Archive for March, 2013

Israel’s demographic squeeze

31/03/2013

After President Obama’s speech to the people of Israel in which he both praised them for their economy and bravery, but at the same time warned them of the consequences of maintaining their current path he noted “peace is necessary. I believe that. I believe that peace is the only path to true security. You can be — you have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine”.

Miller writes that Israel can be two of; democratic, Jewish or in control of Palestinian lands. He goes on to make the point that President Obama made in his speech that has been made elsewhere.

He writes “It may just hold the key to understanding why some of Israel’s leaders — though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not be among them — are willing to sign on to the creation of a Palestinian state, and what sort of deal would appeal to them. In the quest to understand Israeli demographics, there is no better guide than Sergio Dellapergola. The Italian-born researcher holds a Ph.D. in demography from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he is now a professor emeritus of Israel-Diaspora relations. He has also lent his skills to the Israeli government, serving as a consultant to Israeli presidents and the Jerusalem municipality, among others”.

Miller goes on to write “More than 12 million people currently live in the territory between the Mediterranean shores and the Jordan River, what is known today as Israel and the Palestinian territories. Of these, about 8 million are legal residents of Israel — a total that includes those who live within its internationally recognized boundaries, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Jewish population in the West Bank. About 1.6 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, and about 2.3 million live in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem”, bur adds importantly “Of Israel’s legal population of about 8 million, 6 million are Jews, over 300,000 are non-Jewish relatives of Jews who immigrated in the framework of Israel’s Law of Return, and 1.7 million are Arabs — mostly Muslims, with Christian and Druze minorities. Of the Muslim population, about 300,000 live in East Jerusalem. Of Israel’s population of 6 million Jews, about 350,000 live in the West Bank”.

Miller then notes in a number of points, “The rate of population growth in the state of Israel is higher than the world’s average, estimated at 1.2 percent per year. Among Jews in Israel, it is 1.8 percent — a figure that includes both immigration and birth rates. Among Arabs in Israel, it is 2.2 percent. In the West Bank and Gaza, the annual population growth is 2.7 percent, including a slightly negative migration balance” he goes on to argue  that “Israel has the highest fertility rate of any developed country in the world — each woman bears over 3 children on average. Over the last 15 years, Jewish fertility has been slowly increasing — not just among observant Jews, but also in the highly secular city of Tel Aviv. Fertility among Jewish residents in the West Bank is above 5 children. Among Israel’s Muslims, fertility has been stable or slowly declining, and currently stands at 3.5 children” as well as the facts that “Immigration to Israel continues, though not at the same pace of the major immigration waves of the past. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 16,557 people immigrated to Israel in 2012 — down from 60,201 in 2000. The fact is, most Jews today live in more developed countries where the propensity for emigration is low”.

Crucially, Miller concludes that “The share of Jews among the total population in Israel and Palestine is slowly decreasing. This dynamic is largely being driven by population growth in the West Bank and Gaza: Within Israel proper, the current 79 percent share of Jews is expected to diminish by just a few percentage points by 2030. But if one also includes the West Bank and Gaza, the current roughly 50-50 division will change to a 56 percent Palestinian majority in 2030. Withdrawing from the Palestinian territories, then, has a dramatic effect on this demographic balance. Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, for instance, postponed the emergence of a Palestinian majority in Israel-ruled territory by 30 years”.

He ends the piece forcefully, “Israel faces two choices: It can be a conglomerate of tribes struggling against each other, or an open society that respects cultural and religious differences, where each citizen participates in building the economy and shaping the state’s institutions. Even more fundamentally, demographic trends mean that Israel can’t have it all. It can’t be a Jewish state, a democratic state, and a state in control of its whole historical land. It can only have two of its objectives at a time. Think of it this way: Israel can be Jewish and territorial — but not democratic. Or it can be democratic and territorial — but not Jewish. Or finally, it can be Jewish and democratic — but not territorial. This third choice is the one that can conceivably lead to a two-state solution”.

Adoramus te

29/03/2013

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per sanctam Crucem tuam Redemisti Mundum.

End of the monopoly

29/03/2013

An interesting piece has been written covering the development and spread of drones. He writes that China attempted to use unmanned aerial planes in combating crime.  “This case, however, is useful to think about when talking about the global market for unmanned aerial systems (aka “drones”) and where it is headed, a topic that got new energy last week with a New York Times report on the confusion as to whether it was American or Pakistani drones that carried out a controversial airstrike. Too often in policy and media circles, we discuss a supposed American monopoly on drones that is potentially ending. Or, as Time magazine entitled a story, ‘Drone Monopoly: Hope You Enjoyed It While It Lasted.’ The article goes on to say,’It is going to happen; the only question is when.’ The answer is: several years ago”.

He goes on to mention “the United States is ahead in the field of military robotics, and, given that we spend the most money and make the most operational use of unmanned systems, we certainly should be. All told, there are over 8,000 unmanned aircraft in the U.S. military inventory and another 12,000 plus unmanned ground vehicles. A growing number are large and armed, including the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reapers that get so much attention in the press. Depending on which source you want to cite, there are currently between 75 and 87 countries that have used unmanned aircraft in their militaries. Of these, at least 26 have larger systems, including Predator equivalents that are already armed or of a model that has been armed in the past, such as the Heron, made by IAI and used by the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as several countries via export. Only the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel are known to have used armed drones operationally, but as the case of Naw Kham illustrates, the limit on why others have not is frequently political, not technological. They are either not at war or have chosen not to go that route yet. However, these political limits are changing. Witness China’s open discussion of its plans in the People’s Daily, or Germany’s recent decision to acquire armed drones for deployments abroad, which follows Italy’s, France‘s, etc”.

He continues “the size issue is important to discussions of armed drones. It is not just that drones are becoming smaller, but they are also carrying smaller and smaller munitions. So, if you want, for example, to carry out a targeted killing, do you need to send a MQ-9 Reaper carrying a JDAM or a set of Hellfire missiles? Or would a guided missile the size of a rolled up magazine, or a tiny bomb the size of a beer can that is equipped with GPS (both already tested out at China Lake) fit the bill instead, especially if it comes with less collateral damage? And if that smaller weapon is all that you need, do you need a drone the size of an F-16 to carry it?”

He ends the article “only the United States has a global basing and strike architecture (for now), but that is also irrelevant to most of the issues the proliferation presents. No, Turkey cannot strike Mexico with its unmanned aircraft, but it really doesn’t want to. It can, however, reach into Northern Iraq and then cite U.S. precedent in Pakistan that would make for a sticky diplomatic situation. No, Hezbollah can’t fly its drones outside the Middle East. It has, however, demonstrated enhanced reach in the region with its own unmanned version of a mini-air force that has spooked Israel. Yes, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would find it difficult to gain and operate a Predator, but a terrorist has already planned to fly a drone into the Pentagon (he got the drone, but fortunately got caught by the FBI before he got the explosives), while hobbyists have already shown the ability to cross oceans with their drones. No, China can’t yet extend its power across regions, into say Somalia, like the United States can. But it is creating the infrastructure — from the drones, to the global satellite navigation system it has built in Beidu, to its “string of pearls” strategy in the Middle East — that will eventually allow it to do so”.

Taliban in Karchi

29/03/2013

The Taliban have entered Karchi, to predictable results.

A dangerous experiment

29/03/2013

Jeffery Gedmin, president of the Legatum Institute has written an article in Foreign Policy about Angel Merkel.

He begins the piece noting her background, “Merkel is a physicist by training, and the first thing you observe about her is that she’s not a pontificator. She’s a careful and patient collector of data. She loves due diligence and wants a complete picture before she reaches conclusions. It’s a rare thing in politics and public policy, where we all have our biases and pre-conceived notions. One thing’s for certain: Not too many politicians author doctoral dissertations with titles like, ‘Examination of the Mechanism of Decomposition Reactions with Simple Bond Breaking and the Calculation of their Rate Constants on the Basis of Quantum-Chemical and Statistical Methods.’ Merkel’s husband, by the way, is a quantum chemist and professor who, like the chancellor herself, grew up in East Germany. It became clear that day at our little lakeside seminar that Merkel was there to gather information. She’s empirical and deliberative. It was as if she wanted to place each piece of analysis and every single policy recommendation under a microscope”.

Gedmin goes on to say that crucially things in the eurozone have not gotten better and Merkel’s cautious, deliberative approach may have worked with reforming the German health care system but  her “leadership” of the eurozone crisis has been a disaster, “The eurozone is falling apart. The economics are finally catching up to the politics. It is fast becoming a matter of simple arithmetic. Have a look at the CEP Default Index, an interesting tool for tracking creditworthiness produced by the Centre for European Policy in Freiburg. The gap between fiscally disciplined and solvent countries on the one hand, and those mired in debt on the other, is growing ever wider. Unless things change dramatically, you won’t be able to keep all of Europe in the same common currency”.

Gedmin then writes, quite accurately, “On Merkel’s last trip to Athens, hundreds of thousands of protestors carried banners likening the German leader to Hitler and denouncing the new Fourth Reich. For their own reasons, the French are getting testy, too. With its economy in freefall, France is fed up with President François Hollande, whose standing continues to plummet — a mere 30 percent popularity after less than a year in office. That’s a record. The French have also had enough of German lectures on the virtues of austerity. Look for Franco-German tensions to grow worse, and for populist sentiment in France, as well as elsewhere across Europe, to increase. The inescapable facts are these: 1) There is no way the eurozone can hang together if it means endless German bailouts for countries that are unwilling or incapable of getting their public finances in order; and 2) there is no way Europe can have a stable and prosperous future if the French economy remains chronically ill and confidence between Paris and Berlin deteriorates”.

Gedmin continues arguing that “What’s needed? It’s not the fanciful dreams of Tory backbenchers. European integration of some sort is here to stay because most Europeans want it. What is needed, however, is flexibility, pragmatism, and a clear-eyed, orderly plan for a multi-speed Europe. What this requires is a new vision for Europe that includes allowing Greece and possibly other countries to exit the euro, a process that unavoidably entails serious financial and political costs. Avoiding short-term pain, though, means flirting with long-term meltdown and disaster. What Europe needs is imagination and leadership from Germany, the country with the biggest and healthiest economy. But there’s another aspect to the person of Angela Merkel — who’s almost certain to be chancellor again after September elections — that makes Europe’s rescue difficult”.

While he is correct to say that EU integration is here to stay, at least in the medium term, Gedmin misunderstands the popular support behind it, in that there is none. There is instead merely a technical realisation that it is needed but the nations of Europe are not clamouring for integration that has gone farther and faster than even the most committed of Europhiles could have dreamt. Similarly, his point about the German economy being health is accurate but momentary.

Too Islamist?

29/03/2013

The leader of the opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has resigned. Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said world powers had failed to help the rebels, and he could only improve the situation by working outside of the coalition. Analysts say Mr Khatib believed the coalition was too heavily influenced by Islamists and countries like Qatar.” Whether this given reason is true or not is at the very least, uncertain.

A base in Niger

29/03/2013

In a development that is to be welcomed, the United States, with the agreement of the government of Mali has established a drone base in the country.

An article in the Washington Post covering the story notes, “The newest outpost in the U.S. government’s empire of drone bases sits behind a razor-wire-topped wall outside this West African capital, blasted by 110-degree heat and the occasional sandstorm blowing from the Sahara. The U.S. Air Force began flying a handful of unarmed Predator drones from here last month. The gray, mosquito-shaped aircraft emerge sporadically from a borrowed hangar and soar north in search of al-Qaeda fighters and guerrillas from other groups hiding in the region’s untamed deserts and hills”.

The piece goes on to add “The harsh terrain of North and West Africa is rapidly emerging as yet another front in the United States’ long-running war against terrorist networks, a conflict that has fueled a revolution in drone warfare. Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has relied heavily on drones for operations, both declared and covert, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. U.S. drones also fly from allied bases in Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. Now, they are becoming a fixture in Africa. The U.S. military has built a major drone hub in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and flies unarmed Reaper drones from Ethiopia. Until recently, it conducted reconnaissance flights over East Africa from the island nation of the Seychelles“.

The article then says crucially, “Niger shares a long border with Mali, where an al-Qaeda affiliate and other Islamist groups have taken root. Niger also borders Libya and Nigeria, which are also struggling to contain armed extremist movements“. However, the hope is that it will strengthen the ailing government in Niger which some have argued is next on the list of failing or failed states to be used by terrorist networks. As the piece itself admits, “President Issoufou Mahamadou said his government invited Washington to send surveillance drones because he was worried that the country might not be able to defend its borders from Islamist fighters based in Mali, Libya or Nigeria”.

The writer mentions, almost in passing, that the drones are for surveillance at least initially. He goes on to write “Most of the surveillance missions are designed to track broad patterns of human activity and are not aimed at hunting individuals, said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Although French and African troops are engaged in combat in Mali, the Obama administration has not given the U.S. military the same authorization”.

