Category Archives: Spain

Twilight for social democracy


Ironically, at a time when American politicians are flirting with social democratic concepts, their historic parties are fading in Western Europe where those political slogans originated.
The prime example is Spain. There the PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrero Español], the Party of the Spanish Worker, the country’s oldest, has weathered many crises. During the 40-year-long Franco dictatorship, it maintained its role as the principal anti-Communist left opposition operating among refugees in France.
After governing in Madrid 21 of the last 39 years, the PSOE will probably lose its commanding position in this month’s elections, even losing role as leader of Spain’s left where the majority of the voters self-identify. Shorn of their old Soviet attachment and command structure, a revolutionary movement on the left, Podemos, and a right of center party, are likely to reduce the PSOE to less than 20% of the vote. Spanish political theory is highly influential throughout the whole Ibero-American world, and Latin American styles are almost certain to follow – as already demonstrated in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and soon in Venezuela, where left-wing regimes are being ousted.
The loss of popularity of the social democrats in Spain echoes throughout Western Europe where for more than a half century they have played a dominant role. In Germany, the original home of social democratic concepts, the socialists are polling new lows. The ruling French Socialists have become increasingly unpopular under their Pres. François Holland, in part because he has adopted a program of economic and labor reforms ignoring traditional socialist nostrums.
In the early 90s, Italy’ socialists – in the early postwar years with a Soviet line by far the largest party, an ally of the Communists — under their first prime minister, Bettino Craxi, was almost wiped out by corruption. Three Socialist deputies committed suicide as a result of the scandals. Splinters of the early socialist parties, from anti-Communist to those fellow-traveling in the Soviet era, have joined forces forming the Socialist Party (PS), renamed Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in 2011. But many former social democrats have deserted the socialists for four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s bigger tent, largely a right-of-center grouping.
Europe’s social democrats have become discredited through their growing association with the policies of the moderate right — austerity, deregulation, liberalization and free trade. Virtually the whole technocratic community has seen these as necessary economic measures to restore prosperity. These have been increasingly seen by the media and among many younger politicians as the cause of Europe’s present economic decline.
But as voters of the traditional left have grown bitter as they saw their party of the welfare state, the public sector and of the blue-collar workers, reverse its governing strategy. That feeds a growing separation between social democratic politicians who view these policies as the only options as jobs have disappeared and economies flattened and the street, always ready to find leaders for protest and violence..
In Spain, an inconclusive general election last December left the socialists in a dilemma: either adopt the centre-right promises of tax cuts and more supply-side reforms, or bend to a new left that calls for an end to austerity and channels the anger of the mob.. In the U.K., this dilemma has produced a new leftwing leadership in the Labor Party, But whether, even with the conservatives in disarray over the question of withdrawal from the European Union, they have a formula to gain power is dubious.
It seems unlikely that this paradox won’t be present for the European socialist movement for the indefinite future. Whether it has application to the American scene – current political fashions to the contrary – seems highly unlikely. The U.S. economy, while not roaring forward, still is the envy of most of the Western world, with few calls even from the “progressives” for the nationalization and “socialization” of the major industries.
sws-06-22-16

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Obama’s Cuban fiasco


The absurdity of the Obama Administration’s flirtation with the Castro Communist dictatorship in Cuba has no limits.

The United States in the past year has removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, reestablished diplomatic relations and opened an embassy in Havana. Last week Obama announced he will be the first American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years.

There was good reason. The Castro dictatorship alliance with the Soviet Union was an important factor in the Cold War. Indeed, it produced a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores, that could have ended in World War III. All the while, the Cuban regime has attempted to subvert democratic governments in the Hemisphere and organize anti-U.S. cabals.

But this week the Administration sent up to Congress a bill to continue restrictions on American ships entering Cuban waters. The bill arrived on the 20th anniversary [Feb. 24th] of the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes by a Cuban air force fighter jet. . The pilots were helping to locate and rescue Cubans fleeing the dictatorship for the U.S., and were shot down in international waters. It came as families of four Brothers to the Rescue volunteers were marking two decades since their loved ones’ deaths

“These are the same waters that have witnessed record numbers of Cubans risking their lives to reach freedom because of the oppression they are facing under the Castro regime – a regime that has found an ally in President Obama,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, [R-Miami], protested..

