Archive for November, 2012

Where Rice stands

29/11/2012

Positions of Dr Susan Rice on interventionism, Israel, Iran and human rights.

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A new British media?

29/11/2012

Having heard evidence from the victims of phone hacking, Lord Justice Leveson has produced his 2,000 page report and recommendations.

Lord Justice Leveson has recommended that a statutory regulator be established, “with the power to fine newspapers up to £1m or 1 per cent of turnover for breaching a new code of conduct” and that this regulator will have an “arbitration system to enable wronged parties to seek swift redress by way of a prominent apology and fines, if appropriate”. In addition to the the report recommends the establishment of a “Whistleblowing hotline for journalists who believe they are being put under pressure to breach the new code of conduct, and legal protection to prevent them being victimised for doing so” while at the same time allowing “Ofcom to carry out reviews every two years of how the new regulator is working and to act as backstop regulator if publishers refuse to sign up to new body”.

Regarding the relationship between the media and politicians, the report notes that there was “No evidence of a “deal” between David Cameron and News International to trade policy favours for positive news coverage” but it also criticises Labour “for introducing a culture of ‘spin’ in Government”. Leveson recommends that “Party leaders, ministers and Opposition front benchers should declare long-term relationships with newspaper editors and executives”. Indeed it is quite extraordinary that such regulations do not already exist. However, while there is an element of “after the horse has bolted” it is certainly a sensible move that should be implemented swiftly.  Leveson also recommends that “Details of all meeting with editors, proprietors and media executives to be published on a quarterly basis, with a summary of what was discussed”.

However, the political fallout from the report is just beginning. In the already highly charged atmosphere, reports mention that Leveson “said the press had caused ‘real hardship’ to members of the public as it chased stories and had been guilty of ‘outrageous’ behaviour at times. He recommended a new independent press watchdog, underpinned by legislation, but insisted that such a measure did not amount to state control of the press. In a lengthy televised statement which followed the publication of his report into media standards, he said that “press freedom in Britain, hard won over 300 years ago” should not be jeopardised. But he said that any system of self-regulation amounted to “the industry marking its own homework” and so a new system of independent regulation was vital”.

However Leveson’s language did not go far enough, the press, especially the tabloid press, ignored all basic morality and decency and destroyed families that were already suffering greatly, all for the purpose of selling more newspapers, and not for any “public good”.The article adds “On too many occasions, however, such as in the hacking of the mobile phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, which prompted the Leveson Inquiry, the press had treated the rights of ordinary people with ‘disdain'”. The piece adds that Leveson “pointed out that his Inquiry was the seventh time in less than 70 years that such issues had been addressed. ‘No-one can think it makes any sense to contemplate an eighth,’ he added”.

Yet again however there is a split in the coalition government. Nick Clegg has called for greater rules while Prime Minister David Cameron has seemingly withdrawn from full backed of Leveson’s recommendations. An article mentions that Cameron “said he has “serious misgivings and concerns” about state regulation of the press, after the judge today said there should be new laws creating a newspaper watchdog. In a major divergence of views, Mr Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, said he believes changing the law is “the only way to guarantee” that the press is kept in check after the phone-hacking scandal. Their disagreement raises the possibility that the Liberal Democrats could team up with Labour to bring in a new press watchdog backed by statute. Despite the threat to the Coalition, Mr Cameron spoke out in the House of Commons against any regulation that has ‘the potential to infringe on free speech’. Of course, such language is ludicrous as it exaggerates and merely closes down debate.

The article notes that Cameron “said a new system that “complies with the Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly” but he does not believe laws are necessary to do so. ‘I’m not convinced that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives,’ he said”.  The article ends that Cameron “supported plans to record meetings between journalists, senior police officers and politicians. However, he said the whole House of Commons must think carefully before taking the ‘enormous step’ of bringing in laws setting up a new press watchdog”. Again Cameron either does not understand the gravity of what has occurred or worse, is ignoring the issue for the benefit of a tiny sector of the media.

The left wing Guardian takes a different line. The main article says “Cameron has rejected the central proposal of the Leveson inquiry, for a statutory body to oversee the new independent press regulator, warning that legislation could ultimately infringe on free speech and a free press. Risking the wrath of the victims of phone hacking, he said Britain would be crossing the Rubicon by writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. He said parliament had been the bulwark of democracy over the centuries and MPs should think very carefully before crossing such a line”. The paper here rightly highlights the plight of those affected by phone hacking instead of the quite reasonable proposals put forward that have been attacked on spurious freedom of the press grounds. Similar reports from the Guardian again note the response of the victims, “Cameron has been accused of “ripping the heart and soul” out of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry and betraying victims of press abuse by rejecting the judge’s recommendation for a statutory body to oversee the new independent press regulator”. Finally, an article discusses the winners and losers from the report.

Secretary Hagel?

29/11/2012

As Susan Rice’s potential nomination begins to face difficulties, President Obama looks elsewhere, in former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE).

The path to success?

29/11/2012

An article about the future direction of the Republican Party argues that it must adhere to Catholic social teaching and the common good and move away from the sinful individualism that has plagued it, and so many other political parties.

It mentions that “The Catholic Church, a politically and ethnically sprawling institution, has no natural home on the American ideological spectrum. Neither major party combines moral conservatism with a passion for social justice. So Catholic leaders have often challenged Democrats to be more pro-life and Republicans to be more concerned about immigrants and the poor”.

The article goes on to mention “President Obama’s first term was a period of unexpected aggression against the rights of religious institutions. His Justice Department, in the Hosanna-Tabor case, argued against the existence of any “ministerial exception” to employment rules. Obama tried to mandate that Catholic schools, hospitals and charities offer insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. His revised policy still asserts a federal power to declare some religious institutions secular in purpose, reducing them to second-rate status under the First Amendment”.

It goes on to note “On top of this, Obama ran a stridently pro-abortion re-election campaign, seeking culture-war advantage on an issue he seldom mentioned four years ago”. However this was largely, though not completely, because of President Obama’s fear of losing the votes of women which he momentarily lost in the campaign. Obama used abortion to his advantage while at the same time as using it as a weapon to attack Romney and strengthen his advantage with women’s vote.

He makes the interest point, “Catholics have a historical advantage in understanding the imperative of inclusion in modern politics. They belong, after all, to an institution that has been multicultural since Peter first set foot in Rome. But white evangelicals are now getting their own education in coalition politics. They gave Mitt Romney a remarkable 79 percent of their vote—the same share that George W. Bush received in 2004 — while comprising a larger percentage of the electorate than they did 2004. But their energy and loyalty were rendered irrelevant—washed away—by GOP failures among other groups”.

He ends the piece “Outreach is not done in a single awkward lunge. It will involve more than endorsing comprehensive immigration legislation, though that is necessary. Hispanic voters have a series of concerns typical of a poorer but economically mobile community: working schools, college access, health care, a working safety net. Republicans will need to offer policy alternatives on these issues—defining an active, market-oriented role for government. Perhaps the greatest Republican need is to embrace and demonstrate some other sound Catholic teachings: a commitment to the common good and a particular concern for the poor and vulnerable. This might appeal to Hispanics — and others”.

SSPX status

29/11/2012

It has been said before but it should again be emphasised, Pope Benedict has said “As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church”.

Alienating everyone

29/11/2012

China as ever seems to be intent on angering all of its neighbours and isolating itself in the process. The latest move by China is to do with their passports.

Reports mention that the countries around Asia “are seething with anger over new Beijing-issued passports that they see as the latest, underhand, Chinese jab in an ongoing regional row about maritime territory. Beijing has infuriated India, too, with its e-passports, decorated with a map of China that shows disputed territories across the South China Sea – and Himalayan land that New Delhi claims – as belonging to China. Vietnam is refusing to stamp the new passports with visas, for fear that to do so would imply acceptance of China’s claims. The Indian consulate in Beijing is stamping its own map of the disputed border when it affixes visas to the new passports”.

One can only assume such things do not happen by accident but that China wanted to deliberately anger its neighbours. The recent spike in these kind of incidents suggest the ultra-nationalists within the CCP are pushing hard for a tougher stance on China’s neighbours and America. Despite the fact that this stance is not grounded in any reality. Secondly and perhaps most worryingly of all it does not seem to understand China’s inherent weakness. If this supposed strength made China act strong while in reality it was weak it could, and to some extent, is miscalculating. Therefore to say it lacks realism is somewhat of an understatement.  From this it could act it a way that would bring turmoil to the region, but also itself.

The article goes on to say “The Vietnamese government says it has sent a diplomatic note to Beijing asking the Chinese government to remove ‘erroneous content’ from the new passports. The Chinese government began issuing the passports, which contain an electronic chip with the holder’s personal data, last April. It is believed to have handed out more than 5 million of them, but the map began stirring controversy only a few days ago”.

Either China will quietly back down and stop issuing any more of the passports in which case it will have alienated most of Asia and looked foolish for having issued the passports in the first place, or, alteratively it will refuse and create a diplomatic row between it and the rest of Asia, but particularly Vietnam.

The article goes on to mention “The map of China, on page 8 of the new passports, shows a dotted line to illustrate China’s territorial claim to almost the whole of the South China Sea, which puts it in conflict with a number of its neighbors, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Washington has dismissed the map as irrelevant”.

The article end reminding readers about the dispute with the Philippines recently, in addition to  “In June, the state owned Chinese oil company CNOOC invited foreign firms to bid for exploration rights in an area close to Vietnam’s coast. A month later Beijing announced that it was upgrading the town of Sansha, in the Paracel Islands, which it seized from Vietnam in 1974, to the status of a prefecture-level municipality and would soon station troops there”.

Lastly others have noted “Asean insiders are warning that the political calculus now under way is not quite that simple, as Southeast Asia finds itself drawn into the wider Sino-US strategic rivalry. China is set to face mounting challenges from the grouping over the South China Sea as Cambodia’s controversial year as Asean host and chair comes to an end. As difficult as it may have been, Cambodia’s year may be as a good as it gets for Beijing – in the short term at least. Cambodia – a long-time benefactor of Chinese aid and development efforts – has been accused of doing China’s bidding in recent months in working to stall Asean’s intensifying focus on maritime territorial disputes. China, it must be remembered, wants ultimately to settle specific disputes with individual claimant countries – something most analysts believe would give a clear advantage to Beijing”.

