highlighted Iraq’s ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran — namely, how it has helped Iran subvert the international sanctions regime and enabled Iranian support to the Syrian regime. This is leading to uncomfortable questions over whether the new Iraq is an ally of the United States, as President Barack Obama’s administration claims, or a client state of Iran, as many of its neighbors fear”.

He goes on to argue that ” To understand Iraq’s foreign policy, it is important to recognize how domestic and regional environments shape its behavior”, adding later in the piece that the Iraq war of 2003 had three unintended consequences. The first he argues is ” it dramatically shifted the regional balance of power in Iran’s favor, due to the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s vehemently anti-Iranian regime and the destruction of Iraq’s military. Iran’s resurgence, along with the extension of its influence into Arab countries, sets off a struggle for regional leadership between Iran on one side and the United States and Saudi Arabia on the other”. However, this has been tempered in recent months and years since the war by at least three events. The first being the events in Syria, which it has been speculated fairly that Iran will come worse off out of whatever takes the place of the Assad regime. The second is the Iranian backed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US. This made Iran look both unstable, and stupid all at the same time. Realist doctrine assumes states to be rational actors but with this act it makes Iran seem worryingly detached from reality. The final event is of course, Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons of which there has been much discussion.

He goes on to write in the article that the second unintended consequence was that, “the Iraq war brought about the evolution and growth of jihadi groups — Sunni extremists who were inspired to fight U.S. forces in Iraq and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Such groups see new opportunities in the Arab Spring to expand their power in the region. Although al Qaeda in Iraq has been weakened, it is threatening a revival”. This however is highly contentious. Certainly the aftermath of the war had a part to play but the groups did little they would not have done in any other circumstances.

Lastly he writes that “the war led to a bloody sectarian conflict in Iraq, as various militias competed to fill the power vacuum created by the overthrow of the Baath regime. Iraq is still emerging from this civil war: Most stakeholders are participating in the political process, but they still maintain the capacity to fight”, this is undeniably true. He adds crucially that “The fragility of the Iraqi state harms its ability to project a consistent, coherent foreign policy. Iraqi politicians are gripped primarily by the desire to protect and expand their own power and resources. To do so, they often look for foreign patrons: It is no secret that many of Iraq’s politicians take funding from neighboring countries”.

He goes on to write that “sectarianism has replaced the Palestinian cause as politicians’ most reliable means to rally support — and to distract from their own failures to deliver”. He goes on to note that some have raised questions about the future of Iraq itself, not helped by the policies of Nuri al Malaki.

He concludes “Iraq finds itself walking a tight rope, caught between the United States and Iran — as well as in the proxy war playing out between Sunni and Shiite powers in the region. Iraq’s government calculates that the United States needs it as an ally to keep oil flowing and to have it buy U.S. weapons. But as U.S. influence declines, Turkey and Iran are once more filling the power vacuum in the region. Iraqis have seen this movie before”.

51 to 46 in Ohio

16/10/2012

President Obama is leading Republican challenger Mitt Romney by five percentage points in Ohio, according to a poll released Saturday, despite surveys showing the presidential race becoming tighter in other swing states. The survey, from Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP), shows Obama leading Romney in Ohio, 51 percent to 46 percent“.

Down but not out?

16/10/2012

An article argues that al Qaeda though without its leader, is still strong. He notes that “The experiment by al-Shabab, al Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, of attempting to govern a broad area in Somalia’s south officially came to a close this weekend when its fighters fled from their final stronghold, the port city of Kismayo. Its fate in this regard mirrors that of the jihadi group’s Yemeni affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which also saw its more limited experiment in governance draw to a close in the middle of the year”.

This is primarily, though not wholly, due to the deaths in AQAP’s leader and deputy leader with success in other areas such as supporting the Yemeni state in its transition from President Salah. Yet at the same time as these groups are weakening, he argues, ” al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to hone its capabilities”.

He goes on to argue that “Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been able to control territory at times but have not found much success in doing so. Their rigidity makes them ineffective governors, unable to truly win the sympathies of populations forced to endure their harsh, dystopian brand of Islamic law”. However, America, indirectly, should use the shooting of Malala Yousafzai to show just how bad these terrorists really are. They can then use this to drive a wedge between at least Pakistan, if not others, and Pakistani’s. From this, could hopefully, flow a loss in support for Muslim extremism or at least a greater sense of tolerance of non Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, or even beyond.

