Saturday, January 31, 2015

THE SYRIZA GOVERNMENT AND EUROPE: FIRST STEPS

"Yanis Varoufakis also said Greece would not accept an extension of its EU bailout, which expires at the end of February, and without which Greek banks could be shut off from European Central Bank funding. “This position enabled us to win the trust of the Greek people,” Mr Varoufakis said during a joint news conference with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, who was visiting Athens for the first time since a leftwing government came to power this week. Mr Dijsselbloem countered by rejecting the government’s call for an international conference that would consider writing off part of Greece’s debt, which last year amounted to 175 per cent of national output. “As for the thought of a conference on debt restructuring, you must realise that this conference already exists and it’s called the eurogroup,” he said. The exchange, along with tough words from Berlin, captured an adversarial mood as the new government and its eurozone partners made their first formal contact and set the stage for tense negotiations that could decide Greece’s future in the eurozone. Speaking to the Financial Times in London, Pierre Moscovici, the EU economics commissioner, urged calm, saying: “We all need to be careful about the economic situation in Greece. Our common goal is to enhance growth. For that we need pragmatism and respect for commitments, from both sides.” But Greece’s new government has alarmed creditors and investors with pledges to freeze privatisations, rehire state workers and otherwise roll back reforms adopted by previous administrations as part of the bailout."
Kerin Hope & Stefan Wagstyl, "Greece will no longer deal with ‘troika’, Yanis Varoufakis says". The Financial Times. 30 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
Without in anyway defending the austerity obsession of Brussels and the government in Berlin, it has become already evident, notwithstanding the fact that it has not yet been in government for a week, that the Syrzia Government is a misfortune for both Greece, the poor, unfortunate Greek people and Europe as a whole. My own surmise that the Syrzia Government was made up of unreconstructed gauchiste and soixante-huitard elements has been born out by the first steps of the new government. From trying to defending the un-defendable (Russia's aggression in Ukraine) to trying to arrest the needed de-cronyism that was the only positive aspect of the EU imposed austerity programme, to unnecessarily frightening investors and indeed its partners in the Eurozone and the European Union as per Finance Minister Varoufakis statement yesterday as reported in the Financial Times 1. It could very well be the case of course that new Greek Premier Tsipras, is merely engaging in the very old trick of indulging in leftist rhetoric before marching off in a centrist and moderate direction. If so, then all will be well. Otherwise, I predict that given the limited amount of tolerance that both Berlin and some of the other European capitals have for Tsipras verbal pyrotechnics, especially if the very same is translated into policies, that there will indeed be a Greek exit from both the Eurozone and perhaps even in the European Union with NATO a possible third.
1. See the following: Sam Jones in London, Kerin Hope in Athens and Courtney Weaver, "Alarm bells ring over Syriza’s Russian links". The Financial Times. 28 January 2015, in www.ft.com; Leader, "The radicals of Syriza endure a rocky start". The Financial Times. 31 January 2015, in www.ft.com. For a hopelessly panglossian point of view, which indulges in erroneous gauchiste sentiments, see: Mark Mazower, "European Democracy in Dangerous Times". The Financial Times. 31 January 2015, in www.ft.com.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