Interestingly, he goes on to say, almost in admonition to the government, “the rules of engagement are blurry. Intelligence gathered by the Predators could indirectly help the French fix targets for airstrikes or prompt Nigerien security forces to take action on their territory. Moreover, U.S. officials have acknowledged that they could use lethal force under certain circumstances. Last month, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the U.S. military had designated ‘a handful of high-value individuals’ in North Africa for their suspected connections to al-Qaeda, making them potential targets for capture or killing”. This shows a certain naivety about the drones, or at least an unwillingness to see their efficacy. They should be used to give information to other forces fighting the same war as America otherwise there is little point in operating drones at all.

The article ends “Most Nigeriens are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network’s affiliate, and recognize that their country is vulnerable without foreign military help, said Boureima Abdou Daouda, an imam in Niamey who leads a regional council of religious leaders that advises governments on countering extremism. At the same time, as in many African countries, the presence of foreign troops is a sensitive issue given the history of colonialism in Niger”.

Thankfully America is there to assist Niger, and thereby itself, but any notion of “colonialism” is laughable and should be dismissed.

No more hot line

29/03/2013

North Korea cut off the last remaining military hot lines with South Korea on Wednesday, accusing President Park Geun-hye of South Korea of pursuing the same hard-line policy of her predecessor that the North blamed for a prolonged chill in inter-Korean relations. Amid tensions over the North’s third nuclear test last month and ensuing United Nations sanctions, North Korea had already shut down Red Cross hot lines with South Korea and a communication line with the American military command in South Korea. But the North’s decision to cut off military hot lines with South Korea on Wednesday was taken more seriously in Seoul because the two Koreas have used those four telephone lines to control daily cross-border traffic of workers and cargo traveling to the North Korean border town of Kaesong”.

Challenges for Francis

29/03/2013

John Allen has commented on the five challenges that await Francis. He writes “already there have been hints that Francis may be in earnest. On March 16, the Vatican issued a terse two-line statement indicating that heads of departments, who lost their jobs when the previous papacy ended, have been reappointed only donec aliter provideatur, meaning ‘until other provisions are made.’ Among insiders, those three words shook the world because they suggested major changes may be coming sooner rather than later”.

The first test he writes is a new choosing a new secretary of State. This has been discussed here before but Allen notes “As a complete outsider to the Vatican, Francis will need someone who knows where the bodies are buried. As a reformer, he’ll also need somebody who’s willing to shake things up. It’s no easy matter to find someone who knows the system from the inside but who’s also not captive to the status quo”. He then cites the names that have been mentioned, Archbishops Parolin, Ventura and Migliore as well as Cardinal Filoni and Cardinal Bertello.

He goes on to write, “The common denominators are that all five are Italian, which some believe to be crucial under a non-Italian pope; all are perceived as highly competent, and all are perceived to have lost internal power struggles at one point or another to the old guard in the Secretariat of State, meaning they might be more inclined than others to rattle some cages”. Interestingly he makes the point about Cardinal Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, that “An Argentine pope, however, probably would hesitate to appoint a fellow Argentine to the No. 2 position”.  Allen goes on to speculate that “If Francis really wants to roll the dice, he could reach into the ranks of diocesan bishops and find someone with a proven record as an administrator but who’s never been part of the Vatican scene and has no investment in its tribal rivalries”.

One possible name that could fit this criteria is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. Martin, 67, has been in Dublin to tidy up the wave of abuse cases that have rocked the Church in Ireland and is one of the only prelates that is still widely trusted and respected. This attribute is not something that can be said of the rest of his fellow bishops, not least the primate of All-Ireland. Archbishop Martin was not appointed to succeed Cardinal Brady but Martin’s lack of PEA credentials but curial and diplomatic experience could mean that he is just the person that Francis is looking for.

Allen goes on to write “There’s talk in Rome that the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known to the world as the Vatican bank, may soon be placed under the control of the government of the Vatican City State, headed by Bertello. Technically, the IOR is not an organism of the Holy See; it’s constituted as a privately held entity that reports to a committee of cardinals, and through them, directly to the pope. In the fall, the Council of Europe’s anti-money-laundering agency, Moneyval, raised questions about the lack of external regulation. Placing the bank under Bertello’s purview would be one way to responding to those concerns by inserting it into the normal governance structures of the Vatican. If Francis signs off on the plan, it would be at least a modest step toward reform”.

The next issue Allen that says Francis must face is Vatileaks. He mentions that even after Paolo Gabriele was pardoned that there are still many questions that have not been answered, “Were others involved? Gabriele testified that he discussed the general situation in the Vatican with at least four people: retired Cardinal Paolo Sardi, a former official in the Vatican Secretariat of State; Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica; Ingrid Stampa, a longtime assistant to Pope Benedict going back to his time as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger; and Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, who also worked in the Secretariat of State. In 2011, when Gabriele appeared on an Italian news broadcast in disguise, he asserted he was acting on behalf of “more than 20” insiders, but the accuracy of that claim was not pursued. Gabriele asserted during his testimony that he decided to begin leaking documents when he noted Benedict XVI would occasionally ask questions that suggested the pope was not being accurately informed about internal Vatican matters. Whether that’s true, and the extent to which it’s been remedied, were never resolved. Gabriele also said during his testimony that there was “profound unease” inside the Vatican related in part to perceptions that Benedict XVI’s desire for purification and reform weren’t being faithfully implemented by some of his aides”.

On a related matter if Francis really wanted to shake things up he could recall Archbishop Carlo Vigano who was dispatched to Washington as nuncio after a Vatican brawl with Cardinal Bertone and the Vatican finances. Normally he would return to Rome as an archpriest or some other related job. Instead Francis could appoint Vigano to replace Bertone. The only obvious negative would be Vigano’s age at 72, means that his tenure would be shorter than that of Bertone’s but it would send an unmistakable signal. Now it has been reported that perhaps Vigano was not as truthful as he should have been, “Criticism and doubts are growing about this latter report, the more it comes to light just how the Commission went about its work.  Relying primarily on the ‘complaints’ of the current Nuncio to the United States, Carlo Maria Viganò, and above all recording statements and accusations but without, in many cases, permitting a cross-examination. Limiting itself merely to recording them. One of the most controversial points concerns the so-called ‘investigation’, organized by Viganò at the Governorate, of a priest, Paolo Nicolini”. The article goes on to say “Nicolini was also consulted by the Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone. who asked him for technical information on the Governorate, of which Viganò was Secretary, and perhaps even about Viganò himself. This led Viganò to think Mons. Nicolini was playing a kind of double game, and when Bertone announced that he was not to become Cardinal, but would go off to be the Nuncio to the United States, the transparency case exploded”.

Lastly, Allen mentions the sexual abuse crisis, “reports that as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio did not take decisive actions with regard to two priests convicted of sexual abuse charges in 2007 and 2008. Victims’ groups have called on the new pope to release all the files on these two cases. Defenders note that by 2012, Bergoglio seemed to have adopted a much harder line, saying in an interview that ‘we must never turn a blind eye’ to abuse. He also criticized the earlier practice of shuffling abuser priests from parish to parish”.

Morsi’s decision reversed

29/03/2013

The appeal court has reversed President Morsi’s decision to dismiss former prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud from his post. Mahmoud was dismissed by President Morsi’s constitutional declaration in November 2012 and Talaat Abdullah was appointed to replace him. Under Egyptian law, the prosecutor-general can only be dismissed by judicial decree, not by the president”.

What austerity?

29/03/2013

An interesting article has appeared in the Daily Telegraph by Peter Oborne. He argues that the Conservative led coalition is in effect making things worse for the UK economy rather than better.

He begins the piece “Even the dogs in the street sensed that something had gone wrong. Even Labour voters got the point that Gordon Brown had spent far too much money, with the result that the economy had ground to a halt. Admittedly, few people exactly cheered when the Chancellor pledged his age of austerity. But a surprisingly large number of them understood. A groundswell of sensible, moderate, mainstream opinion – some of it on the Left – was behind the new Chancellor and his pledge to sort out Labour’s mess. Sadly, Mr Osborne has missed his chance”.

Obrone then proceeds to rightly criticise Chancellor George Osborne for his budget which among other things reduced the tax of beer and at the same time encouraged people to buy houses using government money. This measure alone will be a disaster and harks back to the disaterous policies of the previous populist government that had little regard for the consequences. They however had some, minor, excuse in that they assumed house prices would rise, Osborne has none.

The journalist goes on to argue “Osborne has talked of austerity ever since his ’emergency Budget’ almost three years ago. But at no stage has he delivered it, or anything like it. He has lacked the courage to challenge Mr Brown’s inheritance. His general approach to the economy has been the same – massive spending, tempered by deceit”.

He goes on to write “Osborne has made no attempt to reduce the Brown debt mountain. In fact, the national debt has grown far faster. According to yesterday’s figures, it is scheduled to stand at approximately £1,400 billion in 2015, up from the £800 billion inherited from Labour in 2010 – a rise of £600 billion in just five years, or the equivalent of roughly £25,000 for every household in the country. Remember that pledge to eliminate the deficit within the lifetime of this parliament? The deficit is instead in a position of equilibrium. The Government is spending approximately £120 billion more than it earns every year. This was the outcome in 2011/12, and in the financial year just ending. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the same result is expected next year as well. Admittedly, the OBR then projects that the deficit will start falling – but only because it forecasts the return of economic growth. Unfortunately, its estimates have been so hopeless that they can be ignored. Meanwhile, Mr Osborne’s much-vaunted spending cuts scarcely exist. Yesterday’s Budget figures show that annual expenditure is due to fall, in real terms, by 2.7 per cent between 2010 and 2017 (as the Centre for Policy Studies has usefully pointed out). By contrast, public spending rose by approximately 53 per cent in real terms – repeat, 53 per cent – over the previous decade. In such a context, the Chancellor’s cuts cannot be regarded as a serious contribution towards solving our economic crisis. They amount, on the contrary, to an abdication of responsibility”.

One of the largest reasons for the total lack of real austerity is the fact that the Ministries of Health, Education and International Development have all been ringfenced and therefore any cuts affect other ministries but the real spending of the government remains fundamentally untouched.

He adds later in the article “he [George Osborne] retains the bearing and style of a boom-time Chancellor, unloading various wheezes, stunts and giveaways aimed at key groups of swing voters, such as drinkers and house buyers, in the constituencies the Conservatives must win if they are to have a chance in the 2015 election. Fundamentally, this Budget was about that general election”.

He ends the article “So we should all ponder whether there is an ugly truth lurking out there: is the British electoral system simply incapable of coping any more with serious economic crises? New Labour racheted up spending by half in a decade, and nobody thought anything of it. By contrast, David Cameron’s Coalition has had the audacity to slice back a measly 2.7 per cent of that, and its members get lampooned as a bunch of sadists. The next election is starting to loom. Will any party dare enter it pledging cuts on the scale we need? More likely, all three will pledge to maintain a “ring-fence” around vital areas of public spending, and perhaps even court popularity through yet more spending promises. The markets are starting to sniff this weakness out. Yesterday’s Budget papers disclosed that, well before the end of this parliament, British national debt (judged by the Maastricht criteria, and so free of the tricks Mr Osborne is starting to use to hide its scale) will rise above 100 per cent of economic output. Yields on government bonds are starting to rise”.

However, Osborne has had the worst of both worlds. He has not cut truly into the debt and therefore has not had the (long term) benefits that this would have brought. Equally he has not embarked on all out Keynesianism borrowing through the economic crisis to build infrastructure and development . It is the worst of both worlds.

Obama’s lesson for Israel

27/03/2013

When Obama finally did get around to addressing that Israeli public in Thursday’s speech in Jerusalem, the president made the point unequivocally: “Political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.” Some might say Obama was following his own domestic playbook, as he has on issues from taxes to budget cuts to gun control. It’s as if he sees Bibi as an obstacle to change on par with the House Republicans or the Tea Party. Obama made his appeal to the Israeli public in an interesting way. He hit all the buttons in endorsing Israel’s own narrative — as one would expect from a visit that has resembled a schmooze-a-thon — but he added a surprising twist. Obama essentially offered Israelis a blank check while attaching a health warning: “Use with Caution.” If misused, like a kid inheriting a fortune, such blank checks can have devastating self-destructive consequences. Obama’s basic message — Israel has America’s unconditional support in perpetuity — could be interpreted as having told Israelis that even as you abandon recognizable democracy in favour of apartheid, the United States will still have your back”.

The European disaster

27/03/2013

Daniel Altman writes that the euro is destroying the continent of Europe. He writes “Just a few months ago, having won the Nobel Prize for Peace, it could boast of decades without a major war, the westward turn of the former Soviet satellites, and flourishing internal trade. But now its one big mistake — the euro — threatens to tear the union apart”.

It must be said however that much of the EU “advantages” had little to do with it and more to do with the Soviet Union that kept the continent focused on one overwhelming enemy coupled with it, in later years, bribing nations to adopt its methods, which admittedly has been quite successful.

He goes on to write “In 1999, the traditionally hard currencies of Europe’s north merged with the softer currencies of the south to form a new money that was somehow supposed to be stronger than any of the ones it replaced. Under the stewardship of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, the euro was meant to — and did — become a reserve currency to rival the dollar. Though the supposedly prudent northern countries didn’t always keep their budget deficits under control, they still managed to survive the worst of the global economic downturn”. As has been said a number of times elsewhere, the euro was not an economic project but a political project to bind the peoples of Europe together, whether they wanted to or not, in order to assuage the German fear of another war. This too was a fallacy with many claiming that the EU saved the continent from another Franco-German war which obviously ignores the existence of the Soviet Union coupled with the fact the both nations were democracies and therefore would not have gone to war, to say nothing of the fact that the Second World War was still imprinted on the minds of many in Europe, but especially Germany.

