Archive for February, 2013

Talks with Iran

28/02/2013

On the recently resumed P5+1 talks with Iran the BBC mentions that “Iran says talks with world powers in Kazakhstan to try to resolve its nuclear crisis were a “positive step”. Chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany (the P5+1) had been “more realistic” than in the past. The EU’s chief delegate said she hoped Iran was “looking positively” at proposals presented at the talks. International powers suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons – a charge Iran strongly denies. Iran insists its purposes are purely civilian, asserting it needs enriched uranium to make medical isotopes. Russia and Iran said technical experts from both sides would meet in March, and the P5+1 group would meet with Iran again in Almaty on 5 and 6 April. The multilateral discussions were the first since a round in July 2012 ended without a breakthrough”.

Foreign policy of Benedict XVI

28/02/2013

An interesting article has appeared in Foreign Affairs by the respected Edward Pentin on the foreign policy of Pope Benedict. He opens the piece “he leaves behind an admirable, if somewhat chequered, record in international relations. His influence in foreign affairs — like that of all popes — has been considerable. As a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a vast network of humanitarian aid organizations, the Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can. That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace”.

Pentin goes on to write that the academic in Benedict was apparent “he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and his methods bore fruit, although not without a cost. His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused”. The speech should have set Muslims asking fundamental questions about their faith and how a religion once renowned for its impact on maths, science and astonomy has turned away from this vast cultural legacy and has now been obscured by a tiny but vocal minority who reject all of these things.

Pentin goes on to write about Muslim-Catholic dialouge that “no longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter. Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year. At the same time, Benedict worked hard to help foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Although he supported the recent UN General Assembly vote recognizing the state of Palestine, he was simultaneously able to improve relations between the Church and Israel by patiently persevering with bilateral discussions on settling the Fundamental Agreement — an incomplete 1993 accord that formed the basis of Holy See–Israel diplomatic relations — and by visiting the Holy Land in 2009. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently described Vatican-Israeli relations as ‘the best they have ever been.'”

Pentin goes on to mention that “Under Benedict’s watch, the Holy See also established full diplomatic relations with Russia, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Montenegro, and most recently, South Sudan — bringing the total of countries with formal ties to the Vatican to 180. That is not to say that the Pope was able to accomplish all of his core goals — namely, to establish formal diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam”. Yet his letter to Catholics in China has laid the groundwork for the eventual estalblishment of relations between the PRC and the Church. However the overwhelming obstacle remains the state backed church.

He adds “In Vietnam, where Catholics have long been persecuted by the communist regime, the pope has had more success. The Holy See recognized that the regime was amenable to reform. Thanks to extensive diplomatic efforts by the Holy See and the establishment of a joint working group in 2007, Vietnam has since become more cooperative with the Church. It has allowed the Church to appoint bishops, and in 2011 the Vatican appointed its first envoy to the country — a step toward establishing full diplomatic relations”.

Pope Emeritus

28/02/2013

With just hours before the Apostolic See falls vacant Rocco transmits something from Rome that has been asked since 11 February, what will Pope Benedict be called after he resigns. He notes “transition briefing, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi finally confirmed that, upon his resignation Thursday evening, Papa Ratzi will be known as “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope-Emeritus,” and retain the signature clothing of the pontiff’s office”. Rocco adds that “Lombardi said that in retirement, Benedict’s future vesture will lack the shoulder-cape of the standard white house cassock. Even that, however, is nothing the departing pontiff will mind a bit – in the early days of his pontificate, B16 sought to introduce the use of a cape-less fillettata, but the Vatican handlers he inherited were unable to countenance its everyday use. Over the years since, the Pope has used the simple white cassock whenever he’s been allowed to do so, most often on his summer holidays”. He ends noting that as per custom the ring of the fisherman that popes wear will be destroyed to enhance the image of the end of Benedict’s papacy.

Different this time

26/02/2013

John Allen has written an article as to why this conclave is different to almost any other.

He writes “If we start the count in 1295, when Pope Boniface VIII first required cardinals to elect a pope in a sealed room, the looming 2013 edition will be the 75th conclave in the history of the Catholic church”. He goes on to mention the differences between this time and most other conclaves.

The first he says, most obviosuly is that Pope Benedict will still be alive, yet he writes “Procedurally, that doesn’t change anything; it’s the same sede vacante, the same rules for each round of balloting (known as a “scrutiny”), and so on. Psychologically, however, the contrast is enormous”. Allen might be overstating this slightly, he writes “it’s more difficult for cardinals to voice criticism of the papacy that just ended — certainly in public, and at times even among themselves”. Yet the bishop emeritus of Rome will have no public role and will to all intents and purposes be invisible until his death.

Allen goes on to make the point that there is no obvious successor. Does the College choose to emphasis Islam over those Catholic in Latin America and Africa? Should governance be placed before everything else? He writes that “There are a number of candidates who seem plausible, but no one who towers over the rest. As a result, pre-conclave discussions may not have the same focus, and it may take longer for consensus to build”.

Next he mentions that another suprise could be waiting, “Having already received one huge surprise, perhaps the cardinals will be more disposed to another. For instance, they could look outside the College of Cardinals for the next pope. (The last time that happened was 1378, just 50 years before the last pope to resign.) In this climate, every wildcard scenario seems slightly more thinkable”. Allen however seems to dismiss the conservativism of the College and as a result of the resignation they may in fact turn inward, to someone who might “steady the ship” although this could still be a suprise in the form of an African or Asian pope.

He continues noting “The child sex abuse crisis was already set in cement as a defining issue for Americans by 2005, but it didn’t really erupt in Europe until 2010. In the meantime, the Vatican has also been hit with a number of other embarrassing episodes, such as the Vatileaks scandal and persistent allegations of financial corruption. In that context, a larger share of cardinals this time around is likely to be concerned that the new pope be perceived to have ‘clean hands.'” This might mean that they would avoid someone with pastoral experience for the sake of ensuring that the new pope does not have any ties, or possible ties to it. Allen goes on to mention “In practice, this may produce a sort of burden, rather than benefit, of the doubt for any candidate publicly linked to some sort of scandal. In the hothouse atmosphere of the pre-conclave period, some cardinals are likely to feel they don’t have the time to separate truth from falsehood and may conclude that the safest thing to do is to steer clear of anyone who seems even potentially tainted”.

Among the other reasons why Allen says this conclave is different is “When John Paul II issued his rules for the conclave in 1996 with the document Universi dominici gregis, he included a provision allowing the cardinals to elect a pope by a simple majority rather than the traditional two-thirds majority if they were deadlocked after roughly thirty ballots, meaning seven days or so.

Procedurally, the conclave of 2005 never got anywhere close to invoking that provision, since they elected Benedict XVI in just four ballots. Psychologically, however, some cardinals said afterward that everyone knew that codicil was on the books, so that once Ratzinger’s vote total crossed the 50 percent threshold, the outcome seemed all but inevitable.In 2007, Benedict XVI issued an amendment to John Paul’s document, eliminating the possibility of election by a simple majority. This time, the cardinals know that whoever’s elected has to draw support from two-thirds of the college under any circumstances”.

Progress from the House

26/02/2013

A bipartisan House group is making ‘really good progress’ on immigration reform legislation despite missing a target date for an agreement, a top Republican participant said”. Pity the common good could not have been secured earlier, before the 2012 GOP defeat.

The new pope, Balestrero and Vigano

26/02/2013

Following the appointment of Ettore Balestrero as the apostolic nuncio to Colombia, Rocco notes that this is just the tip of the curial iceberg that the next pope will have to deal with.

He writes that “In light of the pontiff’s historic departure from office in five days, the handover to come was always going to be markedly different from its predecessors. Still, it’s fair to say that what’s ensued so far is more than anyone bargained for… even if, the natives being themselves, it’s not exactly a complete surprise.

Beyond the traditional stream of speculation on supposed “contenders” tipped to emerge from a Conclave that’s still at least two weeks – and worlds more maneuvering – away, over recent days the Italian press has blown open long-simmering tensions at the Home Office, all of which serve to confirm the longstanding sense among many key churchmen that the principal task awaiting B16’s successor is to get a grip on his Curia after years of embarrassing spectacles which have caused damage both to the departing pontiff and the wider church”.

Rocco goes on to mention that “In any event, the storm around the story was arguably exacerbated by the Curia’s own devices, first when, in the wake of Thursday’s piece in Italy’s largest daily, La Repubblica, a leading figure cited as part of the supposed ring – the Holy See’s “deputy foreign minister,” Msgr Ettore Balestrero, 46 – was suddenly shipped out of Rome yesterday, being named an archbishop and apostolic nuncio to Colombia, a top-tier posting in the Vatican diplomatic corps. Having served since 2009 as Undersecretary for Relations with States – one of the top five officials of the Secretariat of State – the Balestrero eruption followed by his swift promotion is likely to see a new round of fingers cast in the direction of Benedict’s ‘Vice-Pope,’ Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, who’s already shouldered the lion’s share of scorn over the Curia’s debacles of governance in recent years.  Despite being a ordained a priest of Rome, it’s notable that Balestrero was born in Genoa – the heart of Bertone’s Northern Italian base, where the cardinal served as archbishop”.

He goes on to say, adding context that “the Colombia posting is regarded as a deluxe assignment in the Corps, one normally given to veteran papal ambassadors after they’ve weathered more daunting situations. Since 1950, only one other first-time Nuncio has been named there – and that figure, the Spaniard Eduardo Martínez Somalo, eventually became a Vatican cardinal, serving as Camerlengo in 2005 following the death of Blessed John Paul II.”

He adds in the piece that “the 11th-hour move has the practical effect of removing the besieged monsignor from the Roman scene for an open-ended period until things ‘simmer down.’ Before departing for South America, however, the new nuncio must be ordained as a bishop – an event which is likely to take place in rapid order, perhaps even within days, and is almost certain to take on an immensely higher profile than usual given the controversy. In an unusually irate response to the swirling innuendo, this morning saw a statement emerge from the Secretariat of State which slammed unspecified ‘news reports abound which are often unverified or not verifiable, or even false,’ saying they cause ‘damage to people and institutions,’ going on to insinuate that the press was attempting to influence the papal election”.

Rocco implies that Balestrero could, or perhaps even will return to the Secretariat of State. Given the new archbishop’s youth at only 46 he could serve in Colombia for a decade before taking a plum job, for example that of secretary for Relations with States, when it becomes vacant.

He ends the article “Having been sent across the Atlantic for different reasons – namely, as a “punishment” for protesting the widespread mismanagement he found as the Vatican’s “vice-mayor” – a successor to Benedict who means business would likely send that message by recalling Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò from Washington in short order to give the 72 year-old prelate a key Curial post”. While any number of non jobs are, and will, becoming available if the new pope wanted to send an unmistakable signal he could banish one of Cardinal Bertone’s allies, Cardinal Versaldi for example to a southern archdiocese and installed Vigano in his place at the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

Such an extreme senario would be unlikely however but a Cardinal Vigano could be made “delegate” to Economic Affairs in addition to any other job he holds in order to make things equally clear.

A faster conclave?

26/02/2013

Rocco mentions “In a motu proprio released this morning – three days before his resignation takes effect – B16 has given the College of Cardinals the ability to derogate from the prior 15-day waiting period to begin the next Conclave, but only on the condition that all of the cardinal-electors are present and a majority consent to proceeding on an expedited timetable.

