Socialist Greece near bankruptcy 4

From today’s Washington Post:

In a move sure to increase pressure on Greece’s flailing banks, the European Central Bank (ECB) on Monday decided not to expand an emergency assistance program, raising fears that Greece could soon go completely bankrupt.

The move put a swift crimp on Greek leaders’ jubilation after winning a landslide endorsement from their citizens to reject Europe’s austerity demands and seek a new bailout bargain. Now they must seek a bargain before the money runs out within days, which would likely force them off the euro.

Greek bank heads had said that banks could run out of cash as soon as Tuesday if the European Central Bank (ECB) held firm against them. If the banks fail, it would bring Greece’s economy to a halt, raising the risk of a humanitarian crisis if citizens lost access to food and medicine. …

A senior Greek banking official said after the announcement that Greek banks had been provided with enough money to last until Wednesday evening.

Posted under Economics, Greece, Socialism by Jillian Becker on Monday, July 6, 2015

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Socialists are wrong 1

Hear, Oh Greece! And Bernie Sanders fans! And Pope Francis!

Margaret the Great on the virtue of inequality and the vice of egalitarian thinking:

Posted under Economics, Greece, Leftism, liberty, Socialism, United Kingdom, Videos by Jillian Becker on Monday, July 6, 2015

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Another inevitable failure of socialism 5

The EU has a flag no one salutes, an anthem no one sings, a president no one can name, a parliament whose powers subtract from those of national legislatures, a bureaucracy no one admires or controls and rules of fiscal rectitude that no member is penalized for ignoring. 

George Will writes at the Washington Post:

Now come Greeks bearing the gift of confirmation that Margaret Thatcher was right about socialist governments: “They always run out of other people’s money.” Greece, from whose ancient playwrights Western drama descends, is in an absurdist melodrama about securing yet another cash infusion from international creditors. This would add another boulder to a mountain of debt almost twice the size of Greece’s gross domestic product. This protracted dispute will result in desirable carnage if Greece defaults, thereby becoming a constructively frightening example to all democracies doling out unsustainable, growth-suppressing entitlements.

In January, Greek voters gave power to the left-wing Syriza party, one third of which, the Economist reports, consists of “Maoists, Marxists and supporters of Che Guevara.” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, 40, a retired student radical, immediately denounced a European Union declaration criticizing Russia’s dismemberment of Ukraine. He chose only one cabinet member with prior government experience — a former leader of Greece’s Stalinist Communist Party. Tsipras’s minister for culture and education says Greek education“should not be governed by the principle of excellence . . . it is a warped ambition”. Practicing what he preaches, he proposes abolishing university entrance exams.

Voters chose Syriza because it promised to reverse reforms, particularly of pensions and labor laws, demanded by creditors, and to resist new demands for rationality. Tsipras immediately vowed to rehire 12,000 government employees. His shrillness increasing as his options contract, he says the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are trying to “humiliate” Greece.

How could one humiliate a nation that chooses governments committed to Rumpelstiltskin economics, the belief that the straw of government largesse can be spun into the gold of national wealth? Tsipras’s approach to mollifying those who hold his nation’s fate in their hands is to say they must respect his “mandate” to resist them. He thinks Greek voters, by making delusional promises to themselves, obligate other European taxpayers to fund them. Tsipras, who says the creditors are “pillaging” Greece, is trying to pillage his local governments, which are resisting his extralegal demands that they send him their cash reserves.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister, is an academic admirer of Nobel laureate John Nash, the Princeton genius depicted in the movie A Beautiful Mind, who recently died. Varoufakis is interested in Nash’s work on game theory, especially the theory of cooperative games in which two or more participants aim for a resolution better for all than would result absent cooperation. Varoufakis’s idea of cooperation is to accuse the creditors whose money Greece has been living on of “fiscal waterboarding.’ ” …  His passive-aggressive message? “Play nicely or we will kill ourselves.”