Altman then mentions “These crises would have been a lot shorter if the countries involved — Greece, Portugal, Spain, now Cyprus, soon Slovenia, and perhaps Italy for a second time — had possessed their own currencies. But all of them use the euro, so their monetary policy is set in Frankfurt at the ECB. Instead of devaluing their currencies in order to spur exports and ease the repayment of debts, all of these countries have had to undergo some combination of fiscal austerity, deflation, and, most notably in Cyprus’s case, loss of assets“.

He then makes the point “Parties at the extremes of the political spectrum have been gaining adherents, with nationalism a strong current on both sides. And so, in most of the southern countries, the balances of political power have been starting to fragment. One way to measure this fragmentation is the Herfindahl Index, which economists use to measure the degree of market power held by companies in an industry. Applied to a parliament, the index adds up the squared shares of the seats held by the parties; higher values indicate more concentration of power. Here is how the index evolved in southern countries that imposed austerity after the global financial crisis began in the fall of 2008″.

He ends to piece “The political fallout of the euro’s shortcomings is not limited to Europe’s south. In Britain, the Conservative Party has been dialing up its euro-skeptic rhetoric in response to the growing power of parties that oppose the country’s membership in the European Union. Even in Germany, linchpin of the eurozone, a new party has proposed scrapping the common currency but remaining in the political union. Last week Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German member of the European parliament who is of Greek extraction, warned that Brussels and Frankfurt had already awoken Europe’s ‘nationalist demons.’ To save the euro and the union, he suggested replacing austerity with ‘solidarity’ via a grand redistribution to the crisis countries”.

Therefore, far from “completing” their mission, not that it was even possible, of destroying the “evils” of nationalism  they have in fact reignited to levels that could be dangerous but are as a direct result of their heavy handed actions.

He closes the piece “One of my old academic advisers, Martin Feldstein, predicted in 1997 that the euro would ‘change the political character of Europe in ways that could lead to conflicts.’ He added: ‘War within Europe itself would be abhorrent but not impossible. The conflicts over economic policies and interference with national sovereignty could reinforce long-standing animosities based on history, nationality, and religion.’ Though war is not on the immediate horizon, paring down the eurozone now may be preferable to picking up the pieces later”.

Domestic production beats imports

27/03/2013

After US oil production rose to new highs of 7 million barrels a day, similar data has emerged, “The U.S. oil production boom will soon hit another milestone: monthly domestic production is on track to surpass crude oil imports later in 2013 for the first time since 1995. And then the gap will keep growing, according to the Energy Department’s independent statistical arm, which provides a look at the soon-to-cross lines here”.

A new authorisation?

27/03/2013

In her column Rosa Brooks has been giving out about the way America is fighting terrorism. She opens noting, “When a government is accused of activities that stretch or violate the law, it has three choices: 1) change the activities to conform with the law; 2) change the law to conform with the activities; or 3) lie (about the nature of the activities, the meaning of the law, or both)”.

She goes on to write “Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen more than a little such discomfort on the faces of those stuck with justifying U.S. drone policy to Congress and the public. That’s not surprising: As the targets of U.S. drone strikes have expanded from senior Taliban and al Qaeda operatives to a far broader range of individuals with only the most tenuous links to al Qaeda, the administration’s legal arguments for targeted killings have grown ever more tortured and complex. In particular, it’s gotten progressively more difficult for officials to avoid blushing while claiming that U.S. drone policy is fully consistent with Congress’s 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which authorizes force only against those who bear some responsibility for the 9/11 attacks”.

Firstly it should be said that Brooks is unable to prove that this supposedly “far broader range” of terrorists have “the most tenuous links” to what is undeniably a global terrorist network. Therefore to state categorically that what the administration is doing is incorrect, or even worse, unlawful is wrong. As has been said here a number of times Brooks, and some of her fellow writers draw too fine a distinction between those who committed the 11 September attacks that the group that armed, trained and sheltered them. It makes no sense to only attack those who committed those horrific attacks but no try and dismantlement the organisation responsible for them.

She goes on to write “With Option 3 — lie, lie, lie — off the table, and fudging and obfuscation growing harder to comfortably sustain, the thoughts of administration officials turn naturally to Option 2: change the law. Thus, as the Washington Post reported last weekend, some administration officials are apparently considering asking Congress for a new, improved “AUMF 2.0,” one that would place U.S. drone policy on firmer legal footing. Just who is behind this notion is unclear, but the idea of a revised AUMF has been gaining considerable bipartisan traction outside the administration. In a recent Hoover Institution publication, for instance, Bobby Chesney, who served in the Obama Justice Department, teams up with Brookings’s Ben Wittes and Bush administration veterans Jack Goldsmith and Matt Waxman to argue for a revised AUMF — one that can provide ‘a new legal foundation for next-generation terrorist threats.'”

Brooks adds “But ‘laws’ and ‘the rule of law’ are two different animals, and an expanded new AUMF is a bad idea. Sure, legislative authorization for the use of force against ‘next generation’ terrorist threats would give an additional veneer of legality to U.S. drone policy, and make congressional testimony less uncomfortable for John Brennan and Eric Holder. But an expanded AUMF would also likely lead to thoughtless further expansion of targeted killings. This would be strategically foolish, and would further undermine the rule of law. An expanded AUMF is also unnecessary. Even if Congress simply repealed the 2001 AUMF (as the New York Times editorial board urges) instead of revising it, the president already has all the legal authority he needs to keep the nation safe”.

Brooks continues, “U.S. drone policy is on shaky legal ground because the administration has lost sight of the difference between threats that are imminent and grave and threats better characterized as speculative and minor. We’ve lost all sense of perspective, and strategically, we’ve lost the ball. Rather than fudging the law and the facts, or changing the law, the administration would do better to revert to Option 1: reform U.S. drone policy to comply with longstanding legal norms governing the use of force”. The argument over imminent vs grave has been discussed elsewhere.

She argues “For most of the last dozen years, the AUMF provided adequate domestic legal cover for U.S. drone strikes, since nearly all the individuals targeted were believed to be senior Taliban or al Qaeda operatives. Of course, U.S. drone strikes could be criticized on other grounds — as strategically foolish, or as lacking in transparency and protections against abuse — but strictly from a legislative perspective, most of the early U.S. drone strikes appeared comfortably within the scope of the congressionally-granted authority to use force. But this has changed in the last few years. The 9/11 attacks are receding into the past, the war in Iraq — which also had its own special AUMF — is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, and al Qaeda has been significantly weakened. As a result, the United States is running out of “nations, organizations, or persons” that can plausibly be viewed as complicit in the 9/11 attacks. This does not mean we’ve run out of terrorists. The world, it turns out, offers a nearly inexhaustible supply of people who don’t much like the United States”.

As she rightly says there is no shortage of people who, for whatever reason, dislike the United States. However, she belittles those with have a rabid hatred of it and will use any method to attempt to weaken it by associating them with European “intellectuals” who disparage America all the while enjoying the security and economic guarantees that come with American power and hegemony.

She goes on in a similar vein “By 2009, the Obama administration was arguing in court that, at least when it comes to detention, the AUMF implicitly authorizes the president “to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” (my emphasis). Note how far this has shifted from the original language of the AUMF: The focus is no longer merely on those who were directly complicit in the 9/11 attacks, but on a far broader category of individuals”. Yet this is basic realism, protect your interests and attack your enemies.

“KIlling four militants”

27/03/2013

US drones fired two missiles at a vehicle in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt Thursday, killing four militants, security officials said. The attack took place in Datta Khel town, 35 kilometres (22 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in the lawless North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan. The area is a stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants. ‘Four drones came to the area around midnight and fired two missiles targeting a militant vehicle,’ a local security official said”

A deal for Cyprus

25/03/2013

The troika and Cyprus have agreed a “deal” that would stop the country leaving the eurozone. For the first time the EU has turned the “tradition logical” on its head, by imposing capital controls – in a supposedly free trade zone –  and at the same time imposed losses not only on those deposits over the secured €100,00 mark but on shareholders and bondholders first rather than forcing the taxpayers to take the burden on the losses of the banks involved. This was the exact opposite as to what occurred in Ireland where the government was forced/blackmailed by the EU to add the debts of the banks to the sovereign debt thereby crippling the country.

The contents of the agreement are that “Cyprus’ Popular Bank – Laiki in Greek – will be effectively shut down ‘with full contribution of equity shareholders, bond holders and uninsured depositors.’ It is thought that deposits up to €100,000 are insured, and thus not subject to any tax or ‘haircut.’ Laiki will be broken up into an institution with valid assets and a ‘bad bank’ that takes on the risky ones. The bad bank will be slowly dissolved. The valid part of Laiki will be integrated into the Bank of Cyprus (BoC).That integration will be assisted with €9bn of Emergency Liquidity Assistance provided by the European Central Bank (ECB). ‘Only uninsured deposits in BoC will remain frozen until recapitalisation has been effected, and may subsequently be subject to appropriate conditions.’ The ECB governing council will continue to provide the BoC with liquidity ‘in line with applicable rules.'”

A different article mentions the mixed response from Russia, “In what seemed a climbdown from earlier criticism, Mr Putin expressed support for the €10bn EU-IMF rescue deal, despite the heavy blow it will deal Russian businesses on the Mediterranean island. The Russian president also approved the restructuring of an existing €2.5bn Russian loan to Cyprus to extend its payback deadline beyond 2016. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: ‘Considering the decisions adopted by the Eurogroup, Putin considers it possible to support the efforts of the president of Cyprus and the European Commission aimed at overcoming the crisis in the banking system of this island state.’ That was a surprisingly muted response as analysts’ predicted the discount on deposits of more than €100,000 demanded by the deal could punish Russians – who have an estimated total of €24bn in corporate and private accounts – hardest of all. Last week Mr Putin referred to an earlier plan to levy a tax on depositors as ‘unjust,unprofessional and dangerous’. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a meeting with his deputies near Moscow there was a need to ‘understand what this story turns into in the long run, what the consequences for the international financial and monetary system will be – and thus, for our own interests as well.'”

Daniel Drezner writes, “I’ve been pretty insistent that the most surprising thing about the aftermath to the 2008 financial crisis is how much global policy norms haven’t changed. By and large the major economies are still rhetorically and substantively committed to trade liberalization, foreign direct investment, and a constrained role for the state in the private sector. The one exception? Capital controls. The earth has moved here”. Drezner goes on to quote the Economist but sumarises it noting, “as the Economist explains, the current Cypriot reaction is based on the fact that the new deal is a damn sight better for them than the previous deal”.

Drezner goes on to write “So much for Russia as a counterweight to the European Union. Cyprus tried to realign itself closer to Moscow, but it didn’t take. Furthermore, the new deal really puts the screws on the large deposits of Russian investors that have parked their money in Nicosia”. Furthermore he seems to endorse the view that as things stand Russia has lost against the EU with large deposits in Cyprus taxed heavily.

Leaving another part

23/03/2013

Reports note that “Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces have reached an agreement on the departure of foreign troops from a strategically key province near the capital, coalition forces said, but it was unclear if US special forces would leave. An Afghan defence ministry spokesman told reporters in Kabul that the elite American force would quit Wardak within a few days, despite earlier US concerns that their departure would leave a security vacuum. The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan said in a statement Afghan security forces would take over security from coalition forces in Wardak, but did specifically mention the withdrawal of U.S special forces. The expulsion of US special forces has raised fears that Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami militants might use Wardak, just a 40-minute drive from Kabul, as a launch pad for attacks on the capital. Karzai first ordered their expulsion last month, after villagers accused them of torturing and killing civilians, an allegation the US special forces denied”.

Drones under DoD

23/03/2013

Following the news that the drone programme will be transferred from the CIA to the Department of Defence, with other reports noting “U.S. officials said this week that the White House is working to move its lethal drone program from the CIA to the Department of Defense, which would make the targeted killing campaign dependent on the consent of host countries and subject to international laws of war (WSJ, NYT, DailyBeast). But it remains unclear to what extent the move will bring greater transparency and accountability to the program, as the current proposal leaves Pakistan, where the vast majority of U.S. drone strikes have taken place, under the jurisdiction of the CIA. And the program could be transferred to the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, a sector of the military that is just as (if not more) secretive than the CIA”.

Some have questioned whether this move from the CIA to the Pentagon will more more transparency, or less. The writer, Matthew Waxman, opens “According to Daniel Klaidman at the Daily Beast, ‘[T]he White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA’s lethal targeting program to the Defense Department.’ Many critics of the government’s targeted-killing policy have been calling for such a move, hoping that it would (in Klaidman’s words) ‘toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency.’ That may be. But if what those critics really want is to end the practice of killing suspected al Qaeda fighters with unmanned aircraft far from active combat zones, they should be careful what they wish for”.

