Archive for the ‘Relativism’ Category

“The result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”

04/12/2016

Max Boot, echoing William Inboden, writes about the similarities between Trump and Obama, “It is hard to imagine two presidents more dissimilar than Barack Obama, the cerebral and elegant liberal law professor, and Donald Trump, the brash populist and reality TV star. But if Trump’s campaign pronouncements are anything to judge by, his foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s than either man would care to admit. And not in a good way: Trump shares with Obama a desire to pull back from the world but lacks Obama’s calm, deliberative style and respect for international institutions. A Trump presidency is inherently unpredictable — no one knows how much of his overblown rhetoric to take seriously — but if he does even half the things he suggested on the campaign trail, the result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”.

Boot goes on to note “One of Trump’s top priorities is to improve relations with Vladimir Putin. In a post-election phone call, Trump told the Russian dictator that “he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Sound familiar? Obama spoke in virtually identical terms when he took office in 2009. Hence his failed “reset” of relations with Moscow. This was part of Obama’s larger rejection of what he saw as the moralizing, interventionist approach of the George W. Bush administration. (Obama also thought that Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia’s president, would be a more accommodating partner than Putin, who remained as prime minister.) During the 2008 campaign, Obama made a big point of saying that he would talk to any foreign leaders without any preconditions — a stance that his primary challenger, Hillary Clinton, criticized as naive. In office, Obama has re-established relations with the Castros in Cuba and Myanmar’s junta, reached a nuclear deal with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran, and did little to back up his calls for Bashar al-Assad to leave office. Instead of enforcing his “red line” with Syria, Obama agreed to a Russian-orchestrated deal under which Assad was supposed to give up his chemical weapons (a pledge the Syrian despot has not fully carried out). Obama has also refused to take any military action to stop Assad’s assaults on civilians, notwithstanding his creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. Obama has often expressed his admiration for George H.W. Bush, and he has largely governed as an amoral realpolitiker who has put American interests, as he defines them, above the promotion of American values. Far from proselytizing for freedom and democracy, Obama has given a series of speeches in venues including Cairo and the Laotian capital of Vientiane — speeches that, to critics, have sounded like apologies for past American misconduct. (Obama’s aides have claimed he was merely “reckoning with history.”) When Iranian protesters took to the streets in the 2009 Green Revolution, Obama did not express support because he feared that doing so would interfere with his attempts to engage with the Iranian regime”.

Boot contends that “On only a few occasions has Obama allowed idealistic considerations to gain the upper hand in his cold-blooded foreign policy — and never for long. He did intervene in Libya to help topple Muammar al-Qaddafi — an intervention Trump supported at the time but now criticizes — but he did little to try to shape post-Qaddafi Libya and gives every indication of regretting his initial intervention. He also called for Hosni Mubarak to step down as Egypt’s ruler during the Arab Spring but did not oppose the subsequent military coup that ousted an elected Muslim Brotherhood government and installed the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is obvious that human rights promotion, while not dismissed entirely, has not been an animating principle of the president’s foreign policy. More broadly, Obama has given every indication that he does not see America as an exemplar but rather a deeply flawed nation whose forays abroad often have harmful consequences. In a 2009 press conference, Obama dismissed the idea that America is “uniquely qualified to lead the world,” saying, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That doesn’t mean that Obama hates America, as the cruder right-wing attacks have had it. In the very same press conference, he went on to say: “Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.” Thus Obama sees the United States as imperfect but virtuous as long as it acts in concert with others — something that it has not always done”.

The piece argues that “Trump, who has a far more jaundiced view of America than Obama does. In a revealing July 20 interview with the New York Times, Trump dismissed concerns about the massive violations of civil liberties being committed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime in Turkey: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” In a similar vein, Trump dismissed concerns that Putin kills journalists: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.” This is the kind of moral relativism that Republicans once denounced but now accept from the president-elect. As with Obama, Trump’s refusal to see America as a country with a mission leads him to look askance upon interventions abroad. Like Obama, he eschews nation-building and expresses a preference to work with foreign rulers regardless of their lack of democratic legitimacy. Trump reiterated to the Wall Street Journal after his election that he plans to end support for Syrian rebels and align with Russia in Syria: “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS.” And never mind that Iran, Russia, and Assad are all committing war crimes. Trump’s approach is quite different from what Clinton advocated during the campaign; she called for no-fly zones and safe zones. But it’s not so different from Obama’s current policy, which provides a modicum of aid to the Syrian rebels but tacitly concedes that Assad will stay in power”.

It concludes “This is not to suggest that Trump’s worldview is identical to Obama’s. One of their big divisions is over international institutions. Obama negotiated an international accord to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases; Trump has said global warming is a Chinese hoax and called for pulling out of the Paris agreement. Obama negotiated a nuclear accord with Iran; Trump promises to renegotiate it, calling it a “disgraceful deal” and an “embarrassment to our country.” Obama is a free-trader who negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); Trump is a protectionist who vows to withdraw from the TPP, rip up NAFTA, and impose tariffs. Obama has been supportive of NATO, working to expand the forces that the alliance deploys in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to guard against Russian aggression; Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and questioned the need to station U.S. troops to defend countries that don’t pay enough for the privilege. In sum, Obama is a believer in international organizations and international law; Trump is not. It is hard to imagine Trump saying, as Obama did: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” In turn, it is hard to imagine Obama ever threatening to bomb the “shit” out of another country, to steal its oil, or to torture detainees — all of which would constitute war crimes”.

He ends “In the terms coined by Walter Russell Mead, Obama is a Jeffersonian, while Trump is a Jacksonian: The former believes that the United States should perfect its own democracy and go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” whereas the latter believes that “the United States should not seek out foreign quarrels” but that it should clobber anyone who messes with it. What unites Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, in spite of their substantial differences, is that both support quasi-isolationism — or, if you prefer, noninterventionism — unless severely provoked. Obama has been intent on pulling the United States back from the Middle East. The result of his withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his failure to get more actively involved in ending the Syrian civil war has been to create a vacuum of power that has been filled by the likes of the Islamic State and Hezbollah. Undaunted, Trump has said he wants not only to continue the pullback from the Middle East (he wants to subcontract American policy in Syria to Putin) but also to retreat from Europe and East Asia. He has suggested that he may lift sanctions on Russia and pull U.S. troops out of countries (from Germany to Japan) if he feels they are not paying enough for American protection. It is quite possible, then, that Trump’s foreign policy would represent an intensification rather than a repudiation of Obama’s “lead from behind” approach. American power survived eight years of an Obama presidency, albeit in diminished form. If the president-elect governs the way he campaigned (which, admittedly, is not necessarily a safe assumption), there is good cause to wonder whether U.S. ascendancy will survive four to eight years of Trumpism. The post-American age may be arriving sooner than imagined, ushered in by a president with an “America First” foreign policy”.

Advertisements

Nietzsche, truth and Trump

28/08/2016

An article discusses truth and falsehood and Trump, “just after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a number of commentators blamed both the event and the perceived weakness of the response to it on something called postmodernism, characterized by its critics as an extreme form of relativism that leaves its adherents unable to tell truth from falsehood or fact from fiction. Now, in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks and the baffling (to some) rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, this accusation has been revived. Here, for example, is Peter Pomerantsev, writing in a recent issue of Granta magazine:

This equaling out of truth and falsehood is both informed by and takes advantage of an all-permeating late post-modernism and relativism…. This school of thought has taken Nietzsche’s maxim, there are no facts, only interpretations, to mean that every version of events is just another narrative, where lies can be excused as “an alternative point of view” or “an opinion” because “it’s all relative” and “everyone has their own truth.”

Now if postmodernism really said that, it would deserve all the criticism directed at it. But it doesn’t. Postmodernism doesn’t teach the lessons its opponents attack it for; and because it is a philosophical view in conversation with other philosophical views rather than a recipe for political action, postmodernism has no causal relationship to either the spread of terrorist ideology or the primary triumphs of Trump”.

The writer goes on to argue that “What postmodernism says is that while the material world certainly exists and is prior to our descriptions of it, we only have access to it through those descriptions. That is, we do not know the world directly, as a matter of simple and unmediated perception; rather we know it as the vocabularies at our disposal deliver it to us. The philosopher Richard Rorty put it this way: “The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.” The world does not come equipped with its own language, its own directions for stating the truth about it; if it did, we could just speak that language and be confident that what we said was objectively true”.

He continues “But in the absence of such a language (called by the historian of science Thomas Kuhn a “neutral observation language”), we must make do with the vocabularies that are developed in the course of our attempts to make sense of things: the vocabularies of science, philosophy, political theory, anthropology, sociology, law, aesthetics. Merely to list those vocabularies (and there are of course more than I have instanced) is to realize that in every discipline — every laboratory of description — there is more than one; there are many and those many are in competition with one another, vying for the right to wear the labels correct and true. If different vocabularies deliver different worlds and different measures of true and false, does that amount (in Pomerantsev’s words) to the “equaling out of truth and falsehood”? Only in reference to a measure of true and false attached to no vocabulary at all, a measure proceeding directly from an unmediated, perfectly seen world. Were there such a measure, all assertions would equal out because they would be equally (though differently) far from the truth as seen from a God’s-eye point of view. But postmodernism tells us that no such measure is available to us. And since we all live and move within the points of view given to us by time and experience, the equality of our assertions in relation to an impossible standard of objective truth is theoretical rather than practical; it has no effect on our ability (or inability) to make judgments of truth and falsehood in real life situations”.

He argues that “In those situations — political, domestic, military, whatever — there are all kinds of standards to which our assertions are held responsible — canons of evidence, accepted authorities, calculations of usefulness — though practices differ in the firmness and stability of the standards they recognize. The norms adhered to by scientists, anthropologists, historians, and others last for years, even generations. The norms politicians adhere to, on the other hand, last only until someone violates them and gets away with it. In the present election cycle, Trump has said things considered beyond the pale before he said them and he suffered few if any consequences. He was continually pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. But even as he did, those boundaries were redrawn, not erased; there were still things he could not say without being labeled “wrong”. (It appears that his criticism of a Gold Star family was one of them.) Ideas of right and wrong are always in place even when they are being challenged and reconfigured. What this means is that despite the dire pronouncements of critics like Pomerantsev, the categories of right and wrong, true and false are never empty or up for relativist grabs; it is just that they always being renegotiated”.

Interestingly he contends “At any given time we always know what is right and wrong, true and false, even though, in the course of time, what we know can take a different form. It may seem odd to say so, but the unavailability of an independent, objective standard — a standard hostage to no ideologically inflected vocabulary — is without consequence, except for the consequence that the project of determining what is true or false, correct or incorrect, accurate or off the mark will never be brought to a final resolution; like psychoanalysis, it is interminable. Can this project be captured and manipulated by unscrupulous actors? Of course it can, but this is the result of garden-variety human depravity, and not of postmodernism, which, as a form of philosophical speculation rather than a set of moral imperatives, generates neither sincere nor insincere behavior. If the categories of right and wrong, true and false are never empty, neither is the category of accepted and obvious fact, although what fills it will vary from age to age and vary too among interlocutors in a given age. These days, both Democrats and Republicans are secure in their knowledge of the facts about the economy, immigration, climate change, unions, the military, and a thousand other things. It is just that they know — and can support with statistics, massive documentation, and a host of reasons drawn from history, morality and philosophy — different and opposing facts, and there is no impartial benchmark that can independently sort out the true facts from what is mere opinion or error”.

He goes on to posit that “Again, this does not mean that there are no facts, only that there are no facts so independent of perspective — so above it all — that they can end the war of fact that is always going on in politics, science, marriage, and everywhere else; there are no facts that stand to the side of argument and can settle arguments; there are only facts that emerge in the course of argument, facts to which at least some people have been persuaded, although given what persuasion is, its effects are unlikely to last; persuasion can’t be done once and for all. Because facts that emerge in the course of argument will not be considered facts by everyone, the world of fact is not a settled landscape, but a battlefield. In a dispute, either side can invoke what is, within its vocabulary and presuppositions, indisputable fact, but any such invocation will lead not to the white flag of surrender but to renewed dispute as those who inhabit a different vocabulary and are committed to different presuppositions reply, “Let me tell you why your so called facts rest on shaky ground,” or, “What you call fact is just the opinion of discredited pseudo-authorities,” or, “What you count as a fact for your position actually supports ours.” So we’re off to the races again, with no finish line in sight, although there may be temporary victories that last until the facts established in debate are challenged and dislodged. (The period can be 200 years or 20 minutes.) When two parties speak from different assumptions and within different basic vocabularies that generate different facts, each will say of the other, “you lie.” They say that because from where they stand or sit, what the other guys are asserting couldn’t possibly be true; they can only be saying that because they want to deceive and mislead the public. No, they are saying that because they believe it. I am not suggesting that believing in something makes it true; only that if you are seriously committed to a position and not just asserting it frivolously or maliciously, you can back it up with evidence and argument; you have reasons for your belief, as do those who believe something else; and making an effort to back up one’s beliefs when challenged is essential to the joint effort of figuring out what the truth is, an effort that can succeed provisionally, but never finally”.

Interestingly he mentions that “when Donald Trump links Ted Cruz’s father with the John F. Kennedy assassination or suggests, on the basis of nothing at all, that Ghazala Kahn, the mother of a slain Muslim-American soldier, didn’t speak at the Democratic convention because her husband and her religion wouldn’t allow it, he isn’t being a postmodernist either; he is just practicing the art of innuendo and slander that has been around since the beginning of time, eons before postmodernism was the name of a form of thought that those who had never engaged with it could caricature. Postmodernism neither licenses slander not gives us the resources for combatting it. We cannot “cure” die-hard Trump supporters by requiring them to read some pages of Nietzsche or, for that matter, some pages of Kant or Aristotle or Abraham Lincoln. In fact, die-hard Trump supporters cannot be cured by anything, necessarily, although in a given circumstance almost anything they encounter — a homeless man, a newborn child, the lyrics in a song, a sunset — might bring about a conversion in their way of thinking. This is one of the lessons postmodernism teaches us: What persuades someone to embrace or break away from an agenda or a leader is entirely contingent; it cannot be predicted or designed. But that contingency is not produced by postmodernism; it has been a feature of life since the beginning. Postmodernism just explains why contingency cannot be overcome by invoking a set of independent, freestanding facts to which all parties, including Trump supporters, would bend the knee. There are no such facts; there are only facts embedded in some challengeable form of life, and because they are so embedded, they are forever challengeable too. Nothing can shore them up permanently”.

He restates his point, “this is not postmodernism’s fault; it’s just the truth its arguments urge on us. Postmodernism doesn’t do anything more positive than urging that truth. It is not a politics; it neither gives marching orders to those who are persuaded to it, nor tells you whom to vote for or how to live. To be a postmodernist is not to have an agenda, but to give a particular set of answer to some questions (about fact and truth) traditionally posed in philosophy. Giving those answers commits you to no course of action. You could be converted to postmodernism and find that nothing else in your life had changed. The bottom line is that abstract forms of thought like postmodernism do not cause bad actions. (They do not cause good actions either; they don’t cause any actions.) Bad actions are caused by bad character. Sabàto, Gingrich, Trump don’t say reprehensible things because they have read Nietzsche. They say reprehensible things because they are reprehensible and their way of talking and thinking couldn’t be further from the careful and patient elaboration of difficult problems that marks postmodern discourse. Blaming a set of largely academic arguments for the source of our troubles is a combination of irresponsibility and ignorance, a shallow response to problems that are left unaddressed. I expect that the next proposal coming from those who declare that the dangers we face emanate from philosophy departments will be to ban postmodernists from entering the country and to burn the postmodernist texts (if not their authors) that have already been let in”.

Russian mischief and its unforeseen consequences

16/08/2016

An optimistic article argues that the recent hack of the DNC, leading to the resignation of the DNC chairman, will backfire. It opens, “The hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers and the subsequent leak of embarrassing internal documents appear almost certainly to have been carried out by Russian intelligence agencies, making it the most serious case yet of Kremlin interference in U.S. politics. That it is a serious interference is clear. The confirmation — long suspected by many in the Bernie Sanders camp — that at least some DNC officials were on Team Hillary over the course of the Democratic primary has divided the party on the verge of its nominating convention and alienated Sanders’s base. If it hasn’t convinced them to back Donald Trump, it’s at least given them second thoughts about voting for Clinton. The move has also helped cement Russian President Vladimir Putin in the minds of many U.S. observers as not only a strategic mastermind, but also the Trump campaign’s secret weapon. Clinton, the thinking goes, is regarded in Moscow as a classic, hawkish “Russophobe.” (Putin even blamed her for instigating the protests against his alleged rigging of elections in 2011.) Whereas Trump — with his focus on business, his apparent willingness to put realpolitik over moral considerations, his admiration for Putin, and his disdain for institutions like NATO — has thoroughly won over the Kremlin, even spurring some to refer to him as Putin’s “de facto agent.” With the DNC hack, according to this version of the story, Putin was just throwing a bone to his (soon-to-be) man in Washington”.