THE GREEK EARTHQUAKE: THE CONSEQUENCES FOR EUROPE

"Nobody can be surprised by the victory of Greece’s leftwing Syriza party. In the midst of a “recovery”, unemployment is reported at 26 per cent of the labour force and youth unemployment at over 50 per cent. Gross domestic product is also 26 per cent below its pre-crisis peak. But GDP is a particularly inappropriate measure of the fall in economic welfare in this case. The current account balance was minus 15 per cent of GDP in the third quarter of 2008, but has been in surplus since the second half of 2013. So spending by Greeks on goods and services has in fact fallen by at least 40 per cent. Given this catastrophe, it is hardly surprising that the voters have rejected the previous government and the policies that, at the behest of the creditors, it — somewhat halfheartedly — pursued. As Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister, has said, Europe is founded on the principle of democracy. The people of Greece have spoken. At the very least, the powers that be need to listen. Yet everything one hears suggests that demands for a new deal on debt and austerity will be rejected more or less out of hand. Fuelling that response is a large amount of self-righteous nonsense.... The best approach was set out in the “heavily indebted poor countries” initiative of the IMF and the World Bank, which began in 1996. Under this, debt relief is granted only after the country meets precise criteria for reform. Such a programme would be of benefit to Greece, which needs political and economic modernisation. The politically convenient approach is to continue to “extend and pretend”. Undoubtedly, there are ways of pushing off the day of reckoning still further. There are also ways of lowering the present value of interest and repayments without lowering the face value. All this would allow the eurozone to avoid confronting the moral case for debt relief for other crisis-hit countries, notably Ireland. Yet such an approach cannot deliver the honest and transparent outcome that is sorely needed. The dangerous approach is to push Greece towards default. This is likely to create a situation in which the European Central Bank would no longer feel able to operate as Greece’s central bank. That then would force an exit. The result for Greece would certainly be catastrophic in the short term. "
Martin Wolf, "Greek Debt and the Default of Statesmanship". The Financial Times. 28 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
"There is no doubt that the situation in Germany is exceedingly critical. It is in fact, more critical than at any time during the last six years. During the past few days, and in part at least for psychological reasons, the situation has rapidly deteriorated and has become gravely alarming. Reichsbank has lost over 30 Million Pounds during past ten days, mainly due to withdrawals of foreign money. If movement extends to German capital it may involve collapse of mark, with disastrous consequences not only to Germany but to Austria and to Hungary....The key to the situation seems to rest with the United States and France. We should of course, be prepared to join in any action that might be deemed salutary, but it would seem best for the first move to to come from those chiefly interested, and it is no use disguising our fear that if confidence is not speedily restored we may be faced not merely with a complete cessation of reparations payments, but with a financial collapse in Germany and Austria, involving serious risk of political and social trouble in those countries and consequent repercussions on the rest of Europe".
Foreign Office to Lord Tyrrell (British Ambassador to Paris), 15 June 1931. In Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939. Second Series. Volume II: 1931 . Edited E. L. Woodward & Rohan Butler. (1947), pp. 79-80.
The results of the Greek elections this week-end just past, confirm for once and for all the dangers, the grave dangers indeed of the European Union's and the Eurozone's policy of 'Bruningism'. AKA almost completely unmitigated austerity, which results in almost mass immiseration of a given country's population. Inevitably as the always cogent Martin Wolf of the Financial Times notes, a political earthquake of late Weimar German proportions erupts. Which is the result that we have in Greece to-day. Please make no mistake: I detest and loath the new Greek government. A gang of repellent, Soixante-huitard-like, gauchiste elements 1. However the fact of the matter is that the new Greek government has been conjured up by the idiocy of the current austerity programme that the European Union and the European Central Bank (hereafter ECB) has forced down the throats of every Greek government since 2009. With pace Martin Wolf very little positive results as per reducing Greece's overall debt burden, not to even mention or consider the welfare of the Greek people of course. The inevitable upshot of a continuation of the current austerity measures will be in no short order: a) Greece leaving the Eurozone; b) the elections all over Southern, Central and Eastern Europe of similar populist governments of either the hard left (Italy, Spain, Portugal and perhaps Ireland), or the hard right (Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria). A further upshot is that faced not with one repellent and extremist government, but with up to half a dozen, the European Union and the ECB will then climb-down and relax the austerity programme for these countries. Meaning that just as the Entente Powers in the entré deux guerre period rejected any substantive concessions to any moderate German government before 1933, except to then offer up the very same to Hitler's Germany, similarly, the powers that be of the European Union will I predict if matters come to said pass, only relax the austerity programme in the face of governments of the extreme left and right. With the end-result of greatly reinforcing the legitimacy of the very same extremist governments. So unless it is Brussels' goal to elect and entrench a whole slew of extremist governments throughout Europe, it is high time that the Union change its austerity fixation once and for all. For as the European-American philosopher George Santanyana once famously put it:
"
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".
1. See: Paul Mason, "Greece shows what can happen when the young revolt against corrupt elites". The Guardian. 25 January 2015, in www.theguardian.com. Obviously, the writer looks with favor on aspects of Syriza's politics that I abhor. For a more sceptical view of the new Greek government, which more agrees with my own point of view, see: Ian Bremner, "Will Greece Trigger a European Crisis?" The Council on Foreign Relations. 28 January 2015, in www.cfr.org.

