Category Archives: Euro

Special Relationship II


Back in 1887 the famous poet and storyteller Oscar Wilde quipped: ‘We [English] have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’. We got another example of this malediction in the blah-blah-blah which has attended Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. What is most apparent to all but the Talking Heads is that London’s negotiating a two-year exit from the EU will result in a revival not only of the vestiges of empire – as much legend as reality – but a renewed emphasis on the Anglo-American alliance, “the Special Relationship”
Like so much of traditional diplomacy, Pres. Barrack Obama and his former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, gave that relationship short shrift. Obama, imbued with the Left’s religion of anti-colonialism – a view of the world which is not only unrealistic but ignores the actual relationship of the Metropoles of Britain, France, Italy, and once Germany, to their 19th centuries acquisitions. True, they were exploitive relation ships but they also accelerated the arrival of at least portions of modernism to pre-industrial societies.
As Obama’s attempts to “transform” American foreign policy have either miscued or collapsed over the last seven-plus years, his attempt to derail the historic relationship between the U.S. and Britain has also gone astray. Common language, shared democratic values and concepts, special interests throughout the work, have made a working relationship between Washington and London an irreplaceable part and parcel of U.S. internationalism.
The combination of Obama’s war on this tradition, his buffoonish attempt to influence British voters on withdrawal from the EU which boomeranged, and the U.S.’ expanding interests in the post-World War II world have tended to eclipse that relationship. That illusion was enhanced when London seemed to be throwing in its lot with the movement for a united Europe, one which had been a special project of American strategy for a half century, but not always with its final destination in view.
Now, the latter project is in deep trouble. Few Europeans want to face the reality of German domination as by far the largest and economically the most powerful of the EU states. That will halt the perfectly “logical” calls by Berlin that the EU must go forward to further political integration or collapse. But the French, once Germany’s twin partner in European unity, in a miraculous and real transformation, are for the first time abandoning dirigisme, French promotion of economic planning and control by the state, under the pressure of the competitive drive of “globalization” is being abandoned – and that under a socialist government! The concept had defined the distinctive character of French politics, inherited in part from its royal and multi-republican past, and which it had passed on to the Brussels Eurocrats it had largely supplied and still dominated.
London ‘s withdrawal — although it will continue to bargain for special trading and other economic rights inside the EU, whatever it means in the short-term — means a return to Britain’s diminished but continuing role as a world economic power. The good sense and good luck that kept Britain out of the EU’s now faltering monetary union means that once again, in parallel with the dollar, sterling will resume an stronger international character.
London’s City, which was ceding its role to Frankfurt and Zurich, will be reinvigorated in the longer term by the British withdrawal. That role of London as the world’s second financial center after New York will be felt all the way through the Middle East oil countries [with their traditional ties to the Colonial Office] to Hong Kong and beyond. [What the Japanese will do with their heavy investments in British manufacturing as a base for the EU remains to be seen. But it would not be the first time that Japanese business has had to make major adjustments to its successful formula for being the only non-European power to have made it to First World status].
The revival of the Special Relationship will have new and totally different aspects – again, despite Obama’s original high-priced energy policies, the U.S. and its Shale Revolution has put a new floor under world energy prices. It is one the Mideast producers can meet, of course, but not without cutting back on their enormously spendthrift policies of the past. It could well be that Special Relations II will see the U.S. as Britain’s major supplier of energy and energy technology for development of its own shale resources, environmental freaks notwithstanding.
Prime Minister David Cameron may have to go as a sacrifice on the altar of City business interests and the universal “internationalization” panacea which has dominated both U.K. and U.S. politics under his Conservatives – as well as the Democrats in Washington. And that may introduce new uncertainties along with some disturbing personalities.
But the dye is cast: Special Relationship II has begun with the British voters’ decision that they wanted autonomy and not collaboration at too high a price in cultural values with a Continental bureaucracy and its economy That bureaucracy, too, is now fatally wounded and events will lead to new and likely unpredictable changes in Paris, Berlin,.Brussels and the other EU capitals.
sws-06-24-16

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Troubled Britons


No matter the outcome of the British referendum June 23 on leaving the European Union, the argument over the U.K.’s role in Europe and the world is up for grabs. It promises a troubled British political scene for some time to come.
The argument over whether to leave the European Community, or stay in and try to bring it closer to what London would like it to be, has split the Conservative Party. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it probably means the end of the tenure of Prime Minister David Cameron who has opted for staying in against the Party’s possible majority of “Euroskeptics” At a time when the opposition Labor Party leadership has been grabbed by ultra-leftists who want to go back to the old socialist tenants of the movement, that is likely to produce a fractious political scene, trimming Britain’s traditional worldwide commanding role.
In turn, it is going to limit the supporting – and often leading – relationship that Washington has relied upon with Britain’s traditional worn but still abundant worldwide imperial heritage. Pres. Barack Obama not only chose not to use it, but made a fetish of his anti-English prejudices. A new president, however, even Hillary Clinton who quietly is rejecting much of her support of Obama as his secretary of state, is likely to again look to the traditional “special relationship: between the U.S. and the U.K.
Britain, of course, always had its reservations about joining the EU. London’s City role as one of the principal world financial centers, in part based on the universality of the British pound sterling, always negated joining the EU’s monetary union. But now with the Euro under attack, Germany’s Angela Merkel and her allies in the rest of Europe, not only want to reinforce the Euro but to move toward further political integration. In effect, there is a general consensus on the Continent among the advocates of the EU that if it doesn’t move further toward integration, it will fall apart. But the growing criticism of the EU’s inroads on what many British see as their independence and every day life is anathema in London.
Pro-Brexit Tories have been infuriated by Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the bloc and his dire warnings about the consequences of leaving. There is more and more questioning of his political achievements and the debate has turned very nasty. The usually mild manner former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, an advocate of staying in, has called his Tory opponents “dishonest”, “deceitful” and “squalid” for favoring withdrawing from the EU.
Cameron initially promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership to quell a rebellion by Conservative Eurosceptics but it has turned out to be the opposite, producing a bitter fight which cuts across all party lines. That’s only a year since the Conservatives won a resounding national election but promises now to end Cameron’s reign long before its promised four more years.
The Conservatives have been divided for more than a quarter of a century over the issue. The argument has turned on whether the U.K.’s membership affords it additional trade and economic rewards or if interference by the unelected Brussels Eurocrats in sometimes minor British laws and customs is worth the price.
Cameron had already promised to quit the Party leadership before the 2020 election, and the referendum has given a platform to the contenders to succeed him. That could be Boris Johnson, the former Conservative mayor of London, a much more controversial figure. The offspring of upper class English parents living in New York, he has been called an elitist, lazy and dishonest and accused of using racist and homophobic language. Whether accurate or not, these accusations contrast with what had been a much more generally acceptance of Cameron, and promises political fireworks in the months ahead.
sws-06-17-16

No Brexit please!


 

There’s not much good news from Europe these days.

It’s clear that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has bitten off more than she can chew with her big, big welcome mat for any and all migrants. The Hungarians and the Poles have different ideas, don’t want to take their “share” as Berlin sees it. That could be the death of “Shengen”, movement within the EU as free as it was in the golden years before World War I when a flicking a passport got you anywhere from the Irish Sea to Carpathians.

Merkel & Co. have bared their teeth and not for the first time, talked of solving an EU problem by creating a “mini-Shengen”, in effect two levels of EU membership to maintain free-passage. Then there is the whole mess of the Euro, that common currency which was supposed to eliminate balance of payments. Instead it has been an artifice for pushing German exports down the throats of willing consumers – like Greece – who really didn’t have the wherewithal for all those Mercedes.

European, not to say Obama Administration resolve, to meet Ras’ continued aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, and threats in Belarus and the Baltic States, as well as his blind man’s bluff in Syria, has faded.

But the biggest cloud on the horizon was the possibility that the Brits would pick up their marbles and go home. That old hundred miles of often treacherous water which has given the not-so-longer United Kingdom its distance from Continental troubles is getting wider and stormier again. The growing encampment t of migrants [including legitimate refugees] on the Calais side epitomizes the issue. Britain, earlier than her neighbors was getting indigestion from absorbing unlimited numbers from her former empire to share the bounties of the original welfare state. And there is universal sentiment now in Britain that a Continental surge would tip the boat.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who unexpectedly won a majority in May’s elections, as part of his electioneering, promised what used to be called before Hitler discredited it, a plebiscite, on British EU membership. That is, Brits would go to the polls to decide whether they wanted to continue what has been their limited membership – no participation in the Euro, for example – in the Community. Armed with that, and the possibility that without concessions, the British might really exit, he has gone back to dicker with the autocrats at Brussels.

Now comes word that despite earlier statements on how the Brits would not pass, the EUrocrats are willing to make concessions. European Council president Donald Tusk December 17 opined: “Leaders voiced their concerns but also demonstrated willingness to look for compromise,” Tusk told a press conference, he was “much more optimistic” than before the talks began.

In all the welter of political shoving back and forth at the moment, this negotiation could in the long run be the most important. It goes without saying, Pres. Obama’s problems ousting Winston Churhill’s bust from the Oval Office as an opening gambit in his Administration notwithstanding, that the Special Relationship between Washington and London remains a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Many, here and there, have seen Britain’s participation in the EU as an obstacle. We never have. That Britain has taken up the cudgels, in fact more forcefully than the Obama Administration, in the fight against Daesh, the Mideast terrorists, as an American ally is just one more example of the relationship’s importance despite Britain’s economic and therefore military travails. Blood, Roberts’ Rules of Order, and Shakespeare do count, you know!

But perhaps even more important, Britain’s presence inside the EU, with whatever limitations, is the best assurance that the tyranny of the clerks in Brussels will be held in check. More than its Continental neighbors,  perhaps for the younger folk out there, British representative democracy is so solid and so well grounded that it cannot but have an effect in Brussels. That is of the utmost importance, not only for the Brits and their EU partners, but also the whole of the democratic West including the U.S.

So please, let’s do have an old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon compromise and keep Britain in the EU with no Brexit on the horizon!

sws-12-17-15

 

Resovietizing Russia


 

While Vladimir Putin is busy challenging America’s role as leader of the free peoples, the Russian dictator is also refiguring his domestic scene in the Soviet image. In fact, one could make the argument that in many ways he has already accomplished that and to a degree even the old Soviets hands would have been envious. What Putin and his small band of supporters have done at home may in the long run be more important than his aggression against Ukraine, his support f the crumbling the al Bashar regime in Syria, and his feints at the Baltic states.

There are, of course, important historical differences to Soviet times. There is no Communist Party with its monopoly of power and its tentacles throughout the world. But Putin has eliminated, in all but name, any organized political opposition to his one-man coterie of hangers-on, some his old colleagues in the secret police and others profiteers from Russia’s new state capitalism. That too, is a difference: Russia no longer pretends to an oligarchic Soviet economy.

In fact, with 40% of its economy now dependent on oil and gas exports to Europe, Putin’s No. 1 problem is Western sanctions and the dynamite that American shale gas and oil technology has thrown under world energy prices. Supplying one third of the European Union’s energy imports, Putin despite the fall in world energy prices and the sanctions slapped on some of his buddies as a riposte to his efforts to take over Ukraine and Byelorussia, is desperatelyl trying to hang on to those ties.Gasprom, the world’s largest gas distribution network, is trying to expand its Nordstrom line down through the Baltic Sea. A state-controlled company, having squeezed out competitors and grabbed stakes of foreign oil companies in new fields in Sakhalin in the Far East, it is trying to dominate European distribution networks as well..

But Putin’s reversion to and dependence on a government elite which leeches off the economy as did the so-called nomenclatura, the Soviet leadership and bureaucracy, is all too familiar. In fact, Gennady Gudkov claims “there are now five to six times more bureaucrats in a Russia with 140 million population than there were in the entire USSR with its 286 million residents.” Gudkov, himself, one of the vanishing band of Putin’s critics. is a businessman and former member of the Duma [parliament] who has seen his business wither as he has become a victim of Putin’s persecution

Furthermore, the bureaucracy led by the chief bureaucrat, Putin himself, is acquiring more and more power. Even claptrap trimmings of the Soviet system have been abandoned – such as the largely fraudulent elections for regional governors. Even the billionaires who profit from their relationship within this highly personalized rule are vulnerable and can be – as several have in the recent past – fallen into disfavor and purgatory if not exile or jail.

Putin’s rule resembles, more than anything else, the style of a banana republic, with little or no hint of ideology. He does try – and gets cooperation – from the Russian Orthodox Church just as the tsarist regime did for centuries. But he continues to cultivate old Communist talisman, including the reenshrinement of Feliz Dzerzhinsky, the archleader of Soviet internal repression. It was Putin, after all, who said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.

What characterizes Putin’s strategy, however, is the old role of a bully on the international stage. It was inevitable that U.S. policy, which under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tried to find a “reset” button for American-Russian relations would fail. Reinstituting Moscow’s former glory is Putin’s only strategy to retain what is, alas!, his vast popularity at home and that requires an American enemy. Washington has no options in this situation: it must maintain a quiet, non-bellicose opposition to the Russian leader. Just as with the Soviet Union, the economic soft underbelly of the Putin regime is extremely vulnerable. Nothing would make more sense now than to reverse the Obama Administration’s policy and permit market forces to export American gas, and perhaps even oil, now in overabundance, to continue the disintegration of Russian markets and Europe’s dependence on that supply.

sws-11-14-15.