It is symptomatic of the lack of knowledge and strategic finesse that an Administration spokesman said the arrival of the legislation on the Hill on this anniversary was an unintended unfortunate coincidence. That statement exemplifies, as nothing else could, the total ignorance of the longstanding U.S. Cuban conflict which is the foundation of the President’s current policy of courting the Cuban dictatorship.

The President’s attempt to redress relations between Washington and Havana rests on total false assumptions. The negotiations which led to the reinstating formal ties with Raul Castro’s government were a completely one-sided affair. On the morrow of the initialization of the agreement, Castro tossed more political prisoners in jail. So-called economic reforms have turned out to be as false. Restrictions with new regulations and the continuing dominance of government-owned entities has made a mockery of attempts to initiate new small business. American business interests who backed the Obama approach are largely those either already receiving or asking for subsidies from Washington. They are pushing, of course, for a lifting of the embargo on trade with the dictatorship.

It is unlikely that the President’s forthcoming visit will produce new concessions from Castro. And, indeed, the prestige of the visit – and Havana’s seeming victory in the long-standing disputes with Washington – are a desperate attempt of a bankrupt and failing regime. Whether, indeed, Washington’s new found love affair for the Cuban dictatorship will salvage it remains problematical. More than likely, it will end with the U.S. embracing a corrupt and equally oppressive traditional caudillo regime when Raul Castro [84] soon passes from the scene.

State Department proponents of the Obama policy are those concerned with the supposed animosity the U.S. Cuban policy has incurred in Mexico and the leftist regimes in Latin America. Indeed, Obama’s message to the Hill contained the phrase “Longstanding U.S. policy toward Cuba had, at times, tended to isolate the Untied States.” .

But the courtship of Cuba comes at a time of crises for the anti-American regimes which are Castro’s friends – in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. In fact, with a new pro-American and reforming government in Argentina, the most important of the Spanish-speaking countries, there is hope that Latin America is turning away from corrupt statist economic policies which have sabotaged development. The President’s exceedingly brief stopover in Argentine on this Latin American tour, unfortunately, appears to be an indication of just how seriously warped is the whole policy of this Administration toward our own hemisphere.

sws-03-03-16

Homage to Catalonia


Homage to Catalonia
Two contradictory groundswell political movements are colliding on the European scene with unpredictable results:
The emergence of a supranational government with a growing top-down bureaucracy in Brussels once seemed to be undermining the old nation-state concept which had buried internal regional differences in most European states. But an increasingly powerful united Europe had loosed old local regional nationalisms, Scotland in the United Kingdom, for example; even Brittany in highly centralized France, and the northern, more advanced region of Italy from its seemingly perpetual impoverished south, Slovakia breaking away from the old Czechoslovakia.
But just when the European Union seemed not only to be firmly established, moving on to more accumulation of power, it has been hit by two crises. One is the threat to the common currency [which of course Britain with its still powerful sterling and The City as a world financial center refused to join]. With still individual economic strategies, member nations of the Euro find themselves at odds on credits and purchasing power. The avalanche of migrants from the Middle East and Africa finds the European countries unable to advance a common migrants policy. There they are caught between their declining birth rates and the need for a continuing labor pool, and the cultural threat of massive Moslem cultural invasion.
The growing European dilemma was illustrated this past weekend when a majority of voters in Catalonia, voted for independence. As Spain’s most economically advanced region with a per capita gross national income higher than the EU average, its 7.5 million produce some 20% of Spain’s gross national product and a third of its exports. Its capital Barcelona is increasingly a center for international business – now ranked sixth in Europe.
With an ancient language and cultural traditions, Catalan nationalism has been one of the principal Iberian political debates for decades. Catalan autonomy was one issue which brought on the bloody civil war of 1936-30, and their “nationalists” were one of the strongest underground oppositions to almost four decades of the Franco dictatorship.
With the restoration of the Spanish monarchy, the central government has conceded more and more to the region. In 1978: Spain’s new constitution recognized Catalonia among various distinct communities but laid down its “indissoluble unity”. In 1979, the Catalans approved by referendum a new autonomy statute giving them more powers in healthcare, education and culture. In 2006, still another autonomy charter, negotiated with the then Madrid Socialist government, increased their fiscal and judicial powers, describing Catalonia as a “nation.” But in 2012, conservative People’s Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Catalan president Artur Mas’s call for greater tax-and-spend powers. Last year Mas’ referendum – in defiance of Madrid – resulted in 80% voting for independence but with only 37% voting. In Sunday’s election, the two parties representing the independence line have won at least half the regional parliamentary seats, with a promised declaration of independence in 2017.
The migration of low skill manufacturing to other parts of Spain and international competition has driven its politics even further, hit hard by the downturn in Spain’s booming economy before 2008. Unemployment, especially among the young, has stood at 23%, well above the12% nationally and contributes toward the political instability.
In Madrid, Rajoy is caught between a rock and a hard place with national elections scheduled before December. With strong nationalism in the neighboring Basque country, he cannot afford to make further concessions to the Catalan independendistas.
Other EU governments, faced with similar challenges, have warned that an independent Catalonia would not be welcomed into the Union. That would include using the common currency, an important tool for Barcelona’s increasingly sophisticated international business center.
The Iberian leaders are rapidly backing themselves into nonnegotiating positions, which can only add to Europe’s current air of crisis.
sws-09-27-15