Dancing around the sequester

26/02/2013

In an article about the sequestration cuts due to come into effect at beginning of the month, it has been noted that “Congressional Republicans are struggling to overcome President Obama’s bully pulpit advantage in the public relations battle over the sequester. Some Republicans say the party was in a weak position as Obama repeatedly blamed the GOP this week for the spending cuts while their members were scattered around the country”.
Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt’s phrase is now more true than ever with the latest technology all pointing toward the incumbent president rather than the plethora of Congressional officials, minority whips, speaker, majority leader etc. The article goes on to make the point that “Obama, feeling he has the upper hand, is looking to press his case further before the $85 billion in automatic cuts take effect on Friday. He is scheduled to head on Tuesday to Hampton Roads, an area of Virginia filled with defense installations, to rail against the cuts and the 800,000 civilian furloughs that they would bring to the Pentagon. Republicans are seeking to battle back, and say their members will be out in force in Washington next week to press the case that sequestration is a policy fiasco of Obama’s own making. Any thought that Obama gained leverage over the recess week is a Beltway illusion, Republicans say. While the president opined about the cuts from Washington, GOP lawmakers were bringing their message directly to constituents in interviews with local media”.

The piece goes on to mention that things, as they currently stand are in President Obama’s favour, “with both the White House and the GOP digging in — and with little hope that a sequester deal can be reached next week — some Republicans are concerned the president’s use of the bully pulpit could give him a leg up in the blame game. Obama gave sit-down interviews this week with local television stations from across the country, and held an event with first responders that the White House says would be affected by the sequester. On Friday, he deployed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to warn that furloughs from sequestration could cause chaos for air travel. Top GOP aides, meanwhile, were criticizing Obama for prioritizing politics over policy, and dismissed the president’s outreach to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as mere window dressing. Republican aides also continue to press the case that the sequester, born out of the debt ceiling talks in the summer of 2011, was Obama’s idea in the first place. They also say sequestration is much different from the ‘fiscal cliff,’ when doing nothing meant taxes would go up for basically everyone in the U.S.”

It now looks almost certain that the sequester will take place. America’s enemies will look on and smile.

115 electors

26/02/2013

Following the failure, due to ill health, of the archbishop emeritus of Jakarta to attend the conclave,  Rocco notes that Cardinal O’Brien will not be attending either, “Following allegations of ‘inappropriate behavior’ – sexual advances reported by several men – dating to both his time as a seminary rector and archbishop of Scotland’s capital through the 1980s, Great Britain’s lone cardinal-elector has resigned less than a month before reaching the retirement age of 75. At Roman Noon, Pope Benedict yanked Cardinal Keith O’Brien as archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh three days before the pontiff’s own departure from office is to take effect. After three priests and a former cleric lodged allegations against Scotland’s longtime top prelate a week before Benedict’s resignation, the story broke into public view late Saturday with a piece in the London-based Observer, a liberal paper. In response, a statement issued in the cardinal’s name said he was contesting the claims and seeking legal advice”.

Google vs China

26/02/2013

Issac Stone Fish writes that Google has taken on China and won. He begins noting the low point of the internet giant, “In January 2010, Google announced that it was the target of cyberattacks originating in China; just a few months later it shuttered its China-based search service. By that point, privately owned Chinese Internet giant Baidu controlled a 73 percent stake in China’s $1.7 billion online search market, with Google’s share shrinking and smaller, entrepreneurial firms making up the rest”.

He goes on to say that the People’s Daily newspaper wanted to use the Google exit to its advantage and therefore, “On June 20, 2010, People’s Daily announced the launch of a search engine, now titled Jike, a Chinese word for “immediately.” Deng Yaping, a low-ranking party official who happened to be a four-time Olympic gold medalist in ping-pong and a Cambridge University Ph.D., was appointed the site’s general manager; she said it would provide ‘a fresh news experience.’ In what was good for government relations but perhaps an inauspicious sign of what was to come, the announcement received a congratulatory message from then Propaganda Minister Liu Yunshan”.

The piece goes on to describe how Jike was an abysmal failure, “Almost three years and dozens of millions of dollars later, Jike has become an Internet joke, the object of mockery among Chinese netizens. The site captures less than 0.0001 percent of the search-engine market, according to China-based web analytics firm CNZZ, which notes that its ‘rate of utilization’ is almost zero”.

The article goes on to write “The Hong Kong-based China Media Project, which monitors Chinese journalism, recently published an analysis of the website that illustrates just what kind of ‘guiding’ Minister Liu had in mind. A search for “separation of powers” sends readers to articles arguing that such ideas are not fit for China’s ‘unique situation.’ A search for dissident artist Ai Weiwei features the censorship line (common in other Chinese media properties) that “according to relevant laws and regulations, a portion of the search results aren’t provided,” then follows with a series of state-sponsored articles critical of Ai”.

He mentions that “A recent search for the Chinese phrase ‘Xi Jinping Corruption’ on the Exposure Platform returns only one search result … about China’s new leader’s calls for a crackdown on corruption. Neither Baidu nor Google pretend to be solving the government’s problems by mentioning low-level scandals and ignoring the bigger issues”.

He ends the piece “Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but that week Deng had found herself and the search engine the target of fierce criticism, with articles in the Chinese press claiming she had cut 100 people out of Jike’s nearly 500-person staff, and that she bragged about her ping-pong exploits during staff meetings, telling her employees that ‘she was always No. 1′ and that they must learn from the best and ’emulate Google.'”

End of Vatileaks, for now

26/02/2013

The Holy Father received in audience this morning Cardinals Julian Herranz [Casado], Jozef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi, who formed the commission to investigate the leaks of private information. They were accompanied by the commission’s secretary, Fr. Luigi Martignani, O.F.M., Cap. At the conclusion of their mission, the Holy Father thanked them for the helpful work they did, and expressed satisfaction for the results of the investigation. Their work made it possible to detect, given the limitations and imperfections of the human factor of every institution, the generosity and dedication of those who work with uprightness and generosity in the Holy See at the service of the mission entrusted by Christ to the Roman Pontiff. The Holy Father has decided that the acts of this investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new pope.”

The problems of capitalism

24/02/2013

The major article in the most recent Foreign Affairs entitled “Capitalism and Inequality” argues that “Recent political debate in the United States and other advanced capitalist democracies has been dominated by two issues: the rise of economic inequality and the scale of government intervention to address it. As the 2012 U.S. presidential election and the battles over the ‘fiscal cliff’ have demonstrated, the central focus of the left today is on increasing government taxing and spending, primarily to reverse the growing stratification of society, whereas the central focus of the right is on decreasing taxing and spending, primarily to ensure economic dynamism. Each side minimizes the concerns of the other, and each seems to believe that its desired policies are sufficient to ensure prosperity and social stability. Both are wrong”.

It goes to say “Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the postindustrial capitalist world. But despite what many on the left think, this is not the result of politics, nor is politics likely to reverse it, for the problem is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized. Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it”. While he is correct in the sense that inequality is rising, with both the bottom and middle suffering the most with the very wealthiest losing least, or in many cases, actually gaining. It would be wrong to say that the only reason for this was capitalism but the kind of capitalism that has been worshipped over the last 20 years, or maybe more, has greatly worsened the level of inequality in many societies. This change in capitalism has itself come about with as a result of the changing nature of the economy and the work that more people are doing. It is far more skilled, even at low levels than it was previously which in turn has meant greater emphasis on education. Yet while many more than ever before have gained university degrees the wealthiest have gone further still thereby enhancing their advantage. There is nothing wrong with parents doing this for their children but there must then be a counter balance to this in order to mitigate and lessen this effect.

He goes on to write “Despite what many on the right think, however, this is a problem for everybody, not just those who are doing poorly or those who are ideologically committed to egalitarianism — because if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large”. He rightly praises capitalism for raising living standards and reducing poverty but goes on to warn “Capitalism’s intrinsic dynamism, however, produces insecurity along with benefits, and so its advance has always met resistance. Much of the political and institutional history of capitalist societies, in fact, has been the record of attempts to ease or cushion that insecurity, and it was only the creation of the modern welfare state in the middle of the twentieth century that finally enabled capitalism and democracy to coexist in relative harmony”.

He goes on to state rather controversially “If capitalism has opened up ever more opportunities for the development of human potential, however, not everyone has been able to take full advantage of those opportunities or progress far once they have done so. Formal or informal barriers to equality of opportunity, for example, have historically blocked various sectors of the population — such as women, minorities, and the poor — from benefiting fully from all capitalism offers. But over time, in the advanced capitalist world, those barriers have gradually been lowered or removed, so that now opportunity is more equally available than ever before. The inequality that exists today, therefore, derives less from the unequal availability of opportunity than it does from the unequal ability to exploit opportunity”.

He adds “All this progress, however, has been shadowed by capitalism’s perennial features of inequality and insecurity. In 1973, the sociologist Daniel Bell noted that in the advanced capitalist world, knowledge, science, and technology were driving a transformation to what he termed “postindustrial society.” Just as manufacturing had previously displaced agriculture as the major source of employment, he argued, so the service sector was now displacing manufacturing”.

He rightly goes on to mention the role of the family in society and its subesquent economic effects, “In the United States, among the most striking developments of recent decades has been the stratification of marriage patterns among the various classes and ethnic groups of society. When divorce laws were loosened in the 1960s, there was a rise in divorce rates among all classes. But by the 1980s, a new pattern had emerged: divorce declined among the more educated portions of the populace, while rates among the less-educated portions continued to rise. In addition, the more educated and more well-to-do were more likely to wed, while the less educated were less likely to do so. Given the family’s role as an incubator of human capital, such trends have had important spillover effects on inequality. Abundant research shows that children raised by two parents in an ongoing union are more likely to develop the self-discipline and self-confidence that make for success in life”.

He goes on to argue that education is not necessarily the answer “even though a higher percentage of Americans are attending college, they are not necessarily learning more. An increasing number are unqualified for college-level work, many leave without completing their degrees, and others receive degrees reflecting standards much lower than what a college degree has usually been understood to mean”, he adds “formal schooling itself plays a relatively minor role in creating or perpetuating achievement gaps”.

The answer to this he says is not greater redistribtuion which he argues “has two drawbacks, however. The first is that over time, the very forces that lead to greater inequality reassert themselves, requiring still more, or more aggressive, redistribution. The second is that at some point, redistribution produces substantial resentment and impedes the drivers of economic growth. Some degree of postmarket redistribution through taxation is both possible and necessary, but just how much is ideal will inevitably be contested”.

Whatever about his idea that greater redistribution will mean more redistrubition the second point that it “impedes the drivers of economic growth” is laughable.

The second solution which he also rejects is “using government policy to close the gaps between individuals and groups by offering preferential treatment to underperformers, may be worse than the disease. Whatever their purported benefits, mandated rewards to certain categories of citizens inevitably create a sense of injustice among the rest of the population. More grave is their cost in terms of economic efficiency”. Again this logic is questionable, to say the least.

The recommended cure for capitalism, he says, is more capitalism, “encouraging continued economic innovation that will benefit everybody, is more promising. The combination of the Internet and computational revolutions may prove comparable to the coming of electricity, which facilitated an almost unimaginable range of other activities that transformed society at large in unpredictable ways. Among other gains, the Internet has radically increased the velocity of knowledge, a key factor in capitalist economic growth since at least the eighteenth century. Add to that the prospects of other fields still in their infancy, such as biotechnology, bioinformatics, and nanotechnology, and the prospects for future economic growth and the ongoing improvement of human life look reasonably bright. Nevertheless, even continued innovation and revived economic growth will not eliminate or even significantly reduce socioeconomic inequality and insecurity, because individual, family, and group differences will still affect the development of human capital and professional accomplishment”.