 

 

 

Greece: the real question


When the Euro was being proposed and in its early days, some of us had a question: could a common currency be possible within a group of countries all of whom maintained their own individual economic, monetary and fiscal policies?
When we got an answer back, which wasn’t too often, it came in myriad voices.
On one end were those who “promised” us that in some mysterious way this fundamental problem would be solved. At the other end of the spectrum were a few brave if somewhat idealistic souls who advocated the abolition of individual nation states for at least a federal if not a unitary political union for which the common currency would be a handmaiden.
In between, were all the spoken and unspoken solutions, verging from a seemingly commonsense vow that progress toward a commanding central bank and one policy would emerge out of the various European institutions – the bureaucratic European Commission, the nominal multilateral executive, the Council of Ministers and the relatively powerless European Parliament. In addition, this Christmas Tree was decorated with an additional four high-sounding named institutions such as the European Court.
Britain, of course, in the usual pragmatic way of the Anglo-Saxon constitutional process, opted out. It would not and could not abandon sterling, if no longer a challenge to the dollar as a world reserve currency, still served as a handmaiden to The City and the continuing profitable dominance and profitability of London as a leading world currency exchange.
Of course, in what could have easily been predicted would be the new order, each country went its own way. There was even continual conflict between Paris and Berlin, the two central pillars of the new money, with France always flirting with “dirigisme” – central planning – and Germany pretending, at least, to be a full-fledged market economy.
But while the big boys discussed the major issues interminably, the cat was away and the mice, they did play. It was far too easy for Athens [and to an extent Lisbon, Madrid and even Rome, a major EC player] to use their unlimited draw on the common currency to finance lifestyles to which they would like to become accustomed but for which they were either incapable of producing or for which they were unwilling to work hard enough to attain.
True, much of the Greek mess is historical. It has always been easy – with some tjustification — to blame it on the hated Turks’ Ottoman Empire heritage, but now a hundred years away.
Yet no one now speaks above the intense and infinitely complicated negotiations to trim Greece’s exceseses without killing its economy altogether, a game in which Athen’s shrewd if amoral leftwing government pulls the cat’s tail and dares it to take a fatal snap that would destroy the figment of a voluntary association of free nations.
sws-07-06-15

Obama’s Iranian deadend


The growing absurdity of Pres. Barack Obama’s arguments in favor of his negotiations with the Tehran mullahs grows ever more self evident.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, itself at best never much more than a token effort to enforce anti-proliferation agreements, has revealed that Iran’s nuclear fuel stockpile is growing. In fact, the AIEA says, it has grown 20% during the last eighteen months. During that period Washington has been insisting the preliminary November 2013 Joint Plan of Action Agreement between the Islamic Republic and the West, had put a cap on Iran’s nuclear activities, and perhaps had the makings of a final agreement to halt any Iranian move toward nuclear weapons.
But only a month before the proposed completion of that constantly postponed final agreement, the IAEA calculations completely give the lie to Obama’s continued insistence his negotiations at leasdt temporarily had reigned in Iran’s nuclear developments.
Furthermore, the proposed final deal is supposed to reduce the Iranian fuel stockpile to 300 kilograms of nuclear fuel, less than requirements for a single bomb. That means Tehran would have to get rid itself of nine tons of enriched uranium fuel. No one really knows how that would be done. [The mullahs long ago ignored their agreement when Moscow sold them a reactor with the proviso fuel byproducts from its generating capacity would be shipped back to the then Soviet Union.]
Having backed off the whole concept of restricting Iran’s capability to make nuclear weapons to a position where the mullahs would have the capacity to do so but would foreswear it, Obama’s critics now have a new concern. Obviously, the size of its nuclear fuel stockpile would be decisive in any calculation – now ridiculously the new major issue in the whole discussion – of how long it would take the mullahs to make bombs. That “breakout” calculation, foolishly enough, has become a central argument between Obama and his Congressional critics. Obviously, a political judgment, an estimate, of whether the mullahs would and could be trusted to abide by any such self-imposed schedule, is the more demanding and paramount issue.
The IAEA report matter of factly pointed out that no progress has been made in its efforts to implement UN Security Council resolutions calling for information from the mullahs on possible movement toward “weaponization” .Needless to say, the IAEA report also says Tehran has made no suggestions how it might move to conform to the UN demands.
The IAEA report sums up that given the missing intelligence, it is not able to make a judgment on whether Iran is moving toward producing weapons.
The combination of Washington having lifted some economic sanctions – apparently the only weapon in its effort to restrain the mullahs short of military intervention – and the White House bogus claims on progress in restraining Tehran, already has led to diplomatic disaster. Washington’s nominal allies in the Persian Gulf and a disgruntled Egypt and Turkey are increasingly showing every evidence of abandoning the U.S.’ traditional leadership and looking to their own security calculations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to scold, but he most of all, will have to decide what happens in the absence of what he has called “a good agreement”. Israel is after all a continued target for the mullahs’ threats to wipe it off the map.
Apparently the Obama Administration will continue to issue preposterous statements on progress of the negotiations – or ask for further extensions — as the region and the world slide toward crisis.
sws-06-01-15

Greece: Tragedy or farce?


The drama of Greece’s bankruptcy is beginning to take on the aspects of a soapopera.
Again on Friday we are facing another of what has been an interminable list of deadlines; this time Athens is supposed to meet an obligation for repayment of International Monetary Fund loans. In theory, Athens should be able to sell some bonds and come up with the cash. But the European Central Bank, acting as the sheriff for members of the Euro monetary union, won’t take the bonds until Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agrees to a new round of austerity measures. And even at astronomical rates of interest, the private sector isn’t interested..
Of course, that is exactly why Tsipras’ bitter opposition to just such a program elected him in January with his grumpy leftwing coalition partners. Tsipras argues that even were he to accept what his Euro creditors demand they are about to spring on him, he would have to call new elections or a referendum on any new set of demands on Greek consumers.
The list of Greek economic ailments – from notorious dodging by the ordinary citizen as well as the high and mighty of taxes to an unbelievably bloated government bureaucracy to labor laws it can’t afford to a current capital run for the exits – is long and certainly needs drastic reform. But there is also the argument that if the new demands for cleaning up the mess are too stringent, they would impede growth and make it impossible for the Greeks to ever pay their debts. And Ysipras has had the out until now that there were differences among Greece’s creditors about just what they wanted him to do.
It’s been no secret that the IMF has been calling for Greece’s creditors to take a haircut, especially the Germans with their place at the head of the line of the lenders. But if the gossip – and it changes every 24 hours or less – is now valid, everyone including Germany and the IMF have compromised their differences and are ready to give the Greeks a package of measured reform and aid but with an ultimatum although no one wants to call it that.
Ysipras has an ace not far up his sleeve, of course.
That would be to fulfill his repeated threats and take the Greeks out of the Euro and return to their own national currency. Nobody really knows what that means, even if he had the courage to go through with it. The fantasists who put together a monetary union, now 19 of the 28 states in the European Union, made rules for entry, often bent badly as in Greece’s case. But there is no door marked exit, and Greece’s departure would threaten the Brussels’ bureaucrats who contrary to common sense created a common currency for a group of nation states but with no instrument of common fiscal or monetary policy. The weak European Central Bank has until recently spent most of its time with its chairman wringing his hands at the continuing crisis.
If the Greeks were really to go, it would set a precedent for there are other members of the Euro not in much better shape. [Unemployment in southern Italy, the EU’s fourth largest economy, outdoes the Greeks!] At a time when all the EU economies are largely pawing the ground, the EU really doesn’t need a Greek chorus in the background. And so it looks like the bluffing on both sides has just about reached its end.
sws-06-03-15

If we must speak Gaelic, Amaideas!


All the media hype to the contrary notwithstanding, the referendum on independence for Scotland was very close to a farce. Ironic, too, that such political balderdash should have taken place in the historic home of a half dozen of the world’s most noted political thinkers.

That it was media-driven was made even more apparent in the closing hours after the victory of commonsense took over. CNN, unfortunately that worldwide purveyor of stylish rubbish, set the tone. Amanpour, who never met a cliché she couldn’t misappropriate, led the pack in the little inquest, with talk of “the great democratic process”. That, of course, despite the fact that not a single of the extremely difficult problems which would surface with “independence” from currency to defense had been debated in any real sense. Then there was a spokesman for facebook who nattered on for several minutes on how important the social media had been to “the process” without presenting one solitary fact. And bringing up the rear was a bimbo from a leftwing American thiMk-tank – the Scots didn’t have enough muddlers on their own, apparently – who supposedly advised the Scottish demagogic leader, Alex Salmond, on economic issues. But, as with every major concern in the whole proposed process of leaving the United Kingdom, neither she nor he – an economist and onetime banker – gave a clue as to how a new impoverished mini-state would organize its finances or its currency.

From its origins in 2012 when U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron acquiesced to the referendum, blithely assuming there was no question of the overwhelming strength of “unionist” support, the referendum was treated cavalierly. Cameron had rejected, by the way, Salmond’s offer to put a third option on the ballot, the very one which Cameron and other U.K. leaders of all the major parties have now promised the Scots, that is, an expanded self-government. So much for the political perspicacity of the British Conservative Party leadership which has little if any following among the Scots. [No one even mentions that the name “Cameron”, despite the PM’s very posh background, is of Scottish origin, widespread throughout “the Anglo-Saxon” world and typical of the many indivisible links that bind all the British isles’ peoples.]

Everything about the referendum – including permitting adolescents to vote – was inane considering the cataclysmic consequences a “yes” vote would have meant. Untying the centuries-old knot with London would have been a signal for the spread of so-called “nationalist” enterprises throughout Europe. The saw, once generally accepted, that the new European Union had loosened the old nation-state bonds throughout the Continent and therefore empowered regional “nationalisms” is now very much up for reevaluation given the splintering troubles in Brussels. Nor, for that matter, were the Scots to have been permitted to enter the EU would they have been likely to want to swap sterling, however battered still an independent and sometime reserve currency, for the foundering Euro.

Initially, at least, however a vote for independence would have refloated a half dozen regional agitations – from Catalonian and Basque old demands for separation from ”the Spains” to Bavarian exit from the German federation, to Corsican and Breton “independence” movements in France, to the claims of the Venetians, the South Tyroleans and Sardinians in Italy. Given the already strained environments in which all these countries find themselves it, a Scottish yes would have been a continent-wide disaster.

Strained, indeed. Glaswegians may have given the independence advocates its wholehearted support but there is little evidence they had any solutions to the joblessness created with the departure of what was once the world’s shipbuilding center on the Clydeside. Nor was there any solution evident about how to meet Scotland’s disproportionate “welfare” payments or the additional burden Salmond & Co. were promising to lay on the new independent state. The fact is that the nationalists were accompanied by remnants of every discredited leftwing movement of the Cold War, including unilateral disarmament. They might well have chosen words from the old Scottish ballad “I know where I am going”: “Some say he’s poor, But I say he’s bonnie, The fairest of them all, My handsome winsome Johnny” rather than “Scotts wha hae”.
In the cleanup, London will have to stive to come through on promises to extend still further local government prerogatives to the Scottish parliament. But that, too, was in the cards once Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair acceded to the whole concept of “devolution” and a regional legislature, in an effort to buy off his own Labor party’s following in Scotland and its representation at Westminister.

But the no vote gives the Brits an opportunity which requires more than time but intense negotiation to turn their highly centralized government into one of federal units not only for the Scots, but for the Welsh, the Northern Irish, and perhaps northern England. And now in the hysteria preceding the vote, the issue of an England-only representative body without the Scots voting on English laws has become an enhanced “issue”. That quirk in British representative government has long been obscured despite England’s overwhelming majority in the U.K. [totaling 63-million, with 84% in England and only a tenth of that in Scotland].

It’s an index to the mediocrity of British leadership that at a time of grave crisis to the whole of the democratic world, this kind of meaningless twaddle should have been entertained. Not that it does not have its replica in Britain’s democratic allies, including and especially in the U.S.

At a moment when the whole of Western civilization is beset with a dual crisis generated by a fragile but aggressive Russian dictatorship and the nihilistic onslaught of traditional Islamic fanaticism, leadership egged on by the media is largely obsessed with trivia. British constitutionalism is more than that, of course, but pretensions of Scottish exceptionalism don’t really count for much in the totality of things.

sws-09-21-14

Strategy, any one?


 

“Okay, smart-a___, what is your strategy?”

In a [rather large] nutshell; here are the tactics which when pulled together make up a grand strategy:

Domestic

Make an “America is back!” speech from the Oval Office in the White House modeled on Harry Truman’s “Doctrine” speech of 1947. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/harrystrumantrumandoctrine.html   Its principal theme would be recognition that the U.S. and its allies are launched in an extended war — and still far from being won — against the Islamic jihadists.

Immediately ask Congress for emergency lifting of all Sequestration applying to the Department of Defense, the CIA and other security agencies for five years. Halt and reverse with continuing extension and recruitment the personnel cutbacks now decimating the American armed forces.

Reverse energy policies to provide the U.S. economy and our allies with a noninflationay stimulus of cheaper fuel, simultaneously directly providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs, by:

 

  • Administratively, opening up all federal lands [including offshore Virginia, etc.] to fracking,
  • Administratively, waiving all EPA regs on fracking for five years.
  • Administratively, fast-tracking applications for the dozen or so outstanding applications for liquefied natural gas export facilities, putting on hold any Environmental Protection Agency regulations concerning them for a five-year period.
  • Asking  Congress to lift all oil and gas export restrictions, including a waiver on EPA fossil fuel export regs for five years. [These exports would begin to supply allies in Europe and Asia and simultaneously help mend the balance of payments hemorrhage against the dollar.]
  • Immediately okaying the XL Keystone Pipeline and other Canadian applications for pipelines into the U.S. directed at Houston refineries and their export facilities.
  • Pushing Detroit and foreign-owned auto companies to organize and subsidize a national network of filling stations for an expanded production and use of LNG-fueled vehicles.

To reinforce federalism, begin the rescission of the 17th amendment, restoring the original intent of the Founders by returning the power on how to elect senators to the states, freeing the states to determine their own method including indirect election by the various legislatures. [Most of the turn of the 20th century arguments for direct election are now better ones for indirect election, e.g., “it’s a millionaire’s club”.]

Resurrect the independent U.S. Information Service with a cabinet post and assistant secretaries from State, Defense and CIA. The new department would incorporate the Board of International Broadcasting, expanding Radio Liberty [with renewed local language broadcasts to Central Asia] in order to tell “the American story” to the world.

Mideast

            Bomb the ISIL in Syria and Iraq “back to the stone age” with a massive WWII type aerial bombardment. In riposte, sanction all banks and financial institutions – including third parties, and, of course, including all Russian and the Chinese institutions – doing business with the al Assad regime.

“Pressure” Turkey to accept a NATO mission on its southeast flank to work directly with the secular and “moderate” Islamic anti-Assad forces from a Turkish sanctuary. Organize with our NATO partners a joint “request” that Ankara release immediately all imprisoned Turkish journalists as the first step in reinaugurating the movement toward a civil society. Let Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan know if he does not acquiesce to these quiet pressures and move back from his drift into Islamism, Washington will demand Turkey’s expulsion from NATO.

Reinvoke strict sanctions on Tehran until the mullahs accept a NATO – not the UN IAEI which has been so notoriously inept — inspection of their nuclear activities. Slam the possibility of military intervention “back on the table” and be prepared for surgical strikes to slow if not deter the Mullahs’ acquisition of WMD.

Administratively, add the Moslem Brotherhood to the State Department’s terrorist list, and direct the FBI to insure that all domestic Islamic organizations [including mosques] with formal and informal ties to the Brotherhood be put on a terrorist alert list.