Finally others write “Hostility towards any Japanese great power behavior has been another longtime diplomatic staple of the Asia/Pacific.  That norm also appears to be eroding fast. Does this make any difference?  Well, yes.  As Fackler notes, Japan has the 6th largest defense budget in the world.  India, Australia and South Korea aren’t exactly defense midgets either.  The more that Beijing pushes the rest of the Pacific Rim into the arms of the United States, the more Washington’s job becomes one of policy coordinator rather than policy provider”.

Unconcerned

27/11/2012

“the Chinese navy was busy conducting its first ever takeoffs and landings from its brand new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with brand-new J-15 fighter jets. Some observers have hailed this as the start of a new era in naval history while others aren’t so impressed. So far, the U.S. Defense Department seems unconcerned. ‘We are aware of media reports that the Chinese successfully landed an aircraft on the deck of a carrier,’ said Pentagon press secretary George Little during a briefing with reporters this morning. ‘This would come as no surprise. We’ve been monitoring Chinese military developments for some time'”.

“Monarchism still mattered”

27/11/2012

There has been much discussion about the role of monarchy in the Islamist revolutions.

An article supports the exceptionalism of monarchy argument, it notes “The strong correlation between monarchism and survival suggests, of course, that monarchism had something (or everything) to do with it. Some scholars, however, have argued the success of the monarchs does not have much to do with their monarchism, but can be traced to other factors, especially oil and foreign support. These factors are not irrelevant, but monarchism still mattered”.

He argues that “monarchs benefited, first, from their ability to promise reform and, second, from the sense amongst their citizens that, while not ideal, monarchical rule was better than the republican alternatives. These factors, however, are not permanent”. At the same time he warns “It may be that monarchs start one step ahead of presidents because they can wrap themselves in tradition more easily (especially when passing power to their sons) but there is no good reason to suppose that Arab monarchs enjoy some sort of permanent lease on the affections of their people”.

He adds “it is hard to attribute the monarchs’ good fortune only to oil. Libya has oil wealth, and Qaddafi nonetheless faced a widespread rebellion. The oil deprived kings of Morocco and Jordan still rule their kingdoms”. He makes the very valid point that “Are Saudis really so easily bought so that some additional spending on housing and salaries will keep them off the streets, despite the many faults of their rulers? What made the demonstrations in the republics different from those in the monarchies was that demonstrators hated their presidents but retained some measure of respect for their kings”.

This is not just down to the cult of personality that is throughout the Middle East in monarchies and republics alike but he has hit something more substantial with this point. There is something in monarchies, besides their oil wealth, that has made them more stable, for now. As he mentions, “Bahrain, the monarchy that suffered the most serious protests, illustrates the point. It is the monarchy in which the ruling family enjoys the least support amongst its people — or, to be precise, amongst the Shiite majority of the Bahraini citizenry. Most ruling families attempt to balance among the various identity groups within their societies, or at least the larger ones. Bahrain’s Al Khalifa instead have built a regime on the basis of the repression of the Shiites. And so the Shiites rose up in the spring of 2011. Given the family nature of the regime, and its powerful foreign friends, there never was much prospect that the Al Khalifa would lose power altogether. But it was not surprising that Bahrain was the monarchy with the strongest protests”.

He ends “factor also helped the monarchs: they could make credible promises to implement political reforms. The king of Morocco treated the Arab Spring like a five alarm fire — and in his first speech, he promised a slew of reforms to steal away the momentum from the protesters on the streets of Morocco’s cities. It worked, in part because his promises were at least somewhat plausible. Compare his strategy to the plight of the Mubarak regime”.

These traits do not make monarchy impervious to the changes that are sweeping the region however.

“Raising new doubts”

27/11/2012

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice failed Tuesday to convince Republican senators that she’s not to blame for providing misleading information about the attack in Benghazi, Libya — raising new doubts about her potential nomination to be secretary of State“.

The new contenders?

27/11/2012

In an interesting piece on the recent consistory, John Allen mentions that “One bit of proof that this consistory belonged to the whole world, and not just the West, is that the Lebanese contingent celebrating Raï’s red hat included a delegation from Hezbollah, which is seen in the West as a terrorist group but which functions in Lebanon as a political party and mainstream social movement. Each consistory tends to have its rock star cardinal, the one guy who towers over the others in terms of media appeal, the size of the crowds he draws, and so on. This time the rock star was probably Tagle, mostly because he’s seen as ‘the great Asian hope,’ meaning the most credible contender from his part of the world to become pope someday”.

This is perhaps a tad optimistic as Cardinal Tagle’s age is discounts him, for now. Allen goes on to note “the reception was a celebration of the 68-year-old Onaiyekan’s career. Appointed to lead the church in Abuja, the national capital, in 1992, Onaiyekan has long been seen as among the best and brightest of the African bishops – not only a spiritual leader but a tribune of the African people, a de facto voice for civil society in African affairs”.

Meanwhile Rocco notes that the College of Cardinals is becoming ever more Benedictine. He mentions a piece he wrote in 2010 about the growing number of cardinals Pope Benedict is appointing, he writes, “This rapid turnover of the College presents the specter of a scenario that could end up being a rather pointed last word on John Paul’s legacy: the distinct — and, with time, ever-growing — possibility that one of Karol Wojtyla’s chosen cardinals will never don the papal white”.

This idea is however tempered by the fact that two of the leading candidates, Angelo Cardinal Scola and Marc Cardinal Ouellet are both cardinals appointed by John Paul II.

Rocco then brings it up to the present day “the master-count now stands at 53 electors chosen by John Paul, to 67 by Benedict.  On age-outs alone – read: barring deaths – fifteen more voting slots will open by the end of March 2014, giving Joseph Ratzinger the potential of filling at least 82 seats in a hypothetical Conclave by that point. (For the less numerical, that’s all of 15 months away.)
In an electoral college numbering the statutory maximum of 120, a supermajority of 80 – two-thirds, without the former plus-one – is required to elect a Pope. Should no new red hats be made by then and the dreaded, rightly fearful need arise, the requisite margin to pick Peter’s successor would be 70 or less”.

He ends, fascinatingly , “That said, it bears recalling how, at February’s intake – clearly seeing the number of impending vacancies ahead – a Papa Ratzinger who had previously been a rigid follower of Paul VI’s 1975 Conclave-cap expanded the potential electorate to 125 cardinals, a full eleven of whose spots would come open before the most recent Consistory was held, before quickly being replenished in this go-round. In other words, as Popes get older, they tend to get bolder… and over the next 18 months, even more than usual, anything is possible”.

“This is policy”

27/11/2012

in an interview on the eve of his departure, Bishop-elect Charles Scicluna insisted he wasn’t the latest casualty in the Vatican’s turf battles and Machiavellian personnel intrigues. Rather, he said, his promotion to auxiliary bishop in his native Malta was simply that — “a very good” promotion — and more critically, that his hardline stance against sex abuse would remain because it’s Benedict’s stance as well. “This is policy,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s not Scicluna. It’s the pope. And this will remain.” Besides, he said laughing over tea at a cafe on Rome’s posh Piazza Farnese, “If you want to silence someone, you don’t make him a bishop.”

A reformed GOP?

25/11/2012

As part of a number of articles covering the GOP since the end of the elections in November, a piece examines where the GOP might go from here. An piece in The Hill discusses where the party should go having suffered defeat.

The article notes “Many prominent figures insist that the scale of the party’s defeat makes the need for a rapid and sweeping overhaul self-evident. But other conservatives caution against a panicked jettisoning of established principles. ‘We can argue back and forth about policies. But it’s not possible to argue against the math of a changing electorate, said Republican consultant Jon McHenry, whose firm North Star Opinion Research numbers Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) among its clients”.

The piece goes on to mention “The flurry of advice, from within and outside the party, has been organized around a handful of main themes, including the one alluded to by Robinson: The party should moderate its stance and its rhetoric on illegal immigration so as to diminish its deficit among Hispanic voters, the modernizers say. They add that the GOP needs to be more muscular in ensuring that its policies — and, perhaps more importantly, its overall attitudes — are not viewed through the negative lens provided by Democrats.  This goes both for social and economic policy. Insiders fret that the past election cycle saw Democrats inflict real damage by labeling the GOP as hostile to women’s rights and as the party of the rich rather than the aspirational middle class”.

Indeed, if the GOP were to moderate their rabid neoliberal, endlessly tax cutting policies, America as a whole would benefit, to say nothing of the GOP itself. The piece goes on to add “Republicans must get better at utilizing new technology to identify and micro-target potential supporters, they say — while at the same time adding heft to the ground-game operations that get people to the polls on Election Day”.

The article ends “there is a parallel argument between those who seek swift unity, albeit around a modified party platform, and those who emphasize the need for a frank (and possibly prolonged) internal debate. The latter camp includes some unexpected members, including Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who recently advocated “a few years of healthy, spirited, and fruitful disorganization” and suggested that the GOP should be open to raising taxes. Even some in the modernizing camp were startled by Kristol’s suggestion — made on Fox News the weekend after the election — that ‘it won’t kill the country if Republicans raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.”

As with most things however a balance must be struck.

Harvey as pope?

25/11/2012

Some have naively speculated that Cardinal Harvey could be elected pope. There is however much against him.

Morsi’s power grab

25/11/2012

Somewhat earlier than expected, and in a way that was not expected, President Morsi of Egypt has made himself sole ruler of Egypt. In a series of decrees, Morsi has given himself vast powers. He has immunised his decrees from challenge and seeking to protect the work of the constituent assembly drafting the new constitution while at the same time as given the assembly a further two months. Apparently, the decree also allows him to take any measures he pleases that he feels necessary to protect the revolution.

