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Tag: Washington

The Bolivarian nightmare

Thursday, 24 January, 2019

Venezuela is one of the richest countries in South America, but thanks to the criminal regimes of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro it is now in economic, social and political ruin. The basics — food, water, healthcare — are either unaffordable because of hyperinflation or controlled by the thugs disguised as the nation’s security forces. Chavez and Maduro declared that their goal was to redistribute the nation’s oil wealth to help the poorest Venezuelans but their senseless and wicked policies have resulted in the impoverishment of millions. Shop shelves are bare, children are suffering from malnutrition and people are fleeing the country in droves. This tableaux of horrors does not represent an aberration of socialism, however. Rather, is the inevitable result of socialism.

The only hope now for Venezuela is Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized by Washington as the nation’s interim president. He can end the Bolivarian nightmare and help his land recover from the trauma it has endured since 1998.

Juan Guaidó


The gift of the garden

Sunday, 2 July, 2017 0 Comments

Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… What a life Czesław Miłosz lived. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, became a classic of anti-Stalinism writing.

From 1961 to 1998 he was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he puncutated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on 30 June 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

The garden


Trump as Uber

Sunday, 19 February, 2017 0 Comments

The Irish economist, broadcaster and author David McWilliams has made a handsome living by swimming against some of the more popular tides of the past decade and articulating his contrary positions eloquently and entertainingly. His insights on the Crash of 2008, the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump have shown that his radar is finely tuned and have given him an aura of the oracle. That’s why his most recent article, Trump aims to do to the Washington insiders what Uber did to taxi drivers, is so valuable. Snippet:

“From now on, the relationship he intends to have with the American people (at least his American people) will not be mediated by the media. It will not be conditional on getting the ‘thumbs up or thumbs down’ from the commentariat and it will not be determined by experts. It will be as one to one.

By deploying Twitter, he has cut out the media. This is radical stuff and a total departure from decades, possibly centuries, of form.”

After he’s done with the media-establishment complex, what will President Trump disrupt next? According to David McWilliams, it could be the Fed and, if that were the case, “we are in for a big showdown at the very heart of the American economic system.” The current row with media would be a mere squib in comparison because “the near 30-year boom in American asset prices has been driven on the understanding that the Fed always wins.” Except that in a battle with Trump, the tribune of the precariat, the bankers will will not be able to call upon the commentariat for help.


Trump: shocking, vulgar and indisputably true

Friday, 26 February, 2016 0 Comments

Tucker Carlson is a true Washington insider and his 28 January analysis of the Trump phenomenon is fascinating and prescient. Snippet:

“Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? Billions, certainly. (Someone better at math and less prone to melancholy should probably figure out the precise number.) Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation: Salaries, bonuses, retirement funds, medical, dental, lunches, car services, leases on high-end office space, retreats in Mexico, more fundraising. Unless you were the direct beneficiary of any of that, you’d have to consider it wasted.

Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed. Many of those same overpaid, underperforming tax-exempt sinecure-holders are now demanding that Trump be stopped. Why? Because, as his critics have noted in a rising chorus of hysteria, Trump represents ‘an existential threat to conservatism.’

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.”

Why is Trump so popular? Because he’s an outsider. Voters cannot tell the differences, if any, between the professional Republicans so each of them will get a percentage of the vote on Super Tuesday from those who prefer insiders, but Trump will get 100 percent of the vote from those who prefer an outsider. If nominated, Trump would certainly get the Christian, white and blue-collar vote. Both Romney and McCain lost because middle-income whites in Ohio and Pennsylvania didn’t bother to vote, but they should turn out for Trump. And what about the Latino and African-American vote? It will all depend on what the pollsters call “voter engagement numbers”.

Think Tank: “Trump is the GOP’s Frankenstein monster. Now he’s strong enough to destroy the party,” writes Robert Kagan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.