Lift all restrictions on arms to Egypt now being temporarily enforced and invite al Sisi to visit the U.S. before mid-summer 2015.

Persuade al Sisi to abandon his dicey Second Suez Canal Project. Instead round up  Gulf States, Israel’s Dead Sea Works, the World Bank [IBRD] and private European, American and Japanese capital to fund the Qattara Depression Project to provde Egypt with cheap hydropower and a new chemical industry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qattara_Depression_Project

Immediately and with considerable public fanfare accept Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s request for stationing additional American forces [he has called for 10,000] on the world largest air base at Al Udeid [Abu Nakhlah Airport], the U.S. Army base at Sayliyah and the U.S. base at Doha. Then, “encourage” the Gulf States [UAE, Dubai, Saudi Arabia] in concert with the United Arab Republic [Egypt] to ultimatum the Sheik to end all payments and subsidies to the Moslem Brotherhood, Hamas, al Nusr and ISIL and to both Arabic and English al Jazeera networks — “or else”. Compensate by helping the EU, and especially Germany, to negotiate greater LNG purchases from Qatar, if necessary using additional European storage facilities, to negate the Russian fossil fuels blackmail.

Immediately supply Ukraine with necessary heavy weapons and technical assistance to meet Pres. Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Reoccupy with significant ground forces and maximum publicity the old Wheelus U.S. Air Force base at Mitiga International Airport in eastern Libya. “Encourage” Gen. Khalifa Belqasim Haftar to negotiate merger of Libya with the United Arab Republic [Egypt] with the help of ENI [Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi ] whereby the huge oil revenues could be stolen and wasted more beneficially.

“Persuade” the UN to amalgamate the UNWRA [special Palestinian UN organization with its enormous budget] with the UN Refugee Organization with the appointment of an American administrator by withholding the major part of both their fundings from the American taxpayer [as was done earlier to reform UNESCO and ILO]. Insist on a purging UNWRA staff, ejecting all those who have worked for or been active in Hamas, a terrorist organization so designated by the US and its allies.

Europe

Put the ruffles and flourishes back into the Anglo-American alliance with its attendant links to Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the cornerstone of NATO and America’s world alliance strategies.

Deliver SAPiest heavy weapons and technical assistance to Ukraine in its fight against the invasion by Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s forces and block Moscow intervention in rewriting the structure of the Kyiv regime.

Establish a NATO base in Estonia.

Move into lock-step with the French in tamping down West and Central African violence [see below].

See that the NATO Rapid Deployment Force becomes a reality SAPiest with the training on a level with the U.S.’ and Britain’s Special Forces.

Prepare for the eventual collapse of the Euro.

East & South Asia

Quietly assign a senior U.S. diplomat to a special U.S.-Japan-Korea commission to sit sine die to help sort out issues between Tokyo and Seoul with special personal representatives of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Pres. Park Geun-hye. [Their grandfather and father, respectively, established postwar relations between the two countries.] This would aim to smooth over the most important obstacle in an American-led defensive alliance in Asia against North Korea and Communist China threats.

Reinvoke the strict sanctions earlier used to induce the North Koreans to come to heel, including third party sanctions against any financial institutions who deal with them, openly or clandestinely. They would be lifted when an international inspection team consisting of Americans, Japanese and the NATO allies certify its weapons of mass destruction programs have been ended.

Nudge ASEAN to resurrect the intent of Sec. of State John Foster Dulles’ 1950s Southeast Asia Treaty Organization with the headquarters again in Thailand, and hold out admission possibility to Vietnam [if it makes major “reforms”, that is de-Communize] in its feud with Communist China.

Push Taiwan rearmament and “invite” the Republican Party to cuddle up to the Democratic Progressive Party to pressure the Kuomintang back into a stronger line against amalgamation with the Mainland to maintain the oinly democratic society in Chines history.

Latin America

Initiate “tough love” with Mexico, e.g., introduce legislation to subsidize American investment in Mexican oil and gas in exchange for joint paramilitary border operations to halt illegal flow of immigrants to the U.S. with reinforced joint patrols on both sides of the border and a joint U.S.-Mexican undercover immigration control force on the Mexican-Guatemala border. Reach agreement on new “modalities” for protecting American citizens traveling, visiting and doing business in Mexico, matching those affording Mexican citizens in the U.S.

Swap new legal provisions for bond concessions to the Argentines for their cooperation in U.S. Latin American projects, especially cleaning up “ice” trafficking through Rosario and Iranian penetration of neighboring Paraguay, and a quit-claim to the Falkland Islands.

Introduce legislation to reinstitute the macro aspects of the Cuban embargo at the same time removing all restrictions on movement to and from Cuba by American and Cuban citizens.

Africa

Move U.S. Africom to a new joint U.S.-French-Portuguese-NATO base to be built rapidly with port and air facilities on São Tome e Principe in the Gulf of Guinea while pursuing a campaign of destruction with African and Eruopean allies against Boka Harum.

If this seems a formidable list, it is indeed. It it seems an impossible list, remember that a population less than half the present one in the American war mobilization between 1939 and 1944 doubled real wages in the U.S., produced 229,600 aircraft, added 5,000 ships to the existing merchant fleet, even though two-thirds of the economy was devoted directly to military equipment — and simultaneously won a war against two formidable enemies. It took leadership and political resolve. But just as the attack on Pearl Harbor alerted a recalcitrant nation, however far current leadership has drifted away the country should be reminded that 9/11 was proof that “the splendid isolation” of the U.S. from the rest of the world’s troubles during the 19th century is long past history.

But no amount of posturing over strategy and tactics will suffice if the leadership is irresolute and tries to wish away the dangers of that world jungle that has now physically encroached.

sws-09-07-14

The bear is loose


 

No, not the self-designated ursus in the White House, but the Kremlin’s ruler.

Having launched a program attempting to reinstate Moscow’s hegemony over the former Tsarist/Soviet Empire, Vladimir Putin now has been hoisted on his own petard.

When his naked aggression in Georgia in 2008 elicited no significant American-EU response, he followed it with his 2014 annexation of Crimea. When that produced little more than Western denunciation, he mobilized for further aggression, attempting to use the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine.

But he has now become a prisoner of his own rhetoric and aggression.

True, like the European dictators of right and left of the 1930s, he has gained wide popular support at home. But the chauvinistic reaction of the Russian public is a false flag. Shamed and humiliated by the implosion of the Soviet Union [“the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century”, Putin has said], a catastrophic declining population, a start-and-stop economy, and an enormous flight of capital, Putin has used aggressive nationalism to try to reinvigorate a failed regime with all too well remembered demagoguery.

But he is now riding a tiger. Earlier he seemed to have won in Ukraine with an administration succumbing to pressure to back away from the overwhelmingly popular demand to move closer to European Union’s prosperity. [Even relative objective polling of Russian-speakers in Ukraine show their choice is to move into the EU orbit rather than to tie their destinies to a failing Russia.] Then when a popular movement overthrew that Kyiv administration and installed a new pro-European Union executive by a democratically elected parliament, reinforced now with new elections, Putin grabbed Crimea and began to try to manipulate the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine for his program to reestablish empire.

The criminal stupidity – and how far the Russian finger was actually on the trigger would still have to be determined – of his own intelligence operatives and their following inside eastern Ukraine in bringing down an innocent passenger aircraft has jeopardized his strategy. The scandal has rocked even the most timid in the EU — perhaps even the Germans with their aggressive business interests in Russia. [Citizens of the Netherlands, so often “the swing vote” in EU decision-making, were the overwhelming majority of the victims in the downed aircraft.]

How much it was the pull of a strategy he dare not halt or the push of the reluctance of the U.S. and the EU to engage him may be irrelevant. He has now decided to go ahead full blast. However, his bluff becomes increasingly more dangerous for his hold on the Kremlin as well as for the Russians generally. His difficulties are suddenly greater because even a fragile Ukrainian regime is pressing relatively successfully on his Ukrainian puppets. So, by all documented Western accounts, his response is to pour new weaponry across the border into Ukraine, even supporting his devastated puppets with artillery fired from across the border in Russia.

It is rapidly becoming an undisguised war of Moscow against Kyiv.

That will force even the Obama Administration – under Congressional pressure – to extend more than token aid to the Ukrainians. It may even move the Europeans to bite the bullet and challenge Putin to cut off his gas sales which he needs as desperately if not more so than the EU customers.

With the Russian economy dropping into negative growth and a World Bank estimate that more than $100 billion in capital flight is projected for this year – it has already exceeded by a third last year’s total – the domestic economic scene is rapidly deteriorating. No one expects Putin’s coterie of fellow KGB siloviki to desert him. But he can only confiscate and throw into prison so many corrupt oligarchs with their bank accounts in The City of London. They have been critical support for his regime. And economic distress will eventually erode the fashionable current ultra-nationalism of the Moscow bureaucratic elite which runs the country.

So Putin ploughs ahead into trying not to dismember the post-Soviet Ukrainian state but to dominate it, if perhaps with the cooperation of a Washington Administration still trying to accommodate him. That’s based on the incredible parity with which Sec. of State John Kerry publicly continues to conceptualize relations with friend and foe [whether Ukraine and Russia or Israel and Hamas].

But with an increasingly lame duck Pres. Barack Obama, probably facing a two-house Republican Congress after November, that, too, is eroding.

It is significant that Hillary Clinton, in full candidate mode, after endorsing the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations as Obama’s secretary of state, now is publicizing her supposed differences with Obama when she was in office. She now takes a hawkish line, for example asking for U.S. arming of the Ukrainians. That, of course, is a part of her absolutely essential political gambit to distance herself from the increasingly unpopular Obama if she is, indeed, to make a successful run for the presidency. Her Sunday interview with Fareed Zakaria, who laid down a patter about the culpability of the Europeans – rather than the Obama presidency and Clinton’s failure of leadership while at the State Department, as the source of the deteriorating world scene is the foreign policy campaign line she will try to pursue. It could be no other given a poll that says 56% of the American people think Obama [and Clinton will get tagged in a campaign as his former Secretary of State] is not to be trusted on  foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the Obama-Kerry team continues to pursue its “lead from behind” catastrophic policies, pretending that there is no dire priority in the threat to U.S. national interest in the Russian aggression in the Ukraine [or for that matter, with international growing Islamic terrorism] That misapprehension of the current state of world affairs was illustrated with the incredible reporting of the Obama Administration’s current internal deliberations by The New York Times, the alter ego of the Administration. TNYT reports: “’The debate is over how much to help Ukraine without provoking Russia’”, said a senior official participating in the American discussions.”

Yes, indeed, without provoking Putin.

sws-07-27-14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A euro for your thoughts


by Sol Sanders

The European Union has entered a multifaceted and what promises to be an extended crisis.

It will reshape European politics and its outcome will have far-reaching effects on the world economy and international politics. Resolution of the crisis will come with even more difficulty since the Europeans for the first time since the end of World War II cannot count on a strong role of Washington as mediator and mentor.

First off, it is important to remember that despite all the propaganda to the contrary about newly arriving power centers – and the weaknesses exposed by its current troubles – Europe remains the force in world affairs unmatched except by the U.S. Its more than half a billion population with almost a quarter of the world’s total economic activity, enormous cultural diversity and heritage, with infinitely fecund research and technological innovation, and with a diminished but technologically powerful military, still dominates the world scene.

When we speak of “Europe”, of course, we are lumping in a set of complicated relationships as well as groupings. The geographic Europe is everything west of the Urals in mid-Russia, but for the moment Russia has excluded itself from the European family. That’s in part because the European Union now includes all the countries of Western Europe except Norway and Switzerland, and more recently central, northern and parts of eastern Europe for a total of 28 countries [with four more former Yugoslav states soon to join].

The EU institutions include the European Commission, the Brussels-based appointed executive, the Council of the European Union, its upper house of parliament composed of executives of member states, the directly elected European Parliament, the lower legislative house, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. At least theoretically, these countries now have a common market and are moving toward a standardized legal system. A separate treaty removes passport controls among all the countries [including Norway] with the exception of the U.K.

Eighteen of these countries – with the exclusion of the U.K., Denmark, Sweden and Poland – are part of the Erozone, using the Euro as their currency. [Seven additional states are obliged under their treaty obligations to join the common currency at a later date.] Since the international crisis of 2007-08, the European Central Bank has become a mini-International Monetary Fund. It has taken on a role of handing out emergency Euro loans to some of its members in deep trouble and is helping to work out individual national economic reform agendas. Through it purchase of national government bonds – Germany has blocked Eurobonds – it also indirectly helps direct the finances of the individual members.

Rather suddenly, a series of problems have grown acute, testing to their limits these and older European institutions in a way not seen since the onset of The Great Depression and the resultant collapse of much of Europe into authoritarianism. These developments put into question whether national interests can be subsumed in a superstate which has become the aim of many of the proponents of further European economic and political integration. Or whether, as an alternative, national and regional sentiments within some older nation-states will scotch this movement, or, indeed, reverse the whole effort.

The problems are, of course, interrelated and will require new efforts at international collaboration as well as mobilization of resources to move on to another stage whatever that may be. It’s no wonder then that any attempt to describe the ideological and more practical conflicts of the various constituents looks like a cat’s cradle of connections which alas! are not likely to fall apart as quickly as success at that old string game.

Putin’s challenge After more than a half century with sometimes bitter but relatively minor wars, Europe is faced with the continuing threat of naked aggression by a major power, Russia. An unstable Moscow regime glories in its inability to assimilate politically to the European consensus. But unlike its autarchic Soviet predecessor for which many of its leaders [and unhappily its citizens] have deep nostalgia, Putin’s Russia is not only directly intertwined with the world economy but virtually totally dependent on its sale of fossil fuels to the rest of Europe. [Recent feints to the East to China are just that with so-called trumpeted agreements falling far short of their ballyhoo.]

Using methods that could have been copied from the aggressive pre-World War II Fascist and Communist dictatorships, Moscow bluffs at least temporarily have overwhelmed European [and American] leadership. Neither Brussels, the national capitals, nor Washington have found an adequate response thereby inviting further aggression from Putin’s ad hoc agenda to restore what he claims is Moscow’s hegemony in Eastern and Central Europe if not a superpower. The fact that Ukraine has become the focal point for the conflict is symptomatic, for it is the irresistible attraction of participation in the European movement toward integration which draws Kviv away from its traditional domination by Moscow.