The Washington Post reports that “The edicts by Morsi, which were issued Thursday, have turned months of growing polarization into an open battle between his Muslim Brotherhood and liberals who fear a new dictatorship. Some in the opposition, which has been divided and weakened, were now speaking of a sustained street campaign against the man who nearly five months ago became Egypt’s first freely elected president”. The piece goes on to report, “Liberals and secular Egyptians accuse the Brotherhood of monopolizing power, dominating the writing of a new constitution and failing to tackle the country’s chronic economic and security problems”, the same piece adds “Security forces pumped volleys of tear gas at thousands of pro-democracy protesters clashing with riot police on streets several blocks from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, birthplace of the Arab Spring, and in front of the nearby parliament building”.

The justification for such acts, the article says, is that “the old regime are holding up progress toward democracy. They have focused on the judiciary, which many Egyptians see as too much under the sway of Mubarak-era judges and prosecutors and which has shaken up the political process several times with its rulings, including by dissolving the lower house of parliament, which the Brotherhood led”. Not suprisingly, the piece mentions “Morsi aide Samer Marqous, a Coptic Christian, resigned to protest the ‘undemocratic’ decree”. Indeed, Morsi recently refused to attend the enthronement of the newly elected Coptic Orthodox pope, instead sending a representative.

Others write that “Although the opposition has called for a ‘million man march, recent street demonstrations on the streets of Cairo have been small in comparison with the vast protests that swamped the city during its revolution last year. ‘This is a coup against legitimacy. We call on all Egyptians to protest in all of Egypt’s squares on Friday,’ Sameh Ashour, head of the Egyptian Lawyers syndicate told a news conference called with two of Morsi’s prominent political opponents, Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei“. Indeed, El Baradei, long favoured by secularists, went so far as to call Morsi the new pharaoh.

The Telegraph mentions that “Morsi also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmud, whom he failed to oust last month, amid strong misgivings among the president’s supporters about the failure to secure convictions of more members of the old regime. He appointed Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah to replace Mahmud and, within minutes of the announcement, the new prosecutor was shown on television being sworn in”.

The Hill reports “In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Morsi’s actions go against the ‘the aspirations of the revolution’ in 2011 that led to the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.  ‘One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution,’ Nuland said”.

Can there be any doubt that the Arab revolutions are now being used by Islamists to seize control in Egypt, and perhaps, soon Syria. Where will the Middle East turn next?

Christie 2016?

25/11/2012

Following reports that Jeb Bush is considering campaigning for the presidency in 2016, governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie is also considering a campaign, “if rumours are true and the booming Republican governor does indeed plan to seek the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016, he’ll need to perform an impressive circus trick: both building off the centrist support he’s earned in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and repairing relations with an increasingly skeptical Republican base that sees his embrace of President Obama just days before the election as a betrayal”.

Consistory November 2012:titles and deaconries

24/11/2012

The ordinary public consistory for the creation of new cardinals took place today. Unlike the previous consistories held by Pope Benedict there was no pre-consistory meeting. Pope Benedict’s homily is available here. Rocco notes that “despite the traditional enjoinders against piping up, today’s crowd was considerably more lively than its recent predecessors, which seemed to reflect the Pope’s repeatedly-stated aim this time of infusing a beleaguered Vatican with a shot of the ‘church of Pentecost'”.  Below are the titles and deaconries given to the new cardinals today which makes them historical successors to the clergy of Rome.

  • James Michael Cardinal Harvey: Cardinal-Deacon of San Pio V a Villa Carpegna
  • Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï, O.M.M., Cardinal-Bishop [no suburbican see as not Latin rite cardinal]
  • Baselios Cleemis Cardinal Thottunkal: Cardinal-Priest of San Gregorio VII
  • John Olorunfemi Cardinal Onaiyekan: Cardinal-Priest of San Saturnino
  • Jesus Rubén Cardinal Salazar Gómez: Cardinal-Priest of San Gerardo Maiella
  • Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle: Cardinal-Priest of San Felice da Cantalice a Centocelle

Interestingly, this is the first consistory since 2006 where Pope Benedict has decided to assign no new titles or deaconaries. Secondly, in choosing to give the title of San Gregorio VII to Cardinal Thottunkal, he has ensured that the youngest cardinal in the College will hold it for decades. The first holder, Eugênio Cardinal de Araújo Sales who served as archbishop of Rio was a cardinal for 43 years having been assigned the new titular church by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

Rocco mentions “Snubbed in this Consistory list, CDF chief +Muller didn’t attend today’s rites for new cardinals, going instead to Malta”  to attend the ordination of Charles Scicluna. In a blog post Rocco notes that importance of the youngest cardinal in the entire College, Baselios Cleemis Cardinal Thottunkal of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. He writes “it bears noting that this morning brought the elevation of the youngest member of the Pope’s Senate in the figure of the 53 year-old head of India’s Syro-Malankara Catholics, now Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, shown above making the rounds following his induction”.

Rocco adds “Granted self-governing status only in early 2005 – and, thus, Catholicism’s youngest sui iuris Eastern church – the first-ever red hat for the 600,000-member community comes as a rather rapid triumph on several accounts. Over the last two decades, all of two clerics were younger still on entering the College: the Hungarian primate Peter Erdö (now head of the European bishops’ conference) at 51 in 2003 and Sarajevo’s Vinko Puljic, who John Paul II elevated at 49 in 1994 as the late pontiff’s sign of solidarity with the war-torn city, to which he was unable to travel amid the conflict over the breakup of Yugoslavia”. Rocco goes on to write ” Cleemis is a full two years’ junior to the next-youngest “prince” of the church, Manila’s Chito Tagle, who was likewise created today. As previously noted, the “50 barrier” last broken by Puljic is next expected to lift in the mid-term future with the all-but-certain elevation of the leader of the largest Eastern fold: the major-archbishop of the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, 42 year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk”. There are questions concerning when the UGCC head will become a cardinal. Some have said that his predecessor  Cardinal Husar will become 80 next year, thus they say, Shevchuk will become a cardinal at the consistory next year. However, 2014 is another possible date that should not be ruled out. Rocco closes the profile of Thottunkal by saying “In a 2003 speech to the church’s Synod – which elected Thottunkal as its de facto patriarch in February 2007 – John Paul II lauded it as Catholicism’s “fastest-growing” branch worldwide”. Others have commented “With today’s mini Consistory, Benedict XVI pointed towards an exit from the Vatileaks scandal, he “purified” the ecclesiastical hierarchies corrupted by scandal and outlined the characteristics of his successor: non-European and a pastor of persecuted communities”.

The next questions that are to be answered are, what assignments that new cardinals receive, and secondly,  when will the next consistory take place. The College of Cardinals is now at its canonical limit of 120 but it will drop to 119 on 8 December when Eusébio Oscar Cardinal Scheid turns 80. Next year an additional 10 cardinals will turn 80.

New archpriest

23/11/2012

Francesco Cardinal Monterisi was been formally retired from his post as archpriest  of the Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura and Archbishop James Michael Harvey appointed to replace him in time for the consistory tomorrow. No replacement at the Pontifical Household was named.

Death of the dream

23/11/2012

Confirmation has finally come after many years suspecting it, the American Dream is dead, and has been for decades.

An article in Foreign Affairs argues this and elobrates on this theme. She argues that during the recent presidential campaign both GOP and Democrats wanted to promote opportunity. She notes that “In remarks in Chicago in August, Obama called for an ‘America where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter who you love, you can make it here if you try.’ The same month, he urged the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in public universities, putting his weight behind what has been a mainstay of U.S. equal opportunity legislation since the 1960s. Days later, the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, echoed Obama’s sentiment, saying, ‘We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.’ Romney, too, argued that whereas Obama ‘wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society,'”

She mentions that “one of the United States’ major successes in the last half century has been its progress toward ensuring that its citizens get roughly the same basic chances in life, regardless of gender or race”. She adds “women are more likely to graduate from college than men” as well as some other related statistics. Yet these results are mainly from the Great Compression in the 1950s and 1960s. However, since the 1970s and 80s worldwide inequality has risen sharply since the rise of neoliberalism and effectively zero regulation. She adds that “As gender and race have become less significant barriers to advancement, family background, an obstacle considered more relevant in earlier eras, has reemerged. Today, people who were born worse off tend to have fewer opportunities in life”.

The article goes on to add that ” there is general consensus among social scientists on a few basic points. First, an American born into a family in the bottom fifth of incomes between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s has roughly a 30 percent chance of reaching the middle fifth or higher in adulthood, whereas an American born into the top fifth has an 80 percent chance of ending up in the middle fifth or higher. (In a society with perfectly equal opportunity, every person would have the same chance — 20 percent — of landing on each of the five rungs of the income ladder and a 60 percent chance of landing on the middle rung or a higher one.) This discrepancy means that there is considerable inequality of opportunity among Americans from different family backgrounds”. She the goes on to mention, not suprisingly, that “The United States has less relative intergenerational mobility than eight of them; Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all do better. The United States is on par with France and Italy”.

She makes the point that education in America was greatly expanded in the 50s and 60s which raised living standards for people, yet she adds “The share of poorer children growing up with both biological parents has fallen sharply, whereas there has been less change among the wealthy. About 88 percent of children from high-income homes grow up with married parents. That is down from 96 percent four decades ago. Meanwhile, only 41 percent of poorer children grow up in homes with married parents, down from 77 percent four decades ago. That has hurt poorer children’s chances of success”.

Indeed this social and familial decay is becoming increasingly prevelant in more developed countries as the corrosive force of individualism eats into society. This both attacks the family as well as people seeking to start a family with the relentless drive for money which has now proven to be socially and morally corrosive.

She argues that “Low-income parents are not able to spend as much on goods and services aimed at enriching their children, such as music lessons, travel, and summer camp. Low-income parents also tend to read less to their children and provide less help with schoolwork” adding that this trend is seen again, “According to data compiled by Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s School of Education, the gap in average test scores between elementary- and secondary-school children from high-income families and those from low-income families has risen steadily in recent decades. Among children born in 1970, those from high-income homes scored, on average, about three-quarters of a standard deviation higher on math and reading tests than those from low-income homes. Among children born in 2000, the gap has grown to one and a quarter standard deviations. That is much larger than the gap between white and black children”.

The same is true for university, she argues noting “The share of young adults from high-income homes that got a four-year college degree rose from 36 percent in the first group to 54 percent in the second group. The share from low-income homes, however, stayed almost flat, rising only from five percent to nine percent. When it comes time to get a job, the story is no better”.