Monday, January 26, 2015

THE DEATH OF A KING: OR WHAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF THE PASSING AWAY OF ANOTHER AGEING SAUDI ROYAL?

"A cautious reformer whose ascent to the throne helped restore some popular legitimacy to the al-Saud family, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud steered the world’s largest oil exporter through some of its most fraught times. After Saudi nationals in al-Qaeda carried out the September 11 attacks on the US, he confronted a crisis in relations with Washington, a crucial ally and the main guarantor of the country’s security. Al-Qaeda turned its sights on the al-Saud, killing dozens of civilians and foreigners in Saudi cities, but under Abdullah’s leadership the group was defeated inside the kingdom. The fight against Islamist extremists continued, however, and in the months before Abdullah died his country was part of a US-led alliance battling the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, a group that had taken over swaths of Syria and Iraq and was at least as extreme as al-Qaeda.... Born in 1923, Abdullah was the 13th of 45 recorded sons of King Abdulaziz al-Saud, or Ibn Saud, founder of present-day Saudi Arabia. Unlike some of his half-brothers, who had acquired an early taste for the fleshpots of Europe, Abdullah spent his youth on Saudi soil. He was proficient at both falconry and as a horseman — hobbies that helped strengthen his links with the tribes, with whom he spent much time and who in return held him in high regard. “Punctual, modest and unpretentious to a degree,” according to one US scholar who knew him for more than 25 years — particularly when set against what one Saudi businessman calls “the financial greed” and traits of other leading members of his family.... Although his dream was to create a state based on institutions sturdier than the whims of royals, his death leaves that ambition unfulfilled as Saudi Arabia struggles to shield itself from demands for change unleashed elsewhere in the Arab world. Once assumed to be a traditionalist and an Arab nationalist who would undermine Saudi Arabia’s special relationship with the US, Abdullah passed one of his toughest tests in the aftermath of the deadly 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. US public anger against the ruling al-Saud, fanned by senior members of President George W Bush’s administration, threatened the very foundations of Saudi society, even as it forced the kingdom’s rulers to confront how the country’s Wahhabi religious teachings gave rise to the horrors of al-Qaeda. Abdullah was caught between hardening US attitudes, an inert state bureaucracy and a reactionary religious establishment that regarded social and political reforms not only as a direct threat to its own existence but also to the survival of the nation’s brand of Islam, the bedrock of its identity"
.
"Obituary: King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Saudi Arabian ruler, 1923-2015". The Financial Times. 23 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
"If 1954 was a formative year for the new Saudi Arabia, 1955 may be regarded as the first year of its deplorable maturity. Looking back on it I am struck most by the appalling growth of Saudi vanity and arrogance. By bribing unscrupulously, and by playing on Washington's fears of Communism and concern for American interests in this country, the Saudi rulers have in the past year achieved a position in the Middle East which they conceitedly regard as that of a major Power.... While paltry sums are spent on the betterment of the people [sic] millions are drained away b the royal family's craze for palaces and the King's plans to rebuild Riyadh his capital, by the sottish behaviour of the princes and their friends, by (admittedly more essential) the large subventions required to retain the loyalty of the tribes as well as political subversion abroad, and the growing commitment of the armed forces. It is unlikely that this rate of unproductive spending will decrease; indeed, human greed being what it is, it is improbable that it could. Will this momentum of spending, increasingly enormously, eventually spin the regime off its feet? Not necessarily, I think. So assured are the oil supplies that the process of mortgaging the oil revenues, which has already been accomplished to the extent of one year's income, could continue almost indefinitely."
Phillips (Jedda) to Foreign Office. Titled "Saudi Arabia: Annual Review for 1955". 22 January 1956. British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print. Part V, 1951-1956. Volume 12. Series B: Near & Middle East 1956. (2010). pp. 111,113.
Well 'indefinitely' is most assuredly the mot exact as per the query raised by this member of the British diplomatic staff in Saudi Arabia in 1956. The passing away of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia merely underlines the fact that nothing much has changed in certain aspects as per the Kingdom in the past sixty years. The Al-Saud family, corruption and the like notwithstanding among many of its members, still rules the roost as per Saudi Arabian politics. As per the Financial Times obituary, the late King did in his own very conservative fashion, endeavoured to bring both his homeland to a lesser extent the monarchy into the 'modern age'. As the horrid case of the poor wretch of a blogger who was recently given one-thousand lashes as a punishment shows, this endeavour has not gone very far 1. The real issue is of course that like much of the rest of the Arab world, the concept of 'reform' has a very janus-face aspect to it. On the one-hand, one would ordinarily think that almost anything could be an improvement over the current fossilised entity otherwise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, in the past four years, the West has seen what comes of 'reform' and 'revolution' in the Arab world. Viz: Syria, Iraq Libya and elsewhere, it is not a pretty sight. Nor does the immediate future offer much hope that things will change for the better anytime soon. With that being said, perhaps, very very much faute de mieux, the best that is on offer for the Western powers is a continuance in power of the neither very appealing or attractive (in every sense of the word) Al-Saud clan. That and the development as much as is possible of alternative energy sources from the oil that seems to exist in endless quantities in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula. For au fond, the Saudis either royal or non-royal are fundamentally as anti-Western (due to their endemic anti-Christian biases) as the lunatics of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
1. See: George Parker, "UK flag tribute to Saudi king criticised". The Financial Times. 23 January 2015. In www.ft.com.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