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

No aid for a Cuban dictatorship


After 50 years, later this month an American flag will again fly over the old U.S. Embassy in Havana and the Cubans will open their diplomatic representation in Washington.
Pres. Obama has justified the move because it was time to change a policy that has not worked. That, not to put a fine point on it, is not true. Over five decades Washington was able – sometimes with direct intervention as with the Contras in Nicaragua – to prevent the spread of the Castros’ Communism in Latin America. And it wasn’t for lack of trying by Fidel Castro with Soviet inspiration and help. The list of by Cuban Communist attempts to subvert other governments in the Hemisphere, sometimes with actual military infiltration, is too long to list here.
That, of course, poses the next question coming up quickly.
There are already demands that Washington lift the Cuban “embargo”, a misnomer for the refusal of the Castro government in the 1960s to compensate American investors for the seizure of their properties. Of course, Cuban propagandists – with their chorus of supporters on the American left and among some U.S. business interests. – argue that it was the American blocking of economic relations with Havana which brought on the Cuban disaster. And, they argue, there are all sorts of mutual economic opportunities for American business as well if the U.S. takes the next big leap forward and authorizes investment and trade – including economic aid.
The answer to that pitch, of course, is that the Obama Administration got nothing in return for resuming diplomatic relations. In fact, what has happened is that a dying regime is being given a helping hand in its final moment of crisis. Cuba, after all, has relations with 190 other countries. The Europeans and Canada have tried to invest and trade and have had near zero success. [One suspects, aside from those in Ottawa always ready to tweak Uncle Sam’s beard, it was Canada’s historic investment in one of Cuba’s few mutually held resources, nickel, that has kept that relationship alive.]
It’s hard to exaggerate how diffcult Cuba’s situation is as it comes back into the real world. A large portion of its traditional elite long since fled, and while interested and perhaps willing to cooperate, will not go back. Its former special quotas for sugar in the U.S. are an historic anomaly. Not only will its sugar industry have to be rebuilt almost from scratch, but Cuban cane sugar faces a completely changed world now competing with subsidized beet sugar, corn syrup and all the other sweeteners developed while Havana slept as well as favored sugar industries around the world..
No one would argue that we shouldn’t do what we can to help impoverished Cubans sitting on our doorstep. Leaving humanitarian generosity aside, it is in the interest of U.S. security to contribute to a more prosperous and stable Cuba. When the Castro regime finally collapses – as seems inevitable – a freed but impoverished more than 11 million will be swimming toward Miami.
There is a lot of hot air being spread about the economic prospects for American business in Raul Castro’s Cuba, some of it coming from the President himself. Not a little of it comes from American businesses which profit from export subsidies. But lifting the sanctions before Raul Castro makes the concessions necessary for economic and political progress on the Island would be, among other things, a waste of the taxpayers’ money.
sws-07-02-15

Islam is the problem


The worship of Mohammed’s followers throughout their history has rarely constituted a religion of peace, contrary to repeated statements by leaders in the West – above all Pres. Barack Hussein Obama. These have been made in their pursuit of trying to defuse the current crisis, but nevertheless are now a part of the problem..

One might stretch to argue that Mosses, founder of Judaism, had a “battlefield commission”. But neither Jesus, Gautama nor Confucius, leaders or founders of the several other great world religions, advocated violence. Nor were they soldiers as was Mohammed, the messenger who carried the word of Allah to his flock.