Democracy quotient The EU’s original deadly fault – top-down imposition of a new regulatory regime on self-governing societies – has finally climaxed in the candidacy of a new president of the Brussels bureaucracy. Tiny Luxembourg’s former prime minister, the lackluster politician Jean-Claude Juncker, has by happenstance become the nominee of the European parliament for the presidency of the EU on the claim that his party now has a majority in that assembly. That claim, reinforced by the lack of other major alternate contenders, in effect would establish parliamentary supremacy against what has been a tradition of hand-picked appointed Brussels bureaucracts..

But Juncker’s advocacy of more “federalism” – further political as well as economic integration – challenges London’s opposition to a stronger federal union at the same time its most ardent advocate is Germany. Furthermore, a clutch of anti-EU parties – some of them proto-fascist – now hold a fourth of the seats in the European parliament.

Britexit The sweep of anti-EU skeptics of the British delegation in a just completed Europe-wide election for the European parliament threatens to increase the growing minority in the U.K. who want to leave the EU. Conservative Prime Minister James Cameron, increasingly threatened by an anti-EU, anti-immigration, nationalist swell on the right, has promised a 2017 referendum on leaving EU membership. At the moment, British public opinion remains divided with apparently a small majority for remaining in the EU, but continuing as a limited partner. However beleaguered is its sterling currenmcy, most Brits count themselves lucky they stayed out of the Euro and thereby reinforcing the role of The City as perhaps the foremost international financial center.

Germany, a proponent of further integration, nevertheless makes preventing the departure of the British, its main ally in opposition to French and other EU partners’ statism, its highest if contradictory priority. Britain’s exit would, of course, have enormous repercussions inside the EU beyond its role as the main opponent of further bureaucratization, feeding skepticism which exists in Scandinavia, for example, and may even be growing in Germany where it has been a dogma of the post-World War II regime.

Economic malaise The European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi’s imposition of a negative interest rate – that is, the national central banks’ deposits into the Euro would be charged interest – is a groundbreaking effort to stimulate growth Theoretically, it would force the central banks to loose their lending policies. It is an attempt to counter the austerity policies throughout most of bankrupt southern Europe’s economies and the resultant high unemployment of low growth rates and increasing political instability.

Draghi’s policies are bitterly opposed by Germany with its paranoia about inflation from the deadly post-World War I expeience. Meanwhile, as by far the largest EU economy it continues to maintain a budget surplus through its “beggar your neighbor” trade policies. [Germany rolled up the highest trade surplus in the world at $270 billion in 2013 despite the fact that 60% of its exports went to other EU partners. [If Germans sanctimoniously blame their souther partners’ priofligacy for their situation, it was German-financed exports that in large part brought on the disaster.]

Germany’ situation is almost unique in the region. Its per capita income is 23% above the EU average with more than a fifth of the federation’s gross development product. That it is inimitable to Draghi’s grand strategy sets up an enormous conflict inside the EU at a moment of economic crisis.

Nor is it at all clear that Draghi’s effort will help given that the bulk of the Euro’s transactions still remain in national budgets, most of them already in deficit. That, of course, is the long term argument for further integration, welding differing financial strategies into a whole behind the Euro. But Berlin’s notorious historical incapacity to lead a democratic alliance contradicts Germany’s hegemonic economic role inside the EU, another reason why its effort to keep Britain inside the union is consered by many,m even in Germany, so critical.

This welter of crosscurrents takes place at a time of a growing perception – probably realistic — among European leaders that the U.S. is retreating from world politics and when the world engine of growth, the American economy, is sputtering.

Any of these various issues and contradictions could at any moment flare up into the kind of crisis that would feed popular sentiment and the 24-hour media, overshadowing the general confusion of these more complex economic and political issues. That question of unexpected events now dominates the European and ultimately, the world scene.

Sws-09-06-14

In a world he never intended [to make]


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The Obama Administration’s foreign policy begins to look like that tightly wound ball of crocheting thread which the kitten has been playing with for several hours and is now finally completely unraveling. How innocent the kitty is may be a question in the eye of the beholder. But the disarray is so vast as to be unfathomable:

 

Iran

 

The agreement not to reach agreement on a six-months pact for adjusting U.S. and Western interests with Iran, which Pres. Obama said only had a 50-50 chance, is falling apart even before it officially begins. Sources from inside the never very effective UN International Atomic Energy Commission say the agreement cannot be policed or enforced. The $10 billion in additional oil exports it permts the Mullahs in Iran will help bail them out of crisis economic situation while they continue to hurl threats at the world and call for an end to all sanctions. The Administration after giving Tehran relief by not instituting penalties against new violations of the existing sanctions regime, has now reserved itself. But Pres. Obama opposes bipartisan Senate and House members pushing legislation for new sanctions if and when the short-term agreement collapses. All sides admit/claim that Iran’s search for enriched uranium and nuclear weapons and a delivery system is going forward without hindrance during the truce period.

 

Israel

 

Ignoring the fact Secretary John  Kerry’s negotiations mandate is only dealing with one of the three Palestinian elements – the PLO on the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan – new obstacles have arisen. Kerry has thrown over bitterly and long time negotiated U.S.-Israeli guidelines for its security if a Palestinian state comes into being. So he has inadvertently manufactured a new crisis over Israel’s continued presence in the JordanValley. With growing threats from Iran-armed officially designated terrorists, Hezbollah in the Lebanon north and Hamas in the Gaza south, armed by Iran, no Israeli government is going to accede to any major concessions on their eastern flank with an always fragile Jordan now facing new difficulties with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

 

Syria

 

Washington has had to abandon the dribble of aid to the “moderate” opposition in Syria fighting for an overthrow of the Assad regime because of a takeover of the motley anti-Assad forces by jihadists. A new and even more violent jihad group has supplanted earlier groups linked to Al Qaeda. There are no prospects for the proposed U.S.-Soviet sponsored conference to end the civil war. Not only has the mechanics for disarming Assad’s chemical weapons collapsed, but the bloody dictator – perhaps now in the hands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – is currently carrying out a bloody air war against opposition elements in the second city of Aleppo. In part because of Obama’s maybe-in, maybe-out Syrian initiatives, the Assad government has a new lease on life, But this more and more desperate use of air power and heavy weaponry against poorly armed opposition forces and civilians not only continues the humanitarian crisis, but threatens to spread the war to its neighbors, including Israel.

 

Saudis and Gulf States

 

:The U.S. has lost all credibility with its longtime allies, the Saudis, and the Gulf sheikhdoms, because of its failure to formulate an effective Syrian policy and its hostility to the new military-sponsored government in Egypt [below]. Reports of Saudi overtures to both the Soviets and Iran are probably propaganda, but the Saudis – always pragmatic – are now apparently thinking of trying to compromise their differences with the Shia mullahs given the seemingly inevitable approach of a nuclear-capable Tehran. Intelligence cooperation between the Israelis and the Saudis, sharing their mutual hostility to Washington’s flirtation with Tehran, are probably exaggerated. All this is complicated for the vulnerability of the Saudis [and the rest of OPEC] to the shale revolution in the U.S. which is turning North America into major net exporter of fossil fuels and breaking the hold over the longer term of Mideast oil. China’s appetite for increasing imports of energy are also feeding into a deteriorating presence of the U.S. in the region, ironically despite the fact that the President is surrounded by “Arabists” long sympathetic to anti-Israel machinations of the radical Arabs.

 

Egypt

 

Washington’s alliance with Cairo [which along with the Egyptians’ peace treaty with the Israel and the alliance with Jerusalem] has been the cornerstone of U.S. middle east policy for almost four decades. It is now in tatters. The Obama Administration’s refusal to recognize the general popularity of the military coup which overthrew a growing oppression of the Islamicist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood has alienated the Egyptian military. And for the first time since former Pres. Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of the Mideast, Cairo is letting the Russian nose back under the tent. Moscow probably cannot fulfill its promised deliveries of arms to Cairo – nor are the Saudis and the Gulf sheikhdoms now footing Egypt’s deficits likely to permit it – but it has handed Russian President Vladimir Putin another bit of useful propaganda. The erosion of U.S. relations wit Egypt, by far the most populous Arab state and the longtime center of Sunni culture, is a major disaster for peace and stability in the area.

 

Russia.

 

With his tacit ally, Iran, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin has become the arbiter of the Syrian situation, continuing to support the Assad regime against the jihadist-dominated opposition which Washington now fears to support. By going to the aid of Pres.Viktor Yanukovych with emergency financing and discounted natural gas prices, Putin has forced the Ukrainian regime to curb its growing ties with the European Community. The hostility between the nationalist western Ukraine and the Russian-speaking eastern rust-belt threatens the unity of a very fragile new state. But Putin can, at least for the moment, quietly trumpet it as part of a growing successful plan to reassemble the old “Soviet republics” into a new Moscow sphere of influence and customs union resembling the old Communist state. Despite the refusal of the German, British and American heads of state to attend, Putin has lavished some $70 billion – and still counting – on the February Winter Olympics where he hopes to crown his and Russia’s return to superpower status. Obama’s concessions to Moscow on missile defense – embarrassing Polish and Czech allies – and other attempts at concessions for a modus operandi with Putin’s Moscow have fallen disastrously short. And while Putin’s ambitions are likely to be short-lived, he has the capacity to add additional muddle to U.S, policies in the Mideast, Europe and Asia.

 

China

 

While Beijing’s dependence on exports and massive overexpansion of its capital plant and infrastructure has had to be reigned in, U.S. economic policy still refuses to confront the enormous and increasing trade deficit with China which threatens the U.S. dollar. Luckily, Beijing does not have any place to go with its foreign exchange hoard – Sterling long ago was defrocked as a reserve currency, the Euro is in an attenuated crisis, and the Japanese refuse to permit the yen to become a reserve currency. But the Obama Administration refuses to indict the Chinese for currency manipulation which has gutted much of U.S. manufacturing and permitted the Chinese to have pretensions for their own internationalization of the yuan and to make significant if small overseas investments. Increasingly the U.S. is faced with a dilemma of either permitting semi-government Chinese companies to acquire American assets – with their record of mismanagement and corruption – or inhibit the play of market forces in the U.S. economy. The “pivot” to East Asia so portentously announced by former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton – despite all denials an effort to meet an increasing aggressive “rising” China – is being inhibited by the continuing pull of the Mideast on military resources and a lack of clarity on the U.S. strategy in Asia. In riposte, the Chinese are proceeding with more and more territorial claims against their neighbors in the East and SouthChinaSeas further incurring demands on American military capacity.

 

Japan

 

The Obama Administration has failed to enthusiastically grasp the popularity and strategic clarity of the Abe Administration. In the case of the contested Senkakus Islands, it has taken an internally contradictory stand: it recognizes Japanese longtime occupation, it has repeatedly said the little, uninhabited rocky outcroppings which may or may not sit above fossil fuel deposits, are covered by the U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. But the masters of ambiguity at Foggy Bottom maintain Washington does not take sides in the dispute and does not recognize Japanese sovereignty. There must be some limit even to diplomatic “modalities”! Having initiated the Trans Pacific Partnership, an initiative to create a vast new common market – excluding China but including Japan – the Obama Administration has been allowed the project to dawdle. With Canada and Mexico having joined in, the issues are enormous for all the partners, especially for traditionally protectionist Japan with Abe staking his political life on their negotiating success. Yet it has not engaged the President in more than an occasional passing reference. And, probably correctly, it is no secret that Abe has maintained a stiff upper lip in the face of relatively little attention from his ally, and, in fact, political embarrassment with a growing suspicion in Tokyo’s elite circles that the President’s coterie is incompetent.

 

Korea

 

Seoul, succumbing to a campaign of seduction by Beijing, has steeped itself in the old arguments of the bitter half century of Japanese Occupation. Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel, on his recent tour, shocked Tokyo and discomfited Seoul when he indicated he would be trying to mediate the growing Tokyo-Beijing tension, but then publicly refused to play conciliator to the two most important bilateral allies in the region, Japan and Korea. The Obama Administration seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that an accomodation between Japan and South Korea is the sine qua non of any multinational alliance in Northeast and Southeast Asia to meet the growing aggressive feints of the Chinese regime.

 

Meanwhile, coordination in a joint effort to anticipate the next unpredictable events in North Korea is less than adequate among the three allies, the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Washington’s continued reliance on Chinese intervention seems to be the weakest reed with the recent purges in Pyongyang, apparently, in part aimed at elements seeking to take Chinese advice and move toward liberalization of the economy. The current South Korean administration, with few illusions about North Vietnam, is nevertheless not in synchronization with Washington. Even military strategy, with its ultimate goal the further reduction in American forces but maintaining the nuclear shield is not being given its due priority. The conundrum remains of a North Korea, with the example of Qadaffi’s Libya before them and its profitable technical collaboration with other rogue states such as Iran, which is most unlikely ultimately to abandon its nuclear weapons. The Allies’ alternative is to seek regime change. But fear of the chaos of a post-Kim North Korea is preventing the formulation of alternative strategies to Pyongyang’s continued blackmail for additional aid to keep a starving if militarily advanced economy from collapsing.

 

India

 

Just as its predecessor Republican administrations, the Obama team has had illusions about the prospects of an alliance with New Delhi. India’s dreams of hegemony in the Indian Ocean, its largely continued reliance on Russian weapons, and the predisposition of its professional foreign service corps for a close relationship with Moscow, always defeat any American effort at closer relations. With the Indian economy still hidebound by its inheritance from its socialist and colonial past, there are dwindling prospects of extensive foreign investment and transfer of technology to accomplish the kind of economic superapid progress China has made in the past two decades.

 

The blowup over the arrest and indictment of a member of the Indian New York City consulate-general for alleged maltreatment of an employee seems a legitimate action of the American criminal justice system. But it does seem that the State Dept. with its inordinate pride in its diplomatic traditions might have handled the problem more discreetly. The degree to which the episode has been exaggerated and exploited in New Delhi suggests the underlying faultlines which continue to divide the U.S.-India relationship. The Obama Administration appears to have only deepened them.

 

It was, of course, unavoidable that the immense and complicated structure created since 1948 with the central theme its effort to fend off Communist aggression, would have had to be modified and reorganized after the post-1990 implosion of the Soviet Union. But afterfive years of the Obama Administration, it is caught in the toils of its leftwing participants’ fight against the largely post-World War II U.S. foreign policy. It has only contributed to further confusion. It remains to be seen if in three years, another administration in Washington, whether Republican or Democratic can rescue the still necessary role of American leadership in the world.