EUROPE'S CRISIS: ECONOMIC OR POLITICAL?

"There is a crisis of confidence at the very heart of Europe, spanning politics, banking and public finances, and with underlying competitiveness issues reflected in weak growth and deflationary pressures.... How did we get here? With the global financial crisis we initially saw deep recession driven arguably by global factors, accompanied by the collapse of Icelandic, British, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, even German, Austrian, Latvian and then Cypriot, Slovenian and eventually Bulgarian banks. All this caused follow-through to public finances, and the sovereign debt crisis and European periphery crisis. Recovery has been weak, reflective of weak banks, weak demand for credit because of weak growth prospects, high unemployment, and limited scope for counter-cyclical fiscal policies due to concerns over debt sustainability. Two-tier, or two-speed, Europe sustained an overly appreciated euro for too long. The ECB may also have been way behind the curve for too long, but perhaps due to a fundamental and fatal flaw in the single currency concept: a single interest rate simply did not suit all, and a strong euro further weighed on pan-European recovery. Pulled down by weak economic performance, financial sector stress, and waves of fiscal austerity, European politics has been subject to centrifugal north-south (periphery-core) forces and a crisis of legitimacy for the European Union and its institutions, which are seen as undemocratic (few people vote in EP elections), unrepresentative (EC commissioners are nominated by countries, often not on the basis of any particular meritocratic job selection process but by political favour), big-brotherish, distant and totally out of touch – and, as with Draghi, quick to spend other peoples’ money. This disenfranchisement of ordinary Europeans with the political process in the EU and in EU member states, combined with the weak economic backdrop, is fuelling the rise of the far right and far left, and of unwelcome social forces fanned by many of the same political movements, such as a vent against immigration (which was a cornerstone of post-WWII recovery and growth) and against one central tenet of the EU itself, the free movement of labour and capital. Adding to the mix is the fact that Europe has perhaps the weakest group of political leaders for generations, the only exception lying in the experience and political weight of Angela Merkel in Germany – now perhaps the one great hope for the continent.... We can argue all we like about whether Europe went too far in terms of deepening and enlargement. Perhaps the move to a single currency was a naïve and ultimately dangerous political project. But the reality now is that, more than ever, Europe needs to unite and pull together or the abyss looms".
Timothy Ash, "Guest post: Europe – what a state we are in". The Financial Times. 23 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
"The test of the American Republic came when the idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights was juxtaposed with the brutishness of slavery. Prior to the revolution, these United States were divided into sovereignties so profound that many states saw themselves as individual nations not bound by the promises of the Declaration of Independence. They believed themselves free to withdraw from the federation if displeased by others' moral interpretations of the Declaration. What ensued was the Civil War, which was fought, as Abraham Lincoln put it, to test whether a nation so constituted could long endure. That is precisely the question of the European Union. Can an entity, founded on nations of wildly different customs, expectations and economies long endure and share a common fate? In the dry technicalities of quantitative easing, Europe has defined its limits of brotherhood. One of those limits is prosperity. Each nation determines how it will plot its own course, its money distributed by the European Central Bank, but under the rules of the individual states and without any nation being compelled to share the fate of another. The euro is a common currency that has no one's picture on the front because the histories of eurozone countries are so divided that there are no common heroes. The United States knows that Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and