Furthermore, virtually all Muslims accept that in his last decade of what may be a largely legendary life, he pursued that career with ferocity in the destruction of his Arabia peninsular enemies, most notably the contemporary Jewish tribes who refused to accept his new religion. The history of Islam is inseparable from its attempt to conquer alien societies and turn them forcibly to its belief. That code demands – unlike the other great religions today – unquestioned obedience to a legal as well as a moral code of contradictory but supposed God-given dictums from the Koran and the accumulation of practices in the hadith, pronouncements and activities surrounding Mohammed the man.

Again today, as repeatedly in the past 1500 years, the West is fighting off a campaign of Muslim fanatics to overtake and replace its Judeo-Hellenist-Christian- civilization. Rather than massive armies at the Tours battlefield in the 8th century or at the gates of Vienna in the 16th and again 100 years later, this time the attacks are continual thrusts at the ineludible vulnerable “soft targets” of modern open societies.

As incomprehensible as it is to Westerners and non-Muslim societies of the East, these fanatics are willing to die so long as they can bring pain and disaster on their targets. It is, as some Muslim fanatics have proclaimed proudly, that the rest of the world loves life and these psychotics worship death.

When the leaders of the whole world – not excluding both Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Liberation Organization Mahmoud Abbas – came together in Paris for a demonstration of unity of purpose against this new threat to humanity, there was a missing figure. It was no accident, as the Communists would say, that Obama was not there among the leaders of most of the civilized world.

In a tortured and benighted view of the world’s issues, Obama apparently believes that outreach to the Muslim fanatics through Islamic state leaders – including the mother hen of all the contemporary terrorists, the insidious Muslim Brotherhood – will appease the tiger. His closest advisers make desperate attempts to convince the rest of the world that the great mass of Muslims are innocents. True enough, but that they will [the “good”Germans with the Nazis or a dozen other historical instances] bring down the militants is highly questionable. .

Obama rides this tiger not only in great peril to the country he leads and to the world in general, but at the risk of his own role in history. Calling a blatant attack at Ft. Hood by a twisted mind – a psychiatrist indeed! – “workplace violence” not only distorts the real meaning of the incident making it impossible to deal with it, but this refusal to name the crime makes it difficult to meet out the modest reparations to the survivors.

In the same vein, by not identifying the current worldwide campaign of terrorism – now into its second decade – as an outgrowth of Islam itself, he and his advisers make it impossible to understand it and mobilize to defeat it.

At the United Nations, instead of a straightforward attack on the origins of this violence to all civilized society, Obama was busy warning against any attack on the sanctity of Mohammed’s name. [A documentary producer who had the audacity if however clumsily to challenge the relationship of Islam to the wave of terrorism still is serving a prison sentence, part of the design to obscure the martyrdom of four Americans at the hands of terrorists at Benghazi.] Nothing plays more into the lying of Muslim fanatics in dealing with their fellow citizens; they can carefully site elements of their dogma which sanction deceit in their professions of innocence with nonbelievers.

Any attempt to take on the long awaited need to bring the religion of Mohammed to a test of modernity and contemporary morality is denounced. Earlier attempts were abandoned after a bitter debate in Andalusia, Spain, in the late 12th century when Ibn Rushid [Averroes], ironically sometimes called “the father of modern Western secularism”, was defeated in his efforts to find a synthesis of Hellenic, Judeo-Christian and Islamic values. Ironically Averroes contributed mightily to Western religious and philosophical thought. But his Islam retreated into the thousand-year bowels of a totalitarian conformity that imprisons it to this day. Those who call for a constructive new debate are quickly denounced as “Islamophobia” – even when they come from acknowledged scholars such as the eminent modern philosopher, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger.

It remains to be seen if Muslim leaders will rise to join Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who recently pleaded with Islamic clerics to examine their game. He argued Moslem “thinking” had stymied, that concepts “we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world”. In practical terms of a hard-bitten military leader of the largest and most important Arab nation, he argued that it is not “possible that 1.6 billion people [a reference to the world’s Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live”. He warned that Egypt [or the Islamic world in its entirety] “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”

Again, it is no accident that the Obama Administration’s relations with the al-Sisi regime hang by a thread while it has continued to court the likes of Turkey’s increasingly Islamicist Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [and with a lesser and lesser degree of success]. It also continues to bemoan the fall of al Sisi’s predecessors, the discredited Muslim Brotherhood. [Alas! That is also true of Hillary Clinton with her own close connections to the Brotherhood leadership through her principal aid, Huma Mahmood Abedin.].