 

sws-12-21-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beyond Obamcare. lies the world waiting …


 

With the U.S. transfixed by the Obama Administration’s massively bungled attempt to nationalize one sixth of the economy, the health welfare system, the rest of the world watches the slow motion unfolding of another debacle: the loss of post-World War II American leadership of the worldwide alliance for peace and stability.

Pro forma protests over snooping by the U.S. National Security Administration European and Latin American leaders are for popular consumption. Spying, and unfortunately counter-espionage which the Snowden revelations appear to be, have been and will continue to be a generally unspoken part of international relations. In fact, one can imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel berating her own intelligence organizations for superior U.S. technology’s ability to listen to her limousine cell phone. The Saudis’ “renunciation” of a UN Security Council seat is no more than a media event. With their new vulnerability brought on by the Shale Revolution in the U.S., Riyadh’s antediluvian princes in their colorful robes have no place to go.

But these are tokens, taglines to a much larger eroding international picture.

Of course, the current disarray is not sudden, nor only the product of the Obama Administration. But Obama’s missteps have exaggerated growing difficulties for international governance “inevitably” arising from changes in the international balance of power over a half century since the Allied victory in World War II. And as always, of course, there is the unanticipated and the unintended consequences of well intended strategies and policies.

America’s junior partners, the European democracies, after five decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, are facing domestic breakdown increasingly limiting their contribution to the world system. Social democratic remedies at the workplace have failed everywhere. A demographic catastrophe not only threatens their economies, but growing unassimilated immigrants from alien societies threaten to overwhelm their post-Christian cultures. A pampered public will not accept belt-tightening much less painful surgical elimination of waste and corruption. Greece, ancient home of democracy, is the apotheosis of the problem, a ticking timebomb on the doorstep of the rest of Europe.

Furthermore, the attempt to create an integrated European economy – let along a new international polity which could speak with one voice on international affairs – is in jeopardy and probably failing. British participation, essential to the project, is now more remote than ever given the failures of the continental Euro and resurgent English as well as Scot and Irish nationalism.

European integration had been seen as the ultimate panacea. It is now clear that is not the case, nor, indeed, is it apparent it can even be effected. In Berlin Das Mädchen,, representing the disproportionately most powerful of the member nation states, talks out of both sides of her mouth. She advocates a new European superstate but zealously guards Germany’s narrowest national interest as demanded by her role as an elected leader still obligated to put together an unstable governing coalition.

The Obama Administration’s answer to this dilemma is not that different from the waning years of the Bush Administration. Pres. George W. Bush’s earlier steadfast resolve gave way to Condoleezza Rice’s “clerk” management. In any case, Washington’s stance toward Europe in part always has been a myth about who led whom and how during the post-World War II recovery. Alas! the charismatic and determined [if occasionally misguided] leadership of Churchill, Adenauer, DeGaulle, and de Gaspari, and their technocratic supporters, has been replaced by feckless politicians. The 80s decade-long common-sense reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was only brief relief from the general intellectual decline.

The American standard around which the Europeans rallied, even when they were in denial or hypercritical, has been replaced by a bogus concept of “leading from behind” That kind of Machiavellian manipulation of others’ power would under the best of circumstances have been exquisitely difficult. But in the hands of the Obama amateurs, it descends into virtual chaos. Witness the Libyan intervention as its classic example. The Obama Administration and European friends failed to provide a model for a small, fragile but oil-rich Arab state. And the U.S. paid a terrible price with the murder of an ambassador and a major psycho-political blow to American prestige which will dog U.S. foreign – and domestic — politics for decades.

The naïve “transformation” which an inexperienced but arrogant elitist presidential mafia thought they could foist at home on a traditional society but one in revolutionary technological transition has been matched with aberrant theory abroad. For whatever reason, the idea that the Obama Administration could make a pact with a nonexistent, romantic version of Islam – a political religious belief still mired alternatively in pre-modern torpor and nihilistic violence — has shredded what was left of decades of Middle East strategy.

There Washington now finds itself on the wrong side of virtually every issue. By rote it nudges Israeli-Arab “negotiations”, which long ago foundered on Palestinian corruption and incompetence. Washington mistakenly believed it were the central issue, not the region’s poverty, illiteracy, tribal warfare and demagoguery. Obama’s refusal to personally intervene for a status of forces agreement to permit a continued military presence in Iraq squandered 4,000 spent American lives. It removed all possibility Washington could have a major impact on a recreated but highly volatile Baghdad and its enormous oil resources. Obama then launched into an effort to dethrone the barbarous al Assad Syrian regime, backed away, and now finds U.S. Syrian strategy at the mercy of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, himself increasingly turning to despotism and foreign adventure to hang on to his throne.

The Obama Administration continuously has importuned Iran, oblivious to that regime’s single-minded goal of making itself the hegemonic power and arbiter of the region’s vast fossil fuel resources. In the process, the White House ignores the interests of America’s longtime allies in the Gulf including, until now, the world’s marginal oil producer, Saudi Arabia. The Obama Administration helped install and got into bed with the Moslem Brotherhood in Cairo, the fountainhead of modern Islamic terrorism, apparently believing it some sort of Islamic equivalent of European Christian democracy. When that regime collapsed from ineptitude and domestic violence, Washington refused to accommodate to a popular military takeover endorsed by its other regional allies. Pres. Obama’s “best friend”, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has turned out to be a very bad regional weathervane. Even worse, Erdoğan duplicity [confusion?] in dealings with Palestinian Islamicists, Israel, the Brotherhood, the jihadists in the Syrian opposition, aided by an intelligence chief who favors Iran’s Shia fanatics, is adding to the regional chaos. Worst of all, Erdoğan with whom Obama fellow-traveled, endangers what’s left of NATO by playing with Chinese weapons possibilities.

The continued U.S. entanglement in the Mideast, always predictable, has put into question Washington’s announced “pivot” of resources to the growing Chinese Communist aggressive feints toward East and South Asia neighbors and Washington’s friends. With that strange aloofness which characterizes this Administration’s treatment of allies, it has failed to respond enthusiastically to the first strong government in two decades in the U.S.’ keystone Asia ally, Japan. [Luckily reflex collaboration between the U.S. military and its Asian allies, hangover from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, has reinforced strategy in the absence of White House leadership.]

Perhaps the most important politico-economic Asia-Pacific instrument in Washington’s hands, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to create a common market to meet the competition of China’s state capitalism and subsidized trading, is hanging. The concern is that the Obama Administration’s next three lame-duck years, especially after the drubbing it seems now likely to take in next year’s elections, will not pursue it forcefully. In the balance is a revolutionary overhaul of a quarter of the world’s commerce and what may be the reemergence of a more vital Japanese economy.

Alternatively, the Obama Administration’s increasing reliance on the United Nations burdens that organization with more responsibility than its corrupt and incompetent secretariat can bear. Idealistic multilateralism is an excuse for lack of U.S. policy and inaction on a huge variety of fronts. Washington has, for example, increasingly abandoned leadership of the UN specialized agencies – whether the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, ignorant of the 17-year Tehran march toward nuclear weapons, or the growing specter of out of control biological breakthroughs which have enormous potential for solving life problems, or creating new diabolical weapons of destruction.

The shock and geopolitical lesson of 9/11 has been left behind somewhere in the bowels of the State Department and the Obama Administration’s National Security Council. Lost is recognition that the American homeland was no longer – if it had ever been in the world of intercontinental missiles – immune to the kind of destruction that our allies and enemies in Europe and Asia suffered in World War II.

With the strong prospect that the U.S. domestic scene will continue an impasse, as Obamacare has proved, America’s role abroad will be in abeyance. The world will just have to get along with the beached whale of a U.S — at least for a while.

sws-10-27-13

Around the world in 48 days*


* For more substantive reporting on the trip, read the datelined pieces displayed on https://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

It was intended as my last hurrah!

For after all, at 86, my friends and my life companion, initially, thought it was not only foolhardy but dangerous. And there was the bionic argument – a pacemaker, unstabilized glaucoma beginning to take my sight, and still adjusting to hearing aids.

Still, the urge to try my hand at my old profession of reporting on the scene and acquiring new prejudices in the process was still too strong to resist. And so, off I went, from Norfolk to Norfolk [and remember we pronounce it naw-fawk down heayah] via Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bombay, Jerusalem, Vienna; Zurich, Washington.

The first problem, of course, was setting up the itinerary. I had only two months before I had to meet a contractual deadline for a piece of writing. So that gave me only six weeks after the necessary pause for the long yearend holidays when Japan, first stop on my round-the-world, would again open up. It immediately became apparent I would have to leave out my old and beloved stamping ground of Southeast Asia – Hanoi [where I spent a year during “the French war”] to Dahha [where I sat in on the creation of what Henry Kissinger said would be the basketcase at Bangladesh’s emergence in 1971]. There were the China and India points I had to cover.

Then I remembered, too, that once passed the breakeven point from North America at Bangkok, a round-the-world ticket was cheaper than a roundtrip. So I would have to include some points beyond Asia which contributed to my research.

The task of putting together nine countries and ten stops with some call center of one of the airlines, maybe in India or the Philippines, was daunting. I called the son of an old friend – alas! long since deceased – who had for a couple of decades been the forward man for an international hotel chain, opening one new hostelry after another. I said I knew travel agents didn’t exist any more, or at least not the old-fashioned ones, so what should I do. He said, to the contrary, and gave me the name of two agencies in New York City.

And, thereby, hangs a tale and a hypothesis on the state of analyses today: when in the course of negotiations, I remarked to the agent that it didn’t make any difference whether I was stopping in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since it was the same airport, she expressed surprise. Working backwards, I understood. Outsourcing of the itinerary, hotels and visas was the new modus operandi for a successful travel agent. No need to have that nasty old data stored in one’s head if, as a travel agent, you could punch a key for an outside data bank and get it.

But what about judgements made on subconscious data burrowed in the brain? Is that what might be happening to our thought processes with the digital revolution?

Since I had no Passepartout to help me on my way, every decision became onerous and difficult. What to take? Little shoes [that fit] and big shoes [for swollen feet], coldweather clothes for north Asia, tropical raiment for India, more formal wear for the critical Swiss, omiyagi [souvenirs] for the Japanese and other Asians, a birthday present for a friend reaching 90 in Austria – and the medicines, for the eyes, for travel’s malaise, for other emergencies. And how to keep it all manageable size for the long stretches of walking in the cavernous new airports in north Asia.

Japan

Norfolk depart, Dulles transfer without a hitch. But then arriving early over Tokyo, my pilot suddenly faced a sudden “snowstorm” – or so Tokyoites viewed three or four inches. We circled for hours, had to set down in Nagoya for fuel, then back over Tokyo to finally arrive on the ground eight hours late. Tokyo’s Narita airport, always a problem with its distance from downtown Tokyo, was closed down: no one could even tell you when the road into Tokyo would be open Normal Japanese discipline collapsed; finally earthquake storage was opened and air mattresses, bottled water, and riceballs, were passed out to the thousands who bundled down to wait for clearance to move out. Finally, next morning – after four hours on the highway – I arrived in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, 18 hours behind schedule, broken appointments for dinner, and exhausted from a night dozing in a very hard chair.

China

A busy schedule in Tokyo for five days and then to Beijing: again setting something of a record by arriving on the worst pollution day in the Chinese capital’s history which meant you couldn’t see across the street. My chief contact, a wheeler-dealer of the new China scene had literally disappeared. Virtually every other spokesman person allocated by the regime to speak to foreigners was off on junkets in the West [about the only reward, I take it, for mouthing the regime’s line to foreigners]. Only the sushi [I checked; imported fish from New Zealand] in the Japanese-run hotel relieved the monotony. An extremely interesting and informative interview at Peking University [yes, they still call it and spell it that way because of its pre-Communist reputation] although a bright, young student –translator of the English-speaking professor and politician had to be squelched to get y questions answered. [I note in passing that female liberation is not helping what was once the highly touted reputation of Chinese women for modesty and quiet diplomacy.] The fantastic forest of new skyscrapers were a testimony to the material progress in the post-Deng Hsiaoping state-capitalist society, but gone is the old charm of Beijing and its moon-doored old tenements.

Taiwan

A lunatic taxi driver took me in tow in Taipei and we swept through the traffic into the city with every expectation that life and limb were in jeopardy. Still he had been given a number and a fixed rate by the starter, a welcome respite from the old days of hard and lengthy bargaining for a just price. The lauded Government Information Agency which I remember from the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1958 headed by that quintessential Shanghai wheelerdealer Jimmy Wei. [Later he was to play an important role in the movement away from martial law and toward Taiwan democracy, the first in China’s lomg history, under his “capo” Chaing Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proof again of Jeane Kirpatrick’s thesis that there is hope for authoritarian governments but never for a Communist regime but implosion and the desert it leaves behind.]

But a Ministry of Foreign Affairs minder – after some considerable browbeating on my part of the Washington Taiwan reps – and with the help of old friend Parris Chiang, I had a full schedule of official and unofficial appointments. The news was not good. President Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to pump up Taiwan’s economy with extensive agreements on trade and exchanges with the Mainland is eroding Taiwan’s de facto independence. Pro-Mainland elements have taken over some of the media. A well-publicized intelligence figure tried to persuade me that the new Mainland No. 1 Xi Jinping was charismatic, knowledgeable about Taiwan because of his long Communist Party apprenticeship in Fukien province facing Taiwan, and that he would successfully use “soft power” to propel China’s growing role in world affairs. He argued that Xi might even be more acquainted with the West than the old Maximum Leader Deng Hsiao-ping because of his frequent overseas travel. That seemed unlikely to me; after all, Deng was one of the indentured workers taken from China to France during World War I who fell in with the Communist organizers. It was as foolish his claim that Xi was infatuated with Western movies. [They haven’t trotted that one out since the Soviets used it to prove that Andropov, the old NKV/KGB warhose was “pro-American” because he liked Westerns.] This continued “intellectual” infiltration, tied to such growing economic ties as investment by Mainland government banks, the last stronghold of Kuomintang statist economic policies, is towing Taiwan across the Strait just as its strategic position again assumes new importance for the U.S. and Japan in the face of growing Beijing naval expansion efforts in its huge military buildup.

Hong Kong

The old traditions of the Connaught Hotel, when it was a resting place for my friends coming in from “up-country”, are being maintained in the Mandarin Oriental – even if its vaunted position on Victoria Harbor has been eroded by blocs and blocs of newly filled in building sites between it and the water. The long walk to the Old Star Ferry, much diminished by Hong Kong’s neat underground railway, was almost a walk to the Kowloon side. Despite CNN International’s opening morning vista, the old harbor view is gone.