He goes on to mention that “AQIM currently represents the success story in this jihadi triumvirate. After some embarrassing vacillations on the part of President Barack Obama’s administration, U.S. government analysts seem to be converging on the idea that al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa was involved in the Benghazi attack”. He goes on to say that “U.S. officials have homed in on the group in recent days, exploring ways to counter its growth, most likely through stepped-up training efforts for local partners in counterterrorism efforts, but perhaps including a direct U.S. military response”. Naturally enough this means the use of drones by the Obama administration. He goes on to describe how greater focus is being placed on “Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad — who, according to a defense analyst I interviewed, is known by the nom de guerre Abu Ahmad al-Masri — a militant who had been incarcerated in Egypt prior to the Arab Spring uprisings” adding “Ahmad is a locally based militant, and fighters under his command, who may have trained at his camps in the Libyan desert, took part in the Benghazi attack, according to U.S. officials. Ahmad has tried to officially connect with the global jihadi network, even petitioning al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri on the subject”.

He adds importantly that “Many counterterrorism specialists have argued that we are seeing the ‘relocalization of jihad,’ in which regional interests dominate over global agendas”. If this were true, and it is by no means certain, then it would be to the great benefit of the United States as it would allow to narrow its focus to the group that is causing the greatest threat.

Interestingly he writes that “prior to the Benghazi attack — the Library of Congress’s Federal Research Division published an unclassified 50-page report titled “Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile.” The report, which unfortunately is not available online, concludes that the Libyan revolution ‘may have created an environment conducive to jihad and empowered the large and active community of Libyan jihadists,’ and that both AQIM and al Qaeda’s senior leadership have attempted to exploit this environment”. He goes on to write that “Al Qaeda’s senior leadership, according to the report, had dispatched high-level operatives to Libya to bolster its network in the country”. Even this could work in America’s favour with such a high profile number of al Qaeda’s high ranking members all in one or two small areas a well timed military strike could do much to make the world a safer place.

He warns however that “Nobody should be surprised, however, that al Qaeda would attempt to keep its growth (or regrowth) hidden from view. Its use of different labels as it established a network in Libya is instructive. It wanted to be off its adversaries’ radar during this network’s growth phase. Likewise, in both Somalia and Yemen, where al Qaeda’s affiliates have recently taken a beating, the terrorist network is going to try to regain strength out of plain sight. On Oct. 2, African Union peacekeepers were greeted with a bomb blast as they entered Kismayo to take control of the former al-Shabab stronghold. Although there were no casualties, this was al-Shabab’s way of saying that, though it no longer controls territory, it is still a force in the country”. He goes on to discuss Al-Shabab break away from a group in Somalia called the Islamic Courts Union.

He again picks up the theme that these groups do not govern to help the people, he mentions that al Shabab “completely mishandled the devastating drought that racked the Horn of Africa last year, which deepened into a famine in areas under its control. The group’s dogmatic insistence on clamping down on humanitarian organizations, claiming they had a ‘Christian’ agenda, certainly made the crisis deeper. Nor did al-Shabab do itself favors with its heavy-handed tactics during this period. African Union peacekeepers, joined this time by Kenyan forces, went on an anti-Shabab offensive following the drought. As a result, al-Shabab’s experiment in governance seems to be over for the time being as it returns to the role of the insurgent force”.

He concludes with a note of caution, “These groups are done with the business of trying to govern, at least for now, and are back to doing what they do best: operating in the shadows, fighting as insurgents, and engaging in terrorist attacks”. America and its allies can now use these groups experiments in governance in a propaganda war in order to isolate these groups and choke off whatever support and funding they receive.

Need for an army

16/10/2012

Piece on the importance of an army in future conflicts. Previous posts have noted the future role of the aircraft carrier and the general thinking on what warfare will be like in the coming years.

No ordinary installation

14/10/2012

After the appointment of Salvatore Joseph Cordileone as archbishop of San Francisco, his installation and formal taking poession of the see took place. These are normally joyous and/or fairly ordinary, even mundane, affairs. However the ceremony involving Archbishop Cordileone was different. Notably some have noted that in the context of the huge tension over the appointment, the papal bull of appointment “bore pointed, unusual ref to God as ‘the Father of Compassion'”.

Rocco mentions that “In the presence of at least two cardinals, over 40 bishops, some 300 priests and a congregation of 2,000, the rites installing Salvatore Joseph Cordileone as head of the 500,000-member Church By the Bay” took place. Rocco underlines the significance of the event when he says “Usually, of course, a moment of the sort signals a light, festive spirit, auguring a “honeymoon” for the incoming prelate regardless of his challenges at hand. However, as the wider world – even in Rome – seems to understand clearly by now, this is no ordinary appointment, and the prevailing mood in the region’s ecclesial and secular quarters alike can be perceived as something considerably closer to that of a siege mentality”. Rocco goes on to report that the security for the event was extreme, “demonstrations planned by several gay-rights groups – some having voiced a desire to disrupt the liturgy – among other unusually stringent moves, tickets for the “strictly” invitation-only Mass each bear the name of their intended holder, whose identity must match up, as well as reportedly warning of potential arrest for anyone who attempts to interfere with the event. And not even the media is immune from the tightened measures; mainstream reporters will be left to cover the rites from a large-screen TV in the plaza outside the cathedral”.