Recognizing Islam’s relationship to the Muslim terrorists is critical if the U.S. and the world is to defeat this aberration before it destroys Western civilization through its steady depredations, always forcing restraints on our liberties in order to defend ourselves.

sws-01-11-15

 

 

 

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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.

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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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We already went through that


News item, August 23, 20111

Spain will reform its constitution to limit the budget deficit and the level of public debt under a law proposed by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Socialist prime minister, and supported by the rightwing opposition.

Nobody seems to remember that we had a stipulation in the original Maastricht Treaty [Feb. 2, 1992] limiting national budget deficits and France and Germany were the first ones to ask for the remission of the proviso — temporarily, that is. 

Oh those naughty North European spendthrifts!

Daddy’s sugar bowl empties


            It’s our tradition to control,
like Erich Honecker and Helmut Kohl,
remember him
from the Ukraine to the Rhone.
Sweet home uber alles,
Lord, I’m coming home.yah
Come on, Sugar Daddy, bring me home.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ef6M4sPrr8g&feature=player_embedded

George Soros isn’t the only sugar daddy whom former beneficiaries accuse of turning tightwad faced with rollercoaster stock markets and interminable debt debates.

German taxpayers all along were wary of becoming the only teat on the EC’s udder for what Winston Churchill once called Europe’s soft underbelly. There is nostalgia, too, for the once high-flying DMark which few wanted exchanged in 2002 for Euros. Now those feelings are exploding with Germany’s vaunted economy going south – but not just for bailouts for Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and possibly Spain, and even Italy.

German growth collapsed to near zero over the early summer which

could take Germany, Europe [and the world] into recession by winter. That would mean abandoning hope Europe’s biggest industrial engine would salvage the EU common currency.

Many usual suspect talking heads called all this totally unexpected. Hello! Sixty percent of the German template for an export-led economy went to other EU countries. True, profligate Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards and Irishmen should not have bought those Mercedes they couldn’t afford. But if they hadn’t, how would German auto plants have pumped out cars, keeping German unemployment relatively low!

The Germans, like everybody else with dreams going back to Marco Polo, turned to China [and Russia] for new markets. Trouble is the jerry-built Chinese “world factory” is in deep doo-doo too, cutting back on what its “Communism with Chinese characteristics” leaders thought was a foolproof, permanent formula for stability: unlimited infrastructure expansion, subsidized exports for super growth rates with corruption for the elite .

But more than one little piggie didn’t go to market. Chinese inflation [or should we use new Obama Administration’s gobbledygook, “core inflation”] is rising, particularly food where 80% of Chinese subsist. [Incidentally Chinese shortages mean huge US corn purchases lifting American prices.] And there are still Chinese who remember in 1949 the Communists installed that ogre Mao Tse-tung mostly because of rip-roaring inflation on Shanghai’s counting house tables, not battlefield valor.

Russia? There, increased German dependence on Soviet gas, even encouraging Moscow government monopolies to buy into Western distribution, was all well and good during the halcyon days of unlimited credit and rising consumption. But now Moscow bleeds; an incredible $30 billion capital outflow in the first six months of 2011. [No oligarch dares leave money lying around in Petersburg or Moscow lest the new Rasputin grab it]. Some 1.2 million professionals immigrating in the last three years carried part of it out. And with diving fossil fuel prices, the Russian economy is hanging by one energy thread. That’s why a half million small and medium sized German firms in Russia, ”highly leveraged” with government export credits, are sweating.

As the Euro stumbles from crisis to crisis, “solutions” boil down to two proposals: full-steam ahead toward economic integration permitting a unified fiscal and monetary strategy, or refinancing bankrupt southern members using a Eurobond guaranteed by the 17 members of the common currency and anybody else Brussels could seduce into signing on.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy stumbled back from sacrosanct European summer holidays in mid-August to find a “solution”. But while their vague statement more or less endorsed the first approach, it offered not a clue how problematical negotiations could go forward as quickly as needs be – especially amidst crumbling economies gaining downward momentum.

They didn’t rule out the second solution. That’s because the last straw has been the rising cost of refinancing national bonds – more threatening even than bailouts’ size and conditions. But the Germans are more than aware any such new “credit instrument” has to be backed proportionately by Europe’s largest economy. Nor is it clear from its most enthusiastic sponsors, how rates would be set if they ignored/avoided the current race to the top for interest in a rocky market.