Franklin are our common heritage. There is no such commonality in Europe, and, therefore, no transcendence of the customs of nations.... If Europe can parse the common search for prosperity in this way and calmly consider the secession of one of the brotherhood, Greece, over malfeasance far from terrible on the order of human things, then what is to keep any of the Europe's institutions intact? If you can secede or be expelled from the eurozone, and if you might choose to close your border to Slovaks seeking jobs in Denmark, then perhaps you can choose to close your borders to German products. And if that is possible, then what is the fate of Germany, which relies on its ability to sell its goods anywhere in Europe? After all, it is not only the poor and weak in Europe whose fates are at risk. In the end, Europe becomes not so much a moral project as it does a convenience, a treaty, which is something a country can leave at will if it is in its interest to do so. When the South seceded from the United States, Northern men were prepared to die to preserve the Union. Is there anyone who would give his life to preserve the European Union, block secession and demand a permanent, shared fate?"
George Friedman, "The European Union, Nationalism and the Crisis of Europe". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 20 January 2015, in www.stratfor.com.
The distinction between the economic and political spheres has collapsed in Europe's current series of crises. Inevitably, as in the Great Depression of 1929-1933 / 1939, the 'economic' inevitably becomes 'political'. The best example of this is to-day's Greek parliamentary elections, which seemingly will result in the victory (in the sense of winning the most votes and seats in parliament) of the gauchiste, Syriza, headed by a one-time member of the Greek Communist party's youth wing 1. Whether or not, Syriza forms the next Greek Government and what precisely that government will do once in office: end the austerity programme, exit the Eurozone, exit the European Union, et cetera, the mere fact that such an extremist political party will have come in first in parliamentary elections will: a) have a profound effect on the rest of both the Eurozone and the European Union; b) highlights how the current economic crisis, whose prolongation is au fond a result of the Germany's adherence (and therefor the rest of the Eurozone as well) to the economics of Bruningism 2. So unless Syriza were to completely change front and accept the current austerity programme, look to see further political (and therefore economic) instability in both the Eurozone and the European Union as a whole. In retrospect the underlying fabric of both the Eurozone and the European Union appears to be too weak to withstand the current socio-economic winds which it is enduring. Perhaps fundamentally the real problem of the European Union is that it is not a machtstaat, but merely a wirtschaftsstaat: meaning an economic not a political union. Unfortunately, the last time that a viable European machtsaat could have been constructed was back in the Great War by Imperial Germany. Its failure to do so lives with us still. As Kurt Riezler, diplomatic aide to German Imperial Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, noted on the 4th of September 1914:
"People do not have a single idea which correspondences to the greatness of the age. But it would be the ruin of Europe if on this occasion it should not find a possible form of permanence and community".3
1. See: Kerin Hope, "Syriza lead widens as Greeks count polls". The Financial Times. 26 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
2. Stefan Wagstyl and Chris Bryant, "German public resists debt cut for Greece". The Financial Times. 23 January in www.ft.com. By 'Bruningism', I am of course referring to the Weimar Republic Reich Chancellor whose (in retrospect) mindless policy of unlimited austerity help make the rise of Hitler politically possible.
3.For the Riezler quote, see: Fritz Stern. The Failure of Illiberalism: essays in the political culture of modern Germany. (1972), p. 100. On the origins of the concept of European integration during the Great War, see: David Stevenson, "The First World War and European Integration". The International History Review. (December 2012), pp. 841-863.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