The report notes that “It’s a good story — and many elements of it are true. There is much for the Kremlin to enjoy in sitting back and watching Trump’s continued, seemingly unstoppable rise to power. But it’s also a little too tidy. Plenty of Russian foreign-policy insiders also appreciate that Trump’s volatility — currently wreaking havoc in U.S. presidential politics — could mean he’d make for an unpredictable and potentially problematic interlocutor for Moscow, too. As one told me, “Trump is good for Russia so long as he’s in America. God knows what would happen if he were in the U.N. or the Situation Room.” In addition, when subjected to scrutiny, the Kremlin’s track record when it comes to staging interventions in foreign democracies doesn’t exactly scream “mastermind” so much as “bumbling meddler.” Russia is notoriously inept when it comes to predicting how the aftereffects of its interventions will play out; the chance that the DNC hack will backfire, as other attempts to interfere have in the past, is very real”.

The writer goes on to make the point that “It’s worth keeping in mind that what the Kremlin really wants is not so much a Trump victory as a United States that is less united and less able to play a powerful global role. Thus, although the DNC hack may wind up helping out the Republican nominee, that may not have been its primary aim. Rather, the simple goal was likely generalised chaos. A leitmotif of Russian political and information operations in Europe, including so-called “active measures” — that is, those, like the hack, carried out by the intelligence services — has been to spread division and disarray. Having realised it is unlikely to make any real or lasting friends, Moscow has instead turned its efforts into paralyzing and demoralizing its enemies. From secessionist movements to anti-globalization radicals, from ecological activists to social conservatives, every potentially divisive force is worth an approving interview on the government-funded television network RT or an invitation to a glitzy conference in Moscow. In more extreme cases, the Kremlin’s support may extend to open or covert funding. There have been some such efforts in the United States, from support for the “Occupy” movement (ironic, for a government run by kleptocrats and embezzling .01 percenters) to more surreal efforts to back Texas secessionists. However, with the DNC breach, Russia has distinctly upped its disarray game. The hack looks likely to make the U.S. presidential election even more of a mudslinging contest. Clinton has already begun charging that Trump is “Putin’s man”; this seems likely to push Republicans toward questioning Clinton’s honesty and patriotism all the more shrilly. The Trump camp, meanwhile, now revels in the confirmation that the Democratic primary actually appears to have been “rigged” in favor of Clinton — as they’ve been claiming all along. Even if Clinton becomes president, she’ll start with a reputation that is that much more problematic as a result of the leaks and a base that is that much more divided”.

It concludes “there is also the wider propaganda dimension to leaks that show a DNC leadership actively maneuvering to support “their” chosen candidate. One of the key aims of the Kremlin’s propaganda in general is not so much to convince people that the Russian government is in the right, but to persuade them that everyone else’s government is just as bad. Moscow must hope it can use this scandal and the ensuing fallout to convey the message that the Washington political elite are hypocrites and that U.S. democracy is every bit as “managed” as Russia’s. So far, so good. But the Kremlin’s professional meddlers shouldn’t pat themselves on the back just yet. Historically, Russia has proved much better at making mischief than at channeling it toward its own ends. Time and again, Putin has failed to appreciate the innate strengths and checks and balances of democratic societies and even the basic notions of how these countries work. Putin tends to assume, for example, that the people in democratic societies are easy to scare and easier to fool. In January, for example, pro-Moscow media outlets and social media tried their best to whip up ethnic tensions in Germany over the alleged rape by “Arab-looking” men of 13-year-old “Lisa F.,” a Russian-German girl from Berlin — at a time when anxieties over the influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq into Germany were running high. Russia’s main TV channel showed Lisa saying that she had been raped by “southern-looking” men; another report claimed that in Germany “residents are regularly raped by refugees.” It soon became clear that this was a false story: Lisa F. was simply seeking to hide activities from her parents. But Russian media and officials did not back down, accusing German authorities of trying to conceal what happened to her out of political correctness. Not only did this personally anger Chancellor Angela Merkel, but it also embarrassed the so-called “Putinversteher,” or “Putin Understanders,” in Berlin, who seek to advocate for better relations with Moscow”.

It ends “But perhaps most striking of all were Moscow’s efforts to create a pro-Russian insurrection in the Donbass in 2014 with money, men, and military support, based on the assumption that the Ukrainian government would quickly buckle and accept Russian suzerainty. Not only did Putin not anticipate the popular enthusiasm that saw volunteers rushing to do what the Ukrainian army could not; he also didn’t realize the dynamics were such that even if Kiev wanted to make a deal, it wouldn’t be able to. It could never survive the public backlash. Moscow’s efforts to keep Ukraine in its own backyard have since led to it being stuck in a war and slapped with economic sanctions. The Kremlin’s efforts to influence the U.S. election and sow divisions may, in the short term, make a bad-tempered election year even more divisive. But moves like the DNC hack could well wind up hurting Trump if the label of “Putin’s man” can be made to stick. And, if so, that may cause the next White House to regard Putin’s government as even more of a danger than the present one already does and ensure that the sanctions regime will not only stay in place, but even be expanded. Or Moscow might succeed in what many seem to believe is its aim: helping Trump all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In that case, Putin, the geopolitical gambler who has relied on being able to break the rules with impunity and on the restraint of the West, might suddenly find himself dealing with an American president every bit as willing to bluff and operate beyond the traditional limits — and with the economic, political, and military muscle of the world’s leading power behind him. Maybe the Kremlin ought to be careful what it wishes for.

 

Brexit and the hatred of experts

19/06/2016

A piece discusses the UK debate on the EU, “To understand what’s happening in Britain on the eve of its referendum over membership in the European Union, the best place to start might be a two-minute comedy sketch. The sketch, which first aired in 2008 on the BBC, features comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb as two newsreaders who happen to be live on air when they receive some shocking news: “It appears,” announces Mitchell, “that an invasion of the Earth, by an unknown but vastly powerful extraterrestrial aggressor, is underway.” It’s a historic moment, and Webb’s character swings into action: “So,” he says, “a massive and unstoppable alien attack threatens the Earth. What’s your reaction? Are you affected by the end of civilization as we know it? What’s your perspective? Maybe you live on Earth, or know someone who does. How do you feel about it? Email us with your thoughts on your imminent molecular evaporation at bbc dot co dot uk slash emergency apocalypse address, all one word …”

The author goes on to make the excellent point “The gag works because it captures not just the media’s desperate craving for “engagement” of any kind, but also how, in the world we live in, the opinions of the masses have been elevated over the analysis of the elites. This isn’t an age when we want to hear from presidents or prime ministers, but from Lucinda Richards from London, who wants to know: “Will these so-called aliens be required to pay the congestion charge? Somehow I think not.” As Mitchell’s presenter implores his viewers in another sketch in the series, “You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you reckon something.” On June 23, Britain will decide whether or not to leave the EU — and it is shaping up to be a day of reckoning, in every sense of the word. Take the economy. Convinced eurosceptics may be animated by emotional questions of liberty, sovereignty, and self-determination. But surveys consistently show that, for the bulk of voters, the most important issue is the economic impact of Brexit”.

Crucially he adds “This ought to be a boon for the Remain camp. Brexit may or may not bring long-term economic benefits. But the idea that it would have immediate economic costs is as close to settled fact as you can get in politics. The massed ranks of the IMF, the OECD, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, theBank of England, the Bank of Japan, and the economics profession have lined up to warn of the adverse consequences of Brexit for British households and the world economy. The U.K.-based Institute for Fiscal Studies — whose verdicts are generally treated in British politics as gospel truth — has said that it could add two years to the government’s austerity program and has warned that the fiscal bonanza promised by the Leavers camp will almost certainly be outweighed (and then some) by heavierborrowing costs. Downing Street and the Remain camp have pushed this message with the subtlety of an artillery bombardment. Yet the polls show no movement in their direction – if anything, they show the opposite. The same surveys that proclaim the economic impact of Brexit to be the most important issue for voters also show that only 5 percent of them believe their standard of living would be diminished significantly by it. They’ve heard from the experts. But they reckon they’re wrong”.

He continues “What lies behind this? Partly, it’s a “plague on both your houses” phenomenon. I’ve written before about the remarkable and aggravating extent to which both sides in this referendum are willing to flat-out lie to the public: The Remain camp claims Brexit could trigger war, while the Leavers plaster their battle buses with a figure for British payments to the EU (£350 million a week) that is knowingly fictitious. But there’s reason to think there’s something more at work here. In a recentdebate on the EU, Faisal Islam of Sky News challenged Michael Gove, co-chair of the Leave campaign, to name a single independent economic authority who thought Brexit was a good idea. Instead of answering the question, Gove — an astonishingly cultured and erudite man who can range in a single speech from Pericles to Gladstone to “the unfulfilled yearning of the Tristan chord” in Wagner — made a virtue of ignorance. “I’m glad these organizations aren’t on my side,” he said. “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” All these know-it-alls did, he insisted, was say “that they know what is best.” Gove, by contrast, placed his “faith in the British people.” You can see the same mentality on social media, where Gove’s acolytes positively rejoice in the invincibility of their ignorance. When I tweetedrecently about the polling figures that showed people didn’t believe the dire warnings on Brexit’s economic consequences, for example, I was told that “the public know that the ‘warnings’ come from vested interests with little credibility at predicting the future.” Other responses mocked the “sneering elites” and “over-educated elitists.” The prevailing sense is that the experts are either the dupes of Brussels — or its corrupt and salaried pawns”.

He makes the accurate point that “What has taken hold of the British electorate, much to Cameron’s alarm, is a strain of the post-truth, anti-elitist tendency that has long animated public life in America. As professor Steve Barnett of the University of Westminsterargued some years ago, here and elsewhere, the hierarchy of social deference has inverted: Instead of trusting leaders, elders, and experts over celebrities, friends, and random acquaintances, we now view those who set themselves above us with increasing contempt. Barnett put forth his thesis in 2002, but the trend shows no signs of slowing: Hence the popularity and continued proliferation of deliberately unpolished politicians — Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Beppe Grillo, and Jeremy Corbyn among them — who seem to speak as tribunes for the scorned and neglected masses. Never mind that Gove and Boris Johnson, who also claim this populist mantle, are, respectively, the Oxford-educated justice secretary and lord chancellor, and the Eton- and Oxford-educated former mayor of London. They’re still crusading against “the establishment” — and, seemingly, winning. Whatever happens in the referendum, then, this campaign has fascinating — and alarming — lessons for Britain’s future. This is still thought of as the country of the stiff upper lip, of respect for tradition and order and hierarchy. We have a queen, a House of Lords, a political and professional class dominated by the products of the elite private schools. But that country is also one seething with anti-establishment feeling, just like the rest of the West — in which solid common sense is seen as more than a match for any fancy economics degree”.

He ends “Whether it’s Cameron who stays in Downing Street or Johnson who replaces him, how can they govern a country in which large sections don’t believe a word they say? In which the prime minister’s reputation and authority — meant to be the key assets on the Remain side — can crumble to the point where only 18 percent of voters say they trust him? Could Johnson, for example, sustain his popularity once he became the face of the government’s every decision, and the focus of the inevitable discontent? In 1975, the British people voted by a huge margin to stay in the European Community, which they had joined only recently. Asked to explain the win, Roy Jenkins — one of the campaign’s leaders — said complacently that “the people took the advice of people they were used to following.” The question haunting British politics is: What happens now that they’ve stopped?

The Western hating left

14/12/2015

Given the beginning of UK bombing of ISIS a interesting piece in the Economist argues that the Left must reject anti-Western notions prevalent in among its members ““DO WE have Syrians?” interjects a woman. A brief silence. The gathering in Manchester’s Central Library is pondering who might take the microphone at its upcoming protest against plans to bomb Islamic State in Syria. On the list so far: Labour Party MPs, MEPs, councillors, the Green Party, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, musicians, poets, trade unionists and “definitely a student of some sort”. Phone messages have been left, e-mails fired off and brains racked for names of old-time peaceniks”.

The piece adds “Only now has the idea of asking a Syrian arisen. “There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad.” Those present sigh as one. On to the logistics of the event. It is decided that stewards should guard the mic, poised to fend off any “pro-war Syrians or imperialists”. After all, notes the chairman: “We know what we’re talking about here.” Would that BBC Manchester possessed such discernment. The station is interviewing pro-war Kurds tomorrow, to the group’s distain: “They dig ’em up.” “Amazing how they find them!” Such is the eye-swivelling world of Stop the War, the organisation that, though not the same as the anti-war movement (dominated by decent, mild-mannered types), is its main organising force and has a record of sidelining the very peoples in whose interest it professes to act”.

The piece goes on “Rethink Rebuild, the Syrian society in Manchester, requested a speaking slot at its Don’t Bomb Syria meeting there in October, but was ignored. It claims: “The Syrian voice was marginalised throughout the event.” Other Stop the War gatherings have followed that pattern. At one in Westminster Syrians criticising the unrepresentative panel were jeered at and the police called; in Birmingham a Syrian invited to speak was disinvited and branded a supporter of imperialism for backing a no-fly zone. This knack for alienating its notional beneficiaries goes all the way back to Stop the War’s foundation in 2001 by (among others) the Socialist Workers Party, an authoritarian far-left outfit. At one of its first conferences Iraqi and Iranian delegates quit when their motion condemning “Islamic terrorism” was defeated”.

Worryingly, though not surprisingly it  continues “That is the thing with Stop the War. It is not anti-war so much as anti-West; a permanent howl of relativist anguish at NATO and its members. For example, the group could hardly be more indulgent of Vladimir Putin’s wars. It defended the invasion of Georgia as a reaction to “the ambition of the USA to exercise global hegemony”, called many of the Maidan protesters in Kiev neo-Nazis and excused Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. Tellingly, at its “anti-war” demonstration in London on December 1st a poster emblazoned with Syrian flags and the slogan “Support For Bashar Al-Assad” was brandished above the crowd”.

The piece adds “The phenomenon has precedent. In 1941 George Orwell described part of the left as “sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.” In 2007 “What’s Left?”, a book by Nick Cohen, charted the latter-day manifestations of the same instinct: cozying up to Milosevic’s Serbia, blaming America for the 9/11 attacks and, in debates on the Iraq war, conspicuously overlooking Baathism’s horrors. The book was part of a push by those lefties dismayed by their Stop the War-ish comrades to remake the case for Western engagement in the name of egalitarian and Enlightenment values. Another was the Euston Manifesto, a call (so named as it was devised in a pub on the Euston Road) for the left to make “common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not”. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, Stop the War’s chairman, as Labour’s leader in September confirmed the manifesto’s marginalisation”.

Interestingly the writer notes “Corbyn has handed over the reins of Stop the War, but to say he remains close would be an understatement. He declined to condemn it or pull out of a fundraising event when, after the Paris attacks, the group inevitably proclaimed: “Paris reaps whirlwind of Western support for extremist violence in Middle East”. One of his shadow foreign ministers appeared to suggest that Labour would consult Stop the War ahead of the parliamentary vote on air strikes. The organisation has also engaged with Momentum, the pressure group created out of Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign. The two bodies collaborated in the run-up to the vote, inviting each other’s speakers to events and promoting each other’s efforts to lobby MPs. Together they form the institutional hub of the Labour leader’s inner circle”.

It mentions that “And this is just the start. When Mr Corbyn, under pressure from his shadow ministers, decided on November 30th to offer his MPs a free vote on Syria, Stop the War condemned the move and sent its march past Labour’s headquarters. With moderate Labour MPs under threat of deselection by new, Corbynite party members, the impending publication of Sir John Chilcot’s report on the Iraq war (which unravelled into a disaster on Tony Blair’s watch) and the ongoing battle against Islamic State, this group—“a madcap coalition of Trots, Islamists and anti-West fury chimps”, as one former Labour MP puts it—will continue to play a central role in the politics of Britain’s main opposition party. This is a dismal state of affairs”.