So are the old rocking chairs at the Peninsular Hotel, although the Rolls Royces used to ferry guests back and forth to the airport, are still lined up outside. The price of a cup of not too good coffee was ferocious when I drifted in after a session with my old friends, the Markbrieters at the offices of their still monumental The Arts of Asia. I guess Hong Kong is still a shoppers’ paradise – I wasn’t buying – but the smog was drifting down from China, and it is clear that – as a Special Administrative Zone official admitted at a public meeting – the old carefully controlled immigration of labor from China has gone awry. Government land sales, the other leg of Hong Kong’s psot World War II prosperity, gained when Mao’s China cut itself off from the world, is still going however. And for the moment at least, it looks like Hong Kong is maintaining its role as an economic powerhouse, substituting financial and other services for the cheap-labor manufacturing flown off to neighboring South China. [It has a convertible currency to the U.S. dollar it is tied to and acts increasingly as a middleman for Mainland nonconvertible yuan, and Singapore;s attempt to supersede it has long since been forgotten.] But the political situation is deteriorating – after two Communist hacks in the executive – and I was not surprised when a taxidriver in my four [repeat] four trips to Kowloon to pick up an Indian visa, told me he yearned for the old British days and could not “understand” why people wanted to do away with London’s colonial rule.

The Indian visa? Thereby hangs a tale: I had forgotten that even for a short stay, New Delhi requires a visa. [Even Beijing now gives a 72-hour sight visa for transients.] In the name of efficiency [it appears New Zealand was the pacemaker, the Indians have outsourced their visa-clearing to a worldwide travel agent. [Thereby must hang another tale given the incredible corruption which has hit the Singh-Gandhi government.] The forms are stultifying, pages and pages, including such questions as the names of other countries you have visited in the last few years and a host of other “security” questions. I called a friend in New Delhi who knows where and how to press buttons, and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, I got a telephone call at my hotel announcing I could get my visa if I came Monday morning at 9am. In fact it took two more trips – including a stumble and fall in front of a hotel, of course the Shangri-la – where else with such an accident occur! The denouement of this little adventure was that at the last moment I was asked to present a hard copy of my original application file originally on the web. When I protested that would mean another trip back to my hotel in Central, the waspish lady in the said, “You can get a copy downstairs.” I said, “Where?”. “”Downstairs”. “What’s the name of the place” for the ground floor of the building was the usual busy Hong Kong chaos. “Downstairs. You will see it”. Down I went, and after some searching I found a smiling, friendly Chinese man sitting in a six-by-six glass cage with a small sign on his window announcing he could print Indian visa forms. I gave him the number – the second one, by the way – of my visa application, and abracadabra he pulled downmy whole file, printed out the original application, and gave me a receipt for a few HK dollars. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Security? He and I joked: I volunteered that Indian visas were given when the total amount of the paper, weighing what he had printed out in my palm, reached a certain point. He laughingly agreed. I wonder if they found anything interesting in my file in Beijing?

New Delhi

The new [to me] Delhi airport is cavernous and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying a briefcase increasingly full of accumulated papers. The driver who was to have picked me up and I did not make contact and I had one of those typical bumpy, fast and a little frightening rides to the my old standby, The Imperial Hotel. [I had been warned there were better and cheaper places to stay but nostalgia is nostalgia. I still remember the “bearer” so many decades ago when we complained of the mice running in the old dinning room, saying “Sahib: they are cogile {small} and don’t eat much”.] But welcome to India: the shower didn’t have hot water until I remonstrated, the business center was in another building to which I had to lug my netbook and all its cables since there was no IT cable connection in the room, etc., etc. But the old colonial building was as charming as ever and while there must be people waiting for their food since the 19th century when the hotel was opened under the Viceroy’s wife auspices, it was good when it came.

Old friends are gone but the son of one of them set up a program for me and with my own additions, I did get a feel for the current political climate. It is one of those periods of growing Indian somnombulance after a period of relatively high growth rate, with the danger that the economy is drifting back into “the Hindu rate of growth” which dogged it for some some 30 years when the sainted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, always haunted by his student British socialist days, adopted Soviet-style planning.

And the almost inevitable arrived: at a dinner at my old friend’s widow the last night in town, I gorged on the exotic spicey Indian foods and came away with the oldtimey “Delhi-Belly}, to cripple me for another week. Under instruction, I took a taxi to the new satellite town where a series of the international glass boxes now houses a number of multinational companies, weaning away business from Bombay [Mumbai in the new attribution], so long the commercial capital of the country taking over from the earlier but moribund Calcutta. But I suspecdt they are something of a Potemkin village.

Bombay

Driving in – again a hassle at the much too small airport but at least assigned a taxi with a number and a fixed amount for the fare – it seemed to me that Bombay has become a little too much like Calcutta. My old friends, the remnant of a group who fought for market economics and representative government after their struggle for independence from Britain, confirmed. “We have deteriorated”, a knowledgeable observer said, matter of fatallism and with a touch of remorse.

But the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, now completely restored after the 2008 Bombay Massacre, is as much of a leading world hostelry as ever. I was amused that I was given a “body person”, a member of the staff who was assigned to meet my every want. I was reminded of the “batman” assigned to British army officers during my World War II attachment to the 8th Army in Italy. These were orderlies assigned to typically upper class officers who took care of their bodily comforts, to the extent that was possible, even in combat. My young man was a Maratta, of course, a native of the state into which the Old Bombay Presidency was relegated after the series of language agitations in the mid-1950s which redrew the boundaries of the old British Indian provinces, and eclipsed the domination of the minority Gujarati elite in the old Bombay , alas! probably contributing to the deterioration of governance.

Jerusalem

I have always thought that much of the miracle of the spectacular rise of the new Jewish state had to do with its drawing on people, although all Jews, from cultures all over the world. This visit reconfirmed to me that despite the relatively smaller intake of new immigrants, this was still the case. My taxi driver – I took a trip through a good part of the northern part of the country to visit old friends near Haifa along a new impr4essive toll road which also demonstrated how close Israel inside the old green line is to the so-called Occupied Territories. My driver was an Azeri Jewish immigrant, fluent he said in his own Azeri, of course, but also in associated Turkish and learning Arabic. He was something of a character, telling me in detail his recent breakup with his “Russian” girlfriend. When I purchased a piece of jewelry in my hotel, I learned the chain of shops had been initiated by a German Jewish refugee who had fled Hitler to Brazil where he had begun to trade in jewels, then immigrated to Israel where he founded his store. My salesperson was a lady who called in Russian to a taxidriver to bring an article from another store. Her replacement at the desk was a young and very pretty Turkish Jewish girl who told me she had followed her brother in making “alliyah” [ascending] to Israel only a year earlier, sent by her Turkish Jewish parents who said there was no longer a future for Jews in that country. The manager of the store was Romania-born. I cannot but believe all these people bring their own special gifts to a marvellously varied society, despite its singular dedication to being “Jewish”. Nor would I leave out a lunch site – the hotel is kosher and thus my lunch on the Sabbath was going to be poor so they sent me to “Notre Dame”, a Vatican-owned institute for religious study — which also operated a hotel and a very good dinning room in its building, not that far from the heights overlooking the Old City and The Western Wall [the principal remnant of the former Hebrew Second temple].

Vienna

I am not a particular fan of the Austrians. I spent a part of the summer of 1945, after the European victory, in the southeast of the country, among the marvellous lakes which were the summer holiday site for many Viennese. But then, as on more recent trips, I have rarely met an Austrian of my generation who wasn’t a Nazi, and then a very enthusiastic one. It is no accident, perhaps as the Communists would say, that Hitler, himself were Austrian.

By the quirk of fate and history – and the oncoming Cold War – the Austrians manage to convinvce the world they were victims of the Nazis, and profited in the postwar period in no small way from that.

But seeing an old friend, whose upcoming 90th birthday celebration I would not be able to attend, brought me to Baden, the summer home of the old Hapsburg royalty where she had snug little apartment. It is within commuting distance of Vienna and she gave me the grand tour, wheeling around the Austrian capital in her Cadillac like a spry youngster. We had lovely meal atop a skyscraper where we got a view of the Vienna skyline, actually not that dramatic a scene compared to other world large cities. The food was splendid as it always tends to be there – one of their characteristics, incidentally, the Austrians do not share with the Germans whose cuisine leaves much to be desired in the vast panoply of European food.

Zurich

I am not a fan of the guttural grunts of the German language, which because my East European Jewish immigrant parents spoke Yiddish at home when I was child growing up, I have some understanding. But the growling of Switzerdeutsch is even more unpleasant. That’s the patois spoken in the German-speaking cantons of the Confoederatio Helvetica, that unique little country sitting on iots high mountains in the middle of Europe.

I suppose the first and last subject which hits the foreign visitor is the incredibly high prices the Swiss have managed to move their economy into. They prosper – so much so that the German immigrant population has doubled in the past few years. But even the young women at my small [and by Zurich standards, modestly priced] hotel told me they shopped in neighboring Germany to save money.

The second most striking thing was to see how the Swiss, supposedly so atunned to the world’s economy and any of its problems, were blasé about what I see as the deepening crisis of the Euro economy which surrounds them and on which they hamg like a leach. The business and economics editor of one of the most prestigious papers told me, confidently, that somehow the Europeans would blunder through their current and continuing crisis. I wonder. It disturbs me to see that Spain now looks far too much like the country that [eventually] moved the world into World War II, with its current one-third of its workforce out of work and no hope of an early recovery.

Dulles

It would be the height of understatement to say that by my final touchdown in this seven-weeks trip at the Dulles Hilton, I was dragging. But after a fitful night’s sleep [which time zone was I in anyway?]. I did manage to get into Washington for a morning meeting and a luncheon with an old friend at Dupont Circle.

It could only happen to me: when the lunch was over, I hailed a passing cab for the trip back to my hotel and to take the afternoon plane for Norfolk, the last air leg of my journey. I asked the driver, obviously a recent arrival but one who spoke English without an accent [Indian?], if he knew where the Dulles Hilton was, and when he said yes, we sped away. Sped? Some three hours later, we were still lost and I missed my 5:30pm flight to Norfolk, keeping a friend waiting there for six or seven hours until I managed to get on a late evening flight later, running late of course. Thus a long and extremely demanding trip ended in a minor muckup. But, given all the problems that can befall a traveller in 2013, I suppose I came away lucky.

It took a month of doing little more than eating and sleeping to recuperate.

sws-04-28-13

Around the world in 48 days*

* For mor e substantive reporting on the trip, read the datelined pieces displayed on https://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

It was intended as my last hurrah!

For after all, at 86, my friends and my life companion, initially, thought it was not only foolhardy but dangerous. And there was the bionic argument – a pacemaker, unstabilized glaucoma beginning to take my sight, and still adjusting hearing aids.

Still, the urge to try my hand at my old profession of reporting on the scene and acquiring new prejudices in the process was still too strong to resist. And so, off I went, from Norfolk to Norfolk [and remember we pronounce it naw-fawk down heayah] via Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bombay, Jerusalem, Vienna; Zurich, Washington.

The first problem, of course, was setting up the itinerary. I had only two months before I had to meet a contractual deadline for a piece of writing. So that gave me only six weeks after the necessary pause for the long yearend holidays when Japan, first stop on my round-the-world, would again open up. It immediately became apparent I would have to leave out my old and beloved stamping ground of Southeast Asia – Hanoi [where I spent a year during “the French war”] to Dakha [where I sat in on the creation of what Henry Kissinger said would be the basketcase at Bangladesh’s emergence in 1971. There were the China and India points I had to cover.

Then I remembered, too, that once passed the breakeven point from North America at Bangkok, a round-the-world ticket was cheaper than a roundtrip. So I would have to include some points beyond Asia which contributed to my research.

The task of putting together nine countries and ten stops with some call center of one of the airlines, maybe in India or the Philippines, was daunting. I called the son of an old friend – alas! long since deceased – who had for a couple of decades been the forward man for an international hotel chain, opening one new hostelry after another. I said I knew travel agents didn’t exist any more, or at least not the old-fashioned ones, so what should I do. He said, to the contrary, and gave me the name of two agencies in New York City.

And, thereby, hangs a tale and a hypothesis on the state of analyses today: when in the course of negotiations, I remarked to the agent that it didn’t make any difference whether I was stopping in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since it was the same airport, she expressed surprise. Working backwards, I understood Outsourcing of the itinerary, hotels and visas was the new modus operandi for a successful travel agent. No need to have that nasty old data stored in one’s head if, as a travel agent, you could punch a key for an outside data bank and get it.

But what about judgements made on subconscious data burrowed in the brain? Is that what might be happening to our thought processes with the digital revolution?

Since I had no Passepartout to help me on my way, every decision became onerous and difficult. What to take? Little shoes [that fit] and big shoes [for swollen feet], coldweather clothes for north Asia, tropical raiment for India, more formal wear for the critical Swiss, omiyagi [souivenirs] for the Japanese and other Asians, a birthday present for a friend reaching 90 in Austria – and the medicines, for the eyes, for travel’s malaise, for other emergencies. And how to keep it all manageable size for the long stretches in the cavernous new airports in north Asia.

Japan

Norfolk depart, Dulles transfer without a hitch. But then arriving early over Tokyo, my pilot suddenly faced a sudden “snowstorm” – or so Tokyoites viewed three or four inches. We circled for hours, had to set down in Nagoya for fuelm then back over Tokyo to finally arrive on the ground eight hours late. Tokyo’s Narita airport, always a problem with its distance from downtown Tokyo, was closed down: no one could even tell you when the road into Tokyo would open Normal Japanese discipline collapsed; finally earthquake storage was opened and air mattresses, bottled water, and riceballs, were passed out to the thousands who bundled down to wait for clearance to move out. Finally, next morning – after four hours on the highway – I arrived in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, 18 hours behind schedule, broken appointments for dinner, and exhausted from a night dozing in a very hard chair.

A busy schedule in Tokyo for five days and then to Beijing: again setting something of a record by arriving on the worst pollution day in the Chinese capital’s history which meant you couldn’t see across the street. My chief contact, a wheeler-dealer of the new China scene had literally disappeared. Virtually every other spokesman person allocated by the regime to speak to foreigners was off on junkets in the West [about the only reward, I take it, for mouthing the regime’s line to foreigners]. Only the sushi [I checked; imported fish from New Zealand] in the Japanese-run hotel relieved the monotony. An extremely interesting and informative interview at Peking University [yes, they still call it that because of its pre-Communist reputation] although a bright, young student –translator of the English-speaking professor and politician had to be squelched to get y questions answered. [I note in passing that female liberation is not helping what was once the highly touted reputation of Chinese women for modesty and quiet diplomacy.] The fantastic forest of new skyscrapers were a testimony to the material progress in the post-Deng Hsiaoping state capitalist society, but gone is the old charm of Beijing and its moon-doored old tenements.