He goes on to mention “Although technically “covert” and carried out under statutory and presidential authorities designed to preserve ‘plausible deniability,’ it’s an open secret that the CIA has been conducting counterterrorism strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen. The U.S. military conducts similar strikes, usually through Joint Special Operations Command, including in Yemen and Somalia”.

Waxman goes on to say crucially “critics often underestimate oversight of CIA activities and overestimate the openness of military operations. Even if the Pentagon conducts all U.S. drone strikes, the operational details will still be shrouded in secrecy, the CIA will still provide targeting information, and much of the congressional oversight will still be conducted behind closed doors (though it will shift from the intelligence committees to the armed services committees). The CIA is also subject to some statutory congressional reporting requirements that the Defense Department is not. That said, moving all strikes under Defense Department control and eliminating their officially covert status will probably allow executive branch officials and members of Congress to speak more clearly and openly about general policy in this area”. This then is the best of both worlds. Enough secrecy to allow the highly successful operations to continue while at the same time keeping the public informed in a general sense about the basics of the operations, but no more.

He goes on to writes “With regard to the legal rules that govern targeting, it may be that shifting operations to the Defense Department will promote stricter compliance. In a 2012 speech, the CIA general counsel stated that the agency conducts its operations “in a manner consistent with the…basic principles in the law of armed conflict” — not that the CIA is legally required to comply with the rules — which led many to wonder whether the agency was operating outside their bounds. The military is also much better practiced than the CIA in applying the law of armed conflict and assessing collateral damage”.

He goes on to add summarising this point “moving operations to the Pentagon may modestly improve transparency and compliance with the law but — ironically for drone critics — it may also entrench targeted-killing policy for the long term”. This however is excellent news not only for their efficiency but also as a way of saving America (hundreds) millions of dollars. The only concern on this front however is that they are used when other forces should be used instead.

So much for closure

23/03/2013

After President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantánamo Bay at the beginning of his presidency in 2009 the administration has gone in the opposite direction, “The United States Southern Command has requested $49 million to build a new prison building at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for “special” detainees on top of other renovations it says are necessary since Congress has decided to keep it open indefinitely. That brings the potential taxpayer bill for upgrading the deteriorating facilities to an estimated $195.7 million, the military said”.

“Should care about the election”

23/03/2013

Last week the Economist published two articles on Pope Francis.

The first discusses his national origins and its significance. The article opens “non-believers and non-Catholics should care about the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis. The church which he will now head matters. Its unique privileges in the secular world (such as statehood and a voice at the UN) open it to secular scrutiny. Its good works (such as orphanages and hospitals) are vital. It matters in diplomacy, especially in behind-the-scenes peacemaking. It helped destroy Soviet communism, a global evil. Its stubborn defence of religious freedom is a headache for China’s rulers”. Of course its “unique privileges” such as statehood are absolutely essential for its freedom to operate in the world and give the Church a voice in fora such as the UN that would otherwise be non-existent or, worse, lacking completely.

The article goes on to say “The church’s cover-up of sexual abuse over past decades in many countries was illegal and compounded the victims’ hurt. The Vatican Bank, another quirky privilege of the Holy See’s special status, has failed to curb money-laundering. And, from sectarian chants at Scottish football matches to the outgoing Pope Benedict’s clumsy criticisms of Islam, tensions with other religions can turn into violent strife”. The cover up by he Church has been immoral and the very definition of sin itself but Pope Benedict himself has begun to reverse this course drawing up global norms for the Church that most have followed, although this worryingly excludes parts of Africa. With regards to the “clumsy criticisms of Islam”, Pope Benedict was correct to state in his September 2006 address, and elsewhere in his writings, that only when religion is anchored in reason does it flourish. This was the challenged he posed to Islam and those with authority in Islam.

The writer goes on to mention rather boringly, “it is as the world’s largest membership organisation that the church has its biggest role. It makes its 1.2 billion people—rich and poor, of all ages and conditions—feel that they are part of some sort of larger world order; that even in the poorest and most benighted country, their hopes and fears count and that someone in authority is listening to them. For this last reason alone, Francis is an earthquake (see article). Just as the election of a Pole in 1978 helped presage the fall of the iron curtain and the reunification of Europe, the Argentine’s election heralds the shift in economic—and political—power from north to south”. This shift of political and economic power has been overwrought and dealt with elsewhere here and in other fora and therefore it would be a mistake to believe a pope that is not from Europe is indicative of a political and economic shift.

The writer continues “Despite his age and his closeness to the conservative Benedict, Francis may be a reformer. It is hard to imagine a man who ditched his limousine and palace in Buenos Aires and took the bus to work from a humble flat putting up with nonsense from Vatican smoothies. In Europe religion may be declining; in Latin America Christianity—albeit of many kinds—is still thriving”.

The remainder of the artilce divides into two sections, doctrinal and temporal. Referring to the first it notes wholly accurately, “In terms of doctrine, the list of rules that the church defends with great cost and mixed success begins, from our perspective at least, with priestly celibacy. Many priests are married—ex-Anglicans, and the Byzantine-rite Catholics of eastern Europe. All the scriptural evidence suggests that the first pope, Peter, had a wife. Allowing other clergy to do likewise would help stem the decline in the priesthood and relieve a great burden of suffering and loneliness. With that taboo gone, others could follow, such as the ban on artificial contraception. This may be too much for Francis”. Those in the other category are predicable and either achievable or laughable, “Ditching his Italian holiday residence for a southern one, in Latin America, Asia or Africa, would be a start. Rejigging the college of cardinals”.

The second piece notes “At the age of 76, Francis is old enough to be considered another transitional leader, but vigorous enough to leave an enduring mark on the world’s largest Christian church. His first words from the balcony at the front of St Peter’s basilica could not have been more disarming”.

Levin breaks ranks

23/03/2013

Sen. Carl Levin, of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke ranks from President Obama on Thursday and sided with Republicans by calling for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria on behalf of the rebels. “We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally,” Levin wrote the president, on Thursday, in a letter co-signed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was the committee’s ranking member until this year. The letter comes just days after Levin told The Cable’s Josh Rogin he supported the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, following a hearing with Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander”.

Too focused?

23/03/2013

A report seen by the Washington Post‘s Greg Miller has mentioned that America has been too concerned with terrorism and not focused on other threats such as the “rise” of China.

Miller writes, “A panel of White House advisers warned President Obama in a secret report that U.S. spy agencies were paying inadequate attention to China, the Middle East and other national security flash points because they had become too focused on military operations and drone strikes”.

The piece goes on to say “Led by influential figures including new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former senator David L. Boren (D-Okla.), the panel concluded in a report last year that the roles of the CIA, the National Security Agency and other spy services had been distorted by more than a decade of conflict”. This is exactly the strategy that the administration has taken recently with the nomination and eventual confirmation of John Brennan to lead the CIA. This shift was further underlined by other officials who said that terrorism prevention will eventually become a domestic law enforcement issue rather than the current focus of the CIA and other related agencies.

The article goes on to mention “intelligence officials cautioned that any course adjustments are likely to be more incremental than wholesale. One reason is continued concern about the al-Qaeda threat. But another is the influence accumulated by counterterrorism institutions such as the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center as they have expanded over the past decade. Even Brennan made it clear that the CIA will not relinquish its fleet of armed drones, saying in written answers submitted to lawmakers as part of his confirmation that the agency had a long paramilitary history and ‘must continue to be able to provide the president with this option.’ Still, the advisory board’s previously undisclosed report reflects a broader concern about central aspects of the way counterterrorism operations are being prosecuted nearly 12 years after they began”.

The piece ends “officials acknowledged that demands on spy agencies have grown in recent years, driven by political turmoil associated with the Arab Spring, the cyber-espionage threat posed by China and the splintering of militant groups in North Africa. The pressure has been compounded by shrinking or stagnant budgets for most agencies after years of double-digit increases. But officials disputed the suggestion that spy agencies have faltered in their ability to stay abreast of developments”.

While it would be a mistake to berate the administration, and its predecessor, for fighting what is an existential threat the report, if its contents are accurate, hold valuable lessons that understandably must be dealt with also. The most obvious of these is the threat caused to US security by China.

Fifth largest weapons supplier

23/03/2013

“Another sign of China’s rise: the Asian giant has replaced Britain as the world’s fifth-largest weapons supplier, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. As SIPRI notes, this is the first time that Britain hasn’t made the top five since the institute started the rankings in 1950. The amount of weapons China exported increased by 162 percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, bumping its share of the global arms trade from 2 percent to 5 percent. What’s behind this spike in Chinese weapons sales? Pakistan’s efforts to modernize its arsenal. Pakistan has been buying everything from JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to F-22P frigates, both of which are being jointly developed by Pakistan and China and are loaded with Chinese weapons”.

Rove to the rescue?

23/03/2013

There has been much talk about how to reform the Republican Party after its loss of the presidency last year. An article follows this debate and notes that some have suggested following the advice of former Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House, Karl Rove.

The piece mentions “the GOP establishment is eager to have the party look slightly less crazy on everything from foreign policy to women’s issues. Karl Rove has launched a controversial plan to try and weed out unelectable Tea Party candidates from the primary process. Party Chairman Reince Priebus just issued a tough report detailing the party’s many failings in the last presidential election, saying, ‘There’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; and our primary and debate process needed improvement.’ But as the CPAC crowd’s disdain for such ideas as “Republican in Name Only’ made clear, the Washington Republican establishment has lost almost all connection to the party it is supposed to represent. Indeed, if moderation and responsibility are new watchwords for Republican elites, this message was entirely lost on the red-meat speakers at the CPAC podium”.

Whatever about foreign policy issues which despite Rove’s own bluster is indistinguishable from what the Democrats actually do when in office. There are serious concerns about the unhinged grass roots of the party that continues to support people like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in the last cycle to say nothing of people like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. This is in addition to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who during the confirmation hearings of Chuck Hagel implied hat the nominee supported Iran. Either the higher echelons of the GOP must either reason with the people who support these “candidates” or alternatively ignore them altogether and radically centralise the way the party chooses its candidates.

The writer goes on to mention “CPAC also continued the Republican obsession with the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, and the conference dedicated a full session to further exploring the hidden facts of what it proclaims to be a monumental scandal. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman accused President Obama of going AWOL during the assault, as Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire vowed to ‘get to the bottom of this.’ To an outside observer, the fixation on Benghazi is looking more and more like the John Birch Society’s old conviction that plans to put fluoride in the drinking water were a communist mind control plot”.

He goes on to add “it was equally notable what wasn’t discussed. Issues like free trade, an effective NATO alliance, and even missile-defense plans, long a conservative hobby horse received nary a mention. There was no real effort to come to terms with the hard lessons learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos championed by President George W. Bush. There was no real embrace even of major Bush successes, such as his efforts to combat HIV/AIDS by creating PEPFAR or to make foreign aid more focused by creating the Millennium Challenge Corporation”.

The piece ends “they will have to aggressively take on the lunatic fringe within the party. It says a great deal about the current state of affairs that Karl Rove, a political consultant dubbed Turdblossom by President Bush and portrayed by a canned ham on the Colbert Report, is getting an audition as a white knight”.

Feinstein vs McCain

23/03/2013

If Barack Obama is moving the CIA’s drone program to the Pentagon, as Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman reports, he has yet to convince senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein that it’s a good idea. On Capitol Hill yesterday, Feinstein cast doubt on the prospect of transferring the targeted killing program to the Defense Department, where it would presumably come under stricter oversight. Her remarks, largely overlooked in yesterday’s news, were picked up by John Bennett at Defense News.  The blog post goes on to add “, transferring the program to the Pentagon would likely put it under the auspices of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. And Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican of the Armed Services Committee, just so happens to support the idea of the Pentagon taking it over. “The majority of it can be conducted by the Department of Defense,” McCain said yesterday. ‘It’s not the job of the Central Intelligence Agency…. It’s the military’s job.'”

The first appointments

21/03/2013

There are a number of appointments the Pope Francis will make over the coming weeks and months. Among the first and most obviously prominent appointment he must make is that of the secretary of State to replace the aging Cardinal Bertone who has been in the role since September 2006.

John Allen writes that “when Francis said some of the cardinals had suggested he call himself Adrian VII after Pope Adrian VI in the 16th century, who tried to tackle the corruption and scandal that bred the Protestant Reformation. The mere fact that cardinals suggested this to Francis hints at something that’s been abundantly documented in other reporting: The new pope was elected on a reform mandate, beginning with a serious house-cleaning in the Roman Curia. The other hint came in a brief two-line statement, also issued Saturday, that indicated Francis had decided to reappoint the Vatican officials who lost their jobs when the previous papacy ended, but was only doing so donec aliter provideatur — ‘until other provisions are made.'”

He goes on to mention “the most important appointment Pope Francis will make in the days to come is his Secretary of State, the figure who’s more or less the prime minister in the Vatican system. Fairly or not, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State under Benedict XVI, is widely faulted for the failures in business management that have dogged Benedict’s reign, and Francis’ choice of a replacement thus looms as especially significant. Some early speculation has fallen on Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni as a possible choice. If so, it would arguably be in keeping with the new pope’s character: Filoni, 66, was the lone Western diplomat to remain on the ground in Baghdad in 2003 when he was serving as the papal ambassador and the bombs began to fall”.