She writes that “A universal system of affordable, educational child care and preschool could help close the capability gap that opens up during the early years of life”, again she argues that education is key, “Among Americans whose family incomes at birth are in the bottom fifth but who get four-year college degrees, 53 percent end up in the middle fifth or higher. That is pretty close to the 60 percent chance they would have with perfectly equal opportunity. Washington needs to do better at helping people from less-advantaged homes afford college. The average in-state tuition at an American four-year public university exceeds $8,000. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, attending four-year public universities is free”.

One of the simplest ways to begin to reduce the inequality is to raise taxes and a country that is clearly undertaxed.

Bush 2016?

23/11/2012

Jeb Bush, brother and son of former Bush presidents, is said to be mulling a presidential run in 2016, according to the New York Times. The Times cites Bush supporters and friends in its report that the former Florida governor is ‘weighing financial and family considerations’ for a future run. Though Bush remains popular in Florida and has garnered national attention with his support for immigration and education reform, there is lingering concern that the persistent unpopularity of the last Bush to hold the White House, his brother President George W. Bush, could hinder his bid”.

The tech savvy prince

23/11/2012

With the second consistory of the year to take place tomorrow, Rocco has noted that one of the new cardinals, Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila is particularly tech savvy.

He writes “as the Latin church’s youngest red-hat, B16’s adding a thumb-up in scarlet to the prelate’s who’s already become global Catholicism’s most “Liked” major figure in social media. As of this writing, the boyish theologian’s Facebook page has racked up over 100,000 fans; by contrast, the Stateside church’s twin titans on the über-network – respectively, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. – both remain to break 20,000″. Rocco goes on to add “For purposes of context, even Brazil’s wildly-popular Father Marcelo Rossi – the onetime gymnast who recently dedicated a new sanctuary that can fit 80,000 for his nationally-televised liturgies – is followed by some 130,000 of the 900 million profiles on the platform”.

He then writes that this is in stark contrast to nearly all of the European prelates, none of which are to be elevated tomorrow. Of course, Pope Benedict has explained the calling of this consistory, the smallest since 1977, so that it will redress the heavy numbers of Europeans created February.

In a separate  but related post, Rocco writes “As of this writing – in a first for B16’s five gatherings of the College – no announcement has been made on what had been the customary day of prayer and consultation with all the cardinals on Consistory Eve. Then again, the confluence of the abbreviated 30-day timetable from the announcement and the smallest group to be elevated since 1977 could just see a lower turnout of the more far-flung members”. He concludes, “with Cardinal-designate James Harvey’s impending, already-announced move to the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls and Archbishop Joseph Tobin’s recent transfer to Indianapolis, it bears noting that the Holy See’s “chief justice,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, stands as the lone American prelate in a major Vatican post…. So they say, however, that might not remain the case for long”.

However it is not immediatly clear what he means by this as all major curial positions are filled since the appointment of Msgr Angelo Zani as secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education . The other of course, is the job currently held by Fr Lombardi, but another Burke could be taking his place.

Syria’s emir

21/11/2012

A profile on the Islamist leader of the new Syrian opposition, which the UK has all but recognised as the de facto Syrian government.

Why Burma reformed

21/11/2012

As President Obama visits Asia, and historically Burma, some have argued that Obama, instead of using the trip to bolster his democracy promotion credentials is using it for realist ends.

The writer opens mentioning that “During his six-hour stop, Obama also held talks with President Thein Sein, the former general who is credited with the recent opening, and spoke to students at the University of Yangon”, he adds that “Since Thein Sein took office at the head of a nominally civilian government in March 2011, the government has released hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed restrictions on the press, and welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi back into the political mainstream. In lower Myanmar, especially Rangoon, residents have reveled in the more open atmosphere. Images of Aung San Suu Kyi, once banned, are plastered like religious icons on walls and T-shirts”.

He gets to the point writing that “The speed of the U.S.-Myanmar thaw can be explained in part by the sudden dovetailing of the two countries’ geopolitical interests. For Myanmar, China was a source of diplomatic and economic support during years of isolation. During that time, Chinese investment flooded into the north of the country. In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, Chinese nationals now make up around a third of the population, a fact that has stoked fears among many people in the country. As the Myanmar expert Bertil Lintner has argued, the generals perceived this overreliance on Beijing as a “national emergency” that threatened Myanmar’s independence. Many of the recent reforms, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, were thus pursued with the goal of winning new foreign friends to counterbalance China’s influence”. He mentions interestingly, internal Burmese politics, ” Aung San Suu Kyi herself, perhaps jockeying for support ahead of elections in 2015, has been hesitant to say whether the stateless and rightless Rohingya qualify for citizenship in Myanmar, allowing more radical elements to dominate the debate and leading one analyst to call her “the worst person in Burma.” The 67-year-old’s transition from human rights symbol to working politician has proved tougher than expected”.

He ends the piece noting the power of the armed forces, especially in the parliament, “At the crux of this is the reform that dare not speak its name. The Myanmar armed forces, the Tatmadaw, still retain a stranglehold on the country’s new “democratic” process: under a constitution passed by a sham referendum in 2008, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for delegates handpicked by the military, and the top brass, surrounded by a caste of military-linked elites, also control much of Myanmar’s recently privatized economy, a dimension to the recent reforms that has attracted surprisingly little attention. And as long as civil conflicts persist, the Tatmadaw will have a justification for retaining its prominent role in the political sphere as well”.

He concludes, “Despite the rapid and positive changes of the past two years, Myanmar has a long way to go, and the United States, however eager it is to win new friends in China’s neighborhood, should have waited for more substantive reforms before lifting sanctions, re-establishing military ties, opening the floodgates of aid”. However, America needs all the friends it can get to face down China.

Preparing for the special election

21/11/2012

Democrats in Massachusetts are culling a list of candidates for a 2013 special election should Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) be appointed to President Obama’s Cabinet. Recently defeated Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is the most likely pick for the GOP, but Democrats don’t want a repeat of the 2010 special election — when they lost the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat to Brown — and they’re looking to groom a strong contender to keep the position in their hands“.

A typically Anglican mess

21/11/2012

Yesterday, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to reject a proposal for women bishops. In coming titular head of the Anglican Communion/Church of England, Justin Welby was quite upset.  The BBC reports “While 324 synod members voted for women bishops, Church voting rules mean 122 votes against were enough to block it”. Not suprisingly the BBC report also notes Rowan Williams’ views on the issue, “Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society – worse than that, it seems that we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society.” Naturally, the great fallacy is that Williams seems to assume all modern trends are positive. Something that will is leaving many liberal religious organisations even more empty as they try to embrace the latest fad.

Others mention “All but two of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England have already voted strongly in favour. But an alliance of born-again conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who are strongly represented in the House of Laity, are opposed to women bishops on theological grounds and refused to accept the measure. They said that a compromise clause allowing them to opt out of the authority of a future woman bishop does not offer them enough reassurances”. The article adds later that “Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, signalled liberals were willing to continue the fight and claimed the Church would definitely have women bishops “in my lifetime”. The second most powerful man in the church said that it was “very disappointing” it had not happened during this General Synod but he was sure the principle had been accepted. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Sentamu said: ““It is very disappointing because we have been working at this for a very long time”.

It is a strange, ironic, scenario that the group that most supported lay involvement are now angry at the very laity that managed to block Rowan Williams‘ signature legacy. If Williams had greater authority he could have forced the move through but was unable to du to the weakness of his position in the structure of the Church of England.

Another article mentions the political implications of the move, “There will now almost certainly be calls in Parliament for the Church of England’s exemption from equality legislation — effectively allowing it to discriminate against women by barring them from becoming bishops — to be removed, opening the way for women to bring a legal challenge. If successful, it could lead to women becoming bishops without any of the arranged safeguards for traditionalists agreed by Synod. Opponents of the ordination of women bishops said they would now sit down with Bishop Welby to try to find a way forward. But under the Church’s rules, the no-vote has effectively killed off the prospect of women bishops for another five years”.

Even David Cameron, even keen to join the latest fad said that he was upset at the move. Others have commented that “the House of Laity hasn’t given the required majority to the women bishops legislation. I’m sorry if this seems melodramatic, but the anger of the majority of bishops and clergy who supported this move ensures that the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, faces the prospect of an Anglican civil war. I won’t pretend that the decision makes much sense to me: a situation in which women can be bishops in most parts of the Anglican Communion but not its spiritual home is weird enough, but when you consider that the C of E allows women to be deacons, priests but not bishops… it’s an ecclesial mess of the most peculiar variety”.

Others have made the point that it cannot chose between equality and consensus.

More discoveries

21/11/2012

China’s state owned oil company, Cnooc, has announced additional discoveries in the highly contested China Seas with estimates noting that the area may contain 17bn tonnes of oil and 498tn cubic feet of natural gas.

As if nothing had happened

21/11/2012

In the last piece covering the Chinese 18th Party Congress gives an overview of the Congress.

The piece notes that “Even though the scene looks and feels different from the empty area of Tiananmen, there is an eerie similarity: Nobody is talking about the transition”, she adds “Official Chinese media portrayed the 18th Congress as a celebration of the nation’s impressive achievements over the past decade. As for Chinese citizens, they were not partying. But they weren’t out protesting, either. They went about their business, reluctant to comment on the political event that drew the rest of the world’s attention. In one sense, that is hardly a surprise, given that China’s authoritarian political system maintains control of the entire public sphere. People have long learned to focus on making it through the day”.

Gao goes on to mention “Where slogans do make a clear point, it is a depressing one. Take, for example, a line in Hu’s opening speech at the congress: ‘We cannot take the old road of seclusion and stagnation, nor can we pick the wicked way of changing our banner.’ Of course, Hu said the same thing in 2008, but people believe that the weight is different this time. Reading between the lines, they see it as an indication that the Chinese Communist Party will not be reforming anytime soon, believing that ‘the wicked way of changing our banner’ refers to much-desired democratic reform.”. Is it any wonder Chinese people feel so  disillusioned? This also does not bode well for the rule of Xi Jinping, and the future hopes for a “powerful” China.