“Offered at least one”

24/02/2013
Rorarte notes “the cardinal electors who have offered at least one public traditional Latin Mass as a cardinal, bishop or priest in the past four decades:
Philippe Cardinal Barbarin
Raymond Cardinal Burke
Carlo Cardinal Caffarra
Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera
Velasio Cardinal De Paolis
John Cardinal Tong Hon
Juan Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez
George Cardinal Pell
Albert Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard
Franc Cardinal Rodé
André Cardinal Vingt-Trois

The question of sovereignty

24/02/2013

Rosa Brooks argues that the drone war being carried out by President Obama, but initially President Bush. She writes that the concept of sovereignty is dead when America deals with its allies.

She writes “There’s been much comment on the Obama administration’s recently leaked Justice Department white paper on the targeted killing of U.S. citizens overseas, but most of the debate has focused on the administration’s Orwellian interpretation of the term ‘imminence.’ Less remarked upon has been its equally elastic theory of sovereignty”.

Brooks goes on to mention “Sovereignty has long been a core concept of the Westphalian international legal order. The basic idea is simple: In the international arena, all states are formally considered equal and possessed of the right to control their own internal affairs free of interference from other states. That’s what we call the principle of non-intervention — and it means, among other things, that it’s generally a big international law no-no for one state to use force inside the borders of another sovereign state”.

Brooks has a point that sovereignty is a concept that America guards vigorously, but what she does not seem to understand is that the states have a right and a duty to protect themselves from other states. This, almost by definition, involves casting aside this otherwise vital concept. Yet, the violation of sovereignty has, at times, benefits. This was clearly seen in Libya.

She adds that “A state can lawfully use force inside another sovereign state with that state’s invitation or consent, or when force is authorized by the U.N. Security Council, pursuant to the U.N. Charter, or in self-defense “in the event of an armed attack.” The principle of sovereignty might appear to pose substantial problems for U.S. drone policy: How can the United States lawfully use force to kill suspected terrorists inside Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, or — hypothetically — in other states in the future? Obviously, the United States does not have Security Council authorization for drone strikes in those states”.

Yet America will always attempt to work with countries to allow drone flights to take place inside that country’s airspace, yet at the same time it has a duty, like all over countries, to protect its citizens even if it means violating international law. This was seen with the drone programme being extended to Niger, with the express permission of the government of Niger. Brooks goes on to write “neither the Obama administration nor the Bush administration before it can really be blamed for this anemic understanding of what we might call “other states’ sovereignty.” The principles of sovereignty and non-intervention have unquestionably eroded in recent years — but that erosion has been driven by technological and normative changes that go far beyond counterterrorism concerns. Specifically, human rights norms have done as much to erode traditional ideas of sovereignty as have more U.S.-centric theories of counterterrorism. In fact, for all their criticism of U.S. drone policy, those in the human rights community often embrace a theory of sovereignty remarkably similar to the theory that undergirds current U.S. counterterrorism policy. In essence, both the human rights community and the U.S. counterterrorism community increasingly view sovereignty — and the accompanying right to be free of foreign intervention — as a privilege states can earn or lose, rather than an inherent right of statehood”.

She adds “the big international law story of the last 70 years has been the erosion of traditional legal ideas of sovereignty. This has been driven in part by technological change and globalization: It’s one thing to embrace the principle of non-intervention when events in one state are unlikely to affect events in other states, but another thing altogether in an era in which money, viruses, chemical pollutants, and missiles can move across state borders in hours or minutes, rather than weeks or months. But international law’s embrace of human rights also represents a deep challenge to sovereignty, reflecting a shift away from the notion that what a state does inside its own borders is solely its own concern”.

Yet given all of these new threats, Brooks resolutely maintains the supposed sacredness of the UN Charter in a world that bears almost no resemblance to the one in which the Charter was drafted. She does note that “In 2001 — within months of the 9/11 attacks — the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty released a report asserting that the most fundamental duty of sovereign states was the protection of their populations. ‘State sovereignty implies respon­sibility….Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwill­ing or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-interven­tion yields to the international responsibility to protect.'”

She ends the piece “the parallels between R2P and the understanding of sovereignty that undergirds U.S. drone policy are troubling. I’m no fan of the traditional legal conception of sovereignty, which has been used to mask many abuses. But in a world with no meaningful international governance structures, sovereignty — even a weak and hypocritical conception of sovereignty — is one of the few bulwarks against unilateral overreaching by great powers”. She closes the piece, “If we toss sovereignty into history’s dustbin, what will replace it?”

Yet such binary terms are unhelpful in what is quite a complicated debate.

Fair elections?

24/02/2013

The BBC reports “President Mohammed Morsi has called parliamentary elections, starting on 27 April and end in June. A presidential decree said voting would take place in four regional stages, due to a shortage of election supervisors. Mr Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement hope the election will put an end to increasingly vocal opposition and street protests, analysts say”.

Skeletons?

24/02/2013

An article discusses the reign of Pope Benedict and argues that there are still “skeletons”. It begins “If a report on Thursday, Feb. 21, in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica is to be believed, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to resign just got a whole lot more interesting. The paper claims that around the time that Pope Benedict decided to step down, the pontiff learned of a faction of gay prelates in the Vatican who may have been exposed to blackmail by a group of male prostitutes in Rome. The revelations allegedly appeared in a 300-page report by three cardinals that the pope commissioned to investigate the release of internal documents by his butler, the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ scandal”.

The piece goes on to mention that “A Vatican spokesman has refused to confirm or deny La Repubblica‘s claims, and the internal Vatican report is reportedly stowed away in a papal safe for Pope Benedict’s successor to peruse”.

The author then goes on to argue “Seen in the context of Pope Benedict’s career in the Catholic Church, it is difficult to understand why revelations of yet another sex scandal would push him to resign. For over a decade, he has served as the church’s point person for responding to allegations of abuse. From 1985 until his election to the papacy in 2005, Benedict served as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.

The fact that such basic information as Cardinal Ratzinger’s time in office, as prefect of the CDF is inaccurate does not bode well for the credibility of the piece. Equally, the notion that this was the sole justification for Pope Benedict to resign and not his almost 85 years. He continues repeating the Fr Peter Hullermann “scandal”. Despite the fact that no smoking gun was found to directly implicate the then archbishop of Munich. Although it has to be said the young cardinal-archbishop could have been more vigilant in matters of governance, an issue that would deeply effect his papacy.

The writer goes on to repeat old stories that have little relevance in the grand scheme of what Benedict was trying to do. He mentions “In an attempt to help bring closure to victims affected by sexual abuse in the Irish Catholic Church, two auxiliary bishops, Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field, accused of helping to cover up rampant abuse offered Pope Benedict their resignation in 2010. In a move that stunned critics of the church and victims’ rights groups, the pope rejected their resignation and informed the bishops that they would be allowed to stay on”.

Yet, what he does not say is that Bishops Walsh and Field had no direct role in moving abusers around or other matters that would have directly implicated them. Perhaps their resignations should have been accepted but to focus on these issues speaks to both the lack of knowledge and lack of tolerance that many in the media have for the Church.

He ends the piece “By 2010, the hard-line strategy advocated by Pope Benedict became unsustainable. Explosive and wide-ranging reports of abuse — including allegations against Ratzinger himself during his time in Munich — put the church firmly in the cross-hairs of public opinion. Detailed investigations by the Irish government unearthed widespread abuse, and Ireland became something of a ground zero for the scandal. In response, Pope Benedict issued a public apology to his parishioners in Ireland”.

This supposedly “hard line” approach does not bear up to any informed scrutiny when the facts are said, such as Benedict’s meeting with victims on every foreign trip and well as continued and rightful apologies in addition to issuing new norms that his predecessor never did.

Having the option

24/02/2013

The normally conservative archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Keith Cardinal O’Brien “has told the BBC that he would be ‘very happy’ if married men had the option of entering the priesthood. The cardinal, the only churchman from Great Britain eligible to attend the conclave, said: ‘There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the Church – in some branches of the Catholic Church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine origin and it could get discussed again. ‘In my time there was no choice and you didn’t really consider it too much, it was part of being a priest. When I was a young boy, the priest didn’t get married and that was it”.

King Muqrin and stability

24/02/2013

The internal debate about the succession in Saudi Arabia has ended with appointment of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to the vacant post of second deputy prime minister. Thus he is effectively king in waiting after the death or accession of Crown Prince Salman. The highly informed Simon Henderson writes “Muqrin’s new status also challenges another presumed succession principle: that the king’s mother should be from a Saudi tribe. Muqrin’s mother was Yemeni, and it is not even clear that Ibn Saud was married to her”.

It has been commented on that “Generational change has been postponed again in Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom’s succession process is now clear for the foreseeable future. With King Abdullah’s appointment this week of his half-brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to the position of second deputy prime minister behind Crown Prince Salman, the inner circle of princes that has run the kingdom for half a century will retain power”. This supposed lack of generational shift has occurred despite the fact that Muqrin is 67 and is the youngest surviving son of the kingdom’s founder.

The article continues that Prince Muqrin “like many of the royals, he was given a remote province to govern as a young man. In 1999 he was promoted to be governor of Medina province, home of the kingdom’s second holy city. Eight years ago, Abdallah made him head of Saudi intelligence, a job he held until last year, when he was replaced by the former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Muqrin is an affable and competent leader, but he did not excel as spy chief”.

The piece continues predictably “Simmering just below the surface is a country perhaps increasingly ripe for revolution. Sixty percent of Saudis are 20 or younger, and most have no hope of a fulfilling job. Seventy percent of Saudis cannot afford to own a home; 40 percent live below the poverty line. The royals, 25,000 princes and princesses, own most of the valuable land and benefit from a system that gives each a stipend and some a fortune. Foreign labor makes the kingdom work; 19 million Saudi citizens share the Kingdom with 8.5 million guest workers. Since the start of the Arab spring, the king has spent $130 billion in new stipends and projects to try to buy off dissent”. This is despite the fact that the previously organised day of rage was an utter flop. That does not however mean that reforms are not badly needed.

Others have taken a decidedly different view, “Change is coming to Saudi Arabia — but however it plays out, expect some basic truths about the kingdom to remain the same. Saudi Arabia will remain a strong Western ally, it will keep the oil flowing, and — perhaps most importantly — it will remain immune from the uprisings that have spread across the Arab world. While former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel made the case that “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable,” the truth of the matter is that for the vast majority of Saudis, a revolt is still an almost unfathomable event. And the House of Saud’s approach to succession is designed to keep it that way”.

He goes on to mention “Perhaps more important than Muqrin’s appointment is Abdullah’s elevation of competent younger princes to prominent roles within the kingdom. Their promotion is meant to improve governance, while also bolstering the foreign support that will allow Saudi Arabia to continue its domestic reform at its own pace”. He adds context to this noting, “Reform is coming to Saudi Arabia — albeit slowly. The appointment in January of 30 women into the Majlis al-Shura, a 150-member consultative council with the power to draft laws, was long overdue — but nevertheless a huge step forward for the kingdom, particularly coming less than six months after female Saudi athletes were allowed for the first time to compete in the Olympics. Both moves mark a positive step forward for the country, and ones that will have fundamental and permanent effects on Saudi Arabia’s social fabric. They are also not steps that Abdullah undertook lightly. Through sheer force of personality, the aging monarch removed many obstacles in his way: The number of jobless conservative advisors and sheikhs who raised objections to these social reforms are a testament to the king’s determination”.

He then makes the humorous point that “Those who believe in a coming Saudi apocalypse usually list a number of factors they believe point to imminent calamity — a youth bulge, mass unemployment for Saudis under 35, security issues in the predominantly Shiite Eastern Province, domestic oil consumption overtaking capacity, female social and economic empowerment, liberal-conservative tensions, and potential instability in the ruling family as power is handed down to a younger generation of princes. This tiresome analysis assumes Saudis would seek the wholesale downfall of their monarchy, if only they were not so oppressed by the governance structures and conservative religious establishment. But it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Saudi Arabia is, and how Saudis perceive their government”.