He adds “Despite being a career Vatican bureaucrat, Filoni had a falling out with Bertone, so he would be perceived as a break with the past. Another oft-mentioned possibility is Archbishop Pietro Parolin, currently the pope’s ambassador to Venezuela and the Vatican’s former under-secretary for relations with states. Until being shipped off to Latin America in 2009, Parolin had the reputation of being the brains behind most Vatican diplomatic initiatives, one of the few people one could engage in the Secretariat of State with the energy and imagination to get things done. Other candidates being floated include Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, head of the Vatican City State, and Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, the papal ambassador to Colombia. Balestrero was the architect of the Vatican’s effort to meet global anti-money-laundering standards, and like Parolin, was seen as the best and brightest within the Secretariat of State before being sent packing. Of course, the election of Francis himself was a long shot, and there’s no reason not to think he might produce another surprise in his choice for this key role”.

Whatever about Cardinal Filoni or Archbishop Parolin, Francis will not appoint Archbishop Balestrero who technically is not even a bishop yet. This is to say nothing of his age, at only 46, bascially prohibits him from such a high office. There have been exceptions to this in history but life expectancy played a role also. Lastly to appoint Balestrero would seem to bring back someone who has been implicated in the Vatileaks scandal and would make little sense if Francis is to clean up the Curia.

While the time line for such events has not been finalised, the most obvious time is after Easter. Other reports contradictorily note that  the “current Substitute, [Giovanni] Angelo Becciu and the Prefect of Propaganda Fide, the former nuncio Filoni, seem to be excluded as possible candidates because of their involvement in the rifts and internal struggles that have tainted Bertone’s management of the Secretariat of State. Pope Francis would apparently prefer to start with a clean slate and a new Secretary of State”.

The piece then goes on to mention names “starting with Archbishop Piero Parolin, Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela. Archbishop Celestine Migliore, the Pope’s current ambassador in Warsaw who represented the Holy See at the UN is another potential future collaborator of the Pope. Both have close ties with the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, who was Secretary of State under John Paul II for many years and also under Benedict XVI for a period of time, before Bertone was appointed as his substitute. But the list goes on. In Paris there’s Mgr. Luigi Ventura (from Brescia, Italy), a follower of the Casaroli school of thought. He has a very respectable résumé, with stints in Burkina Faso, Chile, Canada and France. Then there’s Giacomo Guido Ottonello who was first Nuncio to Panama and now Ecuador, where since 2005 he has had the difficult task of mediating between the Church and an openly anti-clerical government. He has a deep knowledge of Latin America. Finally, we must not forget the former Nuncio to Brazil, Mgr. Lorenzo Baldisseri, whom Benedict XVI appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals in the Conclave, in 2012. There are voices going round about Pope Francis wanting to create him a cardinal”.

It ends “It is likely, however, that both the Substitute Secretary of State, Archbishop Angelo Becciu and the Pope’s “foreign affairs minister”, Mgr. Dominique Mamberti, will hang on to their positions for a period of time, under Francis’ reign. They will probably be substituted at a later date”.

While far from certain, one possibility would be to move Archbishop Mamberti out to a congregation, the most obvious choice being Causes of Saints and appointed Archbishop Parolin in his place. The respected Migliore could also take the role of secretary for Relations with States. It is interesting that the article mentions Archbishop Baldisseri given the recent events concerning him.  This could be construed as a sign in his favour, although given his age it would probably be another short tenure as secretary of State given his age, not more than six or so years. On a related note while there are plenty of candidates to be appointed there are reasonably few places for them to go. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will open up in June when Cardinal Amato turns 75 as well the Apostolic Penitentiary in late March but there is little scope beyond that if Francis wishes to move quickly. If Filoni is not chosen as secretary of State then there will need to be a consistory with the best time in June or failing that around the 8 December.

On a separate issue the unease with which Msgr Gudio Marini feels with Pope Francis is clear. The two styles clash too much to last long together and as it happens the Genovese cleric is in good luck with the bishop of Ventimiglia-San Remo having just passed the retirement age. The diocese also, by good fortune, happens to be in the province of the Archdiocese of Genoa where Marini was born and with Cardinal Bagnasco now 70 it would place the still young Marini in good contention for Genoa when the time comes.

Cyber attack on South Korea

21/03/2013

The computer networks of three South Korean broadcasters and at least two banks were ‘paralysed’ in what appeared to be a coordinated cyber attack. Authorities in Seoul were not immediately able to pinpoint the cause of the system failures and the national security office declined to speculate on where the attack may have originated, although suspicion immediately fell on North Korea”. There seems to be no obvious pressure from China on North Korea to halt this attack, China could even have sanctioned it, if not encouraged it.

Cameron backs down

21/03/2013

Just days after how the British parties disagreed on how to regulate the press in light of the phone hacking scandal and Leveson Inquiry, agreement now seems to have been reached.

The article notes “Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, first broke the news that a deal between the three major parties has been reached after months of bitter wrangling over how to implement the Leveson Report. Miss Harman said campaigners against phone-hacking and press intrusion are ‘happy’ with the result as it creates a ‘fair system that won’t be changed’. However, the Conservatives also claimed it as a victory, as the new laws will not explicitly refer to press regulation. It will simply be a small legal clause to stop future governments tampering with the press regulator without the agreement of two-thirds of MPs”.

The piece goes on to mention “Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary also argued the structure of the new regulator will be largely based on the Tory idea of a “Royal Charter” – a formal order issued by the Queen like the one that governs the BBC. ‘We’ve stopped Labour’s extreme version of the press laws,’ she told BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme: ‘There is no statutory underpinning. What we’re talking about here is that there can be no change to the charter in future.’ The three major parties held unprecedented talks through the night on how far to accept the recommendations of the Leveson Report, which was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal”. Of course the “extreme views” are always those of the other parties, rather than those of the Conservatives.

The current proposal is “the result of the talks appears to be a compromise. The details of how a press regulator works will be set up under a Royal Charter. This will be backed up by small clause in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which will say Parliament must give its approval for any changes ‘where a body is established by Royal Charter with functions relating to the carrying on of an industry’. This would ensure that a future Government cannot meddle with the Royal Charter governing the press without a two-thirds majority in parliament. Miss Harman also said the new regulator would be able to order prominent front page corrections for stories that originally appeared on the front of a newspaper. The press would also not get a veto over people chosen to oversee the press regulator. Mr Cameron was forced to engage in cross-party talks after Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem deputy Prime Minister, took the unprecedented step of breaking with his Coalition partner and siding with Labour. Labour and Lib Dems were preparing to force through a press regulator underpinned by statute in the House of Commons later today, potentially inflicting a humiliating defeat on Mr Cameron. The new deal means the Prime Minister will avoid this prospect”.

This is a far better scenario than what Cameron was proposing, although the concern now is that the media will boycott the new rules however, public pressure should be brought to bear on these organisations to ensure that this issue is dealt with once and for all.

An accidental war

21/03/2013

The Chinese government on Tuesday continued to deny that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer earlier this year. The denial comes a day after Tokyo-based Kyodo News quoted unnamed ‘senior Chinese military officials’ admitting for the first time that it happened — but only by accident, they said. It’s worth noting, especially in light of Beijing’s official denial, that we don’t know who these Chinese officials are, or why they’re speaking up now. But the report, if true, is disturbing precisely because the alleged standoff happened accidentally. According to the officials, the radar lock was an unplanned, ’emergency decision’ taken by the commander of the frigate — one that did not include communication with fleet command or navy headquarters. This line in particular from Kyodo’s report does not inspire confidence: ‘The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States, a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance.'” She goes on to write “The Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute has been marked by an increasing number of deliberate provocations on both sides: surveillance vessels entering nearby waters, patrol planes making passes by the islands, scrambled fighter jets. These are planned actions, designed to incrementally heighten tensions. But the more fighter jets that get scrambled without good communications systems in place, the higher the chances that these deliberate moves escalate beyond what either Japan or China is anticipating”.

An impossible task?

21/03/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs has discussed the new Pope Francis and his reign in relation to the Church in Latin America. He hopes noting “the Vatican had been anxious about the dramatic decline of Catholicism across the region in the last decade. Mexican journalist Diego Cevallos, a seasoned observer of religious life in Latin America, had aptly captured the sentiment in 2004 when he noted that, although the Vatican had once seen the area as a ‘continent of hope,’ it now thought of it as a ‘continent of concern.'”

He goes on to mention the well known statistics, “The picture in Brazil and Mexico, the world’s two largest Catholic nations, tells a thousand words. According to Brazil’s 2010 census, 65 percent of the population is Catholic, down from over 90 percent in 1970. Similarly, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of Mexicans that identify as Catholic dropped from 88 to less than 83 — the largest fall recorded to date. If these trends persist, by 2025 about 50 percent of all Latin Americans will be Catholic, down from approximately 70 percent today. Such a decline would offset any gains the church might make in its new continent of hope, Africa”.

He continues noting that from this drop off in numbers flows a lessening of influence in social policy, “Just as worrisome for Vatican officials is the apparent loss of Catholic influence over social policy in Latin America. In recent years, politicians from both the left and the right have defied the church in ways that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. In 2009, officials from Mexico City legalised abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage and adoption. The threat of excommunication did nothing to change their minds. In 2010, Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner legalised same-sex marriage. She responded to the opposition mounted by Bergoglio by branding him a relic from the past ‘reminiscent of the Middle Ages and the Inquisition.’ In 2012, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, of the historically Catholic Christian Democratic Party, enacted an anti-discrimination law that included sexual orientation as a category for protection against the strenuous opposition from Catholic officials. Piñera is now pushing legislation to legalise same-sex civil unions. It is no wonder, then, that the conclave of Cardinals went for a Latin American pope. The Vatican is banking on Pope Francis, as Bergoglio is now called, to save Catholicism in Latin America or, at the very least, help slow its decline. But there are reasons to believe that the church’s hopes are unfounded — even misplaced”.

While none of the above can be denied the Church is not a political organisation and nor can its teachings be reduced to abortion and homosexuality. Indeed as Pope Francis said the Church is not an NGO.  Indeed even just speaking about sexuality is highly reductive, ignoring the social justice teachings of the Church and its constant questioning in society asking if the common good is being protected and enhanced.

He goes on to argue “it has not gone unnoticed that the new pope’s country of origin makes him an odd choice if the goal is to excite Latin American Catholics. Argentina is widely known as a European society in exile. It is, The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola has written, ‘a nation apart,’ and for that reason ‘many [are] likely to see the rise of an Italian Argentine as largely unrepresentative of the region.’ Beyond that, though, the particularly dark history of the Argentine Catholic Church poses an even bigger challenge: nowhere else in Latin America is the Catholic Church’s reputation for advancing democracy and human rights more tarnished. During Argentina’s last stint of military rule, between 1976 and 1983, the Catholic Church became an accomplice to the Dirty War, a war against left-wing dissidents and sympathizers that left between 10,000 and 30,000 dead”.

Again while certain elements of the Church were complicit in supporting the junta, to tar the entire Church in Argentina as being involved is disingenuous and highly inaccurate. This also ignores the fact that one of the justices on the Supreme Court of Argentina has defended Pope Francis during his time in Argentina.

Of more realistic concern is when he writes “there are other reasons to doubt whether he will be able to revive Catholicism in Latin America. Although Catholics in the United States and Western Europe Catholics are leaving the church atop a tide of secularism, in Latin America, Catholics are leaving because they find other religious options more appealing. The decline of Catholicism in Latin America has been met with an explosion in Protestantism. It is estimated that approximately 15 percent of all Latin Americans are Protestant — a startling figure considering that, as recently as the mid-1990s, only about four percent were Protestant. The most ‘extreme’ case is Guatemala, where approximately 30 percent of the population is Protestant and three presidents have identified as Evangelical. In Brazil, an estimated 500,000 people are thought to be leaving the Catholic Church per year, with the bulk of them converting to Protestantism. Those flocking to the Evangelical mega-churches of Rio de Janeiro cite the Catholic Church’s authoritarianism and strict hierarchy — embodied, curiously enough, in the pope — as the primary reason for leaving. By contrast, they point to the opportunities that Protestant churches afford for women and minorities to ascend the ranks. In addition, they appreciate the positive message of self-empowerment and teachings on how to accrue wealth and prosperity. It is hard to imagine that Bergoglio’s message and example of humility and frugality, however virtuous, will resonate with these folks.  Of course, the new pope might be more successful rekindling the faith of those who still identify themselves as Catholics. But even this mission will be an uphill struggle, given the Catholic clergy’s rigid conservatism. Of the 70 percent of the population of Latin America that considers itself Catholic, only 40 percent say they regularly attend church and follow the church’s teachings. The Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay have even lower rates. In Bergoglio’s own home turf, Argentina, the drift is most acute: of the 78 percent of Argentines who regard themselves as Catholic, only 20 percent regularly practice their faith”.