She writes that “in recent years, the government has tightened its reins on the economy by re-expanding the role of state-owned companies, whose combined assets ballooned from 7.13 trillion yuan in 2002 to 28 trillion yuan in 2011 (one dollar is about 6.25 yuan). Many of these corporations are simply vehicles for politicians to accumulate great fortunes for themselves and their relatives”, this was seen most vividly recently when the wealth of the outgoing premier was revealed. She warns the CCP that “It is not surprising that many Chinese believe that their leaders are keener on enriching themselves than governing. This is a dangerous current building under apparent political apathy. It could be unleashed at any time”.

Later on in the article she mentions the condition of the Chinese education system, “It serves the interest of the regime — producing more obedient cadres and like-minded future officials. Chang believes that reforming the schools would be like “pulling a hair that will affect the whole body,” to use a Chinese idiom. If the regime promoted a more open-minded education system — one that taught critical thinking, for example — the whole regime could crumble. And it does not help that the regime’s guardians circumvent China’s schools en masse by sending their children abroad: At least eight of the nine members of the outgoing Politburo Standing Committee have a child with extensive overseas experience”.

How will China adapt and compete in a world when the CCP has collapsed? Where will China’s power be then?

Censorship in China

21/11/2012

An article discusses the power of censorship in China.

“Personnel is policy”

21/11/2012

As part of the series of articles marking the Chinese 18th Party Congress, Foreign Policy has published an article by Cheng Li.

In his piece, Cheng, argues that, “In Beijing, perhaps even more than in Washington, personnel is policy. To understand politics in China therefore requires looking at all aspects of this historic leadership change, from its overall process to the means of selection to the resulting factional balance of power”.

Cheng makes the interesting point that “Troubling episodes prior to the Party Congress (especially the Bo Xilai scandal) notwithstanding, this most recent political succession was the second peaceful transition of power in China’s history, following the first one in 2002, when Jiang Zemin handed power to Hu”. The fact that this is only the second peaceful handover in CCP history, says volumes about the scale of instability and potential violence in the country.

He writes about those who lost out, “Those eliminated included prominent figures such as Minister of Commerce Chen Deming (who some in China thought had been a contender for the Politburo) and Ma Wen, who, as the head of the Ministry of Supervision, the body that monitors government officials, is one of the most influential female leaders in the country. Minister of Finance Xie Xuren, Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission Zhang Ping, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, and top military official Zhang Qingsheng were not elected to the new Central Committee, even though they are of eligible age”. He adds later that “There appears to have been no intra-party multiple-candidate election for the Politburo and its Standing Committee. These leaders are still selected the old-fashioned way: through behind-the-scenes deal-making, a process that retired leaders still influence heavily”. This shows a level of unity within the CCP but that unity could be toxic for the future policies the new Standing Committee takes.

Cheng goes on to write “The top members of the Jiang camp are “princelings” — leaders who come from families of veteran revolutionaries or of high-ranking officials. The other camp, headed by Hu Jintao, consists of leaders who advanced their political careers via the Chinese Communist Youth League (the group is known as the tuanpai). This bifurcation has created something approximating a mechanism of checks and balances in the decision-making process. Leaders of these two competing factions differ in expertise, credentials, and experience. They represent different socioeconomic classes and different geographic regions, but often cooperate in order to govern effectively. If the two factions do not maintain balance, the defeated faction could become less cooperative”. Therefore it is in the interest of both camps to co-operate, yet when a crisis comes the leadership may be fatally flawed and, as has been said here before, split the country, or more likely, the CCP.

He adds depth to his previous comment when he writes “In this latest leadership changeover, the balance in the new Standing Committee indeed seems to have been broken. Only two are tuanpai; the other five are all protégés of Jiang Zemin (and one of the tuanpai, former head of the Propaganda Department Liu Yunshan, is actually very close to Jiang). By contrast, the balance between the two camps in the Politburo and the Central Military Commission have largely stayed intact”.

Cheng ends the article noting, “The strong presence of princelings in the top leadership is likely to reinforce public perceptions of this convergence of power and wealth in the country”, he adds “there are good reasons to doubt that political reform is coming soon. The exclusion of two key liberals — Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang — from the Standing Committee is particularly worrying”.

“Significant expansion”

21/11/2012

The CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said. The proposal by CIA Director David H. Petraeus would bolster the agency’s ability to sustain its campaigns of lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and enable it, if directed, to shift aircraft to emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa or other trouble spots, officials said“.

China and Cambodia

21/11/2012

There has been discussions recently about the level of soft power China has.

An article written from a Cambodian perspective notes that more Cambodians are learning Mandarin. The author writes “After investing tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia, China has now decided that its vaunted economic power, which has bought it significant influence with regional governments, is not enough. Beijing now wants to be loved, too”.

He argues that “Cambodia will host Barack Obama, Wen Jiabao, and other world leaders at the ASEAN Summit. As the United States pivots from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and re-engages with the 10 countries of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, much of the focus at the summit will be on Washington’s ability to revive its flagging diplomatic influence. But in the contest for public opinion, which the United States is accustomed to leading without challenge, the landscape is shifting”. This argument is either ignorance or misguided.

He goes on to write that “To counter these negative perceptions, Beijing has overseen an explosion of language schools, exchange programs, bookstores, and cultural corners. The effort began in earnest in 2004 when Hanban, an organization that falls under the Ministry of Education, began establishing Confucius Institutes at universities around the world. There are now 353 of them in 104 countries, part of what Hu Jintao described in a 2007 speech as China’s effort to “enhance culture as part of the soft power of our country.” Hanban plans to open 1,000 Confucius Institutes by 2020″.

He fails to mention the ASEAN summit that took place several months ago where China bullied Cambodia into taking the position it wanted. China, won the battle but lost the PR war. It’s short term aims were achieved but it did so at the cost of alienating the rest of ASEAN which, naturally fearful of what China might do next, the rest of the group all pushed toward America for protection. He continues in the same vein that “Cambodia, the current chair of ASEAN and a key backer of China in its disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, and other bloc members over resource-rich islands in the South China Sea, is a microcosm for China’s cultural ambitions”. However, all the Cambodians will do, if the government recklessly continues on this path of supporting China is isolate itself from the rest of Asia. What if the Cambodians have made a dramatic miscalculation and China is not as strong or wealthy as the Chinese want the world to believe?

If and when China weakens, or indeed, collapses, where will the Cambodians turn to? North Korea? What happens if China erupts, how will the Cambodian government respond? Will it repress its people or admit defeat and change their ways?

As the author admits, “Ou Virak, a prominent Cambodian activist, said these cases have led to growing public awareness of China’s role in human rights violations. However, the Cambodian government and state-controlled press present a relentlessly sunny picture of the relationship between the two countries, and many violations go unnoticed. As a result, “there is still a lot of good will towards China,” he said. But the longer these violations go on, the more Cambodians will begin to question the relationship, something that no amount of cultural diplomacy can counter”.

State pushes for openess

19/11/2012

The State Department has attempted, but failed, to push for greater openness when it comes to drones.

Another Dr Rice?

19/11/2012

Dr Condoleezza Rice, who served as Secretary of State in President George W  Bush’s second cabinet may be followed by another Dr Rice, Susan, current US ambassador the the United Nations. Some have argued for John Kerry (D-MA) to take the job.

Sean Kay, in his piece favours Rice, who is known to be ultra loyal to President Obama. He writes “The public display of support caught some analysts by surprise, both because they assumed the position was likely to go to someone else — presumably Sen. John Kerry — and because they thought her role in the Benghazi tragedy, repeating administration talking points that later turned out to be false, would make Senate confirmation extremely difficult”.

He goes on to praise Rice “by any reasonable measure — qualifications, record, and capacity to do the job effectively — the case for Susan Rice is strong. It is therefore appropriate that President Obama stood by his ambassador — both in the second presidential debate and in his news conference“.  Kay adds that “As Sen. Lindsey Graham said in response, he has ‘no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.’ Despite Graham’s and others’ best efforts to use Rice as a billiard ball to keep the Benghazi story alive, there is no evidence that she is “up to her eyeballs” in anything — let alone the Benghazi fiasco, which she had virtually nothing to do with”.

Indeed, he adds, “The tradition of deference to presidents as they select their cabinets is an important one — as is the practice of investigation, and advice and consent. First and foremost, that process should be geared toward determining if Rice is qualified to be secretary of state. No question, Susan Rice’s record has plenty of room for serious questions and opportunities for her to explain. But to assert even before a nominee is announced that the are “unqualified” — as Sen. John McCain did this week — is not becoming of the great traditions of the Senate”.

Certainly Senator McCain’s remarks were partisan and baseless but there are some concerns that President Obama is appointing just another one of those who see him as semi-divine, in the mold of Valarie Jarrett. This is a concern for Rice when it comes to situations. Instead of arguing against President Obama, the concern is that Dr Rice would simply “roll over” too easily and allow Obama to make unwise decisions.

Kay ends “recently indicated a balance between interventionist ideals — which she successfully achieved in helping to rally the U.N. Security Council to pass essential resolutions that paved the way for the end of the Qaddafi regime in Libva — and realism, stating to the Foreign Policy on September 25 of Syria that: ‘I’m not of the view that this is a circumstance in which external military intervention is wise for the United States or others,'”

Dr Walt notes that “The harshest thing one might say about Rice’s performance in these shows is that she might have hedged or qualified her remarks more than she did. Even so, she did say — repeatedly — that her comments were based on the “best information” available at the time, and she made it clear that the investigation into these events was still proceeding and that a “definitive” account was not yet ready. But the overall impression she left was one of certainty rather than doubt”. Walt goes on to make the very valid point that “when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, she had been First Lady for eight years, a U.S. Senator, and a presidential candidate who came close to winning her party’s nomination. She had independent stature of her own, which is why Obama had to accommodate a number of her personnel requests in order to get her to take the job. And some of those appointments involved people with strong personalities and policy views of their own”, he adds that Rice “obviously has Obama’s confidence, but her current ascendancy depends solely on the president’s backing. Maintaining his personal support will be critical to her effectiveness, which makes her much less likely to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear or that cut against the thrust of existing policy”.