He goes on to argue, quite forcefully, that “the kingdom is far more politically accountable than Arab countries that underwent revolutions in 2011: Traditional governance structures in many parts of the kingdom still prevail, and the role of the provincial governor in attending the daily majlis to address the problems and needs of his constituents is still highly important in maintaining ties between the people and the ruling elite. It would have been unthinkable, for instance, for a normal citizen to be given the right to petition directly to former President Hosni Mubarak, or even current President Mohamed Morsi — such is the enforced bureaucratic distance between the citizens and the ruling class in Egypt. Not so in Saudi Arabia”.

He ends “the jihadist movement nevertheless represented an existential threat for the kingdom because it struck at the heart of the foundation for the regime’s legitimacy. By overcoming it, the House of Saud has proved its resiliency. Put aside notions of Saudi Arabia’s imminent collapse — it isn’t going to happen. The kingdom will play an integral role in reshaping the post-revolutionary Middle East, whether people like it or not”.

“Troops throught 2018”

24/02/2013

Reports from the New York Times mentions “NATO defence ministers are seriously considering a new proposal to sustain Afghanistan’s security forces at 352,000 troops through 2018, senior alliance officials said Thursday. The expensive effort is viewed as a way to help guarantee the country’s stability — and, just as much, to illustrate continued foreign support after the NATO allies end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year. The fiscal package that NATO leaders endorsed last spring would have reduced the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 troops after December 2014, when the NATO mission expires. That reduction was based on planning work indicating that the larger current force level was too expensive for Afghanistan and the allies to keep up, and might not be required. Some specialists even argued that the foreign money pouring into Afghanistan to support so large a force was helping fuel rampant official corruption. Recruiting, training, equipping and operating Afghanistan’s army and national police forces at their present level will cost about $6.5 billion for the current American fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Afghanistan pays $500 million of that total, its international partners add $300 million, and the United States provides the remaining $5.7 billion”.

Benedict’s liturgical legacy

24/02/2013

Following on from the recent article on the legacy of Benedict musically, Dom Alcuin Reid has written an article on the legacy of Benedict with regard to his liturgical reforms. He opens “Ratzinger was immersed in the liturgy from his childhood, as his memoirs attest: ‘I started down the road of the liturgy, and this became a continuous process of growth into a grand reality transcending all particular individuals and generations, a reality that became an occasion for me of ever-new amazement and discovery. The inexhaustible reality of the Catholic liturgy has accompanied me though all phases of life, and so I shall have to speak of it time and time again.'”

He continues, “This, and his conviction that some things went very wrong with the movement after the Council – in 2004 he wrote: ‘Anyone like myself, who was moved by this perception in the time of the liturgical movement on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, can only stand, deeply sorrowing, before the ruins of the very things they were concerned for’ – is key to understanding what has become known since his 2005 election as ‘the liturgical reform of Benedict XVI’.

Reid then mentions the direct translations from Latin into the revised English Mass texts, and the infamous “pro multis” that should have been avoided, however Reid does go on to note ” There was much noise before and after his historic 2007 ruling that the older liturgical rites were henceforth to be available without restriction. Yet in the midst of the cacophony the Supreme Pontiff took the trouble to write at length to the world’s bishops and explain his act. ‘What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,’ he taught – a truth that is having an ongoing impact”.

He then goes on to write “Among his writings the 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis ranks highly. His conviction expressed therein, that ‘everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty’, was reflected in papal liturgies. These became master classes on how to celebrate the modern liturgy in continuity with tradition, where the best of the old and of the new serve to raise our minds and hearts to God. Countless priests and seminarians have participated in this course in practical liturgy – bishops and cardinals also. Its fruits are increasingly experienced worldwide”.

He ends the piece “The conclusion of Pope Benedict’s final public Mass was yet another lesson about the liturgy. Not unnaturally, there was sustained applause. But even on that occasion Pope Benedict the liturgist could not allow personal adulation to take priority. ‘Thank you,’ he said. Then, with five words which may well serve as his liturgical testament, he brought it firmly to an end: ‘Let us return to prayer.'”

It must be the firm hope that the successor of Pope Benedict will continue his vital work with regard to the liturgy.

78%

22/02/2013

Reports note “Pope Benedict XVI steps down with an uptick in personal popularity and wide support for his decision to retire, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. But Benedict leaves his position less well-liked than his predecessor or the Roman Catholic Church overall, a sign that his own brand failed to take flight as did Pope John Paul II’s. About three-quarters of Catholics (76 percent) and a smaller majority of all Americans (54 percent) view Benedict favourably, both numbers up slightly from a 2008 survey. Only 14 percent of Catholics and 27 percent of the overall public rates the pontiff unfavourably. While positive, Benedict’s ratings stand 13 points below those of John Paul II during his final month as pope, when 67 percent of Americans and 87 percent of Catholics saw him favorably. Among non-Catholics, Benedict’s ratings are 14 points lower than his predecessor. Benedict also receives fewer positive marks than the Catholic Church itself, which is seen favorably by 62 percent of Americans. John Paul II, by contrast, was more popular than the church he led”.

The Canonical implications

22/02/2013

Bishop Thomas Paprocki has written an article dealing with the canonical implications of the impending resignation of Pope Benedict.

He begins the piece saying the the situation the that Church finds itself in is quite remarkable and truley historic, he writes “The confusion is understandable since a Pope has not left office alive for almost 600 years. It might even be said that a Pope has never stepped down quite under these circumstances in the 2,000 year history of the Church. What seems to have been overlooked so far in these discussions is that the word ‘Pope’ does not appear in the Code of Canon Law. Canon 331 defines the office held by the Pope: ‘The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the of­fice given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, first of the Apostles, and to be trans­mitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the Pastor of the uni­versal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is al­ways able to exercise freely.’ From this canon, we can draw several titles for the office held by a Pope”.

What Paprocki is saying is that Benedict cannot be called any of these in his retirement as they are only held by the pope of which there can only be one at a time. He goes on to write “Accordingly, Benedict did not use the word “Pope” anywhere in his spoken announcement or letter of resignation”, adding ” How then are we to understand the word “Pope?” It is an honorific, even a term of endearment (“Papa” in Italian). It is not the title of an ecclesiastical office. We make this distinction all the time. We still call a priest by the honorific “Father” even after he has resigned from the office of Pastor. Having lived in Italy for three and a half years when I was studying canon law, and having a sense of the culture, I have a feeling the Italians will continue to call Pope Benedict Papa Benedetto even after he leaves office as the Bishop of Rome. So I don’t think people will have a hard time wrapping their minds around having a Pope who is no longer the Roman Pontiff”.

He makes the valid point that “Some have suggested that he should return to being “Cardinal Ratzinger.” That does not seem correct. If he had resigned before reaching the age of 80, after which a Cardinal may no longer vote in a papal conclave, I do not think he would have, should have or could have donned a red cassock and entered the conclave in the Sistine Chapel to vote for his successor. Instead, at 8:00 PM Rome time on February 28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI will have a new identity to which we will have to become accustomed: His Holiness, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, former Roman/Supreme Pontiff, Bishop Emeritus of Rome”. This makes sense, however there is some confusion over is dress. Will the retired bishop of Rome dress as the pope does in white, or will he dress as any bishop does, in purple.

Striking back against China

22/02/2013

After consistent and recent cyber attacks from China, often directed at US companies and even the Federal Government it has been reported that a response to China’s attacks is being formulated. Reports mention that “As public evidence mounts that the Chinese military is responsible for stealing massive amounts of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration is poised to spell out specific trade actions it may take against Beijing or any other country guilty of cyberespionage. According to officials familiar with the plans, the White House is eyeing fines, penalties and other trade restrictions as initial, more-aggressive steps the U.S. would take in response to what top officials say has been an unrelenting campaign of cyberstealing linked to the Chinese government. The new strategy is to be released Wednesday, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the threatened action. The White House plans come after a Virginia-based cybersecurity firm released a torrent of details Monday that tied a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai to years of cyberattacks against U.S. companies. After analyzing breaches that compromised more than 140 companies, Mandiant has concluded that they can be linked People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398. Military experts believe the unit is part of the People’s Liberation Army’s cyber-command, which is under the direct authority of the General Staff Department, China’s version of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As such, its activities would be likely to be authorized at the highest levels of China’s military”.

“Should not be expected”

22/02/2013

Today is the deadline for the SSPX to offer obedience to Pope Benedict yet it seems no such offer will occur.

The Vatican Information Service has today stated that the final days of the pontificate of Pope Benedict will be as follows, “At 9:00am on Saturday, 23 February, the Holy Father and the Roman Curia will conclude their spiritual exercises. Traditionally, the Pope addresses those present briefly. That same day, at 11:30am, he will meet with the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano. On Sunday, 24 February, Benedict XVI will pray the last Angelus of his pontificate with the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square. On Wednesday, 27 February, Benedict XVI’s final general audience will take place in St. Peter’s Square in the usual fashion, except for his re-entry to the Apostolic Palace, the path of which will wind around the square in the popemobile so that he may greet the many participants who are expected (to date, over 30,000 people have requested tickets). On 28 February, as announced in a notice from the Papal Household, he will personally greet all the cardinals present in Rome, that is, both those who are resident here and those who have come to the capitol in recent days. There will be no speech”. It had previously been thought that he would give a speech to the increasing number of cardinals in Rome that might clarify his views on who should succeed him.

 The VIS note going on to say “Regarding his departure from the Vatican, shortly before 5:00pm, the Pope will greet Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., in the San Damaso Courtyard and, upon reaching the Vatican heliport, will bid farewell to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. On arrival at Castel Gandolfo he will be received by the president and secretary of the Governorate of Vatican City, the mayor of the town, and other civil authorities and will appear at the balcony of the Apostolic Palace to greet the faithful present”.
It mentions “Regarding the issue of the Society of St. Pius X, he reaffirmed that the date of 22 February to decide the issue is pure hypothesis and that Benedict XVI has decided to entrust the matter to the next Pope, therefore, a definition of relations with that society should not be expected by the end of this pontificate. In conclusion, he confirmed that the Commission of Cardinals (Julian Herranz Casado, Jozef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi) set up by the Holy Father to prepare a report on the Holy See has made its results known exclusively to the Pope. The cardinals will not grant interviews or otherwise comment on the results”.
On the subject of Vatileaks Pope Benedict seems to have cleared the way, at least somewhat, for his successor. In a slew of late afternoon appointments announced today, Benedict has named Msgr Ettore Balestrero as apostolic nuncio to Colombia.  Media reports mention that Archbishop Balestrero appointment “had been months in the works and had nothing to do with the leaks investigation or what the Vatican considers baseless reporting. Balestrero was named undersecretary of the Vatican’s Foreign Ministry in 2009 and, among other tasks, has been a lead player in the Holy See’s efforts to get on the “white list” of financially transparent countries.  Pope Benedict XVI on Friday named him ambassador, or nuncio, to Colombia. Italian newspapers for days have been rife with un-sourced reports of the contents of the dossier, which was presented to Benedict in December. It was prepared by three cardinals after they investigated the origins of the leaks”. Others have noted the unusual timing “He is being replaced by Antoine Camilleri, former personal secretary to Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States. This is an unusual last minute nomination and an important one, particularly as the key role changeover is taking place at a very delicate moment, just days before Ratzinger leaves the papacy”.
Other nuncios appointed today were those in Liberia and El Slavador along with two that are awaiting the placet from their respective governments.

Benedict on the Council

22/02/2013

In a speech to the priests of the diocese of Rome, Benedict XVI discussed his personal memories of Vatican II.