Correctly he makes the point that “Britain’s left has a rich tradition, dating to the Spanish civil war and beyond, of treating tyranny in one country as a crime against all; of heeding the bell that “tolls for thee”. True to that tradition, some Labour MPs used a Commons session on the Paris attacks on November 17th to decry Stop the War and its influence. “Does the prime minister agree that full responsibility for the attacks in Paris lies solely with the terrorists?” asked Emma Reynolds. Such pointed comments were a good start, but only that. Now, this wing of Labour must assert itself: providing cover for MPs targeted for deselection, a platform for those denied one by Stop the War and an emphatic rebuttal of its anti-West rhetoric. It is time for the left to return to Euston”.

 

“The Paris attacks will impose a cold strategic clarity”

14/12/2015

A relevant piece discusses the need for a reaffirmation of realism following the chaos of Syria, “Like then-President George W. Bush’s declaration of a war on terror after 9/11, French President François Hollande declared France to be at war following the appalling attacks of Nov. 13 by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. While the Paris attack provides a fresh impetus for the West to defeat the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism, it also shows how profoundly the post-9/11 war on terror has failed. After all, haven’t jihadi networks massively proliferated since 2001, leaving Western capitals and cities across the Muslim world perpetually on edge, poised for the next fresh carnage?”

The article goes on to argue correctly “The fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the litmus test of this proposition: He’s a murderous butcher, but only his ground forces can realistically retake much of the ISIS-controlled territory. They haven’t been able to until now, because Western and Gulf states have backed a kaleidoscopic variety of rebels seeking to oust Assad, tying down much of the Syrian military. The fact that much of the territory lost by the Assad regime has wound up in the hands of ISIS and hard-line Islamists has created a climate of moral relativism, where neither Assad nor ISIS make for an attractive option. But this moral relativism has led to inaction and tragedy. Call it the Hamlet non-strategy”.

Crucially the author argues that “the Paris attacks will impose a cold strategic clarity. Whatever the objective threat, the West cannot tolerate the humiliation of terrorist attacks from an enemy that, so far, it has merely sought (and failed) to contain. For all the self-congratulatory talk of “historic” progress at the recent diplomatic talks in Vienna, a “political solution” cannot fix the problem of ISIS and hard-line Islamists — for neither Washington nor Moscow would ever accept a negotiated peace with them. The territory they hold must be cleared and held by infantry. But whose infantry? The Kurds can retake only so much ground, given their limited resources and lack of desire to expand substantially beyond ethnically Kurdish areas. Non-Kurdish rebels are small in number and fragmented. And in many cases their “moderate” credentials are dubious, at best”.

He argues that “That leaves the West, Russia, or the Assad regime and its Iranian proxies. There’s no chance the United States, France, or NATO wants to hold ground on its own, or back Assad. So scratch the first option from that shortlist. Handing the moral and military quagmire over to the Russians — who will, in turn, back the Syrian Army — begins to seem like the only option. Moreover, the anger and anguish of Paris comes on the heels of a refugee crisis of such magnitude and consequence for Europe’s fate that it makes dealing with the Greek debt crisis look like child’s play. The overwhelming urge to impose stability in Syria will mean that moral relativism transforms into moral necessity: eliminate ISIS before all else. Perhaps Russia will agree to allow Assad to transition out of power following the defeat of the Islamic State, in return for sanctions relief. We’ll see. The bottom line is that while the West can hardly support Assad, in the aftermath of Paris, his transition suddenly becomes a secondary matter”.

Interestingly he writes that “This reality already seems to have sunk in. France appears to be at least agnostic towards Russian strikes in Syria, and may even be coordinating with Moscow. Speaking in Vienna the day after the Paris attacks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that “it is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide.” Translation: We’re going to finish off ISIS, and tacitly accept Assad. For now”.

Indeed this is the only real problem with this view. It is only about the short term. It omits the fact that Assad has no credibility and his rule will not be long or perhaps even very stable. The result is that Syria may have to be partitioned into smaller states. This more long term strategy will only mean working with Assad for as long as it takes to destroy ISIS.

He adds “Syria makes plain that we don’t, actually, have an alternative to Assad. Yes, the Syrian strongman himself may well ultimately be “transitioned” out of power, but his repressive regime will stay intact. Whatever Assad’s personal fate, dissolving his regime means removing any vestige of state order that remains in Syria, and replacing it with even more chaos. And surely we’ve learned by now that things can always get worse. Syria merely confirms the lesson the West should have learned from Iraq: that the freedom agenda in the Muslim world is dead”.

He mentions that “The role of intervention, post-Paris, will be exactly the reverse of the post-9/11 model. Interventions will occur, but only to back fragile governments — not unseat them — without attaching any guarantees of future democratic transformations. France’s successful intervention against al Qaeda in Mali in 2013 is a good example of this model”.

He ends “Finally, we should no longer doubt that gaps in fragile states in the Muslim world will be filled by anything other than hard-line Islamists. Sure, there were always terrorist networks like al Qaeda that could set up bases in ungoverned space. But 14 years later, we see how the information revolution has massively catalyzed the formation of jihadist networks. The speed with which ISIS has risen, proselytized, and formed franchises all over the world, cannot be explained without accounting for the interconnectivity of contemporary communication. In Afghanistan and Iraq, radical Islamic terrorists took years to build up cells; in Libya, hard-line Islamists were part of the rebellion from the outset. The result in today’s networked age is that every potential armed opposition movement in the Muslim world now becomes a potential jihadi branch. The West can’t risk that”.

He concludes “The post-Paris war on terror will affirm the West’s commitment to fighting radical Islamic terrorism, but, in the process, it will reject the idiom of revolutionary, moralizing democratic change inherited from President Bush. Syria was the end of the line for that approach. This new phase will assume that terrorists are nonstate actors, and will take the view that if you have an international system built around strong sovereign states — no matter how brutal or unconcerned with human rights — life becomes much harder for nonstate armed groups, including terrorists. This is simply a reflection of the new realities we face, not a celebration of that shift. Of course, privileging the idea of strong sovereign states above all else is simply another way of re-stating the basic principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other sovereign states, a principle that dates back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and echoed in the U.N. Charter. In this sense, there is strong historical precedent for what we will see post-Paris: revolutionary moments that tend to spin out of control, leading to mass violence that requires a return to prioritizing stability over all else”.

 

The Synod of gradualism?

16/10/2014

Amid Cardinal Burke’s seemingly endless interventions in the media an article reports from the ongoing Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

John Allen writes, “All of a sudden at the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, “gradualism” as a concept in both Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice, which not so long ago seemed on the verge of being stricken from the official lexicon, is back with a vengeance. There have been multiple references so far to the “law of graduality,” more commonly referred to by theologians over the years as “gradualism.” Its apparent popularity may offer a clue to how things are evolving in the keenly watched debate over divorced and remarried Catholics, but understanding why requires a bit of background. At one level, gradualism is no more than the common sense observation that virtues such as honesty and courage aren’t all-or-nothing propositions, and that people move towards them through stages and at different speeds. It implies that just because someone’s current situation falls short of perfection doesn’t mean it has no moral value, and it’s often better to encourage the positive elements in someone’s life rather than to chastise their flaws. It was probably that sense of gradualism Pope Benedict XVI had in mind in 2010 when he said in an interview with a German journalist that if a male prostitute uses a condom to try to avoid infecting people with HIV/AIDS, it can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” Benedict wasn’t repealing the church’s opposition to condom use, but he was saying that there are times when it suggests a concern for others which, in itself, is laudable. Where gradualism becomes more of a bone of contention is when it’s invoked to justify a permissive approach to moral rules”.

Allen goes on to write “For instance, some theologians and even a few bishops over the years have invoked gradualism to defend going easy on Catholics who practice birth control, arguing that while the teaching of Pope Paul VI in 1968’s Humanae Vitae reaffirming the traditional ban represents an ideal, there may be valid reasons why lots of people can’t be expected to fully embrace it right now. For those concerned with defending tradition, this second sense of gradualism can make it sound like another word for “relativism”, meaning watering down objective standards of morality. By the same token, it also makes gradualism a favorite refuge for moderates who accept the content of Church teaching, but who don’t want to go to war over it”.

Allen with his usual excellent insight writes “The last time the Vatican staged a Synod of Bishops on the family, which was almost 35 years ago in 1980, talk about gradualism was in the air, too. Pope John Paul II was sufficiently concerned about where it might lead that he included a warning in a homily he gave for the closing Mass of the synod, a line he then also dropped into the meeting’s concluding document, Familiaris Consortio. “What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’,” John Paul said, “cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’.” The gist was there’s just one set of rules for everybody, and they’re not going to change. Since that time, the Vatican has occasionally circled back to the theme. When the Pontifical Council for the Family put out a guide for priests hearing confessions on matters having to do with married life in 1997, it warned that the “law of graduality” shouldn’t induce priests to send the signal that sin isn’t still sin”.

Interestingly Allen makes the point that “In his opening address on Monday, Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary argued that Humanae Vitae should be read in light of graduality. In a session with reporters at Vatican Radio Monday night, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich invoked graduality as a key to helping the church develop a new way of talking about sex. In a briefing session for reporters on Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman described graduality as among the synod’s emerging themes”.

The key point Allen adds is that “Here’s why the vocabulary matters: Everyone knows that the hottest issue at this synod is the question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics ought to be able to receive Communion. Moderates supporting that change need to find a way to justify it that doesn’t seem to call into question the principle that marriage is for life. “The law of graduality” could be one way of doing the trick, and thus references to it could be understood as an early show of strength for the moderate position. It’s also perhaps an index of how things have changed under Pope Francis that bishops feel licensed to use the phrase without a truckload of qualifications, given the increasingly disapproving tone of most Vatican statements on it in the recent past. In other words, the sudden return of gradualism may be a central part of the storyline about the 2014 synod”.

Walt vs Wilsonianism

05/07/2014

In a provocative and controversial piece Dr Stephen Walt writes that “American” values are to blame for the current mess in both Iraq and Ukraine. He opens, “What has gone wrong? Iraq has come unglued. ISIS just announced the founding of a new caliphate. The Afghan presidential election is contested and getting ugly. The nuclear talks with Iran are going slowly, even as opponents devise new ploys to derail them completely. Ukraine is a mess with a tentative cease-fire being blown apart. China continues to throw sharp elbows. Japan is getting martial again. And Britain is getting closer to leaving the European Union. I could go on, but you may not have enough antidepressants handy. So much for the ‘new world order’ that President George H.W. Bush proclaimed in the heady days following the fall of the Berlin Wall. So much for the alleged demise of ‘power politics’ once hailed by the likes of Bill Clinton and Thomas Friedman.The end of history? Not even Francis Fukuyama believes in that one anymore. The overall level of human violence may be in decline (though a single great-power war could derail that finding), but world politics seems to be spinning more out of control with each passing week”.

Walt has managed to write during a particularly eventful week but some of these things he should welcome. Notably the Japanese taking a larger role, something Walt argues for endlessly under the term “offshore balancing”. To then include this is a host of bad new seems contradictorary if not bizarre. The talks with Iran are noting going well and relations between the UK and the EU are poor but to say that the UK is “getting closer” to leaving the EU is somewhat senstationalist. Walt is of course right to lampoon President Bush and President Clinton but they could be forgiven in getting caught up in the rhetoric of the time, just as Walt was in the opening of the article.

Walt makes the point, “In the hyperpartisan world of contemporary U.S. politics, Democrats blame these present woes on George W. Bush, while Republicans trace them all to Barack Obama or (looking ahead) to Hillary Clinton. And both sides can find ample evidence for these politically motivated indictments. But the real blame lies elsewhere. All three post-Cold War presidents have made their fair share of errors, but there is a common taproot to many of their failings. That taproot has been the pervasive influence of liberal idealism in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, an influence that crosses party lines and unites Democratic liberal internationalists with Republican neoconservatives. The desire to extend liberalism into Eastern Europe lay behind NATO expansion, and it is a big reason that so-called liberal hawks jumped on the neocon bandwagon in Iraq. It explains why the United States tried to export democracy to Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, instead of focusing laser-like on al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks. It was the foundation of Bill Clinton’s strategy of ‘engagement and enlargement,’ George W. Bush’s ‘liberty doctrine,’ and Barack Obama’s initial embrace of the Arab Spring and decision to intervene in Libya. It is, in short, the central thread in the complex tapestry of recent U.S. foreign policy”.

Walt is attacking the very thing that has made US foreign policy so successful that has been copied by so many other nations, notably in Europe. Who have by and large accepted the need for some values in their foreign policies such as gay rights, supporting a free press, accountability and human rights. Gone are the days when Europeans ignore these things. Naturally it should be said that this liberal strand does not always take precedence, it would be ruinous if it did.

By attacking what has been called the Wilsonian strand in US foreign policy, one with a long history going back well before President Wilson himself, Walt seems to be calling for the foreign policy of the United States to take on a European pre-1914 tinge. His tiresome obsession with the “neocons” continue unabated. The fact that people as diverse as Clinton,  Bush and Obama all seem to agree on the same things, albeit with different names, seems not to matter to Walt either. This also says nothing about his amazing oversimplification of the issues that are going on in the world to one core idea seems faulty at best.

He goes on “Unfortunately, the past 20 years have shown that liberalism is a poor guide to conducting foreign policy. The central problem is that liberalism does not tell us how to translate its moral absolutes into clear, effective strategies for bringing them about. Liberalism identifies a set of moral objectives — a blueprint that all societies are supposed to follow — but says little about what a liberal state should do if some foreign country or leader refuses to ‘do the right thing.’ For starters, look at what happens whenever some foreign government acts in a decidedly illiberal fashion or objects to U.S. or Western efforts to expand human rights, democracy, or any other cherished liberal principle. The nearly automatic reaction is for U.S. leaders to sputter in rage and then denounce that foreign leader as reactionary and misguided at best, or as the embodiment of evil at worst”.

Walt seems to want it both ways, he says, dubiously, that liberalism has moral absolutes but then seems to backtrack and calls them “objectives” something far weaker.  He continues, “In recent months, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to Russia’s seizure of Crimea by denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin as trapped in “19th-century” rules. Similarly, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush denounced their various authoritarian adversaries (Slobodan Milosevic, Ali Khamenei, Kim Jong Il, Muammar al-Qaddafi, etc.) in the harshest terms. Unfortunately, calling someone a part of the “axis of evil” is not a policy, and pointing out that a foreign leader is a despicable tyrant doesn’t change anything, especially when the accusation is accurate. Needless to say, real tyrants are not sensitive to this sort of criticism”.

Again Walt bemoans that fact that calling Putin or Milosevic tyrants does nothing but he then derides America for taking action, in for example 1995 and 1999 to stop Milosevic killing swathes of Muslims.

He argues that “When moral condemnation fails — as it invariably does — liberalism offers no good alternatives. Economic sanctions are a weak tool and usually end up strengthening authoritarian rulers rather than undermining them. Moreover, they inflict vast suffering on entire populations while leaving the ruling elite largely unscathed, which ought to give anyone who is concerned with the condition of actual human beings at least a moment’s pause. Even when they do succeed — as one might argue occurred in the case of apartheid-era South Africa — it takes decades”.

His point about sanctions is broadly correct, Joseph Nye’s theory aside. Again he seems to want it both ways, he seems to be saying that sanctions do not work and when they do they take too long.

He continues, “Trying to spread liberal ideals at the point of a gun, however, is even worse. As we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and many other places, violent ‘regime change’ by definition means destroying existing political and social institutions. Unfortunately, the collapse of the old order and the subsequent foreign occupation make it even less likely that an effective democracy will emerge. The resulting anarchy empowers those with a taste and a talent for violence, and it forces local populations to turn to ancient sources of local identity (such as tribes, clans, or religious sects) for protection. It is hard to think of a better way to destroy the tolerance and individualism that is central to liberal philosophy”.

Here Walt is conflating two seperate reasons. America and its allies did not enter Iraq and Afghanistan for liberal reasons, at least not initally. It was for obvious realist reasons that America retailated against those that attacked it. On the point of Libya he overemphasises the role played by America when the vast majority was done by the UK and France.

He concludes, “The conclusion is obvious. The United States and other liberal states would do a much better job of promoting their most cherished political values if they concentrated on perfecting these practices at home instead of trying to export them abroad. If Western societies are prosperous, just, and competent, and live up to their professed ideals, people in other societies will want to emulate some or all of these practices, suitably adapted to local conditions. In some countries, this process may occur rapidly, in others only after difficult struggles, and in a few places not for many decades. This fact may be regrettable, but is also realistic. Trying to speed up a process that took centuries in the West, as the United States has been trying to do since 1992, is more likely to retard the advance of liberal values than it is to advance them”.