Reports  discuss a successor for Dr Rice at the UN,  “Speculation about Rice’s future intensified this week after President Obama defended her account of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi and all but challenged her Republican critics to a fight over her nomination. If he goes forward with it, the administration has lined up two White House insiders — Samantha Power and Antony Blinken — to possibly take over at the UN”.

Pelosi on sequestration

19/11/2012

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said “she could not accept a deal on the “fiscal cliff” that does not include higher tax rates on the wealthy. Republicans say new revenues in the fiscal-cliff deal should come from capping deductions and closing loopholes, while Democrats want to raise rates on families making more than $250,000 per year”.

China’s quiet American

19/11/2012

Even as the Chinese 18th Party Congress has, the excellent John Garnaut, has noted that the CCP has the ability to save itself if it reforms. Garnaut writes that He Di who had served as vice-chairman of UBS was in Berlin and happened to see an exhibition which was based on “the Nazi promise of ‘advancement, prosperity and the reinstatement of former national grandeur,’ as the curators wrote in their introduction to the exhibit”.

Garnaut goes on to discuss that He saw the similarities in what Hitler tried to do and what the CCP are doing in China now, he writes, that He went on to found a think tank, Boyuan Foundation, which Garnaut describes, that “He now aspires to enable Chinese people to live in a world of what he and his ideological allies call ‘universal values’: liberty, democracy, and free markets. While the foundation advises government institutions, including leaders at the banking and financial regulators, its core mission is to ‘achieve a societal consensus’ around the universal values that it believes underpin a modern economic, political and social system”. These are the values that fundamentally underpin US foreign policy. America should watch He Di and where possible use him to its interests.

Garnaut mentions “He is at the forefront of an ideological war that is playing out in the background of this week’s epic leadership transition, where current Chinese President Hu Jintao officially yielded power to Xi Jinping. At one pole of this contest of ideas are He’s universal values; at the other, the revolutionary ideology of the party’s patriarch, Mao Zedong. This battle for China’s future plays into the decade-long factional struggle between Hu and his recently resurgent predecessor, Jiang Zemin. Jiang’s ideological disposition has evolved in chameleon fashion but in recent years he has hinted that if the party remains inflexibly beholden to Mao Zedong-era thought and Soviet-era institutions then it faces a risk of Soviet-style collapse”. Garnaut goes on to add that He Di’s “worries grew as he watched a fellow princeling, Bo Xilai, breathe new life into the spirit of Mao and whip up a popular frenzy in Chongqing, the inland mega-city Bo governed. As he watched Chinese citizens embrace modernity and the party-state slide back toward the revolutionary ideology of his childhood, his ambitions turned from supporting China’s modern evolution to saving it”.

Garnaut closes noting that Hu Jinato “eviscerated the integrity of the individual, and his administration’s combination of extreme nationalism, extreme populism, and state capitalism means that history can repeat itself, He warns”. America and its allies should watch He Di closely to see how the new regime acts.

Thailand, Burma and Cambodia

19/11/2012

President Obama has left Washington to become the first US president to visit Burma. He will also visit Thailand and Cambodia in an attempt to bolster his democracy promotion credentials against he supposed realism of his first term.

Who is Li?

19/11/2012

Although the Chinese 18th Party Congress has formally ended there is still much discussion on its impact. Understandably most of the discussion has been centred on Xi Jinping but the incoming premier, Li Keqiang.

A New York Times piece mentions that “Li Keqiang will step into the secondary role of prime minister next year bearing the hopes of some of the more reform-minded members of his generation”. The piece dampens down any question of runaway optimistism when it notes “Li has been exposed to a rich palette of liberal thinking. And like his predecessor Wen Jiabao, he often displays a common touch with ordinary Chinese. But Mr. Li, 57, will be hemmed in by the stability-obsessed conservatives who dominate the seven-seat Politburo Standing Committee slated to effectively run China for the next five years. As one of only two members who owe their positions to Hu Jintao, the departing president who groomed him for power, he may find himself outgunned by those allied to Jiang Zemin, the 86-year-old former president and kingmaker”.

The piece adds “Li Keqiang (pronounced lee ke chang) say he was profoundly shaped by his years at Peking University, a pre-eminent school with a long tradition of liberal teaching. Like other traumatized young Chinese whose best years were stolen by the madness of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Mr. Li arrived there in 1978 with a thirst for Western ideas and a curiosity about individual rights, market economics and democracy”.

Yet, it is hard to imagine someone rising to the top of the CCP without utter contempt for these ideas. Therefore Li either never really held these ideas, did hold them but has since ditched them to rise through the ranks, or has hidden them so well that he has risen but still basically believes them. Taking the last proposition, which is technically possible, if Li wanted to reform the system he would have to persuade the rest of the Standing Committee which would seem to be a virtual impossibility.

The article goes on to mention “after the university had shut off the dorm lights, he and his classmates would gather under street lamps to debate the merits of constitutional law and the downsides of continuous class struggle. Some of his friends would later end up in jail for their role in the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square”, yet this view is totally at odds with his expected promotion. the CCP only appoints those who are mediocre. Again the piece draws out two almost totally contradictory people when it says “Despite Mr. Li’s unremarkable run at the helm of two provinces and a reputation as a deferential party loyalist, some of his former classmates hold out hope that he may help nudge China’s opaque, authoritarian system toward greater openness. Others, citing his doctorate in economics, say at the very least he could become a forceful advocate for loosening the grip of the state-run conglomerates”.  Yet to do either of these things would require Herculean strength to oppose the in built inertia of modern CCP China.

The article closes “When the opportunity came for further study in the United States, he was persuaded by party officials to stay in China and devote himself to the Communist Youth League, the cadre training organization whose membership was largely drawn from those with humble pedigrees. Years later, when friends threw themselves into the protests that swamped Tiananmen Square, Mr. Li, in his role as league secretary, pleaded with them to return to campus, according to the memoirs of several participants. But his liberal education has not gone to waste. On economic matters, he has demonstrated a keen understanding of complex theory; more recently, he has been a vocal advocate for economic restructuring and the importance of a level playing field for private business”.

Li seems to have a personality and be able to think for himself, this is witnessed when “In April [2012], he veered off his prepared remarks at an international economic forum to urge greater transparency and an unimpeachable legal system. He has also displayed flashes of pragmatism: according to a cable published by WikiLeaks, Mr. Li confided to the American ambassador that he considered China’s economic figures unreliable and ‘for reference only.'” This has been mentioned here before, Chinese economic figures are legendarily inaccurate. The real Li will only be known a decade hence. The world, and China will have to wait and see.

Negative to stable

19/11/2012

Ratings agency Fitch has raised its ranking of Ireland’s creditworthiness to a level last seen in late 2010, the month after the bailout of the State. The agency removed the risk of a further downgrade, moving Ireland’s rating to a “stable” outlook, saying the Government was making progress towards an economic recovery. The State was moved off “negative” outlook, reflecting Ireland’s continued progress on fixing its public finances and the improved options on its ability to fund itself. This is the first positive move by a ratings agency since the EU-International Monetary Fund bailout. The last time Fitch ranked Ireland at a BBB+ rating on a “stable” outlook was in December 2010″.

Fighting for the status quo

19/11/2012

In part of the 18th Party Congress that closes today, an article discusses the Chinese communist revolution and its future.

The author writes “Liu Yuan, one of the boldest and most ambitious generals in China’s People’s Liberation Army, was particularly shaken by what he identified as a fatal weakness of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi: his son”. He goes on to describe how Saif Gaddafi was Western educated, just like the Chinese princelings.

The author discusses how a secret speech given by Liu, was seen, “Liu cautioned that Saif exposed himself to the flattery, privilege, and ideological brainwashing of the “Western hostile forces” -amorphous enemies of Chinese communism. And he returned to Libya with ideas of liberty and democracy, which fatally softened the ideological defenses of his once-defiant father, Liu said, leading to his bloody demise. It is exactly this kind of Fifth Column that Liu fears could kill China from the inside”.

This kind of speech, is becoming increasingly common in China and the danger is that the new “leadership” could begin to take these ideas seriously and see the outside as the cause of all problems. The writer goes on to mention that Liu is present at the Party Congress and as the son of President Liu Shaoqi carries a certain weight within the CCP.

He goes on to mention “Liu didn’t appear onstage on Thursday with his peers. His absence could mean that the leadership’s most outspoken advocate for Communism’s anti-corruption and anti-Western ideals may have been sidelined”, he re-enforces the point noting that “Liu believes that the world’s most successful dictatorship could quickly go the way of Libya if the Communist Party loses the ability to tell itself a unifying story that justifies its monopoly on power. Qaddafi’s mistake was not that he had failed to reform towards democracy and law, as many believed, but that his son, seduced by Western ideas, persuaded him to reform at all”.

China is at a crossroads, not only economically but also politically and socially where there is huge gaps not only in wealth but also political engagement with connections being key, not only in politics but also business, where vast sums of money can be attained through connections to high officials. The author adds that “Some rival princelings inside the Party claimed to me that Liu was taking a swipe at his own leaders”.

Thus, General Liu’s speech is a siren call of simplicity that many want to hear, he adds crucially important context, “Liu voiced fears about his colleagues’ vulnerabilities just days after Bo Xilai’s kingdom in Chongqing began to crumble, though it’s unclear what effect Liu’s words have had”. Though it would not be unreasonable to think that Liu’s speech would push the CCP into its old heritage rather in the other direction where it needs to go if it is to hold any semblence of power.  If it does not make swift reforms and chooses to entrench its power the CCP will have signed its own death warrant.

The writer closes “Some Chinese netizens see parallels between the ideals that Liu has both publically and privately fought for, and those that motivated the Libyan people to overthrow Qaddafi. When confronted with the thought of losing the regime his father helped establish, however, Liu instinctively identifies with the predicament of the dictator — rather than the people he brutalized”.

Liu has chosen his side, now history will choose its.

The extraordinary form?

17/11/2012

An interesting discussion of what to call the Tridentine/Latin/Traditional Mas.

Less Arab, more Islamist

17/11/2012

It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Arab revolutions are becoming less Arab and more Islamist. With the exception of Tunisia, both Egypt and to a much lesser extent, Libya, are both turning toward Islamist policies.