Of course, the 500-pound gorilla in the room is the option letting debtors drop back into their old national currencies to balance their books. But dismantling the oversold Euro [pun intended] might be the death of the European Union itself.

Keep tuned: the tragicomedy is still unfolding.

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Charlie Chaplin’s suit?


The geopolitical question of the hour: is there a tripwire that will tie together a series of regional crises bringing on another 2007-08 worldwide economic disaster?

Lehman Brothers’ collapse dramatized how enhanced interconnections can tumble through the new world economy with domino effect. But if the world finance mavim know a seminal interrelation of our several bubbling crises, they are not telling us. Meanwhile, the minitheaters percolate:

Europe –There’s growing consensus Greece’s economic collapse is leading to a restructuring of the European Union’s finances with more than 20% of the world’s gross product. Shooting the messenger – the growing attacks on rating agencies which, indeed, are feeding debilitating increases in the cost of debt – doesn’t solve the problem nor do complicated if band-aid solutions. Nor, does it seem likely to this observer, creation of a Eurobond market to absorb growing debt would automatically bring about inspired, problem-solving central European fiscal and monetary direction. [It didn’t with creation of the Euro “common currency”.]

The U.S. – However much the Obama Administration’s stimulus program staved off an even worse crisis – to be argued until the end of the economists’ time, not soon contrary to John Maynard Keynes hopeful prediction the profession would die out – it has run out its string. Public opinion demands curbing deficit spending. But how against pressures of “special interests” [yours’ always are, mine are heaven blessed] is a conundrum taxing the American political system. It‘s a time when parliamentary government – with its ability to bring down a cabinet’s failed strategy instantaneously – is envied. Instead, more than a year’s political mudslinging appears inevitably producing near paralysis. Meanwhile despite widespread denials – including fudging with inventions like “core inflation” – higher prices could couple with stubborn underdemployment/unemployment and an unresolved housing bubble for increasing misery.

China – The cracks, long seen by the few who questioned sustainability of the miracle of “the world’s factory”, are widening. Beijing central planners – despite their rationale only rapid growth could legitimate “Communism with Chinese characteristics” by providing jobs and stability — have curbed unlimited infrastructure expansion which with now slowing exports was the engine of growth. “Creative accounting” takes on new meaning for government banks hiding “non-performing loans” in new set-aside organs now making their own bad loans. Beijing’s inability to “feed” local Party hacks leads them to “squeeze” workers and farmers in turn leading to growing violence. Inflation, especially food where most Chinese live, grows despite monetary devices borrowed from Western systems largely ineffective on what still is a Soviet skeleton.

Japan – The world’s third largest economic power drifts, mysteriously bereft of political leadership, caricatured in its inability to address the destruction of the earthquake-tsunami with characteristic “Yamato Damishi” [fortitude]. In Japan’s hot, muggy summer, only 19 of 54 reactors are operating in the face of anti-nuclear sentiment. With more to shut down, cutbacks of 15% already haunt large electricity customers and boosts expensive fossil fuel imports. Consumer confidence falls to record lows, ominous for Japan’s rapidly ageing population. Government debt, already the world’s highest ratio at 200% of GDP, will rise as Tokyo borrows $100 billion to rebuild and GDP shrinks. Luckily, Tokyo borrows at home at floor-scraping 1.5%. But, Japan, too, has its echo of the American argument: Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano opposes Tokyo selling itself bonds as the Fed and Treasury have done, warning resulting higher finance charges would hit Japanese banks.

But how does it all connect? We saw how Japan’s disaster put a crimp in the manufacturing supply chain from Shanghai to Detroit. But, for example, what call have German and other European banks on their U.S. colleagues if Greece defaults? Japan, which has been lending the world $175 billion annually in investment capital, is out of that business. Nobody wants to talk about the impact on Spain [20% of the EU GDP] if Greece [3% of the EU GDP], followed by Portugal and perhaps Ireland, “goes”. What will that do to Latin America where Spanish banks have invested heavily as the Brazilian boom simultaneously now threatens to go “bust”? Australia’s roaring dollar is already feeling Chinese cutbacks as will all commodities producers, perhaps even the Mideast petrosheikhs.