Francis vs Rush

08/12/2013

Christian Caryl who has written somewhat correctly about Pope Francis recently, has a new article about what blowhard Rush Limbaugh has said about Francis who has in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation warned about how many people view capitalism.

Caryl writes that “In his text he assails the problem of inequality, asks that we pay greater attention to the needs of the poor, and attacks the idea that the urge to accumulate wealth is an end unto itself. Sure, the bible has a lot of harsh things to say about the wanton rich”.

Caryl add “Nowhere in the document does he mention specific policies to counter these problems. He doesn’t call for increased taxation of the rich. (The word “tax” occurs only once in the document, in a passage that criticises tax evasion and corruption.) He doesn’t sing the praises of collectivism. He doesn’t attack the principle of private property, nor does he advocate public ownership of the means of production. It’s worth noting that this pope has a long track record of opposing liberation theologists in his homeland of Argentina. Still, I guess it’s theoretically possible that the pope really is a closet Maoist”.

Caryl is correct, Francis does not advocate for collectivism or attacking property. However what Caryl misses is that the reason he does not “mention specific policies” is that because this is primarly a religious document and not an economic article. The Church is not a political organisation but it does seek the common good and reserves the right to have its voice heard on matters where there is a spiritual dimension – the worship of money being the obvious example.

He makes the correct point when he writes “The conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, America’s premier political entertainer, was keen to pile on (though not quite so ingenious in his arguments). He was especially upset by this part of the pope’s critique: “The culture of prosperity deadens us. We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle. They fail to move us.” This sounds pretty keenly observed to me. But Limbaugh just couldn’t bear it: “That’s going way beyond matters that are ethical,” he spluttered. “This is almost a statement about who should control financial markets. He says that the global economy needs government control.” Well, no. Actually, Francis doesn’t say anything of the kind. Instead he’s exhorting us (a pronoun that expressly includes politicians and world leaders) to look closely at our own behavior and its consequences. That’s precisely why his text is an “exhortation,” a rumination on issues of justice and charity, not a white paper from some Washington think tank”.

Finally Caryl rightly laughs at Limbaugh, “For Limbaugh, though, it’s a clear case: Pope Francis is a ‘Marxist.’ Just for good measure, he draws a stark contrast between Francis and Pope John Paul II, who stared down the Soviet Union and made a signal contribution to the collapse of communism. John Paul II, in this reading, was the ultimate Cold Warrior, a man at the opposite end of the spectrum from this sentimental, pinko Francis. Except that he wasn’t. Here’s a sample from John Paul II’s own writings in 1991. ‘The Marxist solution has failed,’ he noted. And yet, he continued: ‘Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems'”

He concludes, “Francis, in short, isn’t saying that capitalism is inherently bad. What he’s saying is that we shouldn’t fetishize it. We shouldn’t treat it as if it’s beyond reproach, something that we can’t even dare to change”.

Still writing

18/10/2013

Pope Emeritus Benedict replies in a  letter to a journalist on a range of subjects, from evil, love, Jesus and child abuse.

“Democracies need debates”

21/09/2013

As the impending victory of Chancellor Angela Merkel seems all but assured in the German general election, and article in Foreign Affairs discusses the the predicted result, is entirely negative for the euro crisis and its eventual conclusion.

The author writes, “Germany has been dubbed Europe’s most powerful country, the EU’s “indispensable nation,” but it would be hard to tell from its current election season. The country’s leading politicians have been focused on such weighty matters as whether foreigners should be charged for the privilege of driving on German autobahns and how to calibrate pension rates for civil servants. In the eyes of critics inside and outside the country, the election battle has not only been boring — it has also been deeply irresponsible, a willful repression of the important issues facing the country”.

This failure will lead that to ruin. By being politically astute and ignoring, or sidlining the euro crisis they have only set themselves up to chaos when the new chancellor, whoever that is, must use vast sums of Germany money to bailout the EU and its failed currency. This backlash will be all the worse as they have not publicy discussed it.

Many would argue that it has not been discussed because there is broad agreement but this diminishes the problems and the scale of the solution needed to fix the issue at stake.

The article goes on to describe how this failure, “The real failure is that, in Germany’s first federal election since the outbreak of the eurocrisis in 2010, the fate of the European project has barely figured at all. By now, Europeans should have woken up to the fact of profound financial and political interdependence in the eurozone — yet they still conduct elections as if they were entirely national affairs”.

The piece adds that “The curious sleepiness of the election campaign has to do with two peculiar circumstances. One is that Merkel has sought to recycle the strategy that worked for her four years ago, which goes by the awkward name “asymmetric demobilisation.” Merkel either says as little as possible about controversial topics or explicitly adopts many of her opponents’ positions, in the hope that the supporters of opposition parties will feel that nothing much is at stake, and hence stay away from the polls. It is the direct opposite of the approach she took in the first federal elections she contested in 2005. Then, Merkel staked out clear positions in the name of her prime political value, “freedom” — in particular, an ambitious program of cutting the welfare state. The result was that she almost lost an election that was supposed to be a landslide in her favour.  The lesson she drew was clear: you cannot be attacked for something you have not said, and you cannot be punished for following public opinion rather than trying to shape it”.

They rightly warn of the consequences of this Merkel “leadership“, “The lesson stuck when it came time for Merkel to govern. Critics have called her the first “post-political” chancellor — she is a leader without any trace of ideological commitment. Instead, she is devoted to process over substance, and willing to adopt any policy position as long as it gives the impression of competence and consensus”.

Of course the problem with Merkel’s view, is that ideology is in everything. No decision cannot be called ideological and therefore Merkel is effectively lying to the German electorate. This is much of same tactic used at the heart of the EU. Trying to ignore ideology which is for some reason viewed as inherently bad, and at the same time attempting to reduce everything to technocratic decisions. The result is unelected officials vary exceeding whatever “mandate” they once had thereby engendering dissolusionment and anger in the people of the continent. Sadly their solution seems to be more of the same, in both German and EU “politics”.

The writers mention “the eurocrisis in particular — Merkel has identified the center of German politics and occupied that space squarely. She has also ensured that no serious rival threatens from within her own party. And yet, even though she is obviously the country’s most powerful decision-maker, she has managed to insulate herself from responsibility for any particular political outcome by refusing to be identified too closely with the details of any given policy”.

They add that the oppostion ,”Social Democrats chose a candidate for the chancellorship whose public image is as Merkelian as it gets — minus the reticence. Steinbrück was Merkel’s finance minister in the “grand coalition” between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats that governed Germany from 2005 to 2009. Together, they are often credited with having met the challenges of the financial crisis — and in some sense, that partnership has endured even after the Social Democrats entered the opposition. From the opposition benches, the party has supported all of Merkel’s eurocrisis policies. As a result, the party has no credible way to attack Merkel during the campaign”.

Worryingly they add that “Merkel’s approach — managerial, cautious, incremental — seems to have suited most Germans just fine. They do not feel that the eurocrisis has been truly solved; they have a lingering sense that, after the elections, they will be presented with another bill for Greece. But the last thing they seem to want is some new grand vision for Europe, with more power handed over to Brussels; only the Greens dare to be openly Euro-enthusiastic, and their poll numbers have been steadily declining”.

The problems however they write are manifold, “the true preferences of the German public have become increasingly difficult to discern. It is still unclear whether a substantial number of voters are actually in favour of undoing parts of European integration. A new party, Alternative for Germany, has vowed to work for an ‘orderly dissolution’ of the euro. At present, polls do not indicate that the party will make it into parliament — but many observers feel that election night could hold a surprise. Given the taboo in Germany against policies that are even remotely ‘anti-European,’ prospective voters might have been reluctant to reveal their true preferences to pollsters”.

They add correctly that “given that even Merkel’s own Christian Democrat constituents are not that excited to vote — is corrosive to the political system. Democracies need debates and public discourse, as a way to decide on a direction for a polity. This year, voter turnout is expected to be lower than ever before, and prominent intellectuals have made a point of proclaiming that, for the first time, they will abstain. Suddenly, Germans are recalling their civics lessons about the Weimar Republic and how it unraveled because of a lack of democrats truly committed to the political system; there is a growing, although still rather quiet, fear that a truly charismatic right-wing populist could one day capitalise on the country’s creeping disenchantment with politics”.

This is at the very heart of agonism. Without open and strong debate based on ideas and ideology, people see little point in voting thus leading to the dimunation of democracy and the rise of the very thing Germans were trying to avoid, dictatorship.

They write that “There is another, less obvious worry. Merkel has subtly encouraged European elites that all countries have to watch each other much more closely. She decided at one point that the traditional European institutions for problem-solving and policy innovation — the European Commission in particular — could not be relied upon to prevent another Greece. Instead, she is betting on closer coordination of economic and fiscal policies among independent nation-states, with Brussels having some role in supervising individual national budgets, but by no means in a leadership role. There are good reasons to be skeptical about an approach that empowers national executives at the expense of European institutions and national parliaments. It will lead to a Europe of two parallel universes: on the one hand, the existing EU of 28 member states, which operates on the basis of the European treaties; on the other hand, the eurozone, in which governments make pacts among themselves, sometimes using the EU institutions and sometimes creating new ones ad hoc”.

They concldue “it is an open question whether things can stay this quiet for long. In the absence of explanation and discussion, Merkel’s policy of coordination will never gain legitimacy across the continent. For now, Germany is basking in its economic success and might not have to worry about major sacrifices for the sake of the euro. But if they were ever to become necessary, which remains a very real possibility, German elites might regret their acquiescence to democratic demobilisation”.

The majority out of wedlock

15/07/2013

In a somewhat unsurprising news article published recently, it was revealed that in the UK, the majority of children will be born out of wedlock within three years due to the falling marriage rates.

The piece notes that “The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers hit a record 47.5 per cent last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. The figure has risen from 25 per cent in 1988 and just 11 per cent in 1979. If the trend continues at the current rate, the majority of children will be born to parents who are not married by 2016. Conservative MPs and experts warned that the stark decline of marriage is likely to lead to more family breakdowns and damage children’s prospects. Tim Loughton, the former Children’s minister, called on the government to introduce tax breaks for married couples to help stop the decline. He said: ‘If people are prepared to make a public declaration to each other in front of their friends and family they are more likely to stay together. Without marriage people drift in and out of relationships very easily'”.

The article goes on to mention that “David Cameron has pledged to introduce legislation to give couples tax breaks worth £150 by the end of the year. The Prime Minister has been forced to put a timetable on government plans to recognise marriage in the tax system amid growing Conservative unrest over the failure to act. Last year a total of 346,595 babies were born outside marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales, equivalent to 47.5 per cent. In 2002 the proportion was 40.6 per cent, and if the trend continues at the same rate more than half of children will be born out of wedlock by 2016. According to the 2011 Census, the number of people who are married in England and Wales has fallen from just over half of the population a decade ago to 45 per cent. The figures represented the first time since the Census was founded in 1801 that married couples have been in a minority. More than 11 million people in England and Wales are single, reflecting the growing number who have chosen not to marry, while more than 5 million unmarried people live with their partners”.

The piece adds later that “The official figures show that 729,674 children were born in 2012 and mothers now have an average of two children each, the highest fertility rate since the 1970s. The rise in the birth rates has been driven by immigration and women chosing to have children later in life. The number of women aged over 40 having children reached a record 29,994, up from just 6,519 in 2002. The average age of mothers has risen to 29.8 years in 2012, compared to 27 in 1982. The ONS said: ‘These trends reflect the increasing numbers of women delaying childbearing to later ages'”.

Much of the problem is down to a lack of marriage which hinges on the ever increasingly individualism in societies, and added to this the decline in belief in God as exemplified by attendance at an official church domination. However, the other problem is that relativistic belief that all forms of “partnership” are equally valid. This is not the case and indeed the concern is that marriage will become a thing of the past for the vast majority with only a few couples choosing to commit to what is by far the most stable form of union in society and therefore the best for children.

Future of the Church in Ireland

22/04/2013

As part of a series on the Church in Ireland, the Irish Times has written a number of articles on the subject.

The first article discusses the notions of belief in Ireland. The piece begins “Despite the fallout from clerical sex abuse scandals, a significant proportion of the country – including non-Catholics – believe the church has had a broadly positive influence on Ireland. The national survey was undertaken last month among a representative sample of 1,000 voters aged 18 and over. A total of 89 per cent of respondents were Catholic. The remainder were either not religious (6 per cent), Protestant (3 per cent) or from other faiths. Fianna Fáil supporters were most likely to be Catholic (95 per cent), followed by Sinn Féin (89 per cent), Fine Gael (88 per cent), Labour (85 per cent) and Greens (58 per cent). Overall, just under a third (31 per cent) of Catholics said they attended Mass at least once a week. More than two-thirds attended services far less frequently. Some 39 per cent said they either never or very occasionally went to Mass. A further 20 per cent said they attended every two to three months, while 8 per cent went once a fortnight. Those who attend Mass regularly are twice as likely to live in rural rather than urban areas. They are also more likely to be older and support Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. When it comes to the church’s teachings, many Catholics do not subscribe to key tenets such as transubstantiation. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ. Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent)”.

It is heartening to see that many still think of the benefits of the Church in Ireland however, these people are normally too afraid to speak up and defend the Church when it comes under attack from those who preach nihilism and relativism. Either unaware of unconcerned by its consequences.  Thankfully there are some who do defend the Church. To be welcomed is the number of people still attending Mass, which is probably among the highest in Europe. Obviously what the survey does not highlight is the age profile of these people and it can be safely assumed that the vast majority are over 60 with only a small fraction under 30.

In a related article in the series notes “Nearly two-thirds of the over-65s attend Mass once a week or more, compared to 13 per cent of those aged 18-24. Interestingly, while women have always been perceived as the stereotypical daily Mass attenders, the gap between male and female attendance is not as wide as might be expected. Four per cent of women attend daily, while 3 per cent of men do. The gap widens to 8 per cent in the once-a-week or more category: 35 per cent of women versus 27 per cent of men. Overall, the gap between the two is about 10 per cent – substantial but still probably narrower than expected”.

The piece adds “Amid increasingly vocal proponents of rationality and science over belief in gods and supernatural explanations for the meaning of life and death, it is interesting to note that over 80 per cent continue to believe in heaven, a belief shared fairly equally across regions, party and class, and rising to 90 per cent among the over-65s and women” but worryingly for the supposed tolerance of society “Do people think the country would be better off without it? The question was asked of all respondents, not only Catholics, and the remarkable fact is only 9 per cent said yes. Nearly 40 per cent said the country would be a worse place without it, a figure that includes 29 per cent of Protestants. It also includes a third of those under 34, rising to nearly half of the over-65s”.

Again this obvious lack of tolerance is seen when another article notes “On one of his first visits to Poland, Scally almost laughed out loud when a Polish friend mentioned that he was a member of the Club of Catholic Intellectuals. The idea of Catholic intellectuals seemed hilarious. But when Polish people needed a bulwark against the communist authorities, the Catholic Church offered people a place to meet and an alternative space to think. It remains the case today: one of Poland’s leading weekly publications is a Catholic newspaper”. The fact that the Solidarity movement worked with the Church to overthrow Communist tyranny and have free speech, the rule of law and a free press after its downfall and the fact that Scally should be so narrowminded and dismissive of the Church speaks volumes.

Predictably reform is mentioned, “Fr Crombie distances himself from themes closely associated with the Association of Catholic Priests, such as the call for national assemblies and dialogue on the looming dearth of priests, on compulsory celibacy and on the ordination of women. Priesthood and celibacy are indivisible for him”. Indeed the ACP, far from being a canonical organisation is totally opposed to any thoughful (liturgical) reform as envisioned by Pope Benedict dismissing it out of hand. As for the question of celibacy it is not practiced in the Eastern Catholic Churches or the Orthodox Church so it should not be ruled out completely. The article goes on “A question that preoccupies the Association of Catholic Priests – the second Vatican Council’s unfulfilled decision that every parish would have a lay-dominated council, linked to a diocesan council, feeding into a national assembly – seems to puzzle him. He has never heard of it”. There is also the issue of what such a proposed assembly would be for.