While the numbers of Catholics in these countries was inevitably going to fall, the question is simply now by how much it will fall and to what extent the Church is willing to accept a fall in numbers. His assertion that the clergy’s “rigid conservatism” is part of the reason why people are leaving the Church is also highly contestable, if not blatantly wrong. Indeed the Evangelical groups are sometimes even more conservative, especially to economic matters where unadulterated wealth is seen as a “blessing”. This of course is to say nothing of the even more hard line stance that they take on matters of sexual morality.

He does make the valid point that “Among the reasons that non-practicing Catholics cite for not adhering to their faith, a sense that the church is out touch trumps all the rest. Nothing demonstrates this better than the church’s stance on homosexuality. Rooted in the belief that homosexuality is a sin, the church has opposed same-sex marriage and civil unions and anti-gay discrimination legislation in the face of growing support for gay rights across Latin America. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Argentina in 2010 with almost 70 percent of the public’s support. Indeed, it was the extraordinary public backing that brought Fernández de Kirchner around to the legislation. Prior to 2010, she had not expressed any interest in promoting gay rights. Elsewhere in Latin America, support for gay marriage ranges from 50 percent in Uruguay, the country most likely to follow on Argentina’s footsteps”. Though many of those who support homosexuality are more likely to be less Church going than those who do not, though of course this is a generality.

He adds to the point “the fight for same-sex marriage in Argentina consolidated Bergoglio’s reputation as one of the most out of touch priests in Latin America. As head of the Argentine Catholic Church, he was, of course, expected to lead the fight against same-sex marriage. But there was something especially ugly in the way in which Bergoglio attacked the bill. In a letter to Argentine monasteries, he labeled it ‘a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.’ Bergoglio further characterized the bill in the media as ‘a project of the devil to destroy God’s plan.’ This rhetoric did little to change the popular view that the Catholic Church opposes gay rights not because of doctrine but because of bigotry”.

He ends the piece “the gulf between what the new pope stands for and what most Latin Americans want for their religious life is so wide, that Bergoglio will not likely bridge it, and the waning of Catholicism in Latin America will continue apace”.

Drone court?

21/03/2013

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer until three months ago, is skeptical of the need for a so-called drone court. Johnson, who personally approved the legal authority behind every major military strike ordered by the secretary of defense and President Obama until January 1, says the U.S. military is best equipped to conduct targeted killings of terrorism suspects abroad, without the need for a new court. This morning, Johnson, who has returned to private practice, is at Fordham University to deliver a speech that he bills as the first to tackle the pros and cons of such a court. Johnson directly challenges advocates of the idea, including senators calling for more oversight and transparency, such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), intelligence committee chairwoman, and his old boss, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Legal authority for targeted strikes against terrorism suspects that are conducted by the military is already in place, Johnson argues. What is needed, he offers, is more transparency around how those suspects are identified. Some secrets about targeted operations, Johnson claims, can be revealed without compromising national security”.

Cyprus fights back

21/03/2013

The euro crisis has roared back, in truth it never really went away. Cyprus is facing a €16 billion gap and the ECB/IMF/EU have agreed €10 billion but insisted that the rest come from the islanders. The troika insisted that the most “efficient” way of doing this would be to take it directly out of the bank accounts of the Cypriot people. There was much discussion over how it should be spread but the vote was to take place in parliament. It took place and the governing party that negotiated it abstained with the rest refusing to back the terms of the “agreement”. Cyprus has looked Merkel in the eye and Merkel has blinked. Yet again the ECB/EU seem to have become unhinged from all basic morality content to take money directly from citizens bank accounts.

News reports note “Political leaders in Cyprus are to hold emergency talks following parliament’s rejection of a European Union-International Monetary Fund bailout package. Cyprus has just 24 hours to find a solution to its funding gap before its banks are due to reopen. President Nicos Anastasiades, barely a month in the job, gathered party leaders and the governor of the central bank at his office. He was also due to hold a cabinet meeting and talks with officials from the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank. Elsewhere, Finance Minister Michael Sarris, who is in Moscow to seek Russian financial assistance, said no decision had been reached”.

The same article goes on to mention “Russian authorities have denied rumours that the Kremlin might offer more money, possibly in return for a future stake in Cyprus’s large but as yet undeveloped offshore gas reserves. Cyprus has asked Russia for a five-year extension of an existing loan of €2.5b that matures in 2016, as well as a reduction in the 4.5% rate of interest. When asked about the loan extension, Mr Sarris said that talks were ongoing about ‘things beyond that'”.

Reuters has written that “Cyprus’s finance minister pleaded with Russia for help on Wednesday to avert a financial meltdown after the island’s parliament rejected the terms of a European bailout, raising the specter of a looming default and bank crash. Finance Minister Michael Sarris said he had reached no deal on financing with his Russian counterpart, Anton Siluanov, but talks were continuing. Cypriot officials disclosed that the country’s energy minister was also in Moscow, ostensibly for a tourism exhibition. Cyprus has found big gas reserves in its waters adjoining Israel but has yet to develop them. ‘We had a very honest discussion, we’ve underscored how difficult the situation is,’ Sarris told reporters after talks with Siluanov. ‘We’ll now continue our discussion to find the solution by which we hope we will be getting some support. ‘There were no offers, nothing concrete,’ he said”. The piece goes on to say “Not a single lawmaker voted for a proposed levy that would have taken up to 10 percent from larger accounts, many of which are held by Russians and other foreigners, while sparing small savers with less than 20,000 euros in the bank. It was the first time a national legislature had rejected the conditions for EU assistance, after three years in which lawmakers in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy all accepted biting austerity measures to secure aid. Rejection of the key condition for a 10 billion euro ($12.9 billion) bailout, cast the 17-nation currency bloc into uncharted waters, with a risk of financial contagion to other troubled member states”.

Among the new options to gain the €6 billion are nationalising pension funds or interestingly “Euro zone paymaster Germany, facing an election this year and increasingly frustrated with the mounting cost of bailing out its southern partners, said Cyprus had no one to blame but itself. ‘For an aid program we need a calculable way for Cyprus to be able to return to the financial markets. For that, Cyprus’s debts are too high,’ said Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble. With Sarris and Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis in Moscow, there was mounting speculation that Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom had mooted its own assistance plan in exchange for exploration rights to Cyprus’s offshore gas deposits. Noble Energy reported a natural gas recovery of 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet of gas south of Cyprus in late 2011, in the island’s first foray to tap offshore resources. Russian authorities have denied the Kremlin plans to offer more money”.

The chancellor of Austria has weighed in with reports saying “Austria hopes Cyprus will find a way to stay in the euro zone but its fate is in the hands of its own government”.

It was mentioned yesterday that after the refusal to authorise the levy on people’s bank accounts other options were being examined, “The country’s finance minister defied explicit warnings from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and left Cyprus for urgent talks in Russia. Michael Sarris flew to Moscow to plead for aid, despite Mrs Merkel warning Cyprus not to enter into negotiations with Russia, raising the spectre of eurozone disintegration”. The article goes on to add “Not a single Cypriot MP voted in favour of a eurozone rescue package that had been made conditional by Germany on the Cypriot government finding £5 billion to pay off its debts by raiding bank deposits, including the savings of up to 60,000 Britons. Under the original eurozone deal at the weekend, Cyprus agreed to impose a levy of 6.75 per cent on bank accounts up to €100,000 (£85,000) and 9.9 per cent for larger deposits. Despite a compromise proposal not to tax any bank deposit less than €20,000 (£17,000), the country’s 36 MPs rejected a deposit tax that has rattled financial markets and threatened the island’s future as an offshore banking haven for Russian investors, with 19 MPs abstaining from the vote”.

If Merkel does not bend and come up with something more flexible she risks not only a Cypriot exit from the euro but worse a geopolitical loss to Russia, something that the EU seems to have not thought of in its Kantian bubble.  An author writes “imagine an alternative scenario: waking up and finding that your money is safe but Gazprom owns your nation’s debt. That is one way the botched Cyprus bailout could end. Reports in the local media said the Russian state gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world and the largest Russian company, has offered to prop up struggling Cypriot banks in exchange for the right to gas production. A spokesman for Gazprombank said the offer had been ‘initiated’, according to Itar-Tass, the official Russian news agency. Gazprom itself later said an offer had not been made. Russia is furious about the proposed bank levy, which President Vladimir Putin called ‘unfair, unprofessional and dangerous’. His finance minister issued a veiled threat to withdraw a €2.5 billion loan made to Cyprus in 2011″.

The article ends, “In an election year, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was determined to impose the bank levy to avoid her taxpayers bailing out Russians who used Cyprus as a safe haven for their allegedly ill-gotten gains. It could prove a major miscalculation. The Germans and the European Central Bank could yet be forced to back down and cancel the levy altogether, rather than merely reduce the onus on smaller deposit holders. Some analysts have raised the intriguing and alarming prospect that Russia could threaten Germany’s gas supply if the bailout is not dramatically reshaped. Moscow has form here. Gazprom reduced gas supplies to Europe in 2009 during a dispute with an Ukrainian energy company. Europe relies on Russia for 36 percent of its gas supply, a dependency we may hear more about in the coming days”.

Cyprus is either very brave or very foolish. It will either force Germany to blink and thereafter hopefully change the entire euro crisis for the better both for itself and the rest of the Europe, or alternatively it will force its own exit from the eurozone dragging Greece, Italy, Spain and a host of other countries with it while possibly at the same time give Russia a foothold in Europe just as it is losing one in Syria.

The end of the tiara

19/03/2013

Rocco notes “the Holy See formally rolled out Pope Francis’ coat of arms – a design that, yet again, adapts the papacy to its new occupant, not the other way around. Reflecting the simplicity for which the 266th bishop of Rome has already become rather renowned, Jorge Bergoglio chose three charges for himself on his 1992 appointment as an auxiliary of Buenos Aires: the sun marked with the Holy Name of Jesus, the historic symbol of his Jesuit community; a star for the Madonna, and a “nard flower” representing St Joseph, on whose feast he’ll liturgically launch his ministry as Roman pontiff.  The background is blue – the color traditionally affiliated with Mary – reflecting Francis’ intense devotion to her, something evidenced in Rome early on the morning after his election, but one rooted at home under the mantle of Argentina’s patroness, the Madonna de Luján, a Virgin cloaked in blue. Taken from an 8th century homily on the call of St Matthew, Papa Bergoglio’s mottoMiserando atque eligendo: “Lowly and yet chosen” – likewise remains the same, and the striped miter introduced by B16 to replace the tiara has been retained”.

Iraq, ten years on

19/03/2013

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the War in Iraq on the same day as “More than a dozen car bombs and suicide blasts tore through Shi’ite Muslim districts in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and other areas on Tuesday, killing nearly 60 people on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein”. Peter Feaver discusses the myths that have persisted to this day.

The first myth that Feaver discusses is that of the Bush administration claimed Iraq was behind the 11 September attacks. Feaver writes, “In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration did explore the possibility that Hussein might have collaborated with al Qaeda on the attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney (along with some officials in the secretary of defense’s office) in particular believed this hypothesis had some merit, and in the early months gave considerable weight to some tantalizing evidence that seemed to support it. However, by the fall of 2002 when the administration was in fact selling the policy of confronting Hussein, the question of a specific link to 9/11 was abandoned and Cheney instead emphasized the larger possibility of collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. We now know that those fears were reasonable and supported by the evidence captured in Iraq after the invasion.  This has been documented extensively through the work of the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC), which examined the captured files of the Hussein regime. A 2012 International Studies Association panel sponsored by the CRRC on ‘Saddam and Terrorism’ was devoted to this topic and spent quite a bit of time demonstrating how those who insist that there were no links whatsoever simply rely on a poorly worded sentence referencing ‘no smoking gun’ of a ‘direct connection’ in the executive summary of the 2007 ‘Iraqi Perspectives Project – Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Documents’ report and ignore the evidence of links and attempted connections uncovered in the report itself as well as subsequent work by the project”.

The second point he writes is about the administration forcing democracy on Iraq. He argues “The administration was, in the end, committed to using force to defend the democratization project in Iraq but this myth has the logical sequence out of order. The correct sequence, as Leffler and myriad memoirs and contemporaneous reporting demonstrate, is this: (1) Bush was committed to confronting Iraq because of the changed risk calculus brought about by 9/11, which heightened our sensitivity to the nexus of WMD and terrorism (believing that state sponsors of terrorism who had WMD would be a likely pathway by which terrorist networks like al Qaeda could secure WMD); (2) Bush was also committed not to making the mistake of Desert Storm, namely stopping the war with Hussein still in power and concluded that confronting Hussein must end with either full capitulation by Hussein or regime change through war; (3) given regime change, the best option for the new Iraq was one based on pluralism and representative government rather than a “man on horseback” new dictator to take Hussein’s place”.

The third point he debunks is that the war was for oil and was more about protecting Israel and the profits of Halliburton than anything else, “some of them were endorsed by mainstream figures such as President Obama himself. All of them seem impervious to argument, evidence, and reason. The absence of evidence is taken as proof of the strength of the conspiracy. Contrary evidence — eg., that Israel was more concerned about the threat from Iran than the threat from Iraq — is dismissed”.