Setting a precedent?

22/02/2013

An article in the Economist has asked what Pope Benedict’s resignation will mean for the Church.

It begins noting “no amount of breezy optimism, nor any amount of praise for the integrity and achievements of Pope Benedict XVI, can detract from the momentous historical significance of his announcement on February 11th—or from the fact that the conclave to elect his successor will be one of the oddest in the papacy’s two millennia. Benedict is one of only a handful of popes ever to resign”.

The piece gives a short but thoughtful exposition on his papacy, “Though stubbornly conservative in many respects, Benedict is also a radical (as displayed in his encyclical of 2005 on the theology of love). But he kept his most radical utterance till the end. Speaking in Latin at a routine event, he said: ‘After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.’ That several of the cardinals present failed to understand must have highlighted for Benedict, an ardent Latinist, how his church has lost touch with its traditions”.

The article then goes on to get to the deeper meaning of what Benedict has done, “How his resignation is construed will have great effects on his flock and the choice of its next shepherd”. It continues mentioning what has been noted by others, “Benedict had been toying with resignation for almost four years. Visiting the earthquake-stricken Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009, he left his pallium, the woollen band that is a symbol of the papal office, at the tomb of Celestine V, a reluctant pope who resigned to pray”. Yet, Benedict may not have decided to retire at the event. It has been mentioned that he only decided to take the decision himself only a few months ago, although there is not firmer date that has been given.

The piece goes on to mention that  “L’Osservatore Romano, said he reached his decision after an exhausting visit last March to Mexico and Cuba. The impending rigours of the Easter celebrations may have played a role too. Father Lombardi said it was the outcome of a continuous process of reflection. Benedict ‘didn’t take the decision and then fix a calendar’. Yet it is striking that shortly before Christmas the last nuns left the cloistered convent to which Benedict intends to retire, because of works on a new chapel and library”.

The article goes on to list some of the usual potential successors, Cardinal Scherer, Cardinal Turkson as well as some of the more outlandish ones like Cardinal Erdo.

The article continues making the valid point “In Benedict’s first sermon as pope, he asked the faithful to pray for their new shepherd “that I may not flee for fear of the wolves”. His fans feel the wolves won. A toxic row between his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and other Vatican factions lay behind the so-called Vatileaks scandal last year. The pope’s own butler was found to have leaked documents clearly damaging to Cardinal Bertone”.

Yet, much of the reason behind the row was the Cardinal Bertone was not an alumuns of the elite Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy that has trained all previous secretaries of State. This says much that Benedict did not trust the PEA graduates to assist him honestly, while at the same time it speaks volumes as to the lack of obedience the Roman Curia, staffed mostly by PEA graduates, showed to Benedict.  There is little doubt that these factions will go on long after Benedict has left, sadly.

The piece ends, “It will require a pope of towering stature to heal the wounds and overcome the divisions that have been opened in the past eight years. Will the new man feel intimidated or reassured by the knowledge that just across the Vatican gardens is his unseen predecessor, praying fervently for the recovery from its many ills of the Church to which he devoted his life?”.

116 electors

22/02/2013

Julius Riyadi Cardinal Darmaatmadja, S.J., archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, will  not be able to participate in the conclave because of serious problems with his  eyesight. He confirmed to the progressive deterioration of his vision and his needing assistance to read texts and documents. The cardinal electors will be 116.

No shame

22/02/2013

As the last week of of the reign of Pope Benedict XVI ticks away and the electors are moving their minds as to who will be the next pope some cardinals should not attend the conclave at all.

An article mentions that several cardinals are totally discredited, it notes “Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, has become the latest cardinal to be questioned over his handling of sex abuse by priests and victims”. The piece goes on to add “several are embroiled in controversies connected to the Church’s systemic failure to tackle sex abuse against children by paedophile priests. The question marks over the cardinals’ management of sex abuse cases are an embarrassment for the Holy See, just as Benedict prepares to resign the papacy next Thursday. Timothy Dolan, the charismatic archbishop of New York, who is considered to have a chance of being elected Benedict XVI’s successor, was formally questioned about abusive priests in his former archdiocese of Milwaukee, just days before his departure for Rome to take part in the conclave”.

The article goes on to note “Cardinal Dolan is the second American cardinal this week to be scrutinised over his role in the sex abuse scandals, which erupted in the United States in 2002. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, is due to be questioned on Saturday in a lawsuit over a visiting Mexican priest who police believe molested 26 children in the 1980s. Catholic groups in the US and Italy have called for Cardinal Mahony to be barred from the conclave, but he insists he will attend despite allegations that he shielded predatory priests”.

The piece goes on to mention Cardinal Brady, the archbishop of Armagh and his role in protecting priests who he knew were abusing children. The article adds later that Cardinal Danneels “had computer files seized at his home in 2010 over suspicions that he helped cover up hundreds of abuse cases. Justin Rigali, another American cardinal, retired as archbishop of Philadelphia in disgrace after a grand jury accused him of failing to do enough to tackle abusive priests”.

Indeed it was Cardinal Rigali who having been through a grand jury investigation in 2005 promised to clean up his diocese but a second grand jury report was equally damning of Rigali and his total failure to act.

It is clear that these men should absent themselves from the conclave so as not to cast a stain on a new papacy by guilt of association.

Altering the rules?

22/02/2013

Pope Benedict may change Church rules governing the conclave where cardinals from around the world will meet next month to secretly elect his successor, the Vatican said on Wednesday. Benedict was studying the possibility of making changes to two laws established by his predecessor Pope John Paul before he abdicates on February 28, a spokesman said.The changes may affect the timing of the start of the conclave.  Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict was considering making changes that would “harmonize” two documents approved by his predecessor. One governs the period while the papacy is vacant, known as the “Sede Vacante,” and another is more specific about the running of the conclave after it begins”.

“No reason to give it up now”

22/02/2013

In a counter article to Barry Posen’s piece “Pull Back”, Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth have written a counter response entitled, “Lean Forward: In Defence of American Engagement”.

The authors write “The details of U.S. foreign policy have differed from administration to administration, including the emphasis placed on democracy promotion and humanitarian goals, but for over 60 years, every president has agreed on the fundamental decision to remain deeply engaged in the world, even as the rationale for that strategy has shifted. During the Cold War, the United States’ security commitments to Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East served primarily to prevent Soviet encroachment into the world’s wealthiest and most resource-rich regions. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the aim has become to make these same regions more secure, and thus less threatening to the United States, and to use these security partnerships to foster the cooperation necessary for a stable and open international order. Now, more than ever, Washington might be tempted to abandon this grand strategy and pull back from the world. The rise of China is chipping away at the United States’ preponderance of power, a budget crisis has put defense spending on the chopping block, and two long wars have left the U.S. military and public exhausted”.

They write that those who favour a “globally engaged grand strategy wastes money by subsidizing the defense of well-off allies and generates resentment among foreign populations and governments. A more modest posture, they contend, would put an end to allies’ free-riding and defuse anti-American sentiment” are wrong and that “advocates of retrenchment overstate the costs of the current grand strategy and understate its benefits. In fact, the budgetary savings of lowering the United States’ international profile are debatable, and there is little evidence to suggest that an internationally engaged America provokes other countries to balance against it, becomes overextended, or gets dragged into unnecessary wars”.

They go on to make the valid point that “Calculating the savings of switching grand strategies, however, is not so simple, because it depends on the expenditures the current strategy demands and the amount required for its replacement — numbers that are hard to pin down. If the United States revoked all its security guarantees, brought home all its troops, shrank every branch of the military, and slashed its nuclear arsenal, it would save around $900 billion over ten years, according to Benjamin Friedman and Justin Logan of the Cato Institute. But few advocates of retrenchment endorse such a radical reduction; instead, most call for “restraint,” an “offshore balancing” strategy, or an “over the horizon” military posture. The savings these approaches would yield are less clear, since they depend on which security commitments Washington would abandon outright and how much it would cost to keep the remaining ones”. The authors go on to make the point that the cost of this engaged strategy and consequent defence budget is falling to 3% of GDP by 2017 from its current level of 4.5%.

The article adds “Indeed, it’s hard to see how the current grand strategy could generate true counterbalancing. Unlike past hegemons, the United States is geographically isolated, which means that it is far less threatening to other major states and that it faces no contiguous great-power rivals that could step up to the task of balancing against it. Moreover, any competitor would have a hard time matching the U.S. military. Not only is the United States so far ahead militarily in both quantitative and qualitative terms, but its security guarantees also give it the leverage to prevent allies from giving military technology to potential U.S. rivals”.

The piece goes on to argue that no nation balanced against the United States, even during the supposedly unilateral Bush administration, on the concept of soft balancing the authors note that people “have resorted to what scholars call ‘soft balancing,’ using international institutions and norms to constrain Washington. Setting aside the fact that soft balancing is a slippery concept and difficult to distinguish from everyday diplomatic competition, it is wrong to say that the practice only harms the United States. Arguably, as the global leader, the United States benefits from employing soft-balancing-style leverage more than any other country. After all, today’s rules and institutions came about under its auspices and largely reflect its interests, and so they are in fact tailor-made for soft balancing by the United States itself. In 2011, for example, Washington coordinated action with several Southeast Asian states to oppose Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea by pointing to established international law and norms”.

They then go on to rightly to dismiss the notion of imperial overstretch, “Another argument for retrenchment holds that the United States will fall prey to the same fate as past hegemons and accelerate its own decline. In order to keep its ambitious strategy in place, the logic goes, the country will have to divert resources away from more productive purposes — infrastructure, education, scientific research, and so on — that are necessary to keep its economy competitive. Allies, meanwhile, can get away with lower military expenditures and grow faster than they otherwise would. The historical evidence for this phenomenon is thin; for the most part, past superpowers lost their leadership not because they pursued hegemony but because other major powers balanced against them — a prospect that is not in the cards today”. They go on to write “there is no reason to believe that the pursuit of global leadership saps economic growth. Instead, most studies by economists find no clear relationship between military expenditures and economic decline”

They cleverly go on to make the point that “if it instead merely moved its forces over the horizon, as is more commonly proposed by advocates of retrenchment, whatever temptations there were to intervene would not disappear. The bigger problem with the idea that a forward posture distorts conceptions of the national interest, however, is that it rests on just one case: Iraq. That war is an outlier in terms of both its high costs (it accounts for some two-thirds of the casualties and budget costs of all U.S. wars since 1990) and the degree to which the United States shouldered them alone. In the Persian Gulf War and the interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya, U.S. allies bore more of the burden, controlling for the size of their economies and populations. Besides, the Iraq war was not an inevitable consequence of pursuing the United States’ existing grand strategy; many scholars and policymakers who prefer an engaged America strongly opposed the war. Likewise, continuing the current grand strategy in no way condemns the United States to more wars like it. Consider how the country, after it lost in Vietnam, waged the rest of the Cold War with proxies and highly limited interventions. Iraq has generated a similar reluctance to undertake large expeditionary operations — what the political scientist John Mueller has dubbed “the Iraq syndrome.” Those contending that the United States’ grand strategy ineluctably leads the country into temptation need to present much more evidence before their case can be convincing”.

The writers go on to link economic and military power, “Preoccupied with security issues, critics of the current grand strategy miss one of its most important benefits: sustaining an open global economy and a favorable place for the United States within it. To be sure, the sheer size of its output would guarantee the United States a major role in the global economy whatever grand strategy it adopted. Yet the country’s military dominance undergirds its economic leadership. In addition to protecting the world economy from instability, its military commitments and naval superiority help secure the sea-lanes and other shipping corridors that allow trade to flow freely and cheaply. Were the United States to pull back from the world, the task of securing the global commons would get much harder”.