Taiwan

A lunatic taxi driver took me in tow in Taipei and we swept through the traffic into the city with every expectation that life and limb were in jeopardy. Still he had been given a number and a fixed rate by the starter, a welcome respite from the old days of hard and lengthy bargaining for a just price. The lauded Government Information Agency which I remember from the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1958 headed by that quintessentiasl Shanghai wheelerdealer Jimmy Wei. [Later he was to play an important role in the movement away from Martial Law and toward Taiwan democracy under his “capo” Chaing Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proof again of Jeane Kirpatrick’s thesis that there is hope for authoritarian governments but never for a Commuinist regime but implosion and the desert it leaves behind.]

But a Ministry of Foreign Affairs minder – after some considerable browbeating on my part of the Washington Taiwan reps – and with the help of old friend Parris Chiang, I had a full schedule of official and unofficial appointments. The news was not good. President Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to pump up Taiwan’s economy with extensive agreements on trade and exchanges with the Mainland is eroding Taiwan’s de facto independence. Pro-Mainland elements have taken over some of the media. A well-publicized intelligence figure tried to persuade me that the new Mainland No. 1 Xi Jinping was charismatic, knowledgeable about Taiwan because of his long Communist Party apprenticeship in Fukien province facing Taiwan, and that he would successfully use “soft power” to propel China’s growing role in world affairs. He argued that Xi might even be more acquainted with the West than the old Maximum Leader Deng Hsiao-ping because of his frequent overseas travel. That seemed unlikely to me; after all, Deng was one of the indentured workers taken from China to France during World War I who fell in with the Communist organizers. It was as foolish his claim that Xi was infatuated with Western movies. [They haven’t trotted that one out since they used it to prove that Andropov, the old NKV/KGB warhose was :”pro-American.]. This continued “intellectual” infiltration, tied to such growing economic ties as investment by Mainland government banks, the last stronghold of Kuomintang statist economic policies, is towing Taiwan across thed Strait just as its strategiv position again assume new importance for the U.S. and Japan in the face of growing Beijing naval expansion efforts in its huge military buildup.

Hong Kong

The old traditions of the Connaught Hotel, when it was a resting place for my friends coming in from “up-country:”, are being maintained in the Mandarin Oriental – even if its vaunted position on Victoria has been eroded by blocs and blocs of newly filled in building sites between it and the water. The long walk to the Old Star Ferry, much diminished by Hong Kong’s neat underground railway, was almost a walk to the Kowloon side. Despite CNN’s opening vista, the old harbour view is gone.

So are the old rocking chairs at the Peninsular Hotel, although the Rolls Rouyces used to ferry guests back and forth to the airport, are still lined up outside. The price of a cup of not too good coffee was ferocious when I drifted in after a session with my old friends, the Markbrieters at the offices of their still monumenta; The Arts of Asia. I guess Hong Kong is still a shoppers’ paradise – I wasn’t buying – but the smog was drifting down from China, and it is clear that – as a Special Administrative Zone official admitted at a public meeting – the old carefully controlled immigration of labor from China has gone awray. Government land sales, the other leg of Hong Kong’s prosperity, gained when Mao’s China cut itself off from the world, is still going however. And for the moment at least, it looks like Hong Kong is maintaining its role as an economic powerhouse, substituting financial and other services. [It has a convertible currency to the U.S. dollar it is tied to and acts increasingly as a middleman for Mainland nonconvertible yuan, and Singapore;s attempt to supersede it has long since been forgotten.] But the political situation is deteriorating – after two Communist hacks in the executive – and I was not surprised when a taxidriver in my four [repeat] four trips to Kowloon to pick up an Indian visa, told me he yearned for the old British days and could not “understand” why people wanted to do away London’s rule.

The Indian visa? Thereby hangs a tale: I had forgotten that even for a short stay, New Delhi requires a visa. [Even Beijing now gives a 72-hour sight visa for transients.] In the name of efficiency [it appears New Zealand was the pacemaker, the Indians have ousourced their visa-clearing to a worldwide travel agent. [Thereby must hagna tale given the incredible corruption which has hit the Singh-Gandhi government.] The forms are stultifying, pages and pages, including such questions as the names of other countries you have visited in the last few years and a host of other “security” questions. I called a friend in New Delhi who knows where and how to press buttons, and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, I got a telephone call at my hotel announcing I could get my visa if I came Monday morning at 9am. In fact it took two more trips – including a stumble and fall in front of a hotel, of course the Shandrila – whereelse with such an aiccident occur. The denouement of this little adventure was that at the last moment I was asked to present a hard copy of my original application on the web. When I protested that would mean another trip back to my hotel in Central, the waspish lady in the said, “You can get a copy downstairs.” I said, “Where?”. “”Downstairs”. “What’s the name of the place” for the ground floor of the building was the usual busy Hong Kong chaos. “Downstairs. You will see it”. Down I went, and after some searching I found a smiling, friendly Chinese man sitting ina six-by-six glass cage ith a small sign on his window announcing he could print Indian visa forms. I gave him the number – the second one, by the way – of my visa application, and abracadabra he pulled my whole down, printed out the original application, and gave me a receipt for a few HK dollars. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Security? He and I joked: I volunteered that Indian visas were given when the total amount of the paper, weighing what he had printed out in my palm, reached a certain point. He laughingly agreed. I wonder if they found anything interesting in my file in Beijing?

New Delhi

The new [to me] Delhi airport is cavernous and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying abrifcase increasingly full of accumulated papers. The driver who was picked me up and I did not make contact and I had one of those typical bumpy, fast and a little frightening rides to the my old standby, The Imperial Hotel. [I had been warned there were beter and cheaper pl;aces to say but nostalgia is nostalgia. I still remember the “bearer” when we complained of the mice running in the old dinning room, that “Sahib: they are cogele {small} and don’t eat much”.] And the shower didn’t have hot water until I remonstrated, the business center was in another building to which I had to lug my netbook and all its cables since there was no IT cable connection in the room, etc., etc. But the old colonial building was as charming as ever amd all there must be people waiting for their food since the 19th century when the hotel was opened under the Viceroy’s wife auspices, it was good when it came.

Old friends are gone but the son of one of them set up a program for me and with my own additions, I did get a feel for the current political climate. It is one of those periods of Indian somnabulance after a period of relatively high growth rate, with the danger that the economy is falling back into “the Hindu rate of growth” which dogged it for some some 30 years when the sainted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, always haunted by his student British socialist days, adopted Soviet-style planning.

And the almost inevitable arrived: at a dinner at my old friend’s widow the last night in town, I gorged on the exotic Indian foods and came away with the oldtimey “Delhi-Belly}, to haunt me for another week. Under instruction, I took a taxi to the new satellite town where a series of the international glass boxes now houses a number of multinational companies, weaning away business from Bombay [Mumbai in the new attribution], so long the commercial capital of the country taking over from the earlier but moribund Calcutta.

Bombay

Driving in – again a hassle at the much too small airport but at least assigned a taxi with a number and a fixed amount for the fare – it seemed to me that Bombay has become a little too much little Calcutta. My old friends, the remnant of a group who fought for market economics and representative government after their struggle independence from Britain, confirmed. “We have deteriorated”, a knowledgeable observer said, matter of factlly and with a touch of remorse.

But the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, now completely restored after the 2008 Bombay Massacre, is as much of a leading world hostelry as ever. I was amused that I was given a “body person”, a member of the staff who was assigned to meet my every want. I was reminded of the “batman” assigned to British army officers during my World War II attachment to the 8th Army in Italy. These were orderlies assigned to typically upper class officers who took care of their bodily comforts, to the extent that was possible even in combat. My young man was Maratta, of course, a native of the state into which the Old Bombay Presidency was relegated after the series of language agitations in the mid-1950s which redrew the boundaries of the old British Indian provinces, and eclipsed the domination of the minority Gujerrati elite in the old Bombay Presidency, alas! probably contributing to the deterioration of governance.

Jerusalem

I have always thought that much of the miracle of the spectacular rise of the new Jewish state had to do with its drawing on people, although all Jews, from cultures all over the world. This visit reconfirmed to me that despite the relatively smaller intack of new immigrants, this was still the case. My taxi driver – I took a trip through a good part of the northern part of the country to visit old friends near Haifa along a new impr4essive toll road which also demonstrated how close Israel inside the old green line is to the so-called Occupied Territories. My driver was an Azeri Jewish immigrant, fluent he said in his own Azeri, of course, but also in associated Turkish and learning Arabic. He was something of a character, telling me in detail his recent breakup with his “Russian” girlfriend. When I purchased a piece of jewelry in my hotel, I learned the chain of shops had been initiated by a German Jewish refugee who had fled Hitler to Brazil where he had begun to trade in jewels, then immigrated to Israel where he founded his store. My salesperson was a lady who called in Russian to a taxidriver to bring an article from another store. Her replacementy at the desk was a young and very pretty Turkish Jewish girl who told me she had followed her brother in making “alliyah” [ascending] to Israel only a year earlier, sent by her Turkish parents who said there was no longer a future for Jews in that country. The manager of the store was Romania-born. I cannot but believe all these people bring their own special gifts to a marvellously varied society, despite its singular dedication to being “Jewish”. Nor would I leave out a lunch site – the hotel was kosher and thus my lunch on the Sabbath was going to be poor so they sent me to “Notre Dame”, a Vatican-owned institute for religious study which also operated a hotel and a very good dinning room in its building, not that far from the heights overlooking the Old City and The Western Wall [the principal remnant of the former Hebrew Second temple].

Vienna

I am not a particular fan of the Austrians. I spent a part of the summer of 1945, after the European victory, in the southeast of the country, among the marvellous lakes which were the summer holiday site for many Vienese. But then, as on more recent trips, I have rarely met an Austrian of my generation who wasn’t a Nazi, and then a very enthusiastic one. It is no accident, perhaps as the Communists would say, that Hitler, himself were Austrian.

By the quirk of fate and history – and the oncoming Cold War – the Austrians manage to cinvce the world they were victims of the Nazis, and profited in the postwar period in no small way from that.

But seeing an old friend, whose upcoming 90th birthday celebration I would not be able to attend, brought me to Baden, the summer home of the old Hapsburg royalty where she had snug little apartment. It is within commuting distance of Vienna and she gave me the grand tour, wheeling around the Austrian capital in her Caidllac like a spry youngster. We had lovely meal atop a skyscraper where we got a view of the Vienna skyline, actually not that dramatic a scene compared to other world large cities. The good was splendid as it always tends to be there – one of their characteristics, incidentally, the Austrians do not share with the Germans whose cuisine leaves much to be desired in the vast panoply of European food.

Zurich

I am not a fan of the guttural grunts of the German language, which because my East European Jewish immigrant parents spoke Yiddish at home when I was child, growing up, I have some understanding. But the growling of Switzerdeutsch is even more unpleasant. That’s the patois spoken in the German-speaking cantons of the Confoederatio Helvetica, that unique little country sitting in the middle of Europe.

I suppose the first and last subject which hits the foreign visitor is the incredibly high prices the Swiss have managed to move their economy into. They prosper – so much so that the German immigrant population has doubled in the past few years. But even the young women at my small [and by Zurich standards, modestly priced] hotel told me they shopped in neighboring Germany to save money.
The second most striking thing was to see how the Swiss, supposedly so atunned to the world’s economy and any of its problems, were blasé about what I see as the deepening crisis of the Euro economy which surrounds them and on which they prosper. The business and economics editor of one of the most prestigious papers told me, confidently, that somehow the Europeans would blunder through their current and continuing crisis. I wonder. It disturbs me to see that Spain now looks far too much like the country that [eventually] moved the world into World War II, with its current one-third of its workforce out of work and no hope of an early recovery.
Dulles
It would be the height of understatement to say that by my final touchdown in this seven-weeks trip at the Dulles Hilton, I was dragging. But after a fitful night’s sleep [which time zone was I in anyway?], I did manage to get into Washington for a morning meeting and a luncheon with an old friend at Dupont Circle.

It could only happen to me: when the lunch was over, I hailed a passing cab for the trip back to my hotel and to take the afternoon plane for Norfolk, the last air leg of my journey. I asked the driver, obviously a recent arrival but one who spoke English without an accent [Indian?], if he knew where the Dulles Hilton was, and when he said yes, we sped away. Sped? Some three hours later, we were still lost and I missed my 5:30pm flight to Norfolk, keeping a friend waiting there for hours until I managed to get on a late evening flight later. Thus a long and extremely demanding trip ended in a minor muckup. But, given all the problems that can befall a traveller, in 2013, I suppose I came away lucky.

It took a month of doing little more than eating and sleeping to recuperate.

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No pasarán! was the slogan, but it did happen


Some old dead white man said: “All historical analogies are odious”. He meant they stink because time, place and dramatis personae of any historical event are so particularistic; drawing similarities with another event defies logic.

Yet, yet … we amateur historians play at the game and often. And perhaps there is value in shredding a past major historical event with 20-20 hindsight to see if we can make something of a current conundrum.

That’s how – hang on to your seats – I caught myself thinking about Syria recently in terms of the Spanish Civil War of my youth.

For you kiddies out there, let me encapsulate: the first great modern empire, Spain, entered the 20th century in tatters after the U.S. had given it a near fatal wallop with William Randolph Hearst’s war delivering Cuban independence. Continuing colonial problems in North Africa, Madrid’s failure [along with the rest of Europe and FDR’s America] to emerge from a severe business cycle plus growing regional ethnic and linguistic independence movements [“las Españas”], paralyzed the second republic from its 1921 inauguration. By 1936, Communist, anarchist and syndicalist revolutionaries on the left faced a showdown with fascist, aristocratic and clerical reactionaries on the right. Another military revolt bounced in from North Africa.

Still mired in The Great Depression, Western democracies could not sort out this problem on their doorstep. The totalitarians – Moscow on the left and Berlin and Rome on the right – chose up sides, moving in while London and Paris wrung their hands, and Washington pulled up its two-ocean drawbridge. The right eventually won out establishing a dictatorship which toyed with ideological loyalties to the Axis but opportunist and wily Generalissimo Francisco Franco had the good sense to maintain mock neutrality in World War II.