Millions of migrants are on the march

Tuesday, 1 September, 2015 0 Comments

“It is projected that sub-Saharan Africa will have 900 million more inhabitants in the next 20 years. Of these, at least 200 million will be young people looking for work. The chaos of their countries of origin will push them further north.” So wrote Massimo Nava in Corriere della Sera a week ago.

The European Union is deeply divided about how to deal with the massive migration crisis that’s unfolding on its shore, in its mountains and at its train stations. Border controls are being blatantly ignored and policy is being made up on the fly. The proverb becomes reality: “Every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost).” Example: A law aimed at discouraging refugees from settling in Denmark comes into effect today.

The plight of millions of human beings, exploited by traffickers and terrorized by religious fanatics, is distressing and only a person with a heart of stone would deny refuge to the exhausted and the traumatized, but beyond the individual and group suffering there’s a bigger challenge that demands an urgent, global response. The mass migration we are currently witnessing is a consequence of the real-time disintegration of states in the Middle East and North Africa. If this is not addressed, these endless waves of the displaced will erode the stability of the host countries. Such instability would turn Europe into a very disagreeable place, for both natives and migrants.

Those who find this kind of scenario apocalyptic, should note that countries and federations that wish to protect their sovereignty and citizens (the real purpose of government, after all) must control their borders. This does not exclude sympathy for those fleeing failed states, but the solution is to stabilize and rebuild failed states, not accept massive, unplanned shifts in population.

If the citizens of Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Bangladesh and all the other places that people are fleeing from cannot have decent lives at home, they’ll try to find better ones abroad. Unless Brussels, Washington, the Arab League, the African Union and ASEAN co-operate on this emergency, the situation is going to get much more frightening and Raspail’s fiction will become fact.

Syria


Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Friday, 12 December, 2014 0 Comments

The most visited Catholic pilgrimage weekend destination in the world? The Vatican, right? Wrong. It’s the the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Over the Friday and Saturday of December 11 to 12, 2009, more than six million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of her apparition. Our Lady of Guadalupe

With Mexico reeling from crisis to horror, huge numbers are expected today in the hope of finding solace and hope.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, in the form of a retablo (panel painting) by Pedro Antonio Fresquís, is among the items included in “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea,” a new exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. The show brings together more than 60 works of Renaissance and American art. Blurb:

Paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia (an Ursuline nun who ran a bustling painting studio in her convent in northern Italy), and Elisabetta Sirani highlight the varied ways in which women artists conceptualized the subject of Mary. These artists’ works are featured alongside treasured Marian paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and others.

Much of Mexico is dynamic and the country wants to succeed in the global economy. But its people urgently need a real commitment from their government to security reforms and anti-corruption measures. Latest revelation: Finance minister Luis Videgaray bought a holiday home from a company that had won several generous public works contracts. And it would help if the elites faced up to risks of ignoring the poverty and anarchy in regions such as the Tierra Caliente. Until they do, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe remains the only source of comfort for masses of Mexicans.


9/11 at 12

Wednesday, 11 September, 2013 0 Comments

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on Manhattan and Washington. What has entered folk memory as “9/11” was our young century’s introduction to totalitarianism, in its most brutal form. On that day, a murderous, criminal gang dedicated to maximizing civilian deaths seized airplanes filled with innocent passengers and then used their victims as part of a wicked plan to gain notoriety. In the wake of the tragedy, the civilized world woke up to the reality that the West was now at war with a medieval death cult driven by a racist, religious hatred of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Shi’a Muslims and all other “unbelievers”, especially those who placed their faith in democracy, tolerance and individual liberty. Out of the blue on 11 September 2001, those who trusted in modernity were confronted with the evil resolve of people dedicated to the restoration of a vanquished dictatorial empire. Two worlds collided on 9/11 and the repercussions are still being felt. As always, our thoughts are with the families whose loved ones were torn from them on that day.

The Twin Towers


“The European Union is a horrible, stupid project.”