In one of his serio-comic sequences, Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp starts pulling a thread from his crumpled suit. Before long, his whole miserable costume dissolves. Is there that kind of loose thread here?

sws-07-08-11

Germany on the hot seat


The crisis of the European Union’s common currency goes into its second act, replete with a Spanish fandango as the curtain rises with the biggest peripheral Euro player downstage. Spain’s economy is almost twice as large as the combined early crisis victims – Greece and Ireland and waiting in the wings, Portugal. As the world’s No. 9 national economy, it is 10% of all Eurozone activity. And Madrid’s problems caricature the political issues dogging all the 27 EU members. They promise an endemic crisis.

As with all Europe, Spain is torn by internal rivalries as old as the nation state itself. Spaniards have always spoken of Las Españas – the Spains – acknowledging and rationalizing these differences. The divisions are more than regional geography but language, custom and legalities from before the modern era with important economic implications. The Chartered Community of Navarre, for example, one of Spain’s Basque-speaking political subdivisions, even has its own special tax arrangements dating from its inclusion in a united Spain in 1515.

Because the European Union was a top down construction – the creation of statesmen looking for a way out of centuries of warfare to permanent stability and prosperity – it has, as a byproduct, fed these differences. Like other European countries’ autonomous zones – including even highly centralized France – Spain’s regions increasingly see themselves as EU partners rather than nation state components. As more power has been seized by unelected Brussels Eurocrats – Europe’s parliament is a powerless figurehead where discredited politicians go to die – Madrid’s hold on its constituencies weakens. Separatism was fed, too, by subsidies [€347 billion in the last five years] from Brussels targeted at backward EU areas, revealed in the light of the new austerity as corrupt [along with huge agricultural subsidies].

As the economic crisis deepened, last month’s elections in Catalonia – which with the Basque Countries had per capita income a third higher than the national Spanish average — produced a majority advocating either more autonomy or independence. Ironically, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s minority Socialist government has hung on by swapping autonomy concessions for the support of ethnic nationality parties in Madrid’s Cortes [parliament]. That’s despite their otherwise social and economic conservatism. That collaboration is ending with the economic strains.
For in addition to its central debt, Madrid has to deal with the autonomous governments having borrowed heavily. With their industry sparking Spain’s remarkable two decades of progress, they now are suffering the highest unemployment. That is going to further complicate Mr. Zapatero’s austerity program aimed at funding Spain’s debts. He proposes reducing deficits from €45 billion to €30 billion next year. A Socialist leader has gone to such lengths as advocating privatizing the world’s oldest lottery and other state-owned enterprises. But in the face of 20% unemployment, his core constituency, the trade unions, demand strengthening rather than dismantling generous unemployment benefits and protective labor legislation, a major impediment to growing the economy out of debt.
In fact, growth is stalling in the 16 countries using the Euro, even in Germany, and actually negative in the basket cases of Greece and Ireland, in part because of their very austerity programs. It’s hitting Spain, too, faced with rising debt refunding rates — up 20% in the last two months.
Attempting to come to the rescue, the EC’s central bank has been playing cat and mouse with the markets since May, occasionally sneakily buying up €67 billion worth of governments’ bonds to reduce interest rates. But it’s nothing like the €2 trillion or so which would be needed to mop up “the Club Med debt”. Berlin, with its historic fear of cheap money and inflation, adamantly opposes imitating the “quantitative easing” pursued by the U.S. Fed — printing Euros. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposals for setting up contingencies for coming “bailouts” has only added to investors’ jitters and run up the price of refunding.
A growing number of critics hold that “bailouts”, in any case, are not the solution since they only kick the ball down the road. They argue the remedy has to be “restructuring”, default under which bondholders take their lumps. But as indicated by recent revelations of the massive extent to which the U.S. Fed came to the rescue of European banks in 2007-08, those kinds of losses for the banking system could bring on a whole new round of international financial crisis. The European central bank is already extending “emergency” loans to some European banks including the Spanish caja, savings banks.
This rats’ nest increasingly suggests dismantling the Euro may be the only way out, but something Mrs. Merkel has said is unthinkable because it is so emblematic of the European Union itself. Furthermore, a specter down the road for Germany, the powerhouse of the EU as the world’s largest economic entity, is a return to a neodeutschemark would bring speculators running, driving up German prices, possibly creating inflation – and threatening Berlin’s huge dependence on exports, the motor of its post-WWII prosperity.
sws-11-03-10