Lastly, a piece notes the admittedly depressing figures, “In 1970 Ireland had almost 4,000 diocesan priests. Today that figure is 2,160, with 687 others retired, ill, on study leave or working elsewhere. Their average age is 64. In 1970 164 men entered Irish seminaries. Last year the figure was 22. The Amárach survey also found weekly Mass attendance in Ireland was 35 per cent. Last December [2011] Archbishop Martin disclosed that weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent and said that within eight years just 235 priests will be available to serve full time in Dublin’s 199 parishes. Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese was facing its biggest crisis since Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the archbishop said”.

Finally a piece calls for “new thinking”. The article mentions that “By 2020, the number of priests in Dublin will drop by about 36 per cent, from 456 to about 294. Just 235 will be available to serve full-time in Dublin’s 199 parishes, he said, with the remainder serving as chaplains or at central services. Meanwhile priests’ income in Dublin has fallen 15 per cent in the past two years to an average of €24,079 per annum, as weekly Mass attendance hovers at 14 per cent. What has been happening in Dublin is reflected in each of the 26 Catholic dioceses on the island. In each, too, as the priests get older and their income drops, their workload increases. This is due to parish clustering, whereby priests who would normally serve in just one parish must now also take care of the needs of the faithful in nearby parishes as well. This, itself, is due to the growing shortage of priests. No wonder morale is low among Irish Catholic priests”. However he adds that this is not the only story, “Of the 1,965 priests currently in parish ministry in Ireland, 838 are 54 years and under. Even the 54-year-olds will not have reached retirement age by 2032. And between now and 2032 more priests will be ordained on an annual basis, though nobody should get too excited about that”.

He adds ” in 2032 there will also be additional permanent deacons. Eight such men were ordained in Dublin’s pro-cathedral last Monday, with other such ordinations to take place in seven more Catholic dioceses in Ireland. It is highly likely this pattern will be followed in the church’s remaining dioceses on the island also. These permanent deacons will be able to officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals. In so doing, they will greatly lessen the workload of priests. Another way of freeing up, indeed liberating, priests to exclusively exercise their essential spiritual function is for the laity to take over parish administrative duties. This is happening already and is a source of immense satisfaction to the great majority of priests”. Indeed this does make some sense. There is little reason for a priest to spend his time filling in forms when it could be far better spent elsewhere.

Yet is obvious from these reports is the the Church in Ireland faces organisational, financial, “personnel” and credibility problems. However,  the common thread that runs through these reports is that the Church is treated as some political actor rather than a divine institution run by flawed human beings who are trying to achieve some beyond the transitory existence of this life and at the same time aim for something more than just material possessions and whatever else this world offers.

What Irish Catholics believe

01/12/2012

A survey has published recently about the religious beliefs of Catholics in Ireland.

The article opens “More than one in five Irish Catholics do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or that God created the universe, according to the Ipsos MRBI 50th anniversary poll. It found also that 7 per cent of Irish Catholics do not even believe in God. When it comes to making serious moral decisions, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of Irish Catholics follow their own conscience rather than church teaching (17 per cent). Almost half of Irish Catholics (45 per cent) do not believe in Hell while almost a fifth (18 per cent) do not believe that God created man”.

However, the writer, or even those who composed the questions obviously know nothing about Catholicism. In order to be a Christian the basic belief is Christ’s resurrection. Therefore to say “Irish Catholics do not believe” is an oxymoron. They are not even Christians if they do not adopt this article of faith. The same could be said for the figure of 7% who do not believe in God. Thirdly, it is a great shame that the lack of belief in Hell exists as this too is fundamental to Christian doctrine. Lastly, the Church has for at the very least 60 years taught that there is nothing wrong with belief in evolution and faith. Pius XII wrote on this topic in 1950.

The article goes on to add “On the other hand, 92 per cent of Irish Catholics believe in God, 82 per cent believe in heaven, 80 per cent believe God created man and 84 per cent believe Jesus was the son of God. Seventy-eight per cent believe in the resurrection of Jesus while 76 per cent believe God created the universe. When it comes to Mass attendance, the poll found 34 per cent of Irish Catholics did so on a weekly basis, with 16 per cent ‘rarely/never’ attending. Overall, the poll found 90 per cent of respondents described themselves as Catholic”. What is most interesting is that in a country as secular and “modern” as Ireland, Mass attendance is so high. While certainly not at American or Asian levels of attendance, Irish Catholics are still among the highest Mass goers in Europe. However, demographically these numbers are not sustainable.

The piece adds “Of those polled, 84 per cent believe priests should be allowed marry, with 7 per cent opposed, while 80 per cent believe there should be women priests, with 9 per cent opposed”, concluding “Only 17 per cent of 18-34-year-olds attend Mass weekly, compared to 31 per cent for 34-54-year-olds, 57 per cent for over-55s. Still, 87 per cent of 18-34-year-olds believe in God, compared to 93 per cent of 34-54-year-olds and 97 per cent of over-55s”.

A typically Anglican mess

21/11/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal Burke, profiled

10/10/2012

The Washington Post, in an article, profiles Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

It begins noting “love him or loathe him — and few are on the fence — Burke’s many pronouncements
on politics and the culture wars have given both fans and critics plenty of ammunition for their respective views”. The highly regarded canonist doing his JCD in Rome before being named defender of the bond in the Signatura. Then bishop of his native La Crosse in 1994.

However it was in his next role as archbishop of St Louis that he is best known. Appointed at the end of 2003 but serving  only four years before being moved to Rome in June 2008. As the article mentions “when he was archbishop of St. Louis in 2004, for instance, Burke touched off a fierce debate by declaring that Catholic politicians such as John Kerry who support abortion rights should be denied Communion. Voters who supported them were in grave peril too, he added”. While Burke was technically correct in his reading of Canon 916, he seems to ignore that neither GOP or Democrats do anything to alter the legality of abortion because both know that it commands high public support, sadly.

Interestingly however it seems that many on the USCCB do not share Buke’s view of withholding Communion. In 2007 then-Archbishop Burke lost the election to become chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs to then-Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, with Burke getting just 40 percent of the vote.

The article goes on to mention another of Burke’s hardline positions, “Burke doubled down on those views after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to a top Vatican job in 2008, saying that under President Obama the Democratic party ‘risks transforming itself definitively into a ‘party of death’.’ In 2009, Burke fueled another controversy when he said that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy should have been denied a church funeral for his support of abortion rights and gay rights”. The argument that Burke makes is that only those who agree with the church on every matter should recieve a church funeral and by implication, be recieved into God’s love. Also the notion that the Democrats are the “party of death” is not only highly partisan but unhelpful. Burke seems to put at naught the value of the Democarts in protecting the poor and vuneralbe and least fortunate. He also says little about the GOP and their toxic brand of capitalism that they continue to espouse which is so antithetical to the common good it would seem to be obvious. Cardinal Burke however, seems to remain silent on this isse.

The article adds that Burke was created Cardinal-Deacon of S Agatha dei Gothi in the 2010 consistory, thus “giving him a vote in a conclave that would elect the pontiff’s successor, and put him on the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican body that vets candidates for bishops in the U.S. and around the world. That gives Burke a key role in shaping the hierarchy for years to come, which he seems to be doing”. This was seen most recently when the new archbishop of San Francisco was appointed, being a key ally of Burke.

He is however no cartoon. His attack against relativism should be warmly welcomed so should his support for the Latin Mass, but his checklist Catholicism is a cause for great concern.

Dead in the water

06/10/2012

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, has given yet another interview on the most pressing issues facing his office. The interview in two parts, conducted by the National Catholic Register deals with the LCWR, the Society of Saint Pius X, of which he says “I believe that these questions will be resolved in the long term”, as well as his own writings, that some have been highly critical of. This despite Pope Benedict’s own high praise for Muller.

In a separate interview, picked up by Reuters, Archbishop Muller was reported as saying that Rome “plans no more talks with rebel Catholic traditionalists who insist the Church must revoke modernizing reforms launched five decades ago”. The piece adds “His comments to North German Radio (NDR) were the first from the Vatican on deadlocked talks meant to reintegrate the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) into the Church after a 21-year schism over its implacable opposition to 1960s reforms”.

A longer article in the same subject notes “‘We cannot give away the Catholic faith in negotiations,’ Mueller said according to a pre-broadcast report by NDR. ‘There will be no compromises here,’ he said. ‘I think there now will be no new discussions.'”

The piece concludes “Muller, who crossed swords with SSPX traditionalists while he was archbishop [sic] of Regensburg in Germany before going to Rome, rejected the group’s central argument that the Council broke with a Church’s 2,000-year traditions. ‘The Second Vatican Council does not contradict the Church’s overall tradition, but only some false interpretations of the Catholic faith,’ he said”.

Therefore, it now seems that one of Pope Benedict’s most cherished goals has died, not because he did not try hard enough but because the people he was dealing with, the SSPX, are unable to accept the “modern” world, which for all its faults, is the world that currently exists.

Benedict should now ignore the SSPX and focus on the most pressing issues, such as the opposition to the Latin Mass still evident around the world, as well as the New Evangelisation and combating relativism.

Second tranche

17/09/2012

The latest in the series of reports by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church were recently released. The second tranche examined the Dioceses of Clonfert, Limerick, Cork & Ross, Kildare & Leighlin and the Congregations of the male Dominicans, Spiritans and Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. They come after the first tranche on 30 November 2011 when the board issues six reports into the Dioceses of Tuam, Kilmore, Ardagh, Dromore and Derry.

Reports note that an “advocacy group for victims of child sexual abuse has called for a Garda investigation of senior Catholic Church figures in Ireland following new disclosures concerning child protection practices in four dioceses and three congregations published”, the report goes on to say that “The reviews were conducted by the Catholic Church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC). Its chief executive Ian Elliott, who led the reviews, described the findings as ‘disappointing'”.

Seperately it has been mentioned that the audits by the NBSC into the “Catholic dioceses and religious orders have revealed that hundreds of schoolchildren were exposed to serial abusers over a 35-year period in many communities across the State. The reports into three religious orders and four dioceses have uncovered at least 335 child abuse allegations against more than 150 priests or members of religious orders. The audits also found a higher proportion of abuse allegations against members of religious congregations than against priests in the dioceses that were audited. The reviews – conducted by the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children – examined abuse allegations stretching back to 1975”. The article goes on to mention that “The reports show a number of common themes in the way abuse allegations were mishandled across orders and dioceses. Many people in positions of leadership failed to protect vulnerable young people, according to the audits. This resulted in a culture of secrecy that worked in favour of those who wanted to continue to prey on children. In particular, alleged abusers who were known to be a risk were often moved to different parts of the country or abroad. The audits also revealed allegations of abuse that were never reported to gardaí. These have since been reported to the Garda and may result in fresh criminal charges. In addition, there were significant delays in alerting civil authorities to abuse allegations, even after official church guidelines were introduced in the 1990s. Overall, the reports note that full compliance with updated child protection practices agreed in 2009 are still some way off”.

The same article adds that “In all there were 142 abuse allegations made against 47 members of the congregation over a 35-year period. The report said it was clear there was no awareness of the impact of child sexual abuse on the part of the leadership of the congregation during the time under review. ‘There was a failure on the part of the congregation in these instances to create safe environments for children,’ the report states. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were also heavily criticised. The report found child protection practices were deeply flawed and, in one case, contributed to a man’s death by suicide. Similarly, the Dominicans were found to have delayed dealing with dozens of allegations prior to 2010, and were only now showing a real sense of accepting past failures. The diocese of Clonfert was also heavily criticised for moving two priests from one parish to another in the 1990s after they had abused children. The audit reports were more positive about the diocese of Cork and Ross, and Limerick. In Cork and Ross, the audit found that the diocese met 42 of the 47 safeguarding criteria. It highlighted five administrative issues, which are due to be resolved by the end of the year. It voiced some concern about the need for better information on allegations or convictions relating to priests retiring in Ireland from overseas. Limerick diocese was found to have met 44 of the 48 criteria for safeguarding children in the church. The audit commented that Dr Donal Murray – who resigned in 2009 – had put in place robust safeguards and prompt responses to allegations”.

This is a pattern that has been witnessed all over the world in Europe and North America, where the Church put its own interests ahead of those of the weakest members of society. It is now justifiably suffering for the evils it has committed. The scale of the scandal, both in Ireland itself and around the world shows just how badly the Church has relativised itself and seperated itself from reality.

Some have noted the levels of secrecy that allowed priests and those in authority to hide those who abused, it notes the the “National Board for Safeguarding Children review of the Sacred Heart Missionaries (MSC) found the congregation’s child protection policies were ‘deeply flawed’. It said it was ‘difficult to express adequately the failure of this society to effectively protect vulnerable children'”. The piece goes on to mention “They appeared to ‘maintain a culture of secrecy which allowed known abusers to continue to live within the community without the full extent of the suffering that they had caused to vulnerable young people being known by their fellow members'”. The article notes “The Sacred Heart Missionaries files revealed that 17 of its priests faced 61 allegations of child abuse. Eleven of these priests are still living. One has been convicted in the courts, while seven were out of ministry. Three had left the congregation, while there was one priest against whom allegations had not been substantiated”.

In a most horrific tale that came to light in the reports was that of the bishop of Clonfert, John Kirby, “has said it never occurred to him that he should consider resigning after it emerged that he had moved two priests at the centre of child sex abuse allegations to other parishes in the 1990s. He also dismissed a suggestion that it was unwritten church policy in the early 1990s to move priests suspected of abusing children to other parishes rather than report them to the Garda. Dr Kirby (73) said he “hadn’t a clue” about how paedophiles operated 20 years ago and thought that it was a case of ‘a friendship that crossed a boundary line’. Dr Kirby, who has been bishop of Clonfert since 1988, said he would handle matters differently now if complaints emerged about  priest and, while he felt moving the suspected priests to other parishes might solve the problem, he denied it was church policy at the time”. The report mentions that the diocese of Clonfert “is one of the smallest in the country with a Catholic population of 36,000 in 26 parishes in Galway, Roscommon and Offaly”. It is certain that it will be suppressed or merged in the  eventual reorganisation of dioceses in Ireland.

Thankfully, some have praised those that have acted correctly, Donal Murrary, bishop emeritus of Limerick. A report mentions that “audit of the Limerick diocese for implementing ‘robust safeguards’ to deal with allegations against Limerick priests, despite having been forced to resign as the bishop of Limerick in 2009 over his handling of allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. The report on the audit of the Limerick diocese’s child safeguarding procedures said Dr Murray was ‘credited with putting in place in the diocese robust safeguards and prompt responses to allegations of abuse'”.

Where this leaves Pope Benedict’s new evangalistation is uncertain.

No exceptions, except

17/08/2012

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York has defended inviting the pro-abortion President Obama to the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, which is an annual fundraising event for Catholic charities. Cardinal Dolan is against abortion in all cases, except when money for the Church is involved.

Watching the slide

23/07/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fitting response

21/05/2012

After the actions, or lack thereof, by Sean Cardinal Brady became apparent, reports notes that “Just 20 of 150 priests in the Armagh Archdiocese invited to attend a prayer gathering in support of Dr Brady actually showed up”.

Her true self

17/05/2012

Rebekah Brooks having given evidence at Leveson, has been formally charged. Yet, as befits her rabid, selfish individualistic relavtivism “Brooks angrily attacked police and prosecutors for dragging her friends and family into the phone hacking scandal as she said she was ‘baffled’ to face charges”.

“Detailed discussions”

16/05/2012

As the UK phone hacking scandal rolls on, former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Brooks also served as editor of The Sun and other “newspapers”. Reports mention how she “‘had detailed discussion with David Cameron’ on phone hacking”, while others note how Brooks met Cameron 22 times. Related articles examine that “Cameron had a conversation with the News International executive to discuss the ‘story behind the news’ after Sienna Miller filed a legal claim against the media company. The actress’s legal action was pivotal because it proved that hacking at the News of the World was not restricted to a single ‘rogue’ reporter, as the company had insisted”. The article goes on to mention how “Brooks denied that Mr Cameron asked her for information because he was having ‘second thoughts’ about Mr Coulson, but said she had more than one conversation with him about phone hacking after the ‘rogue reporter’ defence fell apart. The Prime Minister is expected to insist that he was unaware of the significance of the Miller claim at the time of the conversation”.

Amazingly, the report goes on to mention that “a lobbyist for News Corporation emailed Mrs Brooks to say that Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, had asked him for advice on ‘Number 10’s positioning’ on the scandal. Mr Hunt’s office said yesterday that the email — the only document disclosed by Mrs Brooks — was ‘completely inaccurate’. However, previous close contact between the lobbyist and the minister’s special adviser, Adam Smith, led to Mr Smith’s resignation last month. The disclosures prompted questions about the Prime Minister’s judgment and his decision to become personally embroiled in the scandal. Mrs Brooks also alleged that Mr Cameron had ‘indirectly’ contacted her after she was forced to resign last summer to offer his support and tell her to ‘keep your head up’. This shows the obvious scale of the power of Murdoch with Hunt’s position looking increasingly tenous. Other articles also highlights the closeness of Cameron to Brooks.