THE MASSACRE IN PARIS: A COMMENT

"The apparently well-planned attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, under police protection for years because of its repeated mocking of Islam, is one of the deadliest terrorist assaults on European soil in recent years and left 12 people dead. It followed months of warnings by the French government of the risk of terrorism from Islamist militants. Reuters reported on Wednesday night that the Paris prosecutor said a man linked to the Paris attack voluntarily presented himself to police in northeast France. Two gunmen entered the magazine’s offices on Wednesday morning, opening fire with automatic weapons. Eight journalists, including four of Charlie Hebdo’s best-known cartoonists, and two policemen were reported to be among the dead. The attackers escaped in a car, later found abandoned in the northeast of the capital. Paris prosecutor François Molins quoted a witness as saying at least one of the assailants shouted “God is Great” in Arabic during the attack. French police last night identified the suspects as Said and Cherif Kouachi, aged 32 and 34, and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad".
Adam Thomson, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany and Claer Barrett, "Charlie Hebdo: Suspect surrenders to police in France". The Financial Times. 8 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. One is that by the very order of things such evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.... At all events, the discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time the most necessary occupation for the politician. Those who knowingly shirk it deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after..... As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood." That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.
Enoch Powell, Speech to the Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham on April 20 1968.
As the late, great British politician, Enoch Powell, noted almost fifty years ago, the 'supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils'. In the case of Wednesday's massacre in Paris, the evil done could have been and should have been prevented. By allowing almost unlimited immigration of a foreign, non-French, non-Christian, non-European horde, the authorities in Paris as unfortunately in much else in Europe, made Wednesday's tragedy something 'waiting to happen'. Given the evil ideology, following from and inheriting much of its content from what is in many ways (but admittedly not entirely) the in it's essence, the ne plus ultra of Islam, no one should be surprised in the least. A religion which in its origins almost uniquely views the employment of the sword, of violence with approval. In any sane and healthy polity, id. est., almost the entire European continent sixty or more years ago, the menace represented by the 'fifth column' which is Islam, would have been dealt with by massive expulsions: tutti quanti. Such measures representing au fond the only sure means of dealing with this cancerous poison in the European body politic. To mouth bien-pensant pleasantries that 'Islam is a peaceful religion', will get us nowhere indeed. With that in mind, one can only look with favour upon the German, anti-Islam, mass movement, 'PEGIDA'. One may only hope that Wednesday's events will be enough of a shock that the European body politic will 'wake up' and listen before, once again in the words of Powell, 'like the roman I seem to see 'the River Tiber with foaming much blood''. Coupled with a very serious re-appraisal of the West's position towards the Syrian conflict. Which without a doubt has become a crucial harbinger of Islamic fanaticism and extremism. Additionally, a severe clampdown is required on the funding by the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia in particular of Muslim charities and other organizations around the world.