They conclude, “A grand strategy of actively managing global security and promoting the liberal economic order has served the United States exceptionally well for the past six decades, and there is no reason to give it up now. The country’s globe-spanning posture is the devil we know, and a world with a disengaged America is the devil we don’t know”.

“Failing to reach agreement”

20/02/2013

The BBC has reported “Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has resigned after failing to reach agreement on forming a new government. Mr Jebali had been trying to form a new coalition in response to the political crisis sparked by the killing of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. He had said he would quit if his Islamist Ennahda party did not back his plan for a cabinet of technocrats. Mr Belaid’s assassination on 6 February provoked mass protests and resignations from Tunisia’s coalition government”.

The correct tone

20/02/2013

In light of the upcoming resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the New York Times has an article on Benedict. It begins noting Benedict is part of only a handful of popes to resign, “The most famous of these — the one whose resignation had all the earmarks of an abdication — was Pietro del Morrone, Pope Celestine V, the saintly Benedictine hermit who resigned in 1294 after only a few months, realizing that he was called to serve his church through prayer and penance rather than bitter politics and gorgeous, endless public ceremonies. It was a decision Benedict honoured. In July 2010 he attended the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Celestine’s birth in Sulmona”.

The piece goes on to note how Benedict had placed his pallium on Celestine’s tomb in 2009. It adds with the correct tone of respect of the complexity that is Benedict XVI, “Chief among the misunderstandings of Benedict’s pontificate are those that cluster around the unhelpful label of ‘conservative.’ He is far too astute a scholar and too modern a churchman for such a label to be of much use. Unfortunately, one still hears him accused of turning the clock back on the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, thwarting the liturgical renewal it mandated and keeping the laity firmly in its place — an impression that would not survive a careful reading of his papal documents alongside the actual texts of the council. In fact, under Benedict’s leadership, the celebration of Mass, the ‘source and summit’ of Catholic life, has begun to mirror more faithfully the reforms that the Second Vatican Council intended. Beauty is back in season, and millions of Catholics around the world are embracing this change with gratitude”.

The piece goes on, in a similar vein “Pope Benedict has opened a new era in the dialogue between religion and secular reason.        His errors, of course, have been amply recorded. Less attention has been given to his efforts to make amends. The speech he made in 2006 at the University of Regensburg was a public relations disaster: one wonders how, in the midst of a deeply thoughtful reflection on faith and reason, he failed to foresee the damage he would cause by quoting, without evaluation, the Islamophobic remarks of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. The upshot of the resulting debate, though, was an improvement in Catholic-Muslim relations, for which Pope Benedict deserves some credit. His critique of New Age versions of Buddhism as narcissistic was poorly phrased, and instantly misunderstood; yet even this gaffe provided an occasion for fruitful dialogue”.

It ends “Pope Benedict’s announcement that he is retiring — made on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick, on the threshold of an early Lent — was his ‘Nunc dimittis,’ his ‘I will diminish,’ his final summons to a weary church to look beyond politics and the calculus of power, and to recover its real sources of renewal”.

It is a credit to the journalist that such a piece was written given its complexity. Benedict should be treated with the utmost respect given what he has attempted to do over too short a time.

Turkson’s ignorance

20/02/2013

When Amanpour asked Turkson about the possibility of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal spreading to Africa, he said it would unlikely be in the same proportion as it has in Europe. ‘African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency,’ he said. ‘Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society.’ According to the American Psychological Association, ‘homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.'”

Looking inevitable

20/02/2013

In a highly worrisome article the Republicans seem to be unconcerned about the massive and sudden cuts/sequester to take place on 1 March.

The piece mentions “House GOP lawmakers say they do not fear political blowback if Congress fails  to prevent $85 billion in automatic spending cuts from triggering in two  weeks. The cuts known as the sequester are almost certain to hit the Pentagon and  non-defense discretionary spending on March 1, and congressional Republicans and  the White House are focused more now on avoiding blame for the cuts than  preventing them”.

The article continues “the White House warns that the cuts will reduce loan guarantees to small  businesses, end Head Start funding for 70,000 children and leave 373,000  seriously mentally ill people without treatment. It says there will be fewer food inspections, raising the potential for a  food-borne illness outbreak, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency  will need to eliminate grants for firefighters and emergency personnel. All of these dire warnings set up the potential to blame Republicans for  economic ills or emergencies that occur in the sequester’s wake, regardless of  whether they are directly caused by the $85 billion in cuts. Rank-and-file Republicans say they’re not worried their leverage could be cut  once the spending cuts are triggered, though they acknowledge Obama is a tough  political adversary”.

The piece goes on to add “Democrats unveiled a bill last week that would replace the sequester with  $110 billion in deficit reduction, but also includes $55 billion in new tax  revenues. The bill includes a measure to impose a minimum 30 percent tax on  millionaires, modeled after the ‘Buffett Rule,’ named for billionaire investor  Warren Buffett, a proponent of higher tax rates on the wealthy. Those tax provisions are unlikely to pass the GOP House, and Democrats are  prepared to charge that Republicans rejected a sequester replacement to protect  tax breaks for the wealthy”.

A seperate piece writes “the question in Washington is no longer whether the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester will be implemented: It’s when and even if the spending reductions will ever be shut off. The $85 billion in cuts looming on March 1 would run through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, leaving more than $900 billion in cuts for Congress and the White House to wrangle with over the next eight years”.

Not ready to jump

20/02/2013

The doctrinal preamble “would make possible the return of the Fraternity into the Church provided it recognizes the validity of the Missal of Paul VI, the Second Vatican Council, and the Magisterium as the authentic interpreter of Tradition … conditions rejected in July by the General Chapter of the FSSPX.  Also, in the absence of a positive response from Bishop Fellay by Friday, Rome would exercise the possibility of applying individually to each priest of the Society. Queried by La Croix , the Lefebvrist clergy do not seem ready to leap”.

Benedict’s musical legacy

20/02/2013

An interesting article disucsses the musical legacy of Pope Benedict. The author writes that “One of the many lasting legacies of the papacy of Benedict XVI concerns liturgical music. Enormous progress has been made in his papacy. Incredibly this progress has happened without new legislation, new restrictions, new mandates, or firm-handed attempts to impose discipline on musicians and artists. The change has happened through the means that Benedict XVI has always preferred: he has led through example and through the inspiration provided by his homilies and writings”.

He goes on to note “Gregorian chant is back but not just as a style preferred to the pop music that still dominates parish liturgy. More importantly, chant is back in its rightful place as the sung prayer of the liturgy”. This is part of the “reform of the reform” or New Liturgical Movement that has been at the heart of his papacy since his inception with his December 2005 speech to the Roman Curia.

He goes on to explain, “Gregorian chant is that ideal because it grew up alongside the Roman Rite ritual. It uses the text of that ritual. Its musical structure is a reflection of the liturgical purpose of the music. That’s why the chant between the readings is long and contemplative whereas the music of the entrance is more syllabic, thematically evocative, and forward feeling”.

He continues given a history since the end of the Second Vatican Council/Vatican II “Popes since Vatican II have attempted to turn the tide. Paul VI saw what was happening and regretted it all greatly. His solution appeared in 1974. It was a book of Latin music that he sent to all Bishops in the world, giving them permission to freely copy and use it. It was a proposal for a new core music for liturgy. He wrote: please ‘decide on the best ways of teaching the faithful the Latin chants of Jubilate Deo and of having them sing them…. You will thus be performing a new service for the Church in the domain of liturgical renewal.’ This fell on deaf ears. The music ended up in the waste can. His successor John Paul II issued several very important statements that similarly urged a change. They were beautifully written and inspiring. But again, it had no effect”.

However he moves swiftly to Cardinal Ratzinger, “He never feared the subject and this is for two reasons: 1) he understood the goals of Vatican II and saw that they had been seriously distorted, and 2) he was a trained music of the highest calibre who understood the role of music in the Roman Rite. When he became Pope, the changes began and they were relentless. We started hearing chant in Papal liturgy, just a bit at first and then more as time went on. With Summorum Pontificum (2007) he took away the stigma that had been attached to traditional chant by granting full permission to the liturgical structure that had originally given rise to chant. This was deeply encouraging for a generation that was ready to move forward. We started seeing chant workshops fill up. Groups began to form at the parish level. New resources started to be published by independent publishers. A real fire had been lit in the Catholic music world. And it all happened without any impositions or legislation. The musical program of St. Peter’s Basilica began to attract the attention of serious musicians. A new standard came to be applied to visiting choirs: you must know the basics of Gregorian chant or you cannot sing at St. Peter’s”.

He rightly ends on a note of thanks and praise, “What I find most impressive is the method that the pope used to achieve this. It was through inspiration and not imposition. For this reason, this change is fundamental and lasting. Mark my words: chant will come to a parish near you. We can thank Benedict XVI for his wisdom and foresight in achieving what most people thought was impossible”.

Stay!

20/02/2013

As she stood in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday to hear Benedict deliver his second-to-last Angelus message as pope, Alessandra Petrucciani said she wished he had not decided to retire. “The pope should have stayed; the bishops and cardinals should have gone,” she said, as she stood next to members of a traditionalist group who were shouting, “Stay! Stay!”

Success for Ireland?

20/02/2013

In what was seen as a “great success” by the Irish government in lengthening the amount of time to pay back the debt, and in effect, pay back more money over time. The not unreasonable hope from the government is that inflation will eat away at the capital sum, leaving only the interest to be paid back, over a longer period.

Media reports note that “A bank debt deal that will reduce the country’s borrowing needs by €20 billion in the coming decade and ease budget pressures over the next two years was unveiled by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil yesterday. There was sustained applause from Fine Gael and Labour TDs for the Taoiseach when he sat down after outlining the agreement with the European Central Bank (ECB) to the chamber. The announcement came after 24 hours of political drama which saw emergency legislation to liquidate the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), formerly Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society, being rushed through the Oireachtas early yesterday morning”.

The same piece goes on to add that “Kenny said the first payment of principal under the new deal will not now be made until 2038 and the last payment will be made in 2053. The average maturity of the Government bonds will be over 34 years as opposed to the seven to eight year average maturity on the promissory notes. ‘In effect, we have replaced a short-term, high interest rate overdraft that had to be paid down quickly through more expensive borrowings, with long-term, cheap, interest-only loans,’ said Mr Kenny. He said that as a result of the deal there would be a €20 billion reduction in the National Treasury Management Agency’s market borrowing requirements in the next decade with a very large reduction in the debt servicing costs of the State over the next generation. The Taoiseach said the agreement would bring the country €1 billion closer to attaining our 3 per cent deficit target by 2015. ‘This means that the expenditure reductions and tax increases will be of the order of €1 billion less to meet the 3 per cent deficit target,’ he said”.

Yet, it was Fianna Fail that tied bank debt to sovereign debt, under pressure from the ECB, and so made Ireland drown in debt when it could have been Iceland which let the banks go bankrupt, and started again, albeit with siginificant pain to people.

Another article notes that “deal happened only because the ECB agreed to bend rules Being able to manage one’s debts depends to a very great extent on their repayment terms. A small sum borrowed from a loan shark at a usurious interest rate can quickly balloon into an unpayable debt. An open-ended interest-free loan from a friend or relative can, by contrast, be easily managed and cause little worry. The new Government IOUs, unveiled with great fanfare yesterday to replace the promissory notes – the three-year-old IOUs issued to pay off depositors and creditors in Anglo and Irish Nationwide – appear at first analysis to be much closer to the latter kind of loan. While a deal on restructuring the promissory notes has been inevitable since the EU-IMF troika agreed to discuss the matter more than one year ago, the range of potential outcomes of those tortuous negotiations was wide. If the European Central Bank had really put its foot down, the deal reached might have been little more than symbolic.”