President Morsi of Egypt has been active in this area since he came to power, moving Egypt away from its previous foreign policy trajectory and towards Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Not only this but more recently, Morsi has decided not to attend the enthronement of the new Coptic Orthodox pope. This is clearly a worrying sign to Egypt’s largest minority and speaks volumes about the Egypt Morsi wants to create. This trend is also asserting itself in Syria with Islamist backed rebels.

There has been discussion of Salafists here recently but an interesting article published recently, seems to capture much of their thinking. The writers note that the Salafis”initially denounced mass protests against Mubarak, claiming that Islam prohibits rebellions against Muslim rulers. When it became apparent that the old authoritarian system was disintegrating, Salafis reluctantly reversed their position on political participation and formed parties as a necessary means to achieve their end-game: a theocratic state”. They go on to write that “As liberals and Islamists wrangle over the wording of religious clauses in the draft constitution, the Salafis have reached a pivotal crossroads and must now choose between opposing strategies of compromise and confrontation”.

What they decide to do will affect the future of Egypt and perhaps also the entire Middle East itself. There are only really two courses of action the Salafis can take. Either they can accept compromise, which seems to be theologically, if not politically impossible, or they will try to exert pressure, even violence, on the Christian minority. As the piece mentions, “Tensions over the constitution have triggered the Salafis’ militant and exclusionary tendencies, raising questions as to whether the movement will remain committed to the path of peaceful political participation — which may require unsavory compromises with liberals they have condemned as apostates and heretics“.

They go on to note “Another question looming over the Salafis is whether they will overcome their current state of fragmentation in time to contest the next parliamentary elections — expected in December — as a unified and coherent coalition”, they add they the movement has been riven with infighting which has weakened them but not the estimated 3-5 million Egyptians who back their “policies”. The writers mention an interesting case in this regard, “The largest Salafi party, al-Nour (“Light”), just narrowly survived a debilitating internal feud and is now facing stiff competition from new leftist and youth-oriented Salafi parties that resent al-Nour’s cooperation with the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which is negotiating the terms of a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan that Salafi clerics have denounced as a usurious violation of Islamic law”.

The authors go on to note, worryingly for the future of Egypt, “As Salafis vow to defend their vision for an Islamic constitution against “sinners” and “apostates,” it is becoming clear that their commitment to democracy will only last as long as Salafis get their way. While the constitutional process is reviving the Salafis’ authoritarian tendencies, internal dynamics within the movement reveal a deeply ingrained hostility toward compromise and moderation”.

Thankfully they write “The Salafi movement is currently split between five parties with some overlap in their agendas, but also deep divisions on flashpoint issues such as the IMF loan as well as relations with the Brotherhood. With a new round of parliamentary elections fast approaching, two new Salafi splinter parties are aiming to capitalize on the fragmentation of al-Nour”. This means that as long as the movement is split and divided it will have little hope of challenging the Muslim Brotherhood, which, ironically in this instance represents moderation.

They close the article noting, “Salafis have exploited the weakness of liberal and secular political forces to escalate their demands for the expansion of Islamic provisions in the draft constitution”, the end the piece “the Salafis’ pragmatism only goes so far, and the choice between pursuing their Islamic agenda through politics or violence will be ideological rather than strategic”.

Not attending

17/11/2012

Morsi will not attend the enthronement of the new Coptic pope, a man said to be open to dialogue with Islam but opposed to a religious state, the bishop organising the ceremony said on Friday. Instead, Morsi will “send a representative” to Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral for Sunday’s enthronement”.

Something big?

17/11/2012

The leading article from The Economist from last week exhorts President Obama to work with Republicans.

It opens “No president since FDR had been re-elected with unemployment so high. The country seemed pessimistic and bitterly divided, on racial grounds even more than on economic ones. His best-known achievement, health-care reform, had turned out to be deeply unpopular. The Republicans spent $800m trying to remove him”. It adds “Obama carried all the states he won four years ago, bar only Indiana and North Carolina, for a solid victory over Mitt Romney of 332 electoral-college votes to 206; the Democrats tightened their grip on a Senate they had once been expected to lose; and the president gave his best speech for several years”.

Now that the GOP have failed, by two million votes, the article goes on to write that President Obama “can reach out to the Republicans, together they have a rare opportunity: to cement a much more substantial legacy for Mr Obama, to make the American right electable again, and to do their country’s finances and politics a power of good”. It adds a note of caution for Obama, “he was lucky: lucky for the second time to have faced a less fluent opponent weighed down by his party’s trunkful of baggage; lucky that the American economy perked up, a little, just when he needed it to; maybe lucky even that Hurricane Sandy appeared when it did. Mr Obama fought an appallingly negative campaign and scraped a victory in both the swing states and the popular vote”.

It then goes on to discuss the “fiscal cliff” which will happen unless Congress comes to an agreement. Some have foolishly argued that if it were to occur it would not be that bad. However, Congress seems to be taking the problem seriously and attempting to work together. The article adds “In less than two months’ time, unless a deal is struck, America will fall off a “fiscal cliff” that will, through a combination of automatic tax rises and spending cuts, subtract as much as 5% from GDP in a year. That would be a disaster for an economy growing at an annual rate of barely 2%. But behind this immediate crisis is the deeper one: America taxes itself like a small-state economy, and spends like a big-state one. Add in an ageing population, and it is going broke. Mr Obama will be pilloried by history if he does nothing to fix that”.

Yet this view must be nuanced, America’s population is getting older, but at nowhere near the rate as its “competitor”. Secondly, the GOP must have a role to play in the blame for the debt America now has due to endless tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them, and shouldn’t have got them. However if Obama can work with the GOP to start to bring down the debt he will have justifiably earned a place in history.

The article goes on to suggest ” Obama ought to tackle the two problems at once, so that the deal to stop the economy going off the cliff is tied into longer-term reform. He will not be able to hammer out all the details of those reforms, but he can force agreement on the main parts, based on Bowles-Simpson, which he should endorse rapidly. That means being very clear about how much deficit-reduction will come from tax rises (which Republicans hate) and how much from spending cuts (which Democrats loathe)”. Yet this approach would certainly be welcome but not realistic. The best that could be hoped for is two separate deals on the sequestration/fiscal cliff and then in the new year, a deal to bring down the debt.

The article then goes on to mention implausibly, that Obama should offer the GOP “proof that he really intends to be more bipartisan. A pro-business treasury secretary would be a start: the names of Larry Fink or Mark Warner come to mind”. The last thing America needs is another ministry dedicated to industry that already has politicians, and most of the political system over a barrel. The one thing that he could do to show his bipartisanship and at the same time bow to business is appoint Mitt Romney to the job.

The piece mentions that “what about the Republicans? Their script is depressingly easy to write. The party’s leaders will once again conclude that they lost because their candidate was not a genuine conservative, and vow to find the real thing next time. Possible future leaders like Paul Ryan, this year’s vice-presidential candidate, will head to the right in preparation for the 2016 primaries. Compromise with Mr Obama will be treason”. Yet if the election proved anything it was a rejection, of Ryan’s budget and the policies the GOP continue to espouse despite their evident failure.

The article rightly concludes “a bipartisan deal over the budget would be good for America—and the world. It would encourage business to invest, thus strengthening America’s economy and raising the country’s standing, and indeed the standing of market capitalism. Enemies like Iran and North Korea would once again respect and fear American power”.

Another challenge for Xi

17/11/2012

The state of the Chinese environment.

More problems for Xi

17/11/2012

Now that the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress has formally ended. There has been much written about the new seven man team of the Politburo Standing Committee yet very little is really known about them.

A blog post notes that “The latest lineup features a far more diverse band of former economists, research fellows, and even a journalist. Without reading too much into how career background affects leadership styles — a 2006 article comparing U.S. and Chinese leaders in Bloomberg said that “engineers strive for ‘better,’ while lawyers prepare for the worst — it does mean that they bring a more varied set of experiences to the job”. The other point that is mentioned, is “By smiling and seeming relaxed, Xi already proved himself a far more natural presence than Hu Jintao, the faceless, stiflingly boring bureaucrat who stepped down”.

Another article mentions the problems faced by Xi Jinping. It makes the important point that he is not yet president of China but is CCP general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, where most of his domestic power flows from. Yet even though he is not president, “Xi’s inbox, however, is already full of pressing problems that cannot wait until he is fully in control. On the economy, foreign policy, and domestic politics, Xi will inherit a series of crises that — if allowed to fester or drift — could develop into critical challenges to the legitimacy of the Communist Party. His first 100 days will be critical”.

Dyer goes on to write that “Xi’s most pressing overseas concern will be the tense standoff with Japan over the small group of islands the Japanese call the Senkakus and the Chinese call the Diaoyus, which Japan administers but which China (and Taiwan) claim”. However much of the problems, though not all, have been caused by Chinese aggression, which Japan has exploited to its own ends. This does not mean alleviate the blame from China by any means. Indeed, the entire atmosphere in Asia has been toxic since the ASEAN summit where China bullied Cambodia and thereby alienated the rest of ASEAN members who all rushed to reassure their links with the United States. Dyer adds “As a result, Xi immediately finds himself right in the middle of a mounting diplomatic crisis, one in which he will need to strike a delicate balance between deftness and toughness. The last thing a new Chinese leader can afford to do is appear weak in a dispute with Japan”.

Apparently, “Xi has already issued a strident statement on the islands. ‘Japan should rein in its behavior and stop any words and acts that undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ he said in September”. Dyer goes make the point that “Chinese officials insist they want to have a productive relationship with Japan, their second-largest trading partner, but if the tension lingers for much longer, it is bound to start affecting the decisions of Japanese companies about investments in China”.

He goes on to make the argument that “On the economy, Xi has little time to waste in trying to win support for a series of reforms that are urgently needed but have languished in the face of opposition from within the party. The sharp slowdown in the economy over the last year demonstrates that difficult decisions cannot be delayed”. Yet every indication points to the fact that delay is exactly what Xi will do.