Friday, January 02, 2015

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL AND POPULISM: A COMMENT

"German chancellor Angela Merkel headed a trio of European leaders in delivering a powerful warning against populism and prejudice taking root in Europe, amid deepening fears about economic stagnation. In a hard-hitting new year broadcast, Europe’s most powerful leader led the charge against Europe’s far-right parties, slamming the organisers of recent anti-Islam protests in Germany as having hearts “often full of prejudice, and even hate”. Her attack on rightwing populism was echoed by France’s president François Hollande, who fired a shot across the bows of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, by pledging to fight entrenched conservatism and “dangerous” populist stances. And in Italy, 89-year-old President Giorgio Napolitano accompanied the announcement of his coming resignation with a fierce denouncement of crime, corruption and “dangerous” populist calls for the crisis-torn country to quit the euro.... Ms Merkel was upbeat in her speech about the German economy, pointing to record-high employment and her government’s success in setting a zero-deficit 2015 fiscal target. She argued that immigration was “a gain for everybody” — and appealed to Germans to accept refugees at a time when there were more displaced people in the world than since the second world war. She did not refer by name to Pegida, the anti-Islamisation movement that has gathered large crowds in recent weeks in the east German city of Dresden and elsewhere. But she made clear Pegida was in her sights, saying that such protests discriminated against people with different skin colour or religion. She declared that Germany could be proud of the fact that the children of persecuted parents could grow up without fear in the country."
Stefan Wagstyl, "Merkel attacks wave of rightwing populism". The Financial Times. 2nd January 2015, in www.ft.com.
"The merit of an educated class, because it is its historical function, is to lead the popular masses and develop their progressive elements. If the educated class has not been capable of fulfilling its function, one should speak not of merit but of demerit—in other words, of immaturity and intrinsic weakness. Similarly, it is necessary to be clear about the term, and the concept, of demagogy. Those men in effect were not capable of leading the people, were not capable of arousing their enthusiasm and their passion, if one is to take demagogy in its original meaning. Did they at least attain the end which they set themselves? They said that they were aiming at the creation of a modern State in Italy, and they in fact produced a bastard. They aimed at stimulating the formation of an extensive and energetic ruling class, and they did not succeed; at integrating the people into the framework of the new State, and they did not succeed."
Antonio Gramsci. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited and Translated by Quentin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell Smith. (1971). pp. 262-263.
German Chancellor Merkel's New Year's speech reads like the usual laundry list of tut-tutting by our bien-pensant, post-modern, liberal intelligentsia. The concerns expressed by not only her own population but also high-ranking members of her own party are dismissed by being lumped together as evidence of 'bigotry' et cetera 1. The real issue to my mind is: who or what is responsible for the movements that Mme. Merkel attacks? Surely the same people who are responsible for the mess that is the European Union economic situation since 2008. And said people are of course the governing elites of the European Union since the 1990's. Id. est., the very same people who promised that the introduction of the Euro would result in greater economic growth and integration. Given this undeniable factum, one can well understand not only the feelings but the responses of the various populist movements on the European continent. Which is of course not to deny that for the most part, European populist parties and movements usually have elements of the blind leading the blind. Or in T.S. Eliot's witticism: 'stupidity is for the vast majority of people, no doubt the best solution to the problem of thinking'. Unfortunately, unless and until the more salient and responsible aspects of what the various populist movements in Europe are talking about is taken up by Europe's governing elites, look for even more difficulties from that political perspective. Or in the words of Antonio Gramsci look for more 'demagogy', due to the 'immaturity and intrinsic weakness' of Europe's contemporary elites. Chancellor Merkel's lectures notwithstanding.
1. "Former Interior Minister Friedrich blasts Merkel over rise of PEGIDA, AfD". Deutsche Welle. 28 December 2014, in www.dw.de