Such is the trust that is placed in him by Rome Rocco notes that “it bears noting that the San Franciscan’s three-year stint in Oakland has been the shortest period by far that an American archbishop named by Benedict led his prior diocese before being promoted. For purposes of context, among all the rest of this pontificate’s top-shelf picks on these shores, a new metropolitan’s tenure in a suffragan slot has spanned anywhere from six years to a decade or longer”.

Rocco goes on to mention “In a highly unusual letter posted on his blog, San Francisco’s Episcopal leader, Bishop Mark Andrus, told his diocese that while he ‘look[s] forward to working with Archbishop-designate Cordileone when and how we can,’ his hope for common purpose could not obscure that ‘the recognition of the dignity and rights, within civil society and the church of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people, and of women are as core to our proclamation of the Gospel as our solidarity with the poor, with victims of violence and political oppression, and with the Earth.'”

However during his installation ceremony a row seems to have erupted between Cordileone and the Anglican/Episcopal bishop as Rocco notes. He writes that “in a bizarre coda to what’s already been anything but a typical installation week, following the liturgy a statement emerged from the Episcopal diocese of California in which its leader, Bishop Marc Andrus, claimed that he had been “detained” on his arrival at the cathedral, and left without being seated”.

To make matters more tense, Rocco adds that “In a response to the Associated Press about the alleged incident, the San Francisco archdiocesan spokesman said that Andrus had arrived at the cathedral only after the ecumenical and interfaith guests – who, by custom, walk at the head of the procession, before the Catholic clergy – had begun their entrance into St Mary’s, and that the Episcopal bishop was merely asked to wait until he could be seated with the group. ‘When [ushers] went to retrieve him,” the wire said, Andrus “had already left.’ ‘We had no intention of excluding him at all,’ the spokesman, George Wesolek, told the AP.”

That however was not the last of the matter. The Episcopal bishop writes in his blog that “An archdiocesan employee attempted to escort me upstairs with the Greek Orthodox group, but was stopped from doing so by the employee to whom I had first identified myself. This person, who appeared to be in a superior role, instructed another employee to stand with me. At this point no other guests remained in the downstairs area. The employee and I chatted while waiting. I began to wonder about the time holdup. I checked my phone; it was 1:50PM. I asked the employee standing with me if the service indeed started at 2, which she affirmed. At 2PM, when the service was to begin, I said to the employee, ‘I think I understand, and feel I should leave.’ Her response was, ‘Thank you for being understanding.’ I quietly walked out the door. No one attempted to stop me. No attempt was ever made to explain the delay or any process for seating. I arrived early, before the time given my assistant, and waited to leave until after the service had begun”.

It is difficult to know who is tell the truth. It would not be beyond Cordileone to make such a move however.

“Secúra tibi mente desérviant”

14/10/2012

Collect for this the 20th Sunday after Pentecost:

LARGÍRE, quæsumus Dómine, fidélibus tuis indulgéntiam placátus,  et pacem: ut páriter ab ómnibus mundéntur offénsis, et secúra tibi mente desérviant.

In Thy mercy, we beseech Thee, O Lord,  grant to Thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all
their sins and also serve Thee with a quiet mind.

Joke of the decade

14/10/2012

On Friday 12 October the Nobel Committee announced that they had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union who have  “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe,” said the Nobel prize committee. Such an explanation shows a lack of caring or total ignorance at the current crisis that has beset the European continent. Open Europe compares the prize to an ageing actor getting a lifetime achievement award, “You can almost picture the actor (the ‘EU’ in this case) – dragging themselves up onto the stage to collect their award despite having since gone through several broken marriages, a series of stays in rehab, and a ton of plastic surgery. It’s all for show – but we can’t help but feel it’s a bit sad at the same time”.