The fourth point Feaver mentions is that of the “neocons”, something that has been discussed here before. Feaver writes ” What Frank Harvey calls the “neoconism” myth — that the Iraq war was forced upon the country by a cabal of neoconservatives, who by virtue of their political skill and ruthless disregard for truth were able to ‘manipulate the preferences'” of the key people who would not have been for the war otherwise. Feaver, having set the question answers it thus, “Harvey painstakingly reconstructs the decision process in 2002 and documents all of the ways that the Bush administration took steps contrary to the “neoconism” thesis — eg., working through the United Nations and seeking Congressional authorization rather than adopting the unilateralist/executive-only approach many Iraq hawks were urging. (Leffler makes similar points in his lecture). Harvey goes on to make an intriguing case that had Al Gore won the election in 2000, he would have likely authorized the Iraq war just as Bush did”.

The fifth point that Feaver discusses mentions the theory that President Bush lied about the reason behind going to war, Feaver writes “I have addressed this myth before. It is a staple of the anti-Iraq/anti-Bush commentary — and not just of the pseudonymous trolls in blog comment sections. John Mearsheimer, one of the most influential security studies academics, has written a book built around the claim that leaders regularly lie and that Bush in particular lied about Iraq. Mearsheimer claims “four key lies,” each one carefully rebutted by Mel Leffler”.

Feaver ends the piece “All of these myths add up to the uber-myth: That the arguments made in favour of the Iraq war were all wrong and the arguments made against the Iraq war were all right. Sometimes this is recast as “those who supported the Iraq war were always wrong and those who opposed the Iraq war were always right.” Of course, many of the arguments made in favor of the Iraq war were wrong.  Hussein had not yet made by 2002 the progress in reviving his WMD programs that most intelligence services thought he had made. Many specific claims about specific WMD programs turned out to be not true”.

Reviving a tradition

19/03/2013

The Portuguese section of Vatican Radio, reported that Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the conclave, received the cardinalitial zucchetto from Pope Francis at the end of the conclave. A number of Portuguese sources confirmed this and but Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Press Office of the Holy See, in a press conference, had denied the news. This was an old tradition that had been practiced for the last time by Pope John XXIII in 1958, when he placed his skullcap on the head of then-Monsignor Alberto di Jorio, who was secretary of the conclave. Di Jorio was formally created a cardinal in December with Pope John having been elected that October. It also occurred in 1903 when Pope Pius X imposed his zuchetto on Rafael Merry del Val.

China turns to Russia

19/03/2013

After the foreign policy “shift” of China by Xi Jinping regarding America, Chinese links to Russia are examined. The USSR and China had for many years a frosty, at best, relationship. This was only worsened when President Nixon visited China in 1973 which drove a wedge between the crumbling USSR and the increasingly wealthy PRC.

John Garnaut writes “In January 1979, shortly after he rose to power as paramount leader of China, Deng Xiaoping visited the United States. While there, he defined the direction he would take the country, donning a cowboy hat and symbolically steering away from the Soviet Union-which he never visited as China’s ruler-and toward the markets of the West”.

He goes on to add “Xi Jinping, who completed his formal leadership ascension by being crowned president on Thursday (he was appointed chairman of the Communist Party and head of the military in November), is heading first to Moscow” he then questions whether this emphasis on Russia is indicative of a shift towards the Russian/Chinese model of little or no democracy and a “booming” economy.

He mentions “It’s too early to say, but he’s certainly taking care to make it a success. Xi has been brushing up on his rudimentary Russian, which he learned at Beijing’s most exclusive school, No. 101, when it was reserved for the children of high ranking leaders. He has even been rehearsing Russian poetry to impress his hosts, according to one of his close associates. And he has sought the assistance of his female friend Li Xiaolin, a princeling — the term used for the children of high-ranking officials — who heads a ministry-level back-channel diplomatic organization called the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, according to the close associate. Li’s father, Li Xiannian, worked closely with Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, when both men were vice premiers in the 1950s. Li’s husband Gen. Liu Yazhou is an important confidante of Xi’s”.

The writer then argues “For years, the two countries have been negotiating deals that would double China’s imports of Russian oil, making it less dependent on the Persian Gulf and East Africa. The two countries are also planning a huge new joint investment fund, with Li’s aide penciled in to be vice chair, according to a source familiar with the matter. Whether or not the deals come through, Xi’s use of Li shows how networks of the red aristocracy enable him to work around the Communist Party’s sometimes sclerotic bureaucracy”.

If China got more of its energy needs from Russia it would have a number of effects. Firstly, it would remove the most pressing problem from China with regards to its energy, the so called Malacca dilemma, secondly it would in theory, allow China interests to be unthreatened, or less threatened, as Burma turns West and away from China.

Garnaut adds “observer says Beijing’s move toward Moscow is a response to Washington’s “military” pivot, just like when “the Western powers totally ostracized” China in the 1950s. But the historical parallels are not so clear cut. Unlike the Soviet Union of the 1950s, China runs a successful, market-oriented economy, integrating into the global financial system and heavily dependent on exports to the West. The economic reforms that Deng is credited with launching in December 1978 propelled China away from Soviet-style autarky into connected capitalism. But Deng was not the architect of reforms as much as an important part of an elite consensus. One of the most important members was Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun. While Xi Zhongxun and Li Xiannian both served then Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s, they left their marks following Mao’s death in 1976. Xi Jinping will remember Li Xiannian from when the revolutionary leader kindly brought him in for a home-cooked meal in the early days of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, when Xi’s family was in disgrace. He is also likely grateful for how Li signed off on his father’s rehabilitation in August 1977″.

How far it still has to go

19/03/2013

Pakistan’s PM has hailed as ‘a victory’ for democracy the completion of a full term by an elected government for the first time in the country’s history. ‘No-one will be able to harm democracy in future,’ Raja Pervez Ashraf said. An interim government will now be installed until the next election, which is expected to be held in May. Since Pakistan was founded in 1947, government were often overthrown in coups, toppled by political infighting or end in assassinations or murders”. The fact that the Pakistani government is pleased that it has reached this milestone shows just what a mess that country is in and how far it still has to go.

“Done what he can”

19/03/2013

As tensions between the regime of Morsi and the army grow, an article notes the policy, or lack thereof, in the Obama administration in dealing with Morsi’s Egypt.

Traub writes “Congressional Republicans like Marco Rubio accuse the administration of cutting a $250 million blank check to Mohammed Morsy’s authoritarian, Islamist regime. Analysts with no axe to grind, like Michael Walid Hanna of the Century Foundation or Peter Juul of the Center for American Progress, make the more nuanced argument that the administration has rewarded Morsy for his compliance on American national security goals, just as his predecessors did with Hosni Mubarak”.

Traub argues that President Obama “deserves credit” for accepting Morsi as president of Egypt but in reality Obama had little choice but to accept the election even if the result were far from US interests and what has followed has revealed the regime is worse than that it replaced.

Traub adds “it is also true that the administration has under-reacted as Morsy made himself immune from judicial oversight, rammed through an illiberal constitution, and showed contempt for his opponents. And while it’s impossible to prove, Morsy may well have felt that this strategic silence gave him carte blanche to continue down his path of majoritarian autocracy. Obama has not wanted to rock Morsy’s very fragile boat”.

Interestingly he writes “Obama’s overall pattern in the Arab Spring has been doing the right thing, but a little late. So what now? What do administration officials think about Morsy, and how do they believe that they can influence his behavior? The short answer is that they think that Morsy and his circle are in way over his heads, and worry much more about their incompetence than their intolerance”.

Yet taking this line is in itself simplistic as the incompetence is just as dangerous as their intolerance as it could lead to an even worse scenario that is even less controllable and even less in US interests. Traub writes “The administration’s view of the opposition is like almost everyone’s view of the opposition — it’s feckless, lazy, and disorganized, happier sulking in Cairo than campaigning in the countryside. When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo last week, he spoke to leading figures, including Mohammed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, and urged them not to boycott the upcoming parliamentary election, as they are currently planning to do. Morsy’s plummeting popularity should allow his opponents to make serious gains”. Traub goes on to add that the decision to postpone the elections could turn in favour of the opposition but only if they agree to participate in the process.

Traub adds crucially “Obama, in short, is less worried about authoritarian regression than he is about Egypt falling apart. Egypt’s treasury has only three months of foreign exchange left, with no more money coming from Qatar or elsewhere. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is offering a $4.8 billion loan, which is Cairo’s only chance to stave off bankruptcy. And other institutions which might supply additional financing, including the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank, will not act until Egypt signs an accord with the IMF. The IMF, however, is demanding that Egypt make some reforms which are politically excruciating — above all, cutting subsidies which keep down the price of energy and food. Morsy’s answer is that Washington should tell the IMF to just give Egypt money”.

The piece ends “The fear in Washington is thus that Egypt’s hapless leadership is sending the country over a cliff. The nightmare scenario is of an Egypt unable to pay its bills, which would send half of Cairo flooding into Tahrir Square. The military might even feel it had to take control once again. That’s today’s problem. In Cairo, Kerry publicly harped on the need to reach agreement on the loan, and in private admonished (or perhaps the word is browbeat) Morsy to make the tough political choices, and to begin working with the opposition. And Kerry offered incentives: a $250 million down payment on the $1 billion which Obama has promised to make available, as well as an additional $300 million once Morsy signed a deal with the IMF. So the overall toolbox is this: modest financial incentives, private exhortations with public encouragement, and no punitive measures”.

The article finishes “On balance, I’m mostly with my colleague Marc Lynch, who argues that Obama has pretty much done what he can in Egypt. But that very fact brings home the limits of the possible. The fragile Arab democracies and would-be democracies need help more desperately than Poland or Hungary did; but they are also harder to help”.

Loosest sense of the word

17/03/2013

Paul Ryan (R-WI) has produced a budget, in the loosest sense of the word, to counter that of the administration which is over a month late. David Rothkopf writes “The Ryan budget depends entirely on unspecified tax reforms and the replacement of revenues he doesn’t care for (such as those associated with Obamacare) with others he doesn’t care to actually define or describe. The rigorous, widely respected Center on Budget and Policy Priorities slammed the exercise, taking Ryan to task for failing to live up to his billing as the guy courageous enough to put his ideas out there”.

Pakistani drones and sovereignty

17/03/2013

A report in the New York Times notes that there is a disagreement about drones in Pakistan. However, unlike other disagreements this is more about who owns the drones than what they are doing. The piece mentions “When news of the two latest drone strikes emerged from Pakistan’s tribal belt in early February, it seemed to be business as usual by the C.I.A. Local and international media reports, citing unnamed Pakistani officials, carried typical details: swarms of American drones had swooped into remote areas, killing up to nine people, including two senior commanders of Al Qaeda. In Islamabad, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry lodged an official protest with the American Embassy”.

Vitally the report adds “Yet there was one problem, according to three American officials with knowledge of the program: The United States did not carry out those attacks. ‘They were not ours,’ said one of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the drone program’s secrecy. ‘We haven’t had any kinetic activity since January.'” This would seem to be true as there have been no reports from independent sources confirming deaths in the region since that date. The piece adds “If the American version is true, it is a striking irony: In the early years of the drone campaign, the Pakistani Army falsely claimed responsibility for American drone strikes in an attempt to mask C.I.A. activities on its soil. Now, the Americans suggest, the Pakistani military may be using the same program to disguise its own operations”.

The United Nations has come out against the drone programme of the United States saying it violates is sovereignty. It opens that “The head of a U.N. team investigating casualties from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan declared after a secret research trip to the country that the attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the Pakistani government made clear to him that it does not consent to the strikes — a position that has been disputed by U.S. officials. President Barack Obama has stepped up covert CIA drone strikes targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border since he took office in 2009”.

Leaving aside the obvious Pakistani duplicitousness that has so far openly allowed the strikes to take place both covertly and overtly the fact that they are now changing their mind to suit political ends speaks volumes. As the AP article makes clear “Pakistani officials regularly criticize the attacks in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, a popular position in a country where anti-American sentiment runs high. But the reality has been more complicated in the past. For many years, Pakistan allowed U.S. drones to take off from bases within the country. Documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010 showed that senior Pakistani officials consented to the strikes in private to U.S. diplomats, while at the same time condemning them in public. Cooperation has certainly waned since then as the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. has deteriorated. In 2011, Pakistan kicked the U.S. out of an air base used by American drones in the country’s southwest, in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers”.

As the article itself states, “A major reason why the U.S. has stepped up drone attacks in Pakistan is because it has failed to convince the government to target Taliban militants using its territory to launch cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan”. The United States would not need to go to such lengths and “break” Pakistani sovereignty in defence of its own interests and security if the Pakistani government would work with the United States to overcome the terrorist threat.

Boy or girl?

17/03/2013

The Duchess of Cambridge revealed today that she is hoping her first child is a boy, but the Duke would prefer a daughter“.

“Defying Morsi’s orders”

17/03/2013

An article from the CEIP on the agreement reached between the military and President Morsi in Egypt has been published. It opens noting  “while Morsi has had an impressive start—setting the precedent of a civilian president appointing the defense minister—the relationship between the presidency and the military establishment has been on the downswing.”