Related articles mention how “email shows that News Corp was given an ‘extremely helpful’ tip-off by Mr Hunt’s office that he would refer to phone-hacking in a statement to Parliament. It was released to the Leveson Inquiry by Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, as part of her witness statement to the Inquiry. As well as dragging Mr Hunt further into the row which has already claimed the scalp of his special adviser Adam Smith, the email makes uncomfortable reading for David Cameron, as it suggests his response to the phone-hacking scandal was being guided by the owner of the News of the World. The email was sent by Frederic Michel, the News Corp head of public affairs whose emails to and from Mr Smith, previously released to the Inquiry by Rupert Murdoch, showed that News Corp was being given advance notice of key decisions in the Government’s scrutiny of its bid to take over BSkyB”.Worse still the news article mentions how “At the time the email was sent, the Metropolitan Police was six months into its ongoing investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World, which later led to the arrest of Mrs Brooks”. Brooks response to the email has been noted as “In response to questioning about the message and what it may have meant, Ms Brooks simply offered: “I think it speaks for itself.'” Reports that former director of communications for Cameron Andy Coulson mention that “when asked if Mr Cameron sought further assurances he was in the clear over the issue after an article was published in the Guardian in 2009, which suggested hacking went far beyond ‘one rogue reporter’, Mr Coulson said: ‘Not that I recall'”.

This continues to show the depths to which people will sink to gain a “profit” at whatever cost to society but not to oneself. All this only makes Hunt’s hold on his job more tenous and the Cameron’s hold  on the top job weaker.

Where to next?

13/05/2012

The self made plight of Sean Cardinal Brady, archbishop of Armagh and primate of All-Ireland continues to grow.

Brady, 72, when he was a priest in 1974 was informed by a young boy who was being abused that as well as himself a number of others were being abused.

A New York Times piece notes how Brady failed “37 years ago to report damning evidence against the Rev. Brendan Smyth. That failure allowed Father Smyth to continue abusing children for at least 13 more years”. The claims come after a BBC documenetary “which produced handwritten documents concerning one such interrogation involving Brendan Boland, a 14-year-old who came forward to accuse Father Smyth. In the documents, Father Brady, not yet a prelate, described himself as having been ‘dispatched to investigate the complaint,’ prompting accusations that he bore greater responsibility than he has admitted”. Worse  still, Boland had given the-Fr Brady a list of names and addresses of other children that there, or where in danger of, being abused. Brady did nothing. Brady has continually said that he was only following orders of his bishop, and that he passed the list onto his ordinary, Bishop Francis MacKiernan of Kilmore, and initially said that he did all he could.  Only recently has Brady acknowledged that he could have done more and then publicly apologised.

This comes after a similar incident in 2010 when Cardinal Brady, again when he was a young priest swore two boys to secrecy knowing that they had been abused. It was after this first incident that Brady described himself as a “lame duck cardinal”. Rocco mentions “Brady’s tie to the Smyth case encited controversy when his role as a canonical notary first emerged in early 2010, without the fresh aspect of the additional victims he learned about. The mere disclosure that, in recording their experiences, the future cardinal swore the teenage victims to secrecy — a standard procedure to maintain the integrity of canonical proceedings — made for enough grist in the court of public opinion to foster perceptions that he abetted a cover-up”.

What has been interesting to see is the attacks, albeit warranted, from the Labour Party. The ministers for Education, Social Protection as well as the deputy prime minister have all called for Cardinal Brady to resign. This is the same party that forced the closure of the Irish embassy to the Holy See. Othershave mentioned how the deputy PM has commented that “‘It’s not the case,’ he [Gilmore] told reporters in Dublin yesterday. ‘There is a separation in this country between church and State. It is not the Government’s responsibility to decide who are bishops or who should remain as bishops, or archbishops or cardinals – that’s entirely a matter for the church'”. Yet Gilmore and his associates around the Cabinet are happy to say who should resign or not, especially when the party recieved low poll ratings recently.

It is interesting to see Cardinal Brady relativise his role in the crisis. It is as a direct result of the actions of Cardinal Brady that Fr Brendan Smyth went on to abuse more children. This is from a Church that rightly rails against relativism, yet cannot see it when it concerns itself.

It is now certain that what Brady asked for in 2010 will happen. Reportsnote that the press office of the Catholic bishops said that “said Cardinal Seán Brady had asked the pope ‘for additional support for my work’ in 2010. The office was correcting a newspaper report yesterday, which said that the Vatican had turned down an offer by Cardinal Brady to resign in 2010. At a press conference in Maynooth on March 20th, this request was referred to by Cardinal Brady, who explained that his previous request for episcopal support in 2010 had been put on hold pending the outcome of the apostolic visitation to Ireland last year. That request had been reactivated, he said”.

Related news reports mention how sources “expected a coadjutor bishop to be appointed to the archdiocese of Armagh before the end of the year to aid embattled Cardinal Seán Brady”. The only choice that would restore some credibility to the Church in Ireland is Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin and primate of Ireland. If the Vatican wanted to let Ireland know it was backed Martin, it could created him a cardinal before Brady turns 80 in 2019. However, there is no guarantee that any of this will occur, as Martin is disliked in the Curia for “stirring things up”, or telling the truth.

Only then would the Church have some hope for a future.

On the doorstep

27/04/2012

As the phone hacking scandal continues, with Jeremy Hunt’s position looking increasingly tenuous, reports are now clearly showing the depth of Prime Minister David Cameron’s  role in the scandal.

Media reports note that while Rupert Murdoch was giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry he “showed that the two men had met on at least seven occasions since Mr Cameron became Prime Minister. Downing Street has previously acknowledged only that the Prime Minister had met the media tycoon twice since May 2010”.

In the immediate aftermath of the hacking scandal Cameron “published details of his meetings with media executives and editors. In the House of Commons, he pledged to MPs that ‘every contact’ had been made public”. Therefore, only two possibilities emerge, either Cameron was incompentent and did not know what he was doing, in which case his hold on office will be tenuous, or he knew what he was doing and lied to the House of Commons, in which case the consequences are as of yet unknown, but undoubtedly extremely serious.  Either way the sharks are circling Cameron.

The article goes on to say “it emerged that only one-to-one or ‘substantial’ meetings were disclosed officially, whereas Mr Murdoch recorded meetings at social dinners and other events. Mr Cameron had previously been reluctant to disclose details of his interactions with people connected to the Murdoch empire, including the recent admission that he had ridden a horse owned by Rebekah Brooks, one of Mr Murdoch’s former key executives. The inconsistencies between the recollections of the two men regarding their meetings are expected to form a key part of Mr Cameron’s cross examination at the inquiry when he appears within the next two months”. Whether will still PM by that time is hard to tell.

The report mentions that Cameron “admitted ‘we all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch’. But a Downing Street spokesman denied the meetings listed by Rupert Murdoch took place. ‘We are confident the list we published is correct,’ he said. Sources said the situation might be explained by different definitions of what constitutes a meeting”. The article goes on to note that “Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, officially raised the issue with the Speaker of the Commons, asking whether the Prime Minister had ‘misled’ MPs”.

During his evidence Murdoch Snr said that there was a cover up at the now defunct News of the World “newspaper” and conveniently he didn’t know anything about it.

Peter Oborne has discussed the very real possibility that this could sink Cameron, and perhaps even the government. He writes, “if even a fraction of the allegations are proven, then the case of News International will go down as the greatest criminal/corruption scandal, by far, in modern British history”. Interestingly he makes the point that “News Corporation did not publish yesterday’s deadly emails out of spite, as some have claimed, in order to take down David Cameron’s government. They were obliged to publish them only after Lord Justice Leveson ordered it”.

Oborne goes on to write that “incidental details, such as Mr Cameron’s employment of the disgraced ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson or the Prime Minister’s ill-judged socialising with Rebekah Brooks, are enjoyable. But they don’t matter that much. However, there is emerging circumstantial evidence that the Cameron government entered into what looks suspiciously like a Grand Bargain with the Murdoch newspaper empire before the last election. It may have gone like this: the Murdoch press would throw its weight behind the Conservative Party in the 2010 general election, and in return the Conservatives would back known Murdoch policy objectives”.

Oborne adds, “in an important development, it emerged that Mr Hunt spent five days at the NewsCorp headquarters in the United States, very shortly before James Murdoch personally told Mr Cameron that he would be swinging his newspapers behind the Tory party at the looming election”.

He concludes “the charge that the Cameron government has done commercial favours for the Murdochs in return for political support is very serious. This, if true, would amount to corruption. Certainly, if proven, it would force the resignation of Mr Hunt. But it is not impossible that the Government would fall”.

As has been noted, Cameron’s lack of firm belief in any ideology, and therefore agonsim, has lead him down a path were power is the only goal and everything that gets in the way, no matter how immoral, can be explained away in these deeply relativistic times.

Deeper and deeper

26/04/2012

So the phone hacking story takes another interesting turn. Yesterday, given evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, James Murdoch implicated very senior government figures in his failed attempt to take over BSkyB. These allegations, come just two months after Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of UK News International.

In December 2010 the bid was being examined by Dr Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business. However, after a Cable was caught on camera saying he would make war on the Murdoch bid to take control of the company, Prime Minister David Cameron removed it from Cable’s remit and gave it to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

However, during his evidence to the Murdoch showed how both aides in Hunt’s office and people connected to Murdoch had exchanged dozens of communications that repeatedly show Hunt’s obvious bias in favour of the Murdoch bid. Reports mention how “News Corporation released more than 170 pages of ‘evidence’, consisting of internal emails and text messages, detailing the company’s extraordinary efforts to lobby the Government. The emails largely contain messages sent by Frederic Michel, the head of public affairs, to James Murdoch and other senior executives at News Corp detailing his discussions with the Government. The company also released emails and text messages between Mr Michel and Adam Smith, Mr Hunt’s main special adviser. In one message, Mr Michel detailed what the Culture Secretary would say to Parliament the next day on the BSkyB takeover, noting that it was ‘absolutely illegal’ for him to obtain the information”. The article goes on to say how “Another email, dating from January last year, reported Mr Hunt’s belief that it would be ‘game over’ for opponents of the BSkyB takeover once plans to spin off Sky News into a separately listed company were announced. On Sunday, Jan 23 2011, he sent another email to James Murdoch, relating ‘a very constructive conversation with JH’ which mentions a ‘plan’ that would help create ‘game over for the opposition’. Two days later, Mr Hunt said he was minded to refer the BSkyB takeover to the Competition Commission but delayed doing so while he considered proposed concessions from News Corp. Later that day Mr Michel emailed Mr Murdoch to say: ‘JH believes we are in a good place tonight.'” A slew of other contacts between Hunt’s office, Hunt personally, Michel and Murdoch have been released, making simply amazing reading. In effect, Cameron removed the biased Cable, and gave it to the equally biased Hunt.

At the same time, Murdoch gave evidence saying that David Cameron was implicated. This comes just days after Cameron declared that he would do better and put what was seen as a bad month behind him. This was called for, especially when the disastarous budget was taken into account with the so called “granny tax“, hitting those who are the most firm supporters of Cameron’s Conservative party, in addition to making it harder to give to charities as well as Cameron personally hosting dinner for six figure sums with major business figures.

Predictably, and somewhat hypocritically, the opposition Labour party have called for Hunt to resign. Yet, as was thought, his adviser, quit, presumably under pressure in an attempt to keep Hunt in his job. Cameron has backed Hunt, though it is unclear how long this support will last. Indeed, some have acidly, but correctly noted Cameron’s own links to the Murdoch machine.

Yesterday, James’ father, Rupert gave evidence to Leveson saying Gordon Brown was not ‘in a balanced state of mind’. Murdoch Snr also made comments regarding Tony Blair and other governments.

Reports note that James Murdoch “did speak to David Cameron about News Corp’s bid for BskyB at a dinner party held by Rebekah Brooks”. The report adds that “Until now, Mr Cameron has always refused to issue an outright denial that he spoke about BSkyB during the meeting with Mr Murdoch on Dec 23, 2010”. Yet these denials are looking almost impossible to refute. Indeed, the one thing keeping Hunt in his job, for now, is that the scandal is certain to keep going all the way to Cameron himself. Alternatively, Cameron, could sack Hunt in an attempt to look strong, but there would be no guarantee that the party would keep Cameron on for long if he was seen as an electoral liability.

There is of course a wider picture that needs to be addressed. Firstly, like party funding, the role the media plays in a society is far too important to have “the market” play its tricks, with the widely refuted “arguments” it puts forward. Secondly, this continues to show how neoliberalism and morality have no relation to each other, with a heady mix of relativism and greed driving it on to great depths of individualism and immorality all in the name of greater profit, irrespective of the cost to society at large.

Seven years ago today

02/04/2012

This day, seven years ago, the world lost John Paul II, who was a great man, but also a flawed one.

Time to remember

21/01/2012

On this day 219 years ago, Louis XVI was murdered. Let us never forget the violence that swept France and Europe and the effects that still haunt the world.

Gossip lives, unless……

23/12/2011

In an interesting piece, Fintan O’Toole examines the role of gossip in the Leveson Inquiry. Cameron’s own, albeit, indirect, role in the scandal, sleeps, for now.

He cites the evils the tabloid journalists who went to “some creep putting a note in the schoolbag of the five-year-old daughter of JK Rowling; the picture of Sienna Miller playing on the floor with a child, cropped to make it look like she was crawling around in a drunken stupor; the Sun counting down the days to when Charlotte Church, still a child, would be 16 and then, by implication, available for sex; the decision by the Sun to publish a picture of Anne Diamond and her husband with the coffin of their baby son, in spite of her explicit pleas that they not do so”.

He mentions how “the prevalence of scandalmongering can be judged by the number and vehemence of complaints against it. The ancient Egyptian sage Amen-Em-Apt, writing more than 3,000 years ago, compares the scandalmonger to ‘the blast of the desert sandstorm’. The Old Testament forbids Jews to ‘go up and down as a slanderer among your people’. In the Christian and Jewish traditions, the ultimate scandalmonger is Satan, the ‘father of lies’ – not the best poster child to have. The Koran promises ‘woe to every kind of scandal-monger and backbiter'”.  He argues that “The religious injunctions against scandal-mongering reflect the reality that gossip has an innate tendency to be cruel and nasty. Why? Because it’s more entertaining that way. The more salacious the tale becomes in the telling, the more thrilling and titillating it will be”. Of course society has no time for religion, which regrettably means that the huge moral and societal benefits it brings are lost.

He highlights the importance of urbanisation and how “Rural societies are relatively transparent: the nosy parker can sniff out all the gossip after Mass or in the pub”. However, in cities he says, rightly that “as cities become bigger, more diffuse and less community-centred, gossip is less easily available as a free social exchange. It becomes a commodity to be mass-produced, packaged and purchased.  And in this process it becomes unlimited. Social gossip and scandalmongering are limited by reality checks”.

Bizarrely, he writes that “Implicit in the whole genre [of tabloid journalism] is the idea that the person being exposed is immoral and that the journalist doing the exposing is restoring or protecting the moral order. The ghost of Puritanism lurks somewhere in these bushes”. This idea is frankly ludicrous. Much to our detriment, society creased to exert any social pressure decades ago.

This fact, in addition to the worship of neoliberalism and the notion that profit is the absolute goal, drove Mudoch and his media empire to seek out these stories, irrespective of how immoral or amoral obtaining them might be.  This not only points to the innate sin we all have, but also worryingly, to the lengths these people were willing to go, in order to sell their “newspapers”. This second point marks a new low for society.

He notes the the tabloid is dying because “scandal is migrating into two other forms: virtual gossip and auto-gossip”. The first he describes as “Virtual gossip is a self-contained process” and that auto gossip is “the practice of gossiping about oneself”. He adds that “the old culture of gossip depended on two things: an enormous interest in other people and the belief that those people had secrets. Each of them is trumped by the narcissism of the 21st century. When everybody wants to tell you everything about themselves and nobody is ashamed, the thrill of the scandal will be gone for good”.

The only way to stop this ever happening again is the banning of these tabloids. This will not only raise education levels it will defend the common good and attack the evil individualism that continues to beset our society.