Syria today is not Spain 1936 in any conceivable way. But the Western democratic alliance’s inability to halt unrestricted violence against its own people by an atrocious regime resembles the West in the mid-30s trying to deal with unparalleled Spanish atrocities. Iran 2012 is not the Soviets of the Nazi-Fascist era but their support [along with Beijing and Moscow] of Dictator Basher al-Assad in the face of Western shillyshallowing is similar. And the growing jihadist intervention against the crumbling regime promises a successor unlikely to contribute to regional peace as post-Civil War Spain originally threatened to do. And just as the continuing 1930s economic disaster paralyzed the world community, so the Euro crisis and leftovers from the U.S.’ 2007-08 financial crisis with world dependence on Mideast oil today hamstrings the democracies.

The Spanish Civil War was confined to the least important of the major European nation-states. But just as its crucial geography and its multi-minority composition gives little Syria entangling tentacles to all its neighbors, Spain’s war had links and effects – as far away as Mexico.

Germany and Italy tested their weapons in Spain for Adolph Hitler’s coming war for Europe. [It’s fitting an opponent of the Assad regime calls Homs “Syria’s Guernica”, the Basque city which saw one of the first demonstrations of air power decimating a civilian population, a horror captured by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso.] New techniques of terrorism and asymmetrical warfare are being tested. And just as Germany’s fate was so tied up in Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s war, the fate of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran could well depend on Damascus’s outcome. Tehran mullahs’ attempt to dominate the region by controlling its oil [armed with a nuclear weapon] depends on penetrating the Arab world – which they have done ironically through supposedly secularist Syria, and its clients Shia Hezbollah and Sunni Hamas. All that’s at stake in Syria now just as the Nazis’ imperial dreams were given a fillip by Hitler’s tacit victory in Spain.

Of course, what looking back on Spain also teaches us is the complexity of world events; how despite all odds, an Allied victory in World War II guaranteed eventual Spanish democracy and prosperity. But, that, too, alas!, is now up for grabs with an economic crisis destabilizing all southern Europe including Spain with its 20% of the Eurozone’s gross national product and the continents highest unemployment.

That may well lead us back to where we started: No, Prof. Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás notwithstanding, there may be no mistakes not to be repeated to be learned from history.

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Solutions in a time of crisis


Follow the money No. 96

“Moderation in all things”, said a pre-Christian North African Roman dramatist, Terence [Publius Terentius Afer]. But like so many artists, he latched on to a beautiful artifact but got the logic wrong. He’s echoed these days in the oft repeated mantra from talking heads calling for compromise. It usually follows a description – inaccurate, of course – of how we are passing through the greatest crisis ever. But just a little recall of past troubled times demonstrates how equally or more difficult earlier threats were – whether bloody days of World War II or the U.S. Civil War.

Logically, we cannot have it both ways: to describe our present situation as a full blown crisis demands we recognize solutions will have to be drastic, not measly compromises. Whether we are looking at current U.S. political contests or the European economic scene, this need for incisive answers must match the depth of the crisis. And for the most part the price to be paid for that has not yet received general acceptance.

On the one hand, a dilemma is posed for American voters going toward the November 2012 elections faced with Republican primary choices: are they to believe Gov. Mitt Romney, graduate of both government and business but whose whole career has been compromises in the face of problems, is the man to help rescue the U.S. from its worst business cycle since the Great Depression? Or are they to go for an adventurous, perhaps untested, advocate of a major overhaul of an impasse — for the moment, at least, incapable of the kind of correction which followed one recession after another since World War II?

Somewhere, too, in all this theater is the question of “confidence”. In a digital age of unlimited data, it is easy to forget the economy runs on a psychological track often more important than so-called hard statistics no matter how many we now can quickly churn out. And the kind of inspiration needed to restore “confidence” often may have little to do with successful economic remedies. For those who did not live through it, it’s important to recall Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was the quintessential embodiment of this phenomenon. In the end, FDR had no economic solutions for the Great Depression. Pres. Barack Obama’s pronouncements and other amateur historians notwithstanding, the U.S. economy did not recover its former prosperity until mobilization for World War II revolutionized the whole economic landscape. But Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat leadership did inspire hope when morale of the American people was at its lowest ebb.

The parallel crisis now dogging Europe is, too, as much psychopolitical as economic. The Europeans, to block a possible third round after two wars almost costing Western civilization, began political and economic unification. But the European Project has been built top-down, guided by extremely clever bureaucrats creating a supranational framework. In the process, basic and conflicting interests of Europe’s different vibrant cultures – the glory of the continent – were not adequately considered, much less integrated in a bottom-up process. The Euro, a common currency theoretically fitting all, was an attempt at this kind of forced amalgamation – and its demise was predictable for that very reason.

Now the patchwork to salvage it – for it has become a totem of the whole effort at European unification – continues but with little likelihood any solution can be more than temporarily successful. It was emblematic British Prime Minister David Cameron should play the villain in the latest act by refusing a new treaty pledging renewed conformity to guiding safeguards. The proposed new pact is not all that different from earlier formal statements which even France and Germany, now presenting themselves as paragons of economic virtue, violated.

Having lost so much of its former glory, London’s role as the world’s second financial center was at stake. For any British leader not to have protected that would have been the last straw in reducing further Britain’s diminished world as well as its European role. How to accommodate London’s primary interest in the European Union’s economic community should have been a problem negotiated long ago. But, now, for the moment, Frankfurt and Paris have their revenge for their long apprenticeship to The City. In the long run, however, it can only be seen as another failure of a semiauthoritarian European movement.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The End of the Euro’


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The End of the Euro’,
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By Sol Sanders
Tuesday, December 13, 2011, The Washington Times
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 Johan Van Overtveldt
 European Union
 David Cameron
 Germany
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THE END OF THE EURO: THE UNEASY FUTURE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
By Johan van Overtveldt
Agate B2, $24.95, 208 pages
The principle problem with this concise book is, of course, that the whole drama
continues. I write as British Prime Minister David Cameron has just dropped a bomb into
the laps of his 26 European Union partners by refusing to go along with a new treaty
aimed at reinforcing economic integration and solving the crisis of the 17 members’
common currency, the euro. Johan van Overtveldt completed his manuscript, he tells us,
on Aug. 30, but the past is prologue, and he has certainly prepared the present scene.
Bravely, he set out to lay out possible scenarios for further developments. In an attempt
by a very systematic mind (no wonder he hints at prevalent Flemish contempt for the
lofty generalizations of his fellow Belgians and other francophones), he lays out three
possible directions. Following his calling, he journalistically labels them “More of the
same [MOS],” “Throwing out the System [TOS],” and “Rebuilding of the System
[ROS].”
MOS means, he says, continuing to throw more credit at the problem, whether emanating
from governments reinforcing failing banks, the International Monetary Fund or the
European Central Bank. A second part of this crisis response was imposing “reforms” on
delinquent creditors such as Greece. But in the end, he argues, MOS is a Ponzi scheme
because deflation enforced on the debt ors means they cannot hope to grow to pay their
debts or even pay the interest on their more -and-more pricey borrowings. The game
would be up, he says, either when the banks fail or austerity brings on political crisis.
TOS suggests individual euro users d ecide their only course is individually to exit the
common currency. Short term, he says, the enforced devaluation of their currencies might
improve their competitive opportunities. But in the end, Mr. van Overtveldt argues, this is
the Argentina route, which several of the southern European debt -ridden countries
resemble economically – one that has not improved the once -prosperous South American
candidate for first world rank. He does argue that Iceland has been as successful as it has
because it was done quickly and with unusual backing of its small and remote population.
ROS, accepting defeat – even the exit of some members – and then rebuilding the
monetary union from scratch is “a Herculean task.” He argues an effective monetary
union requires four conditions: political union, fiscal integration, labor mobility, and
price and wage flexibility. Could the Europea n Monetary Union achieve those conditions
and survive? “Likely no,” Mr. van Overtveldt says.
“Despite the deep crisis,” he concludes, “the European authorities have done hardly
anything really substantial about the fundamentally important issues: rebuilding the
banking sector, restoring the long-term sustainability of public finances, improving the
structure of growth performance of their economies and, most important of all, rebuilding
the institutional framework of the monetary union to make it more durable and efficient.
They are quickly running out of time. As a matter of fact, it is probably already too late.”
Although the author isn’t ready to say it bluntly, he comes to a rath er startling conclusion
– especially at this moment when across the political spectrum in Germany there appears
universal support for attempting to strengthen the EU institutions through new
agreements. He concludes his narrative with a bevy of quotes – he has relied on others’
words for most of his arguments – suggesting that it will be Germany that finally pulls the
plug on the common currency.
He argues that the time is past when Germany’s neighbors – and others further afield –
can rely on German recognition of its culpability in two wars that almost destroyed
European civilization.
“I do not mean to imply that the present generation of German politicians is in any way
unaware of the country’s past,” he writes. “My point is that they seem much less inclined
to let that past dominate Germany’s policies.”
Berlin’s critics point to German business’ profitable courtship of Iran, despite increasing
Western sanctions meant to inhibit its development of weapons of mass destruction. Also
cause for criticism is Berlin’s love affair with Russia’s energy giant Gazprom – even to
the point of cheating its eastern neighbors of transit fees – and its continued refusal to
acknowledge that its export -led incentives are basic to the euro problem. Perhaps, Mr.
van Overtveldt sugarcoats those issues. Although he never quite says it, the author
predicts that it will be German action, with all the power of Europe’s paramount
economy, which will, in the end, spell the death knell for the euro.
Sol Sanders writes the weekly column “Follow the Money” for The Washington Times .

From Beeb to Boob


It’s sad. I remember when the BBC was a light in the wilderness, how all my friends — local and visitors — in South Asia hung on its every word. Yes, there was Voice of America — but it was slower, clumsier, not really a news organization, one felt.

But listening to the “world news hour” rebroadcast through our NPR station the other morning, I heard how the might have fallen. The broadcast was dominated by an interview with someone — never did catch the name, but an old environmentalist reporter or a professor in some of the arts — who blathered on about climate change. He harangued the audience, and the interviewer who kept asking the same questions, for much too long. It gave new meaning to circular reasoning: the gentleman said that it didn’t really matter whether there was a human factor in climate change, although he thought there certainly was, climate was changing and we should do everything we could to work against it because of what human beings were doing to produce climate change. Hello!

Then there was a discussion of the current economic situation in the U.S. and in Euroland. The person again being interviewed [I believe he was a guru from Reuter’s]– hard to know as they hardly ever do the necessary thing of reidentifying him or her throughout the interview — was so partisan that he took a rather Pollyannish view of the just published dismal U.S. statistics and really seemed unaware that Europe was going from one crisis to conference to another crisis.

That inquiry into the partisanship — leftwing dingbat nonsense — which was undertaken some months ago came through with more integrity than one would have expected. But it is obvious, I am afraid, that it will have no effect.

Yes, from Beeb to Boob. But it has taken several decades and I suppose that is a natural pocess of integrations.

Living with ambiguity


An old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”, has become a bromide. I suspect those old Chinese savants were smarter: Confucius [and his St. Paul, Mencius] codified rules and ceremonies for all princes for all eternity, undoubtedly suspecting, rightfully, all eras would have many if not most of the same difficulties. [What would the old boy have thought of Beijing leaders using his dogma, once trashed when they were Marxists, now in the service of Chinese “soft power” and espionage “institutes” around the world?]

These are, indeed, “interesting times”. Although our media and intellectuals increasingly try to entice us into believing the digital revolution has made all things knowable [after all we have google, Wikipedia and algorithms!], the world political economy is fraught with unpredictability. Wherefore, we resort to an even more ancient Indian piece of wisdom: “Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the exalted ones, for that path is sharp as a razor’s edge, impassable, and hard to go by, say the wise.” [Katha Upanishad – 1.3.14.]

Nowhere are ambiguities so manifest as in the current European geopolitical scramble. Furthermore, unlike earlier post-World War II European crises, the current debacle completely stymies Washington. While the U.S. is still the major world power looked to for leadership — if no more than for new fads – it has no remedies. It was all very well for Pres. Barack Obama to reassure the Europeans [and ourselves] they have the wherewithal if only they had the political will, but it was more than a little bit of hypocrisy. Not only is Washington not able to present a model of its own efficacy in solving debt problems, but quietly, the Fed joined other central banks a few weeks ago to extend short-term dollar loans to European banks virtually cut off from dollar credit — and not by those Occupy Wall Streeters.

The Fed moved because it is hard to exaggerate implications of any breakdown in the U.S.-EU economic relationship. In effect, North Atlantic trade represents virtual integration. Even with the economic downturn, more than a trillion dollars worth of goods traversed the Ocean in 2010; another $250 billion in services. Last year Europe invested another $100 billion in the U.S.; Americans put another $70 billion in Europe. A staggering $2.7 trillion was swapped in our markets.

Furthermore, Mr. Obama’s prescription is easier said than effected in societies increasingly dependent on nanny governments to sort their problems. European private initiative, never of the American intensity, has atrophied. [The European Union Commission at the moment is in hot pursuit of highly debated standards for bottled water!]

Nor will a pampered electorate go quietly to new temporary consumption restraints. Even now opposition to ending the French 35-hour work week could well become a major issue in next year’s presidential campaign. Firing some of every third Greek who works for government [and who notoriously does not pay his taxes] reawakened old postwar Communist-rightist confrontation. Even the recent boost given German exports, Berlin’s economic deus ex machina, was, ironically, the cheaper Euro. But a depreciating Euro hardly seems adequate for Europe’s legendary powerhouse as Germany’s population declines and ages rapidly, its labor force narrows, and there is more and more questioning of integration of four million Turkish Muslim “guest workers” who came in the 1960s — and stayed.

From day-to-day, it becomes increasingly clear the reserves of Euro governments and the banking system cannot cover the growing sovereign and commercial deficits of 17 members of the common currency. Credit has evaporated as lenders perceive their exposure more endangered by the moment, not only to whopping “haircuts” – “voluntary” discounts of outstanding debt — but by a growing possibility the debtors may not be able to amortize even those discounted tabs as their economies spiral downward under the eight of severe austerity and social disintegration. Nor is it certain “technocratic” governments in Greece and Italy can manage essentially political decisions.

For Americans, the question of the hour – carefully not asked by our talking heads — is whether this European financial “malaise”, with a continuing failure of the Europeans to address it more than sequentially, will spread to the U.S.? Do our bankers with all their handheld devices really know what their actual exposure is – or will we be treated to new surprises as we were in 2007-08?

That Atlantic bridge could be in for even heavier if snarled traffic.

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