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

OUR PREDICTIONS FOR ANNO DOMINI 2015

"As 2014 comes to a close, the Financial Times once again engages in a harmless bit of soothsaying. As ever, we invite some of the FT’s experts and commentators to dim the lights, dust down their crystal balls and predict what the next 12 months will bring on topics ranging from the British general election to the outlook for wearable technology. This is a hazardous enterprise, of course. Looking back at last year’s essay in New Year forecasting, there were a few predictions we would rather not talk about. Chris Giles said the Bank of England would raise interest rates in 2014. Simon Kuper predicted that Brazil would win the football World Cup. Clive Cookson predicted that Virgin Galactic would launch its first successful commercial flight this year. Some colleagues should take a bow. Victor Mallet correctly declared that Narendra Modi would win India’s general election; Jonathan Ford was bang on about Scotland voting No to independence (even if that looked shaky before the poll); Gideon Rachman foresaw wins for both the French National Front and Britain’s UK Independence party in the May European elections. Of course, an exercise such as this is only partly about providing the right answer to a given question. Much of the skill lies in choosing the correct question in the first place. Last year, it did not occur to us to inquire whether Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine, whether a shady group called Isis would become a strategic threat in the Middle East or whether Cuba would come in from the cold. It will doubtless be the same in 2015. Things will happen in the theatre of global news that none of us can — as yet — imagine".
James Blitz, "FT Predictions: the world in 2015". The Financial Times. 30 December 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Tu ne prévoir les évènement que lorsqu'ils sont déjà arrives". ['You can only predict events which have already happened'].
Jean Ionescu. Les Rhinocéros. Act Three. (1959).
While I doubt that my predictions will come out as well as those of the superior intellects of the Financial Times, I still believe that it will be a worthwhile endeavor to hazard a few surmises as to what will come out in anno domini 2015. So, here goes:
i) That the regime crisis: a combination of an economic and political crisis in matushka Russia will proceed as predicted in this space for while now. That the Putin regime will prove incapable of doing anything else other than papering over the cracks in its crumbling economic framework. Something evidentially visible as per to-day newspaper 1.
ii) That the situation in Ukraine, both political and economic will gradually improve.
iii) That the American economy and indeed America's overall position in the world will improve. Look for an overall growth rate of at lease three and half to four percent in the upcoming year. Memories of the boom years of the late 1990's will return in full force.
iv) That the price of oil will remain subdued for the entirety of anno domini 2015, not rising any further than sixty to seventy dollars a barrel. As the economic boom in the United States is not matched by any other region or group of countries elsewhere.
v) That the European Union will struggle onward in the seemingly eternal muddle that is its economic and political framework. More or less along the old, pre-Great War Viennese adage that: 'the situation is hopeless but not serious'.
vi) That Peking's geopolitical situation will continue to decline, as it continues to alienate its neighbors by its aggressive policies in the South and East China Seas
.
vii) That Britain's current coalition government will be returned to power, in some guise or other. With the opposition Labour Party failing to take advantage of the overall less than positive national mood. The UK Independence Party will prove to have been a damp squib, but failing to win more than five seats in the new Parliament.
viii) That Mme. Hillary Clinton will decide to run for the Presidency of the United States.
ix) That ex-Governor Jeb Bush will also decided to run for the Presidency of the United States.
x) That the ferocious violent ISIS grouping will gradually lose both territory and influence as it is pounded from both the air by the Americans and their allies as well as on the ground by among others: the Assad Regime, the Kurds of both Syria and Iraq, by Jordanian forces with American assistance on the ground as well.
Perhaps my predictions are too optimistic. But I prefer heroic optimism rather than realistic pessimism. In any case we shall soon enough see the validity of my skills as a predictor of the future or lack thereof.
1. Kathrine Hille, "Russia takes steps to prop up struggling companies". The Financial Times. 31 December 2014, in www.ft.com. See also: Sergei Aleksashenko, Mikhail Krutikhin, & Yuval Weber "What Should We Do About the Weakening Ruble, Lower Oil Prices and Sanctions?" Carnegie Moscow Center. 23 December 2014, in www.carnegie.ru