The need for ideology

26/08/2011

In a blog post Toby Young examines the problem of the Left. Yet, problems for the Left mean problems for society and therefore the common good itself.

While is thesis is not new it is especailly pertinent. He notes that “Labour’s success has traditionally been dependent on an alliance between the traditional working-class and middle-class liberals and that coalition has now collapsed”. It is the radically divergent views of these two groups that lie at the heart of the problem, with the middle class moving further left, especially on social issues, while what is left of the working class is being courted by various shades of Right. Taking the UK example with fascist, BNP, small state nationalists such as the United Kingdom Independence Party in addition to the Conservative Party.  

Indeed it was Tony Blair who revolutionised the Labour Party by bringing it much further to the Right than he should have but the electoral success was undeniable winning three general elections in a row. Young notes that Labour lost the 2010 election and while this is due to both economic and other factors he argues that “the Social Democrats were by the Swedes, polling their lowest share of the vote since universal suffrage was introduced in 1921. This was the first time in the Social Democrats’ history that it lost two elections in a row. Only 22 per cent of those Swedes in work voted Social Democrat in 2010, a number that fell to 13 per cent in the Stockholm region”.

He points out that “One of the reasons socialists believe history is on their side is because they think capitalism is inherently unstable, lurching from one crisis to another. Yet the financial crisis of 2007-08 has sent voters scurrying towards the Right, not the Left”. Young argues that crucial to understanding this problem is immigration. with “educated liberal elites who control most Left-wing parties are pro-immigration. Not only do they believe in its economic benefits, they believe in the virtue of diversity as an end itself. The traditional European working classes, by contrast, are suspicious of immigrants and worry about them taking their jobs or – worse – taking money out of a welfare pot they haven’t contributed to”.

Taking the Swedish example he mentions the fact that “Of the one million immigrants who’ve entered Sweden since 1990, three quarters of them aren’t in full-time employment. These are the welfare free-riders that the Right-wing Sweden Democrats drew attention to in their 2010 election campaign, polling 5.7 per cent of the vote”. Young goes on to mention the resentment felt by many who, in some states like Sweden, pay high taxes but have numerically small numbers of people abusing the system but causing problems for the Left and a pool of disaffected voters for the parties of the Right.

This however is the tipof the iceberg he mentions citing as an example the fact that “the Left fared equally badly in the recent Finnish elections, yet only 2.5 per cent of the population of Finland are foreign-born, most from Russia, Estonia and Sweden”. What is apparent is “the fracturing of both the state and the super-state as sources of tribal identity. The European Union has only ever commanded the loyalty of the liberal middle classes”. The working classes see supra national institutions like the EU as a threat which brings them to vote for UKIP or the True Finns.

He adds that “More surprising has been the decline of the state as a unit capable of commanding people’s loyalty. In Scotland, the beneficiary of Labour’s desertion by working-class voters has been the Scottish Nationalist Party and that, too, seems a pattern likely to be repeated elsewhere. Ethnicity in Europe is beginning to trump more abstract sources of collective identity”. He seems to be implicitly supportive of the “clash of civilisations” thesis that has been so widely discredited. 

His remedy is that ” the Left needs is an intellectual colossus, someone capable of articulating a vision that re-unites the liberal intelligentsia with the traditional working class and persuades them to put the interests of the collective – whether the nation state or something larger and more abstract – before those of their family and their tribe”.

A state without a period of sustained agonism is a very dangerous thing. Balance must be brought back and the need for ideology asserted forcefully.

Mind the gap

17/08/2011

After the chaos that was witnessed on the streets of English cities over the last days, the causes are being discussed.

In Foreign Policy, an article argues that much of the language that was used by politicians. She notes “Opposition politicians were quick to make connections between the social unrest and government policy. In an interview with BBC, Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, suggested recent cuts to government spending on higher education could have been a motivating factor in the violence”.

She adds that “They smashed windows and stole goods as the television cameras rolled, knowing that their actions would be captured on Britain’s extensive network of closed-circuit televisions. So what touched off such wanton destruction”. This of course assumes that they knew it was daylight and that the security cameras were rolling. She notes that “riots brought to the fore a small segment of society usually in the shadows: a troubled underclass wracked by bubbling discontent and growing lawlessness”.

She rightly tosses aside any notion of race begin a factor, as those who openly stole and looted were of all races and despite nervousness on the side of ethnic minorities. She notes that “a charity leader, wrote movingly about the growing number of young adults cut adrift from society, who are driven to form anti-social parallel communities of their own. The growing inequality in the distribution of wealth in the capital has long been a source for concern. A 2008 survey by the OECD found that Britain had a bigger gap between rich and poor than more than three-quarters of other OECD countries”. 

Indeed this gap is only going to widen, yet the ruling Conservative Party have no desire to deal with the fundamental inequalities that beset much of the West, and increasingly the East. She notes that while there is great poverty in London it co-exists with great wealth. However, she argues that this will not last and the result is that, “relations between rich and poor look set to sharpen as sky-high property prices and the inflated cost of goods in shops make life increasingly difficult and inaccessible for poor people”.

Peter Oborne argues that it is the very wealthy that have as much, if not more to answer for than the less well off. He says that “the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society”. He cleverly argues that those living on the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the UK, are “every bit as deracinated and cut off from the rest of Britain as the young, unemployed men and women who have caused such terrible damage”.

He notes of the wealthy elite “few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off”. Oborne gives a litany of examples, just one of which being that “the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be ‘reclaimed’ by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television”.

Oborne continues, that Cameron for all his correct talk of a “sick” Britain and harsh punishment for those who have committed crimes, “appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well”. He concludes his piece, powerfully saying “The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation”.

Until there is greater economic equality and less hypocrisy then society will have learned nothing and it will happen all over again.

Society in chaos

10/08/2011

As the riots in England spread, Cameron must crush, by any means necessary, the disorder. It is an indictment of society itself when mere children and their absent parents cause such mayhem.

Not so brave

10/08/2011

As more reaction to the Cloyne report and the Irish prime minister’s not so brave speech on the actions of the Church seeps out it is clear there needs to be change. The best way of going about it is another matter.

It has been reported that “Kenny accused the Vatican of undermining the work of an official inquiry into clerics’ sexual abuse of children in a Catholic diocese, Cloyne”. The article notes that “quite recently, any attack on the Vatican would have been political suicide. Yet his outspoken remarks won strong support both in parliament and from the public”.

Others in the public square have been more thoughtful in their commentary about what was said and what should have been said. John Waters writes that the speech Kenny gave “might have been brave 30 or 40 years ago, when the swishing soutanes and swinging thuribles did indeed rule the roost”. Indeed Waters is right, to attack the Church when it is at its lowest ebb is anything but heroic. He notes that this is not the case anymore “when the rulers are the secular-atheists and pseudo-rationalists who foist their nihilistic formulas on our children, while pretending that John Charles McQuaid is still breathing down their necks”. In fact the “secular” atheists have distorted secularism itself and become beacons of intolerance towards any who disavow their rigid dogmas.

Waters adds that they purport “to confront some immense power in the present while challenging only phantoms. Anyone with the slightest grasp of reality knows the Irish Catholic hierarchy is a sorry sight, terrified of standing up to the new ascendancy, and that the Vatican is all but irrelevant to the running of the Irish church”. Waters describes as “reprehensible” the “the attack on Pope Benedict, which indicated gross ignorance, perhaps even malice. It is a sad day when the Taoiseach seems to have been trawling the internet for quotes – any quotes, regardless of context – to undermine the spiritual leader of the vast majority of his own people”. He writes that when it comes to these “secularists”, he notes that “the truth is irrelevant”.

Waters notes that Kenny is now “is now ad idem with the atheist ayatollahs of the Labour Party, preparing not merely to remove the right of Irish Catholic children to a Catholic education, but, in proposing laws to override the confessional seal, to attack the confidentiality which is at the core of pastoral relationships”. He adds that “Sticking it to the Catholic Church is guaranteed to meet with the regime’s approval.” Waters cleverly knows that the same “secularists” who supoorted the speech will be aghast at the cuts Kenny will have to impose in an attempt to undo the Fianna Fail destruction and please the holders of Irish government bonds in German and French banks.

Finally Waters attacks the current malise in society and says that “there are many ways of abusing children. You can sit them in desks and subject them to the knowing nonsense of cynics who steal their hope and joy so as to demonstrate repugnance of some derelict or decomposed authority. You can sell them false versions of freedom to make yourself rich. You can fill their heads with nihilism and wonder why they attempt to obliterate themselves with chemicals”.

Regretabbly however Waters words will go unheeded and the “secularists” in Ireland will never be happy until the Catholic Church is banned and all its “evils” banished to history. So much for liberal tolerance.

As easy as 1,2,3, regrettably

26/07/2011

U.S. style divorce getting easier to acquire in the UK. The societal rot continues unabated and unchecked.

Fatally wounded?

08/07/2011

Cameron’s judgement rightly under attack. His priemership under threat, the wolves watching and waiting.

Benedict the liberal?

15/05/2011

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI appointed Prof. Guzmán Carriquiry as the new secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Not only is he the first layman to hold the post but hthe appointmnet makes him the highest ranking layman in the Roman Curia.

Carriquiry had been the long serving Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity before the appointment. Rocco says that the move makes the new secretary “Rome’s top full-time official on the continent’s affairs”, the presidency of the commission is held concurrently by the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Marc Cardinal Ouellet.

Rocco notes that the Uruguayan has long experience of the Curia becoming “the first non-ordained male to be named to the level of ‘capo ufficio’ — department head — then the first to reach ‘superior’ rank of a top-level office on his appointment as Laity’s third in command in 1991”.

Rocco adds that “Two other laypeople and a religious sister now hold under-secretary posts, the most recent of them being Flaminia Giovanelli, the politics and development expert who was named #3 of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in early 2010”.  

These appointments are noted not only for their historic nature but also for the fact that they were made under the supposedly more conservative Benedict than any moves made under his predcessor, John Paul II. Yet, ithe case could be made that there should not  such surprise at the moves. Benedict is a noted supporterof John Henry Cardinal Newman who as well as railing against relativism, which Benedict whole heartedly supports, Cardinal Newman also advocated a responsible and active laity.

Is there more to come?

Thus far and no further

01/05/2011

Today marks the beatification of Pope John Paul II in record time, only six years after his death on 2 April 2005. The late pope’s achievements are profound and should indeed be recognised. Yet, there are critics who say that after John Paul’s death the world witnessed a whitewashed version of events of his life.

The fact that he was a holy man who did his best to live out his faith in the world is almost unqestioned.  Many have reported after his death that John Paul was a living saint who should be seen as one. Crowds, shouted Santo subito (Saint now) at his funeral which shows not only the level of popular devotion.

Not only that, but a look at the guest list shows that in addition to the usual guests, there many Muslim heads of state, and a delegation from the Arab League, and members of other religions especially the Orthodox Churches who John Paul did much to foster relations with as well as representatives from Judism who the pontiff rightly, did much to heal past wounds and injustices.   

When he famously visited his assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca, in a  Roman prison he showed that it is not revenge, but mercy and forgiveness that sets us free.  

A somewhat representative picture shows that “78% of Americans – along with 95 percent of Catholics and 98 percent of practicing Catholics – admire Pope John Paul II at least somewhat”. Interestingly, the survey shows the overwhelming numbers supporting his beatification with “Nearly three out of four Americans (74 percent) believe that Pope John Paul II is a good candidate for the honor of beatification. So do 9 in 10 Catholics (90 percent) and an even greater number of practicing Catholics (94 percent)”. What is not clear however, are the numbers who support his canonisation.

The Society of Saint Pius X has already made its views clear on the beatification. Indeed, many consider it part of the reason why the discussions on unification between the SSPX and the Church are  coming to an end. Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX has said that “a pontificate that caused things to proceed by leaps and bounds in the wrong direction, along ‘progressive’ lines, toward everything that they call ‘the spirit of Vatican II.’ This is therefore a public acknowledgment not only of the person of John Paul II, but also of the Council and the whole spirit that accompanied it”.  The writer explains that many would not see John Paul in these terms but “John Paul’s ecumenical and inter-religious outreach, his social teaching, even the style of his liturgical celebrations (think World Youth Day) — one can begin to see how a traditionalist might style him a terribly ‘progressive’ pope”.

However the biggest block to John Paul being declared a saint is his treatment of priests and bishops accused of covering up child abuse. The case of Hans Cardinal Goer is just one example of many. Cardinal Goer who was archbishop of Vienna was a known abuser and while there was an investigation into him by the CDF in the early 1990s but it was largely blocked by Cardinal Sodano perhaps not with the direct approval of the pope but it is not hard to imagine Sodano taking his cue from the pope. Not only that but the promotion of Bernard Cardinal Law as archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore after he resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston having knowningly moved abuser priest from parish to parish smacks of a slap in the face.

While in Ireland, it was made known that Archbishop Luciano Storero, the nuncio, gave orders to bishops to relax their abuse policy, the “document appears to contradict Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the Roman Catholic Church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects”. Speaking on the beatification, “prelates who knew the pope argued that a tight focus on the sexual abuse crisis misses the big picture of what John Paul II was all about. ‘If you take his personality as a whole, you’ll have the measure of the man,’ said Cardinal Jozef Tomko, who worked in the Vatican under John Paul II in various capacities throughout his entire papacy. ‘He was so clear, so transparent, and so honest,’ Tomko said”. Cardinal Tomko however is deluding himself. Therefore the official line is that he is being beatified in spite of what he did.

But for all the praise heaped upon him, much of it worthy, as David Gisbon said people “loved the singer not the song”. People weren’t rushing back to the Church’s teachings on homosexuality or not living together before marriage.

Was it all just a personality cult? No, but after today he has been honoured enough.

Sign of the times

14/03/2011

Pope Benedict has warned us of this in society. We are going down a dangerous path that can only end in disaster if it continues. It is however of course more complicated than that. There are two principle issues, the nature of homosexuality and the Bible generally and secondly, the nature of children and adoption.

The Johns’ objection to homosexuality makes no sense. Basing their objections of homosexuality on the Bible doesn’t stack up. These arguments have been made elsewhere persuasively, not only that, but this is also the case when Luke 10:1-12 has been read.

There is however the other issue of children where it is more complex. The couple who wish to adopt have every right to practice their faith and let others know of it. However, this particular problem could be solved by having only those children where their sexuality is not know i.e. before they become teenagers.

It does not bode well however when the judgment says that the conscience of believers should be effectively sidelined.

Multiculturalism RIP?

27/02/2011

There is rightly increasing discussion about multiculturalism in Europe. For too long this topic has been avoided by politicians and the media alike for fear of being branded an “extremist”.

However in October 2010 German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a talk in which “She said the so-called ‘multikulti’ concept – where people would ‘live side-by-side’ happily – did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate”.

The news report states that “A recent survey suggested more than 30% of people believed the country was ‘overrun by foreigners'”. Merkel however it was reported made clear that immigrants were welcome in Germany but added that “We should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don’t speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here.” This is however often a criticism of immigrants when entering any foreign country be it in Europe or North America. Part of this comes down to a rabid relativism, which has bred a distinct form of political correctness, that says to expect others to speak the same language as the majority of the country is somehow oppressing the immigrants culture. Yet this “logic” has gone unchecked for too long and needs to be sternly corrected.

Following on the path trod by Chancellor Merkel, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister said only weeks ago that “state multiculturalism” has failed. What is clear however is that the leaders here have not rejected multiculturalism per se, merely its excessively pc current format. As it was reported thatCameron said that there “would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups which get public money but do little to tackle extremism”. Cameron said that “we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism”. Surely muscular liberalism is an oxymoron, except when its referring to neoliberalism that can tear the world’s economy apart.

Interestingly Cameron said in the speech that “Let’s properly judge these organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism?”. In other words he’s trying to bring objective (i.e. not relative) criteria to decide which organisations are dangerous or not to society at large.

Finally, it has been said that “Abandon the entire project of multiculturalism and you abandon with it the promise which is implicit in multiculturalism of a renewed or a fresh relationship between Islam and the west”, to draw such a conclusion is pure hyperbole as it implies that the Wests relations with the entire Islamic community all over the world depends multiculturalism in Europe.

It will be interesting to see how this new “muscular liberalism” works in practice, if at all.

Social decay contd

05/11/2010

Perhaps it has never occured to Mr Fry that he is the one that people “should feel sorry for”. Not everyone needs to “meet strangers to shag behind a bush”.