Now however, the Germans are attacking the plan, with typical tact. Reports indicate that “Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann has voiced concern that Ireland’s promissory notes deal came perilously close to illegal monetary financing. Last week the ECB “unanimously took note” of a plan to swap Anglo Irish promissory notes for sovereign bonds, easing Irish borrowing requirements by €20 billion. Mr Weidmann, a prominent member of the ECB governing council, has now hinted the deal set a dangerous precedent by blurring the ECB’s “clear line between monetary and fiscal issues”. “The transaction in Ireland demonstrates how difficult it is for monetary policy to free itself from the embrace of fiscal policy once you’re engaged,” he said to Bloomberg. The Bundesbank is unhappy with what it sees as indiscreet statements by Irish politicians on the role played by various officials in reaching the agreement.”

Ultimately the deal is little more than cosmetic with little significance for Ireland or any of the “bailout” countries in the troika programme and domestic Irish politics with the governing coalition gaining from it, though for how long is the most interesting question.

A personal prelature?

20/02/2013

Everybody now knows that the Ecclesia Dei Commission sent a letter to Bishop Fellay [Superior General of the Society] on January 8, and that an answer is expected from him by February 22, the day of the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. The erection of the Prelature of Saint Pius X could be dated from this day, February 22. This would represent the true conclusion of the pontificate of Benedict XVI”.

Bad for everyone

20/02/2013

In last month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, Barry Posen writes an article “Pull Back“, arguing for a less “interventionist” United States.

He opens the piece “Despite a decade of costly and indecisive warfare and mounting fiscal pressures, the long-standing consensus among American policymakers about U.S. grand strategy has remained remarkably intact. As the presidential campaign made clear, Republicans and Democrats may quibble over foreign policy at the margins, but they agree on the big picture: that the United States should dominate the world militarily, economically, and politically, as it has since the final years of the Cold War, a strategy of liberal hegemony”.

The war on terror may have been costly, but to say it was “indecisive” is risible. Terrorist networks are no longer as powerful as they were in 2001 and this is thanks to both President Bush and President Obama. What Posen does correctly point out is that there is little difference between Democrats and the GOP in this area.

Posen goes on to write “the U.S. government has expanded its sprawling Cold War-era network of security commitments and military bases. It has reinforced its existing alliances, adding new members to NATO and enhancing its security agreement with Japan. In the Persian Gulf, it has sought to protect the flow of oil with a full panoply of air, sea, and land forces, a goal that consumes at least 15 percent of the U.S. defense budget. Washington has put China on a watch list, ringing it in with a network of alliances, less formal relationships, and military bases. The United States’ activism has entailed a long list of ambitious foreign policy projects. Washington has tried to rescue failing states, intervening militarily in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya, variously attempting to defend human rights, suppress undesirable nationalist movements, and install democratic regimes. It has also tried to contain so-called rogue states that oppose the United States, such as Iran, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, North Korea, and, to a lesser degree, Syria. After 9/11, the struggle against al Qaeda and its allies dominated the agenda, but the George W. Bush administration defined this enterprise broadly and led the country into the painful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although the United States has long sought to discourage the spread of nuclear weapons, the prospect of nuclear-armed terrorists has added urgency to this objective, leading to constant tension with Iran and North Korea”.

What Posen and others like him do not answer sufficiently well, if at all, is who would take over this role if America were to disengage with the world? Posen continues, “This undisciplined, expensive, and bloody strategy has done untold harm to U.S. national security. It makes enemies almost as fast as it slays them, discourages allies from paying for their own defense, and convinces powerful states to band together and oppose Washington’s plans, further raising the costs of carrying out its foreign policy. During the 1990s, these consequences were manageable because the United States enjoyed such a favorable power position and chose its wars carefully. Over the last decade, however, the country’s relative power has deteriorated, and policymakers have made dreadful choices concerning which wars to fight and how to fight them”.

What Posen and others like him fail to see, and ackownledge is that US national security and US grand strategy are one and the same. America does what is does, firstly because it can, secondly becuase it wants to and thirdly because it is in its interests. Posen is not the first to make what is an unnatural differentation between the two strands that come together and benefit both the world as well as America itself. As to the unverified claim that America “makes enemies almost as fast as it slays them” this makes little real sense and to this day America’s only real enemies, i.e. those who wish it genuine harm, are numbered in the single digits. The rest of the world either knows and accepts that America is here to stay, in more or less its current form. However, Posen’s point about the problem of freeriders is undeniably true and gives little incentive for others to pay for their own security. Yet, is this the best he can come up with? This problem while a nusiance of the current international order is hardly its ultimate flaw. Lastly, the notion that America “chose its wars carefully” seems to say the least, bizarre. President Clinton had numerous warnings about terrorist extremism and did nothing. At the same time as making this point he seems, in the previous paragraph, to accept that Clinton’s other wars were largely beneficial, “defend human rights, suppress undesirable nationalist movements, and install democratic regimes”.

Amidst all the inaccuacies and falsehoods Posen rightly states “the Pentagon has come to depend on continuous infusions of cash simply to retain its current force structure — levels of spending that the Great Recession and the United States’ ballooning debt have rendered unsustainable”. This poses an extremely serious risk to America, and by extentsion, the world if it a long term solution is not found.  He goes on to note that America is rich, safe and well armed yet far more controversially he says “instead of relying on these inherent advantages for its security, the United States has acted with a profound sense of insecurity, adopting an unnecessarily militarized and forward-leaning foreign policy”.

Again the stark differences are revealed. America takes an expansionist view of the world, that all events are interlinked in this increasingly globalised world. This is in the world that America operates in, the only realistic attitude to take. Anything else would be naive and foolish. He cites “examples” of how this expansionist reading of realist doctrine has been recieved. He notes that “China and Russia regularly use the rules of liberal international institutions to delegitimize the United States’ actions. In the UN Security Council, they wielded their veto power to deny the West resolutions supporting the bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and more recently, they have slowed the effort to isolate Syria”. Yet if this is the best the Posen can come up with getting US actions delegitimised than so be it. Again Posen seems to be of two minds, “a country as large and as active as the United States intensifies these responses”. If America only “intensifies” these reponses then surely it would be better for America to act rather than stop something that, according to Posen would only be less “intense”.

Posen ends the piece arguing “Washington should not retreat into isolationism but refocus its efforts on its three biggest security challenges: preventing a powerful rival from upending the global balance of power, fighting terrorists, and limiting nuclear proliferation. These challenges are not new, but the United States must develop more carefully calculated and discriminating policies to address them”. He goes on to argue that Asian countries should balance against China, despite the fact that China has acted aggressively towards them and without America they are fractious and weak.

On the second point regarding terrorism he argues “it was partly the U.S. military’s presence in Saudi Arabia that radicalized Osama bin Laden and his followers in the first place”. This is true but wrong. US bases were in Saudi Arabia but now they are gone and America is still fighting the same terrorists. Posen is attempting to paint al-Qaeda as a group that can be negotiated with, when it fact it has no such desire. Only the destruction of America, to pretent otherwise is nothing short of dangerous. Posen does however make the valid point that “trying to reform other societies by force is too costly, the United States must fight terrorism with carefully applied force, rather than through wholesale nation-building efforts such as that in Afghanistan”.

Besides from the already stated problems with free-riding Posen’s argument is really isolationism in disguise. It would be bad for America, and bad for the world. In short, bad for everyone.

Conflicting signals

18/02/2013

Pope Benedict is sending mixed signals before the end of his reign and start of the conclave next month. In September he gave the pallium to Cardinal Scola privately which was taken as a sign of his favouring the Milan archbishop as his successor. However since then and it a break with custom, Benedict has named an active cardinal, Cardinal Ravasi to preach the Lenten spiritual exercises. Things are further confused by the fact that Rocco reports that a during Benedict XVI’s last Angelus during the Lenten exercises he said to pilgrims, “the Only to the Spanish-speaking faithful, however, did Benedict explicitly ask prayers ‘for me and for the next Pope.’ While the crowd was dotted with banners and signs being held aloft thanking the Pope and wishing him well, reports from the Piazza found that most attendees didn’t appear to be part of church groups, but simply showed up on their own”.

A view from Singapore

18/02/2013

A piece in Foreign Policy disucsses he “rise” of China with Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. The article begins noting, “China will continue growing several times faster than the United States and other Western competitors for the next decade, and probably for several more. Yes, China’s leaders are serious about becoming the top power in Asia and on the globe. As he says: ‘Why not? Their reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force.’ No, China will not simply take its seat within the postwar order created by the United States. Rather, ‘it is China’s intention to become the greatest power in the world — and to be accepted as China, not as an honorary member of the west,’ he said in a 2009 speech“.

Oddly, Lee seems to agree with theory that China and America must, if not fight, then have very real disagreements.  Yet, theory is only a guide and cannot accurately predict what will happen in the future with any great certainity. Lee’s view that China will surpassed America economically is also flawed. While growth in China will continue at a high level in comparison to the West and its current problems to say that this will result in the Chinese economy being the largest and remaining that way is overhyped. Even if China does surpass America in this regard, and there is no guarantee this will happen, on a whole host of areas such as patents and IP and innovation America, as well as the West (broadly defined) are far in advance of China.

As to Lee’s second point about China wanting to bee the world’s leader, as opposed to leader of the world, this should not be a suprise, from the actions China has persued over the last years from angering and provoking its neighbours to meddling in the affairs of other countries who making real reforms for the better of its people.

The article continues, “Western governments repeatedly appeal to China to prove its sense of international responsibility by being a good citizen in the global order set up by Western leaders in the aftermath of World War II. But as Kissinger observes, these appeals are ‘grating to a country that regards itself as adjusting to membership in an international system designed in its absence on the basis of programs it did not participate in developing.'” Yet as has been shown by is actions, China has no interest in working with its regional countries to solve the very real disputes that exist in the region. Instead it is content to bully its neighbours.

The article goes on to note “In Lee’s view, ‘the Chinese are in no hurry to displace the U.S. as the number one power in the world.’ As he told us in an interview, some Chinese, ‘imagine that the 21st century will belong to China, others expect to share the century with the U.S. as they build up to the Chinese century to follow.’ China’s strategy to achieving preeminence, according to Lee, is ‘to build a strong and prosperous future and use their huge and increasingly highly skilled and educated workforce to out-sell, and out-build all others.’ Militarily, China’s leaders do not envision a confrontation until the country has ‘overtaken the U.S. in the development and application of technology,’ an area in which it still lags”.

This Chinese waiting game will be to the clear advantage of America. As time passes there is an ever greater chance that China will overstep the mark, in an even more fundamental way, and cause either a small conflict or a more formal military alliance between Asia/ASEAN and America. Not only that but Chinese demographics are already in decline and will dictate the economic and military policy of the country as this decade, and the next, progress.

Half will withdraw

18/02/2013

At the State of the Union, President Obama announced that “34,000 troops – about half the U.S. force in Afghanistan – will withdraw by early 2014, a senior administration official said. The decision brings the United States one step closer to wrapping up the unpopular and costly 11-year-old war but also appeared to give the White House time and flexibility before it answers bigger questions about America’s exit strategy”.

Better than Bush?

18/02/2013

There has been much discussion on the legal framework for drone warfare saying it is too weak and too strong. David Cole writes that the Obama despite the criticism from the left about drone, Obama is still better than President Bush.

He opens the piece thus, “Justice Department ‘white paper’ purporting to justify the remote-controlled drone killing of an American citizen without charges or trial raised anew the question whether President Obama’s counterterrorism policy is more a continuation than a refutation of his predecessor’s controversial and much-criticized approach. Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times that President Obama has ’embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism.’ Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell compared Obama’s authorization of drone strikes to the Bush administration’s secret memos authorizing the CIA to subject terror suspects to waterboarding and other abusive interrogation tactics”.