He goes on to write “The most recent episode of the contentious relationship between the presidency and the military was trigged by the rumour that Morsi was considering dismissing his Minister of Defence, Colonel General Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil Al-Sisi. Fingers were pointed at the Muslim Brotherhood for being behind the rumour (given its general distrust of the military). The rumor was seen as the organization’s way of fighting back against the growing power of the military vis-à-vis the presidency”.

Interestingly he mentions the cracks are beginning to show between the military and Morsi, “Nowhere was this disparity more publicly evident than during the bloody clashes that erupted in Suez Canal cities in commemoration of the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2013—which continued to intensify after the announcement of the first round of verdicts in the Port Said soccer massacre. When Morsi deployed the army and declared a curfew in three Suez Canal cities to restore order, Egyptians ridiculed his decisions. The army did not enforce the curfew, publicly defying Morsi’s orders”.

He adds the the tensions continue to grow between the two when he writes “The rumour came directly after, or even in response to, the military’s signals not only of independence from the presidency but also of superiority and supremacy. Regardless of why or who was behind the rumour, responses were strong, and revealed the level of tension between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The military, and not the presidency, issued an official statement denying the dismissal of the defence minister”.

He goes on to mention that the relationship between the two is more complicated because Morsi, needs the military more than the military needs him, “Almost seven hours after the army’s statement, the presidency issued its own, which reaffirmed Morsi’s “confidence in the patriotic role played by Al-Sisi,” and adding, “the defense minister enjoys the full confidence of President Morsi and all Egyptians.” The following day (February 19), army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Aly posted on his official Facebook page a letter sent from President Mohamed Morsi, to General Al-Sisi to thank him for the great efforts he and the army have exerted in securing the Islamic Summit that took place in Cairo in early February. It was clear that Morsi was making “a public apology” to the generals; it was not only a gesture of appeasement, but also of regret. The presidency cannot afford a confrontation with the military, especially at a time where various cities (most notably in Suez Canal area) are calling for civil disobedience”.

The dangerous confrontation becomes more complicated when he writes the SCAF met “without President Morsi” to discuss domestic political matters but the news came through the state owned newspaper. This he writes is SCAF’s sign to Morsi to remember who ousted Mubarak, which is itself a veiled warning to Morsi.

He end the piece “The MB correctly realizes the danger from the military; nevertheless, their strategy to contain it remains contingent, short-sighted, and damaging. The organization seems to confine the political struggle to being only with the military—ignoring the public at large and its various political forces. When Morsi decided to call for parliamentary elections amidst mounting frustration over the ongoing turmoil, he did not meet with members of the opposition either, nor did he listen to protesters in the street who demanded the dismissal of the dysfunctional government, reform of the ministry of interior, and more distribution of power. Rather, Morsi met behind closed doors with the defense minister”, adding crucially “For Morsi to overcome a “military intervention” against him, he has to send clear messages to the public that he is willing to make concessions and work with all political forces within the society—and not monopolize the ailing state”.

Perhaps viewing the military as a threat will force Morsi to accomadate those who are not members of the increasingly dangerous Muslim Brotherhood.

 

Heading for another defeat

17/03/2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll on Saturday, an outcome largely expected by those in attendance, but one that will give him added legitimacy as he seeks to expand his appeal to compete on the national stage in 2016. In one of CPAC 2013’s best-received speeches, Paul on Thursday told conservative activists that the Republican Party had grown ‘stale and moss covered’ and said the GOP needs a more libertarian approach that makes freedom the movement’s defining principle”.

 

Spineless Cameron

17/03/2013

Following on from the phone hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry, the attempt by the British Government to regulate the press, seems to have come to naught.

Reports indicate the the Conservative Party, bent on ignoring the facts as well as the common good, is attempting to legislate without the support from other parties. The article mentions “The Prime Minister called on Labour and Lib Dem MPs to back his plans for a Royal Charter for the press, which would avoid politicians becoming involved in regulating newspapers. He acknowledged that as the Conservatives do not have a majority in Parliament he may be powerless to prevent Britain taking the historic step of legally curtailing the free press. Until Thursday, Mr Cameron had been taking part in cross-party talks with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to draw up a new system of press regulation in the wake of Lord [Justice] Leveson’s inquiry. Lord Justice Leveson recommended a new system of press regulation, backed by legislation. However, the Prime Minister rejected this recommendation and is instead proposing that a Royal Charter — similar to those used to formally recognise the BBC and universities — underpins the new regulator”.

The writer betrays much when he says “the historical step of legally curtailing the free press”. Not only does this lessen the appalling acts that many in the lower press committed in the name of profits only attempting to justify their immoral actions as being in the public interest but it also blows the reasonable proposals by Lord Justice Leveson out of all proportion hinting at the end of free speech as it is known. Such talk is hyperbole and should be dismissed.

The article adds that the talks between the three parties in an attempt to get cross party agreement collapsed as a result over disagreement “over issues on which the Lib Dems and Labour oppose the Conservatives”.

The piece mentions, “These include the degree of control that newspapers have over the new regulator; the ability of people to make ‘third party’ complaints about articles which do not directly affect them, and the penalties for newspapers which do not abide by the new rules. In recent weeks, peers have sought to amend a range of unconnected pieces of legislation to introduce the Leveson proposals. In a hastily arranged press conference, the Prime Minister said that too many other pieces of law were being unnecessarily delayed by the ongoing row over press regulation and that he would call a Parliamentary vote on a Royal Charter next week. Labour is now expected to bring forward its own legally binding proposals — and which scheme the Lib Dems choose to back will be crucial”.

Drones in America

17/03/2013

Eric Holder argued that using lethal military force against an American in his home country would be legal and justified in an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ comparable to the September 11 terrorist attacks. ‘The president could conceivably have no choice but to authorise the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland,’ Mr Holder said”.

Very different styles

17/03/2013

Rocco notes the starkly differing styles between Pope Francis, and Pope Benedict. He writes “Even before Election Night ended, the stories of a starkly different style for the 266th pontiff started streaming out: Papa Bergoglio’s decision in the Sistine Chapel to shirk the elevated papal throne and stand at ground level to receive the traditional ‘obedience’ of the cardinals, then ditch the Pope’s motorcade and ride back to the Domus as he came – with the cardinals on the bus”.

He continues in the same vein “The papal Mercedes – waiting again, this time to take Francis on his intended visit to St Mary Major – was again left behind in favour of a stock Volkswagen [Phaeton]. And on the way back to his new home – which Boston’s Capuchin Cardinal Seán O’Malley compared to ‘being a prisoner in a museum’ – the Pope called for a detour to the Domus Paulus VI, the clergy lodging across the Tiber that was his pre-Conclave hotel, to collect his things, check out and pay the bill himself”.

He goes on to mention”As the afternoon press briefing noted, Francis wanted to ‘set an example’ by personally running the errand and settling the tab with his own money. Along the way, the bishops of Argentina received a message from their countryman-Pope, communicated through the Nunciature in Buenos Aires. In the three-sentence memo, obtained by Whispers, Archbishop Emil Tscherrig wrote that Francis wanted to convey his ‘sentiments of gratitude’ for their prayers and expressions of care for him. The next sentence, however, was the kicker – repeating the call then-Archbishop Bergoglio made on receiving the red hat in 2001, the nuncio said that the Pope ‘would like that, instead of going to Rome for the inauguration of his pontificate’ on Tuesday [19th March], the prelates express ‘their spiritual closeness [to Francis]… by accompanying the neediest with an act of charity.'”

In a related post Rocco writes “Beyond scaling back the pomp surrounding his early morning stop at St Mary Major – where he spent a solid half hour in prayer before the protectress of Rome, the ancient image of the Salus Populi Romani – this morning’s La Repubblica reports that the new Pope wanted his retinue to ensure that the basilica would be kept open to the public during his visit. ‘I’m a pilgrim, and I just want to be one among the pilgrims’ Papa Francesco reportedly said”. He adds “the plea proved futile – while the Vatican spokesman subsequently said that papal security exists for the Pope, not the other way around, Christendom’s oldest church dedicated to the Mother of God was kept shut during the visit. Still, Francis did get to greet some of the staff and the confessors of the basilica, whom he urged to ‘be merciful to souls [who come to you] – they need you.’ Meanwhile, in an act that resonates across one of the more fraught lines of the last pontificate, the pontiff wrote quickly to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo di Segni, inviting Italy’s ranking Jewish leader to his Installation Mass”.

He goes on to add “has not taken up the red or brown kicks of his post-Conciliar predecessors, which were ready in a variety of sizes in the “Room of Tears,” but kept to a black set”. This in addition to the fact of the disappointment felt by the master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, Msgr Guido Marini, when Pope Francis did not wear the traditional winter erime trimmed mozzetta. Rocco goes on to mention “the new Pope likewise declined to use one of the bejeweled pectoral crosses from the Papal Sacristy that were set out for whoever emerged from the Conclave, choosing to retain the simple silver cross he wore into his election, and his usual, unadorned silver ring with it. (At yesterday’s Mass, Francis likewise opted against a miter from the Vatican collection in favor of his preferred one from home – a minimalist headpiece, and notably one trimmed and lined in brown: the traditional color associated with the Franciscans.)” While it would be a mistake to oversimplify the differing views between Pope Francis and Msgr Marini, in reality there can only be one winner when it comes to how the pope celebrates the liturgy.

Rocco wrote on 16 March, “Three days after election, Francis reconfirms Curia chiefs in posts on temporary basis; Pope ‘taking time for prayer’ before major moves” However as a way of comparison, Pope Benedict was elected on 19 April 2005 and confirmed all major officials on 21 April. The fact that Pope Francis took longer than expected signals intent on his desire to reform the Curia.

Whether this intent will remain an intent and be stifled or the new pope’s desire will win out will be revealed over time.

French arms for Syria?

15/03/2013

France and Britain will urge European Union governments to lift an embargo on supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition, President Francois Hollande said on Thursday, warning that France could go it alone if no EU agreement is reached. The French president justified his call to increase help to the Syrian opposition after a two-year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad by saying that weapons were being delivered to Assad’s government, particularly by Russia”. The report adds unsurprisingly, “other EU governments, including Germany, have resisted the move, fearing it will fuel violence in the region, especially if arms get into the hands of militant Islamists. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was ready to discuss the issue but warned of the risk that lifting the arms embargo for the rebels could lead to escalation of the conflict”.

What Xi has done

15/03/2013

After the Chinese foreign policy “shift” by now President Xi Jinping, an article has been written on what he has done with the power he now has.

He writes “Xi and his colleagues in the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, are less a “team of rivals” and more a “band of relatives.” With two possible exceptions, the seven standing committee members are related, directly or through marriage, to interlocked strands of party aristocracy”.

This Brown argues is vital, “It is within that context that Xi should be understood. He might resemble a party apparatchik who spent decades climbing through the Soviet-style bureaucracy, but he is to the manor born: an emperor with a common touch. Unlike the wooden Hu, who never departed from officialese, Xi speaks clear, standard Mandarin, moves with regal stateliness and has an orator’s sense of delivery and timing. They call them princelings for a reason”.

Brown goes on to write, “Since he assumed power in November, Xi’s most visible policy has been his anti-corruption drive. It’s an easy target. But the populist Xi went for the visible things first — the huge banquets, the ‘tigers’ and ‘flies,’ (powerful leaders and lowly bureaucrats), the provincial official who had accrued 47 mistresses”.

While this has been the case for some time, with both Hu and Wen both speaking out against corruption, little has changed, either in governance or attitudes among the vast array of officials in the CCP. Brown contiunes “In late February, at a talk at the Central Party School, the Communist Party’s most elite educational institution, Xi said that the party needed to live up to its responsibilities, continue to cut down on waste, and speak clearly to people. The decade in which Hu ruled, despite the roaring economic growth, did not foster an ideology that people could believe in. Part of this is because China’s experience of political idealism under Mao Zedong had been a wounding one. But Hu also never managed to communicate that the party cared about people’s daily concerns — speaking to the people was a job left to his premier, Wen Jiabao. In trying to restore a more wholesome image, Xi must work to change the perception of the party as a fiefdom serving a self-protecting elite. The Chinese people assume (probably accurately) that Xi received his position as a result of backroom dealings among that same elite”.

Brown ends the piece “He possesses extensive networks and links to disparate factions of the party world. In this milieu of densely interlinked networks, personal, family, tribal, institutional, Xi has the most to lose if the party begins to crumble. And from what he has shown in the last few months, he has no intention of wearing that mantle lightly”.

The CCP can either reform itself out of existence or be overthrown.

An account of the conclave

15/03/2013

On Wednesday morning, the cardinals filed in again and repeated the ritual of voting. Each man filled out his ballot and walked to the front of the room. ‘When you walk up with the ballot in your hand and stand before the image of the Last Judgment, that is a great responsibility,’ O’Malley said. There were two votes before lunch, and the field was narrowing. But the smoke was black again, and the crowd was again disappointed. This time, however, they didn’t leave the square. At lunch, O’Malley sat down besides Bergoglio. ‘He is very approachable, very friendly,’ he said. ‘He has a good sense of humor, he is very quick and a joy to be with.’ But with the vote going his way, Bergoglio was uncharacteristically somber”.