Wednesday, 10 October, 2012

So says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, in a wide-ranging Foreign Policy interview titled “Epiphanies from Nassim Nicholas Taleb“. Here’s what he says about the EU: “The European Union is a horrible, stupid project. The idea that unification would create an economy that could compete with China and be more like the […]

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e-book review: The Making of the Greek Crisis by James Pettifer

Friday, 25 May, 2012

It is possible that James Pettifer was overcome by philhellene emotion when writing The Making of the Greek Crisis. Or he might have been the victim of over-hasty editing, or the short e-book format chosen by Penguin for this topic is unsuited to the complexity of the matter. In any event, the reader is often more perplexed than enlightened when swiping through the text.

Peffifier: Greek Crisis “The European Union and International Monetary Fund negotiators who sit in authority in Athens in 2012 have many antecedents,” begins Pettifer. It’s an unconvincing start as Athens in 2012, so far, has produced more chaos than authority and those responsible for this are primarily Greek politicians. Pettifer continues: “Men and women completely ignorant of the Greek language have played their parts in the making of modern Greece, with varying degrees of success.” To suggest that the EU/IMF negotiators, whatever their nationalities and native languages, do not have access to Greek-speaking support staff is incredible.

Pettifer can be sharp. He notes: “The Euro currency ‘project’ did not originate in Greece. As Victor Hugo observed in 1855, the notion of a single European currency, like all bad ideas, has been around for a very long time.” And he crafts some colourful images: “Yes this crisis did not drop from the sky as an eagle in Epirus might drop a sick lamb.” But he cancels this out with truly baffling sentences like this: “The wish to reject the American Exceptionalism of the Bush period has meant an often uncritical adherence to frequently superficially understood multilateralist ideas in international relations and abandonment of some aspects of US legitimate claims to world leadership.”

He correctly identifies the decision by Greece to host the 2004 Olympic Games as pivotal in the country’s loss of fiscal reason, but he undermines the argument with ideological point scoring such as, “…it appealed to the American corporations whose major players connected with big sport, like Nike and Coca Cola, had become sponsors and advertisers with all recent stagings of the Olympic Games. The Olympics embodied the culture of health, anti-smoking campaigning, intense and unbridled Darwinian competition and many other neo-conservative social objectives.”

While politics are personal, facts are not and more careful editing would have prevented 17 becoming 27 here: “The euro project was doomed because it was impossible to chain together twenty-seven different economies into one currency and one central financial institution without any tax revenue raising capacity.” One wonders, too, where the editor was when this drifted by:

“When I first went to little hilltop Exohorio in about 1983, very old ladies sung songs and wove on looms in their houses that had changed little since Homeric times. Now on nearby beaches you are as likely to hear the programmed chit-chat of Whitehall civil servants from London or Zehlendorf doctors from Berlin, and where the loom once stood is an ugly chrome exercise bike in a second home. Few of these north Europeans bother to learn any Greek at all, and some like the parsimonious Dutch are notorious locally for bringing their own food from the Netherlands in their neat motor caravans.”

If only the Greeks had been as parsimonious as the Dutch, James Pettifer would not be writing about the tragic crisis that has engulfed the land he so clearly loves. But Athens is not Amsterdam, and neither is it Berlin or London or Washington, as he points out repeatedly.

The Making of the Greek Crisis is short, but it would have benefitted from cutting in places. Experienced editors of e-books are scarce and the knack of fitting chapters, paragraphs and sentences to tablet and smartphone screens is being learned on the job, so James Pettifer might have profited from a kind of guidance that’s not widely available yet. Still, he has made an entertaining contribution to a debate that continues to dominate the headlines.


Choppy waters in the South China Sea

Monday, 30 April, 2012

The standoff earlier this month — “Philippines Warns China in Naval Crisis” — between a Filipino warship and two Chinese surveillance vessels was ostensibly about disputed fishing rights in an area of the South China Sea where both countries claim sovereignty. This is about something more controversial than shark fin soup, though. China wants to […]

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