Benedict’s prescient warning

02/11/2010

How can we not listen to Pope Benedict’s warnings about the marginalisation of religion, and the dangers of that to society,  when things like this happen?

Burke speaks

29/10/2010

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke speaks correctly, however he fails to realise that the GOP have done nothing to stop abortions on a national stage – and nor will they, despite their rhetoric – as most people believe this.

Burke also speaks about homosexuality as those who “suffer from this attraction”  he says that they should “correct in themselves” this orientation, however that goes against the Church’s teaching which says people are born that way – top marks for consistancy.

As if that wasn’t enough Rocco points out that there is talk of “another consistory of elevation could be held by the end of 2011″. He continues saying fascinatingly, that “ten more conclave seats will open in 2011. Another 13 cardinals reach the ineligibility age of 80 in 2012, with an additional 10 in 2013. As a result, having already chosen 50 voting red-hats since his 2005 election, by his eighth year on Peter’s chair, B16 could choose 70% of the Conclave that will elect his successor”.

Decline of the West?

24/10/2010

The West as we know it seems to be collapsing in on its own greed, individualism and immorality.

This is being witnessed most dramatically in France currently with most of the major cities seeing riots and destruction on a vast scale all beacuse President Sarkozy wants to raise that retirement age from 60 to……….62. The protests were “accompanied by job stoppages and a growing number of service stations running out of gasoline as a strike at France’s 12 oil refineries went into a seventh day”. Part of these strikes and protests is the French doing what the French do best, strike, but the measure has all but passed the French legislature. 

Now however the government must crack down hard on these protesters who seem to be living in a different universe, totally detached from reality, and restore order and end the destruction of public and private property such as the “middle school in the city of Le Mans [that] burned down overnight following a student protest during which the gates to the school were blocked”, not only that “youths threw petrol bombs at police outside a school in another Paris suburb, Combes-la-Ville, police said. In Lyon, hooded youngsters burned at least three cars they had overturned during clashes with riot police”.

In addition to the French protests, people in Athens “Dozens of workers had shut down the Acropolis on Wednesday morning, demanding two years of back pay.They had barricaded themselves inside, padlocked the entrance gates and refused to allow in tourists.The protesters said they intended to blockade the Acropolis, Greece’s most famous tourist attraction, until 31 October. They have vowed to return to the site on Friday.Greece has seen waves of strikes and protests over austerity measures agreed by the government to in order to secure a huge bail-out from eurozone countries”. While the workers in Greece should be owned what is due to them, it must not come at the expense of the common good.

What is interesting to note however is that such demonstrations would not be tolerated in China where the state is extremely centralised with a role in much of what people do as well as the economic life of what is fast becoming an increasingly powerful country. There is great stablilty, for now, in China with a new leader expected to take power in 2012. How long this powerful and highly cetralised state will last into the future is unknown, but what is clear is that it is a model that the Chinese are exporting with great success to countries like Russia and Cuba.

The trouble with capitalism, again

12/10/2010

Profit before morality.

Western “morality”

21/09/2010

In a group of surveys carried out over the last number of days in Ireland, it would seem that the excesses of the French Revolution are alive and well and at the same time Pope Benedict still has much work to do in challenging the rabid individualism that pervades all Western capitalist nations. As with most things in capitalist societies, if there is a large enough market for it, then it will be provided, irrespective of the consequences to the common good of society.

In one of the questions asked there is a large number of people that support gay marriage. As has been stated here the before, the state must provide gay couples with civil partnerships, and if some religious communities such as the Religious Society of Friends, wish to have a religious cermonony around this, all the better. The poll found that “67 per cent of people believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, while 60 per cent do not believe that civil partnerships will undermine the institution of marriage”. Marriage is between a man and a women with the hope that they will have children. Gay marriage is an oxymoron but gay couples must have the ability to create wills and have visitation rights as well as tax status within civil law. What is suprising is that so many people think having civil partnerships will affect marriage. It is not on the same basis as has been stated above and therefore poses no threat to marriage. The article quotes some who said that people are “aware that the current exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage is deeply unfair and doesn’t make any sense in today’s Ireland”. This is incorrect as gay couples are not the same as hetrosexual couples and should not be treated the same in law. However, what is less suprising is the attempt to paint modernity/rationality as the best, indeed, the only way forward. Such thoughts on thier own can be very dangerous and lead to further down the path that the West is going.  

On a more general point, the survey reveals that in Ireland “The legal age of consent for sex is of course 17, and the great majority of Irish people clearly feel this is, if anything, too young an age at which to make such a decision”. The danger is that permissiveness begets permissiveness due to our inability to correct others behaviour for fear of being seen as “judgemental”. Others see such attempts to even begin a dialogue on people’s behaviour as an attack on the primacy of the rational individual. Two concepts that do not always go hand in hand.

Thankfully however, “90 per cent of people reject outright the notion that they might think less of a person if he/she revealed to them that they were gay or lesbian”.  

Closing out the series is the usual inaccurate and dangerous dichotomy about past attitudes being consigned to history with people now stepping into the light of modernity and progress that is is meant to inevitably bring. The author notes how, “what was once the most powerful institution in the land, the Catholic Church, the poll results must be deeply disturbing. If the Catholic Church were a political party running for election, and if these survey results were the actual vote, then this could be described as a rout”. Maybe it needs to be stated that the Catholic Church is oddly enough, not a political party and has no interest in pandering to the masses (no pun intended) to save a few seats at the next election.

The inevitable liberal sneering thus follows, “In fact, we don’t find the church’s position on anything to do with sexuality or women credible. The sexual revolution, the development of effective contraception, the growth of the women’s and gay rights movements – all these historical shifts have left the church stranded with an archaic psychology of sexuality”. While some of the these developments are indeed beneficial, to say that the Church is “stranded” for supporting committing life long, loving relationships is patently false.

The author goes on to say, “how have we fared morally without the church’s moral guidance? Remarkably well it seems”, for now perhaps, for now.

Pope Benedict’s mission in the UK

15/09/2010

On this, the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, as usual, controversy is never far behind. In a thoughtful piece, Dr Eamon Duffy, lays out the importance of Benedict in the UK.

Duffy says that “John Paul II was manifestly a giant on the world stage, his life story one of titanic struggle against 20th century Europe’s two great tyrannies, he himself a key player in the collapse of the Soviet empire. His social and moral views elicited no more enthusiasm from the secular world than those of Joseph Ratzinger, but his craggy integrity, mesmeric personal presence and mastery of crowds made him formidable even to those who rejected his religion. By contrast, Pope Benedict is an altogether smaller figure, a man of the sacristy and the lecture room.”

Thus it is fairly obvious that Benedict is “an academic to the toes of his red papal slippers, he has poor antennae for the likely public perception of his actions and utterances. That was made clear by the hostile reaction to his Regensburg remarks on Islam, and, more recently, by his disastrous though doubtless well-intentioned conciliatory gestures to the holocaust-denying Lefebvrist rebel Bishop Richard Williamson.”

This is perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Benedict personally as well as sadly, this. Benedict’s whole papacy, indeed much of his life, has been to fight against both relativism and the aggressive secularism that like the soon to be Blessed “[John Henry Cardinal] Newman believed that British society was in danger of cutting itself adrift from the Christian values that had given Europe and the West their distinctive religious, moral and aesthetic character. But he [Newman] also believed the slide into relativism would not be halted by mere denunciation. If Christian values were to survive and prevail, they must commend themselves by their intrinsic power and attractiveness. Modern materialism, he wrote, must be met ‘not by refutation so much as by a powerful counter-argument . . . overcoming error not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth’.”

Benedict like Newman will try to bring Europe back to Christianity, for its own good, as much for the Church’s. As has been mentioned before, Benedict sees Europe as the heart that will beat again should religion be at least respected and ackkowledged by society. However, it is doubtful that groups like this will be going out of business any time soon.   

If Benedict is successful in the long term than all the PR disasters, media sniping, and abuse crisies that have never been far behind will, be if not forgotten, there impact will be lessened and the significance of Benedict’s message will be understood. Tolerence itself is at stake and it is hoped that these short term gaffes and ignorant and dangerous comments will not dull or impede Benedict’s historic mission.

Know your enemies

26/07/2010

Giving evidence to the UK Iraq war inquiry, Baroness Manningham-Buller said that UK “‘involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people, some of them British citizens who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam,’ she said, before immediately correcting herself by adding ‘not a whole generation, a few among a generation'”. The article says that only “a year after the invasion, she said MI5 was ‘swamped’ by leads about terrorist threats to the UK”.

While the reasons for going to war in Iraq were, on realist grounds, shall we say slim, that does not mean that we should misunderstand those that are being faced now in Afghanistan as well as in the UK and US as well as many other countries around the world.  They misrepresent Islam and distort it for their own purposes. They are determined to destroy what they see as a Western monolith. They do not see what they are doing as wrong, they are not relativists. Liberal relativist guilt and an attempt at reperations over Iraq will not appease them, they seek only to overthrow what they hate.

To say that the Iraq war heightened their hatred of the West, is only half the story. They always hated the West and it was only a matter of time before they struck at a city such as London. In some respects Iraq is irrelevant to this debate as these people who claim to follow Islam will always to their utmost to bring down what they see as evil. While the Iraq war may have spurred them on, it is not a direct cause of what they are trying to do and should not be taken for one, to do so would be extremely dangerous for us all.

Decline in parental authority

24/07/2010

In an article written some time ago the admittedly complex issue of child punishment was discussed. The writer, notes how “Most parents who smack consider that the occasional tap does no harm”. Indeed she recounts how her own children “all felt it had done them no harm, but none of them felt it was right or good”. Maybe parents should be more willing to consider the judious use of hitting when things are getting out of control.

What many don’t seem to get however is that the decline in parental authority can lead to many children getting out of control simply because we are more and more being called to respect their “boundaries”. Society is going down this road and look where it is taking us.

The future……..

18/07/2010

Stephen Walt notes five of the big(ger)  questions that will arise over the coming years and shape the future.

  1. Where is the EU project headed?
  2. Will states balance aganist China?
  3. What’s the relationship between U.S. defense spending, the deficit, and America’s economic health and well-being?
  4. If the U.S. disengaged from key areas in the Muslim world — most notably Iraq and Afghanistan — would the threat of anti-American terrorism rise or fall?
  5. Is the era of U.S. primacy over?

Walt mentions two possibilities, the EU could either come closer together, or drift apart. On a purely foreign relations lens, it is doubtful that the EU will grow any stronger. Do so it will have to engage with the nitty gritty world of hard power and sovereign states. It will have to engage with NATO, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if it is to have any hope of influencing the US, and make no mistake, the EU will be doing the influencing of the US and not the other way around. For that to happen the EU will basically need to come up with and agree on a foreign policy, have its own army and unified command structure as well as powerful highly respected officials who everyone EU “citizen” can not only name but also cares about. Not like what’s her face. Also to be taken seriously it helps if you can stay in the job for more than four hours.  

None of this is going to happen anytime soon, give it another ten or twenty years and maybe you might find the beginnings but the rest of the world will have moved on by then and the EU will do, like the UN, what it does best, flounder.

However, Walt then says something that always seems a bit strange, he says that whatever happens in Europe will matter “because the re-emergence of genuine power politics within Europe could force the United States to devote more attention to a continent that some argue is ‘primed for peace’ and no longer of much strategic concern”. The notion that real power politics will come back to Europe anytime soon in the form that was so prevelant on the continent in centuries past is unlikely. The continent is too emerged in its uber Enlightment world of post modernity, where the word idelogy is a bad word, not to mention the fact that the French and Germans have too much fun in telling everyone else in Europe how to live, why would they give that up. Besides, their own citizens, as well as most, if not all, of the rest of Europe are perfectly happy in their world of international law and geoeconomics to even think of returning to the real world. Even if America did withdraw all its troops tomorrow, nothing would happen. The French might be very pleased but no-one would care, because it wouldn’t return the continent to the nineneeth century, as people like Dr Walt think it would. 

His second point is more interesting when he discusses China. He says that “China’s rise is already provoking alarm in many of its neighbors, who look first to the United States and possibly to each other for assistance “. He says that ” If China gets really powerful, and the United States disengages entirely, some of China’s neighbors might be tempted to bandwagon with Beijing, thereby facilitating the emergence of a Chinese “sphere of influence” in Asia. But if China’s neighbors get support from each other and from the United States, then they’ll probably prefer to balance”, I can never see America just leave South-East Asia, the region is too important stragetically for the US to just pack up shop and leave it too the Chinese.

What will probably continue to happen is that while no state will directly challenge China, many will remain firm allies with the US, especially states like South Korea and Taiwan. He says that “the United States can pass a lot of the burden to Japan, India, Vietnam”, this is basicaly true yet it is important that the US act as a moderating influence in the region.

Walt in the third issue, rightly stresses the importance of the US deficit, and how it will impact how America acts in the future, now I’m no economist but even at the hieght of the War on Terror, the US was only spending about seven or eight percent on GDP on defence. He says that the “actual relationship between defense spending and economic well-being isn’t that clear-cut”. Things are going to have to change, if not now than the near future, a nation-wide tax on purchases is needed, if that means changing the Constitution so be it, and if that means annoying the Tea Partiers and Rush Limbaugh to close the deficit for the greater good fine. It not all going to go the Democrats way, regretably Social Security needs to be examined.

In the fourth major issue that Walt covers is the issue of current Islamic-US relations. He notes that “Some scholars, such as Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, argue that anti-American terrorism (and especially suicide terrorism) would decline if the Untied States ended these military campaigns and reduced its military ‘footprint’ in these regions”, while that may indeed be true, people would do well to remember that many of the US interventions, whether you agree with them or not, and for one I don’t, in the 1990s were on behalf of Muslims. Not only that but many of the local rulers in the region use America as a scapegoat for their own countries’ failed/failing economies and other services that states should provide but many of these leaders either can’t or refuse to. Now it is dangerous to draw broad conclusions on the relationship that the United States has with each country in the Middle East, or indeed their populations real feelings toward the US but at all times caution should be used.

Walt’s final issue is how powerful will the US be, and in many regards it is related to the third question, but in the near future (ten years) it can be safely assumed that the position of the US will remain predominant, if not unchallenged. As Walt himself says, “economy will be the world’s largest until 2030 at least, and its per capita income will be much higher than that of other potential rivals”. He then goes to say that “the position of primacy that the United States enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse has already eroded significantly and is unlikely to return”, yet apart from the prominance of other states and the liklihood of a new age of multipolarity the US is still dominant, indeed for now we remain in a basically unipolar world, or at least a multipolar world with one big power. He does make the sensible point that China “will not challenge the United States around the globe, but it is likely to challenge America’s current pre-eminence in East Asia”.

We’re in for interesting times ahead!

Failure of the UN, again

12/07/2010

In something I just love talking about, the UN, it yet again makes a strong case against itself. In a recent report issued by the august body on the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, despite the international investigators report clearly laying blame on the North Koreans, the UN report said that, “In view of the findings of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group led by the Republic of Korea with the participation of five nations, which concluded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was responsible for sinking the Cheonan, the Security Council expresses its deep concern”.

Predictably the North Korean’s responded to the fudge saying that “North Korea’s permanent representative to the UN told reporters in New York afterwards that the text was a ‘”great diplomatic victory’. ‘From the beginning of the incident we have made our position very clear that this incident has nothing to do with us,’ Sin Son-ho said.” Apparently, “Correspondents say the omission of blame helped ensure China’s support.”

In their cogently argued book After Bush, Lynch and Singh argue that the UN “operates an international egalitarianism – Zimbabwe chairs the Commission on Sustainable Development, Saudi Arabia adjudicates on human rights”, and it is this ruthless equality, they say, where every state is treated equally, that makes the UN such a failure, it is relativism par excellence. However,  personally, it is irrelevant that Saudi Arabia talks about human rights, it is the fact that there is nothing to back its decrees up with. It is a dangerous world and security must always be the first concern. The fact that it has nothing to enforce its will as has been witnessed by the recent toothless sanctions on Iran or the anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica, will both attest to its powerlessness. America, both the GOP and Democrats, understands this and works around the UN, its called NATO, when it needs to, remember the Kosovo bombings that didn’t get UN sanction, but when the UN works with the US, which is rare, then it will happily work within the system.

What comes out of this is how do liberals still believe in it? Are they just blinded by the desire for everyone to get along, or do they genuinely believe that the UN is the place where poblems get solved? Either way I shudder to imagine what a foreign policy would look like with the UN at its heart – just look at the EU “foreign policy”.