Cole goes on to argue “claims that Obama is channeling Bush are grossly exaggerated. While both chose to use military as well as law enforcement measures to respond to the threat posed by al Qaeda, there is a world of difference between the approach Bush took to war powers and that taken by President Obama. Where Bush treated the law as an inconvenient obstacle to be thrust aside in the name of security, Obama has sought to pursue al Qaeda within the framework of the laws of war. Many of Obama’s policy choices deserve criticism, to be sure. And his reliance on secrecy is particularly disturbing. But to paint the two leaders with the same brush is to miss the difference between a leader who seeks to evade the law, and one who seeks to abide by it”.

Yet it is not just Obama’s closeness to Bush but other actions where the future president attempted to differentiate himself from Bush failed. This is seen most vividly in the misguded attempts of the administration to close Guantanamo Bay camp. A decision that was eventually reversed. Another was the military tribunals that he said he would close only to reverse that decision also.

He mentions “Both relied on secret Justice Department memos that redefined terms in ways that defy common sense. Where the torture memo said that only pain of the intensity associated with ‘organ failure or death’ constituted torture, the drone memo argues that the United States can kill in self-defense even where no attack is underway or being planned, radically redefining the traditional requirement of an ‘imminent’ attack as only George Orwell could have. Where the torture memo claimed that ‘enhanced interrogation’ was not barred by a federal law against torture, the drone memo argues that killing an American in Yemen with a drone does not violate a federal statute that prohibits killing an American abroad. Both memos were secret until leaked to the press”.

Cole goes on to write “President Lincoln authorized the killing of hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers, but no one claims that violated due process. If an American were fighting with al Qaeda on the battlefield against us, few would contend that due process bars our soldiers from shooting back at him. There is no dispute that the taking of an American’s life must comport with due process, but there are significant questions about what due process requires in a war setting”.

“That canonical provision”

16/02/2013

At least as far back as 2004, when he was still a Roman Curia cardinal – and Pope John Paul II was becoming increasingly incapacitated – Joseph Ratzinger praised the wisdom of that canonical provision”.

Rejected morality

16/02/2013

After President Obama’s State of the Union which included the proposal to raise the federal miminum wage to $9 an hour. An article notes John Boehner’s opposition to the proposal.

The article mentions “Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage by $1.75 over the course of three years is hardly radical. The minimum wage, after all, only goes up over time, and even Republican President George W. Bush signed a similarly incremental minimum wage hike into law during his second term. What probably concerns House Republicans, as well as the business lobby, most about Obama’s proposal is not the nominal minimum wage hike. It’s the inclusion of a cost-of-living adjustment, which would tweak the minimum wage each year to adjust for inflation. This would guarantee that workers on the lowest rung of the economic ladder don’t lose purchasing power, but it would also mean fast-food companies and other low-wage employers would have to pay higher wages just about every year, except in rare cases of deflation”.

The article goes on to add “it means lawmakers wouldn’t have to legislate a new minimum wage every few years. The cost-of-living provision would give members of Congress less to squabble about — and it would basically wipe out a bargaining chip for those who oppose higher minimum wages. The president’s proposal is only a day old, and the battle lines on the issue have barely been drawn”. It says much about society, not just in the United States, that a decent and honourable proposal can be ignored and undermined by vested interests in stark opposition to all common good and basic morality.

The article mentions “Republicans may try to give Democrats some kind of nominal increase in the minimum wage while jettisoning the cost-of-living piece of the package. Whether or not Democrats hold strong to the inflation measure may determine if they produce a truly progressive piece of legislation. Without it, the proposal isn’t much different from previous minimum wage increases, both Democratic and Republican”.

The piece continues “The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour since 2009, when the last of a series of increases signed by Bush went into effect. The $7.25 rate translates into a salary of about $14,500, well below a living wage in most areas. The federal rate prevails in 31 states that do not mandate a higher one. Ten states have already put cost-of-living adjustments on their books, meaning minimum-wage workers in those states see a raise just about every year”.

The fact that nothing has been done since 2009, even by President Obama himself, shows that much is wrong with Western societies. It shows how the debate has again been tilted in favour of those that are the very wealthiest who often have no conception of the kind of life many of the poorest are living on. The piece ends noting “indexing is championed mostly by advocates for low-wage workers, the idea has found some conservative adherents as well, given that it provides employers with predictability. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, most notably, said on the campaign trail last year that he supported tying the minimum wage to inflation. (He later qualified his remarks, saying the minimum wage shouldn’t be raised in a weak economy.)”.

If the GOP are to have any hope of winning over voters at the next elections they must surely see what is not only sensible, but moral.

Blocking Hagel

16/02/2013

By delaying a confirmation vote on Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, Senate Republicans have forced Leon Panetta to remain on the job he is eager to give up. But they’ve also given the White House an opportunity to cast the GOP as obstructing President Barack Obama’s assembly of a second-term national security team. Senate Republicans temporarily blocked a Hagel confirmation vote on Thursday, insisting that the administration must first answer more questions about its handling of a terrorist attack last September on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, called it ‘political posturing.’ ‘Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it got worse,’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the GOP forced the delay. The Senate action amounted to a parliamentary maneuver, with Democrats needing 60 votes for Hagel’s confirmation to move forward. It fell two votes short[of a filibuster”.

Libya, two years on

16/02/2013

An article has been written to mark two years since the revolution in Libya. The author writes that protests are expected due to the feeling that little progress has been made by the government since the fall of Gaddafi.

He goes on to write “In anticipation of the Libyan revolution’s anniversary on February 17, the authorities are calling for vigilance and restraint. Just to be on the safe side, though, they’re also implementing a broad array of security measures. De facto President Mohammed Magarief actually staged a military parade through Tripoli to demonstrate the government’s resolve.  Predictably, a number of media reports are correspondingly suggesting that a second “revolution” is about to take a place in Libya”.

However, instead of berating the government the author praises it, “The reality is that much has changed in Libya since the start of the revolution in February 2011. That’s when a revolt by anti-Qaddafi demonstrators in Benghazi triggered an all-out civil war that led to Qaddafi’s downfall and death eight months later. That paved the way for the creation of a revolutionary government that subsequently yielded to the elected administration that now runs the country. A new constitution was supposed to be approved within 330 days of the revolution. Still, though, the pace of change does not match the high expectations of many Libyans”. He goes on to write “Libyans understand very well that they voted the current authorities into office, and that they accordingly feel that they have a duty to hold their representatives accountable during this very critical stage. This is precisely the sentiment that Libyans are expressing in the run-up to the anniversary; there is no talk of any need to topple the government or otherwise restage the revolution”.

He goes on to describe how the constitution has been delayed by the federalists in the east of the country, “based in Benghazi in the east, have long been calling for a significant devolution of central government powers to the regions; last March they declared semi-autonomy for their part of the country”. He goes on to mention that the east of the country suffered under Gaddafi because he did not rely on the region for his power but adds that in the new Libya those in the east have “been suspicious of plans to have the members of the constitutional drafting committee appointed by the legislature which they feared might be used by Tripoli-based politicians to ensure that power remained centered in the capital. Last summer, on the eve of national elections, they managed to pressure the interim government into a compromise: It pledged to allow for direct election of the committee’s members, thus ensuring the federalists an effective role. That concession allowed the elections to go ahead as planned. But calls for greater decentralization have continued, of course. Some have been talking about restoring an article in the country’s 1951 constitution stating that Libya has two capitals, Tripoli and Benghazi”.

Of course, the danger is that if federalism were eventually agreed and enacted then the country would eventually split over the course of years or perhaps even months, depending on the political climate. This would be very dangerous, for Libya, as well as for the security of Europe that relies on a stable North Africa for its own peace and security.

The writer adds that another issue is the worries of too much power in the hands of too few, “Many Libyans accuse [President] Magariaf of overstepping his mandate by trying to assume a role as Libya’s head of state. He has been dividing his time between his position as the head of the legislature and the senior state executive, opening himself to accusations that he has been trying to concentrate too much power in his own hands. Others criticize him for failing to demonstrate effective leadership of the GNC. A few days ago, on February 9, Magariaf decided to respond to these concerns in an address to the nation. He did his best to demonstrate that he’s listening to popular discontent, promising to speed up the constitution-writing process and the peaceful transfer of power”.

He ends the piece noting, “Libya’s political scene benefits from the fact that it is balanced and less polarized than that of Egypt or Tunisia. Despite the widespread frustration at the slow pace of political progress, this balance is very crucial. The head of the GNC is a compromise candidate backed by the Islamist bloc, while the prime minister is a compromise candidate backed by the liberal bloc”.

Indeed Libya has great potential, small population, plenty of resources, proximity to Europe and its influence as well as a seemingly balanced political system, albeit in its nascent stages. This could ensure a peaceful Libya that could be exported as a model for the rest of North Africa.

“At least two weeks”

16/02/2013

A Senate confirmation vote on John O. Brennan as CIA director has been postponed for at least two weeks as lawmakers step up pressure on the Obama administration to provide more information about its drone campaign against terrorism suspects. In particular, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she is seeking seven Justice Department memos related to the administration’s targeted killing program, in addition to four the committee has been allowed to view”. This is not so much checks and balances as the Senate overriding the executive and putting America in danger.

The great humanitarian

16/02/2013

In an article that should have been posted a long time ago the achievements of George W Bush are lauded. He opens, “there are very few Americans around who even associate him with his achievement. Who’s this great humanitarian? The name might surprise you: it’s George W. Bush”.

He mentions “Both his detractors and supporters tend to view his time in office through the lens of the ‘war on terror’ and the policies that grew out of it. By contrast, only a few Americans have ever heard of PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush announced in his State of the Union address in 2003″. Caryl goes on to write that a decade later, “in his own State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama only briefly mentioned the goal of “realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation” — an allusion to the long-term aim of PEPFAR. Yet President Obama’s most recent budget proposals actually propose to cut spending on the program. That’s a pity. This might have been a good moment to celebrate ten years of an unprecedented American success in fighting one of the world’s most pernicious and destructive diseases”.

Caryl goes on to mention “In his 2003 speech, President Bush called upon Congress to sponsor an ambitious program to supply antiretroviral drugs and other treatments to HIV sufferers in Africa. Since then, the U.S. government has spent some $44 billion on the project (a figure that includes $7 billion contributed to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, a multilateral organization). By way of comparison, America’s most recent aircraft carrier — which will join the 10 we currently have in service — is set to cost $26.8 billion. One medical expert calls PEPFAR the ‘largest financial commitment of any country to global health and to treatment of any specific disease worldwide.’ It’s impossible to tell exactly how many lives the program has saved, though Secretary of State John Kerry recently claimed that 5 million people are alive today because of it. That’s probably as good an estimate as any”.

He continues writing, “The number of deaths from AIDS has been steadily declining over the past few years, and PEPFAR has certainly been a big help. But ask an American — or a Western European — if they’ve ever heard of the program, and they’re almost certainly to draw a blank. That’s partly because the United States has done very little to publicize the success of PEPFAR, and partly because the Bush presidency was overshadowed by much more high-profile aspects of his foreign policy (such as the invasion of Iraq). Indeed, Bush still enjoys high popularity ratings in Africa, where he’s widely regarded as one of the continent’s great benefactors”.

The piece ends, “this is the sort of business that America should be in. Yet the Obama administration is aiming to slash our commitment to this most potent form of smart diplomacy just at the moment when the possibility of wiping out this horrific disease is finally in sight. This is not the time to retreat”.