Press reports have noted that “In its citation the Nobel committee acknowledged that the EU was today facing turmoil as the economic defects of the euro have laid waste to many Southern European countries and have plunged all Europe into the worst recession for 80 years”. The report goes on to mention “Merkel, the German Chancellor, hailed the choice, and insisted that efforts to save the euro with the imposition of controversial austerity policies was part of the EU’s tradition as a peace project. ‘I often say that the euro is more than a currency and we should not forget that in these weeks and months we spend working to strengthen the euro. The euro is more than a currency because at the end of the day it is about the original idea of a union of peace and of values,’ she told reporters”. The irony of course is that the euro has become the very opposite to all of this peace and values that Merkel blindly talks about. Even worse some have argued that Europe is repeating exactly what it did to Germany after the First World War to Greece and other bankrupt nations and not learning the lessons of history.

In a moment of hilarity, the piece notes “behind the celebrations, a typical EU turf war broke out between Mr Barroso, Mr Van Rompuy and Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, over which EU president should collect the prize. In a bid to settle the squabble, Cecilia Malmstrom, Sweden’s European Commisisoner, suggested on Twitter that sending 27 children from each of the EU countries to Oslo would be the solution”.

Some however seem to think the prize is a good idea. A piece from the think tank, Chatham House argues that “The EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, was born in the pock-marked terrain of a shattered continent. It was conceived of as an experiment in peace”. He goes on lauding the EU noting “It took, a man with a mission, Jean Monnet, to chart a better way, this time marrying idealism with raw national interest and persuading European leaders, notably those of France and Germany, to will the means as well as the ends – namely the partial pooling of sovereignty in common institutions and a system of law, binding on all”. Yet, it is clear that binding on all really means binding on everyone except France and Germany. Both of these nations broke their deficit limits of 3% of GDP and nothing happened. The sycophancy continues when he writes, “Unquestionable, was the EU’s magnetism and power of example, with a vocation to extend stability and prosperity to its east, through enlargement, and even to its south, through trade, aid and cooperation. It was a vision of peace writ large”. The only thing that was magnetic about the EU was its huge bank book luring nations in with the promise of funds.

In an article in Foreign Policy more richly deserved criticism is meted out to the EU. He writes “the descent of the Nobel Peace Prize into parody or, failing that, pastiche continues. Plainly, this honor awarded in this year of all years is little more than a sympathy note designed to offer some cheer to the eurozone in a time of perpetual, irresolvable crisis. How much this will encourage Greeks or Spaniards or the Irish is, of course, a matter of some doubt”.

He gets to the nub of the issue when he says “there is also a plausible argument to be made that the EU is now the biggest driver of political extremism on the continent. The great gulf between Northern and Southern Europe widens by the day. As it does, resentment increases as the efforts to save the eurozone inflict ever greater pain upon the feckless, unhappy countries on the Mediterranean littoral. The protests against German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Greece this week could be but a modest harbinger of things to come. Like never before in its history, the EU is under pressure. It is easy to see how it might crack or explode”. Again he makes the extremely valid point, “this is the kind of award you make when you can’t think of anything more useful or any more plausible recipient”.

He adds “Not that awards to individuals necessarily cut a better class of mustard. Barack Obama‘s 2009 prize was further beyond satire than even Henry Kissinger‘s”. Yet, President Obama’s award was met, ironically, with a stunning tour de force lecture on the need and usefulness of war. The article goes on to say “Never before had the award been bestowed just for turning up or, more accurately, for not being George W. Bush. If Obama’s was the most egregious prize in recent memory, that awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was little better because, no matter how worthy their respective efforts, it was difficult to discern what this had to do with matters of war and peace”. So is the Nobel Peace Prize being diminished by being so nakedly partisan? The answer must be an emphatic yes.

He tackles the dangerously popular myth that were it not for the EU the European continent would have gone to war with itself again. He argues, “It is true that Southern (Portugal, Spain, Greece) and Eastern Europe have embraced democracy like never before in their histories, and it’s true as well that the carrot of EU membership and assorted other benefits has played a role in this process. The EU’s allure has surely played a part in moving the former Yugoslavia toward a more peaceful, civilized future — and even in nudging poor, unwanted Turkey toward democratic reforms”. He adds importantly however that Africa and Asia have moved from war to democracy without the help of the EU.

He ends the article “France and Germany, antagonists for so long, can hardly imagine fighting one another again. Again, the EU — which began life as a series of coal and steel agreements signed by Bonn and Paris — has helped end centuries of mutual suspicion and hostility. But it might also simply be the case that the horrors of the 20th century convinced even the most bellicose German or Frenchman that further conflicts between their respective countries could only end in even greater calamity”.

He concludes “the EU or, more precisely, the eurozone, has become a suffocating monster squeezing the life from economies with little enough room to breathe as it is. In Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and, perhaps soon enough, Italy too, this award can only be seen as a comedian’s black joke”.