Dyer makes the point that ” incoming premier, Li Keqiang, who will have day-to-day responsibility for the economy, is generally thought to favor a more cautious approach, including greater emphasis on redistributing income through social spending. He is also a more cerebral character than Wang, who has a reputation as a hard-driving problem-solver and is nicknamed “chief of the fire brigade” for his ability to clean up other people’s problems. There is a system of collective leadership among the seven officials in the Standing Committee, but as first among equals, Xi does have considerable influence. His first order of business will be to head off a bout of infighting among the new collective leadership”, yet for Xi to do this and at the same time hold on to his own position is a balancing act that is, to say the least, tricky. To do this as well as stop the infighting and at the same time push through fundamental economic reform would seem all but impossible. Something has to give.

Working together

17/11/2012

In a signal to financial markets that have fallen precipitously since Obama’s election last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed confidence they would reach a deal“.

Reform or die

17/11/2012

As part of the series on the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress that has now concluded an article warns that the CCP must reform itself or risk collapsing and taking China with it.

He writes that “China’s incoming leaders are facing what might be the country’s greatest economic and political challenge. They must create a new growth model, with a very different financial system, a substantially modified state sector, and the political reforms necessary to accommodate both”. He goes on to say that if the seven men running China fail and “mismanage the adjustment, growth will evaporate, leaving China stuck in the notorious “middle-income trap” from which few developing countries have ever escaped”. He goes on to argue ” it is tempting to believe that Beijing has the talent, far-sightedness and determination to make the transition successfully. History, however, suggests otherwise”. If he is correct, China will remain at its current PPP rate and not only that fail to be able to deal with its massive demographic problem that is in the background and will become more prominent in the next decade, and beyond.

He give two pertinent examples, Brazil and what was then the Soviet Union, “Take the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, the USSR had generated nearly three decades of exceptional growth, leaving most analysts convinced that it would soon surpass the United States economically and technologically. It didn’t happen. Real productivity growth stalled by the late 1960s, and today, nearly 50 years later, Russia’s GDP is smaller in relative terms from its peak. Brazil saw extraordinary growth from the late 1950s to the late 1970s, but fell back during the “Lost Decade” of the 1980s and has still not achieved the economic successes many expected nearly a half century ago”.

The key, he argues, that allowed China to enjoy such growth, was its boom in credit. The very thing that is destroying the eurozone, as well as a shambolic currency and total mismanagement of the crisis. Yet at the same time he writes that “This allowed Beijing to keep growth rates high regardless of the circumstances and no matter how the leadership managed domestic problems. It was able to avoid a surge in unemployment when it restructured the hugely inefficient state-owned industries in the 1990s by sharply increasing infrastructure investment”.

This credit papered over inefficiencies due to its scale and at the same time kept a lid of social pressure. Yet this lid is now bursting and the bet that Hu made will soon prove the end for the CCP as it is unable promise growth at such high rates. He adds “Officially, government debt is under 25 percent of GDP, but it’s likely much higher. Investment has reached its limit, and now excess investment has itself become China’s greatest economic problem. Many years of high and often wasted investment in such baubles as empty airports, bridges to nowwhere, vacant office buildings, and underutilized steel factories have resulted in debt levels growing much faster than the ability to service that debt. And more ‘investment’ only worsens the problem”.

He ends his piece “Beijing knows it must sharply reduce investment rates. But doing so causes two problems. First, without the ability to increase investments at will, China’s economic volatility will increase sharply. Second, if China can no longer depend on investment growth to drive high levels of economic activity, it must increasingly rely on growth in household consumption, which, at 35 percent of GDP is the lowest seen anywhere in modern history”.

He advises China to redistribute wealth so as to boost spending by the wealthy, who spend only a small proportion of their money. He also argues that the government should slow investment rates. If it does not, he warns China could be swamped with debt. Yet does the CCP have the will to tackle all of these problems?

Looks like it’s time to die.

Longer than 2014?

15/11/2012

A blog mentions that “The next commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is prepared to testify that he wants to see a robust U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, as U.S. and Afghan negotiators began formal work on that troop presence Thursday in Kabul. Gen. Joe Dunford will be the sole nominee appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee”. It goes on to say “According to his written answers to questions posed in advance by senators, obtained by The Cable, Dunford is ready to tell Congress that he supports U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan for a host of missions in 2015 and beyond, which matches the Obama administration’s plans, despite some high-level administration statements to the contrary”.

No collapse expected

15/11/2012

With all that is going on in Syria, coupled with the events in Israel and Iraq, questions have been raised about the future stability of the Kingdom of Jordan which has seen protests recently fuelled by political instability and an influx of Syrian refugees.

An author however challenges these assumptions, and argues “this week’s widespread and fairly aggressive protests over fuel-price hikes are worrisome, and not a good sign for Jordan, or the regime. But, to callously equate life to sci-fi TV: all of this has happened before, and all of this will very likely happen again. Seen from within, Jordan seems extremely unlikely to fall, explode, crumble, or collapse”.

He goes on to write that one of the benefits of Jordan is its bureaucracy, “People are, for better or for worse, invested in it functioning. Jordanians interact with the state regularly and extensively; they depend on the government for jobs, for education, for medical care, for subsidized goods, for roads and street cleaning, electricity and municipal water, and all sorts of other things”, he adds “Not only is primary education valued and seen as a gateway to a better life, but it also exposes nearly every citizen in a fairly aggressive national identity-building project. The point is, Jordanians have lots of positive interactions with their government”.

He goes on to say that this in turn leads to the police. He argues persuasively that “The Jordanians’ police show up to record car accidents. They investigate petty crimes, arrest drug dealers, and on balance deliver more security than violence. Sure, they are resented in many poor and marginalized communities, including in urban Palestinian camps and rural tribal enclaves — but they are not wildly unpopular. One big factor is that the police are not the sharp end of a state repression project. Jordan can be described as authoritarian, but it has never relied on the kind of omnipresent state violence that characterized Iraq, Syria, Libya, or even Egypt”.

He then adds that “In early October, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing organized a huge protest: organizers hoped for 50,000 participants. Regime loyalists had planned a counter-protest at the same location, and the conventional wisdom was that the country was going to explode right there”, yet he adds that the counter demonstration was cancelled and the Brotherhood marched peacefully. The fourth advantage is that of security, ” while people want more freedom, it is unlikely that large numbers will accept security disruptions to get it. Remember the example of Osama Bin Laden, who had approval ratings between 50 and 60 percent among Jordanians, until al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate set off three human-carried suicide bombs in the capital, and Bin Laden’s popularity plummeted”.

He then goes through a number of scenarios. The first he writes that spillover from Syria could destabilise the country, but he argues simply, “to do so, the violence would have to be so extensive that Jordan’s Armed Forces would be incapable of containing it”. The second scenario is that of economic collapse, which he notes ” if maintaining deficit spending a bit longer is what it takes to prevent a protest surge, the kingdom’s foreign allies offer it a large credit line. The United States and the Gulf monarchies do not want to be cast as long-term backers of Jordan’s welfare state, but they have too much invested in Jordan to risk letting it sail off the edge”. Lastly he says a protest movement could in theory overthrow the government, but “Jordan’s population still divided over the protest movement’s validity, demonstrations that embrace violence or call for the downfall of the regime are more likely to be self-delegitimizing than inflammatory”.

He ends on the wise note that while Jordan has significant problems these can be fixed, given time and assistance. Yet, even if these problems that should be addressed are not, collapse could, in reality be slow decay that could take 10 or 20 years.

Good signs

15/11/2012

After movement from the GOP in recent days on a number of issues now signs of further progress, Harry Reid (D-NV) and John Boehner (R-OH) “announced an agreement to avoid a government shutdown shortly before the November election. The agreed-upon stopgap will help both parties avoid a major conflict before voters head to the polls, when a government shutdown would pose a significant electoral risk to incumbents on both sides of the aisle”.

End of a trend

15/11/2012

Con Coughlin writing in the Telegraph thinks that Dr David Petraeus has forfeited his political career after the discovery of his affair. Coughlin is however incorrect with Petraeus having no ambitions, in as far as one can tell, in that direction.

He writes that “can kiss goodbye to any hopes he may still have entertained of one day running for the White House. America has a long and distinguished history of its generals turning their swords into election manifestos, which dates back to the Republic’s founding father, George Washington”.

While it is certainly true that there have been many generals that have been president, notably Eisenhower, this trend seems to have ended with him. It is also true that Bill Clinton was one of the first, if not the first president never to have served. Even those before him  who did served in very minor roles, eg Bush 41, Carter, Kennedy, never reaching the highest ranks, as a result of leaving the service and focusing on their political careers. The fact that Petraeus reached such a high rank does not preclude him from serving as president but he would be a modern day exception.

Coughlin writes that “Petraeus was regarded as a potential candidate for the Republican nomination for the next presidential election in 2016. The Obama administration certainly saw him in those terms, which is one of the reasons he was sent to head the CIA in the first place, rather than being given the job he really wanted, to be appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of America’s armed forces”.

Yet this theory quickly falls apart on the knowledge that if Petraeus wanted to run for the White House for either party, he would have taken a seat in the Senate and not become director of the CIA. Secondly, as has been noted here previously he wanted to become head of the CIA and accepted that had to resign from the Army to do so. Thirdly, if he wanted to campaign for president for the GOP why would he serve in a Democratic administration?

Coughlin goes on to argue “Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State in the Bush administration during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, was a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and is the most recent high-profile military figure to have made the successful transition from the battlefield to the Washington beltway”. Again however the example that Coughlin cites is the excpetion that proves the rule. Powell service after the Army has not been followed since, or even before, to the extent of Powell. Coughlin then writes that because Petraeus was CIA director it hindered his career, “Without having the profound understanding of how the system functions that comes from working there, it becomes much more difficult for military men to succeed in politics”.

Yet both overstates the level of access the Chairman has and at the same time dismisses the role played as head of the CIA which provides just as much “understanding of how the system functions” as the job of chairman does.

Coughlin argues that Wesley Clark, who briefly ran against George W Bush in 2004, as a Democrat, is in the same category. He ends saying that Stanley McChrystal and Petraeus have both had their political ambitions disappear due to controversy.  Yet Coughlin both overestimates the desire for senior military officers to go into politics and their automatic Republican affiliation. Eisenhower was the last of senior military figures to go all the way to the top.