Since joining the euro zone in 2001, Greece has borrowed a sum 1.7 times its 2013 GDP. Its 25 percent unemployment (50 percent among young workers) results from a 25 percent shrinkage of GDP. It is a mendicant reduced to hoping to “extend and pretend” forever. But extending the bailout and pretending that creditors will someday be paid encourages other European socialists to contemplate shedding debts — other people’s money that is no longer fun.

Greece, with just 11 million people and 2 percent of the euro zone’s GDP, is unlikely to cause a contagion by leaving the zone. If it also leaves the misbegotten European Union, this evidence of the EU’s mutability might encourage Britain’s “euro-skeptics” when, later this year, that nation has a referendum on reclaiming national sovereignty by withdrawing from the EU. If Greece so cherishes its sovereignty that it bristles at conditions imposed by creditors, why is it in the EU, the perverse point of which is to “pool” nations’ sovereignties in order to dilute national consciousness? …

It cannot be said too often: There cannot be too many socialist smashups. The best of these punish reckless creditors whose lending enables socialists to live, for a while, off of other people’s money. The world, which owes much to ancient Athens’ legacy, including the idea of democracy, is indebted to today’s Athens for the reminder that reality does not respect a democracy’s delusions.

The EU was formed in the first place because post-war Germany needed to dissolve it’s guilt in a greater political entity, and France wanted to be part of something bigger in order to win its one-sided competition with the United States for clout in the world.

It is an undemocratic, militarily weak, Islam-soiled, bleeding-hearted, oligarchic, dictatorial bureaucracy. It was always a foolish venture, as doomed to certain failure as was Communist Russia.

If Greece’s insolvency makes it drop out and so start the fall of the whole house of cards, that’s one good thing that modern Greece will have done for civilization.

Sharing out the pieces of a shattered empire 5

Nearly a hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire was brought to an end when the German-Turkish alliance was defeated in the First World War. Its former territories in the Middle East became independent states or temporary mandates of European powers.

Efraim Karsh, reviewing a new book* on the subject, corrects errors of fact on which its author relies – and which have been all too generally accepted.

The corrections are important, so we reproduce the entire article:

A century after the catastrophic blunder that led to the destruction of the then longest-surviving empire on earth, culpability is still ascribed to the European powers. Rather than view the Ottoman entry into the First World War on the losing side for what it was – a failed imperialist bid for territorial aggrandizement and reassertion of lost glory – the Muslim empire has been portrayed as the hapless victim of European machinations, driven into the world conflict by overbearing powers eager to expedite its demise and gobble up its lands.

Emblematic of the wider tendency to view Middle Easterners as mere objects, whose history is but a function of their unhappy interaction with the West, this conventional wisdom has proved remarkably resistant to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans is no exception to this rule.

To begin with, in an attempt to underscore the Ottoman Empire’s untenable position on the eve of the war, Rogan reproduces the standard depiction of the protracted period preceding the empire’s collapse, or the Eastern Question as it is commonly known, as the steady European encroachment on Ottoman territory. “The looming prospect of a European general war”, he writes, “raised the imminent threat of a Russian annexation of Istanbul, the straits, and eastern Anatolia – and the ultimate dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire among the Entente Powers. France was known to covet Syria, Britain had interests in Mesopotamia, and Greece wished to expand its grip over the Aegean.”

Reality, however, was quite different. Far from setting their sights on Ottoman lands, the European powers had consistently shored up the ailing Muslim empire for well over a century, saving it time and again from assured destruction – from Muhammad Ali’s imperialist bid of the 1830s, to the Balkan crises of the 1870s, to the Balkan war of 1912–13. And it was none other than Russia that acted as the Ottoman Empire’s latest saviour, halting its former Bulgarian subject at the gates of Istanbul, not once but twice: in November 1912 and March 1913. Several months later St Petersburg joined London and Berlin in underscoring “the necessity of preserving the Turkish Realm in its present form”.

All this means that by the outbreak of the Great War, the Ottoman Empire was scarcely a spurned and isolated power in danger of imminent destruction. Rather, it was in the enviable position of being courted by the two warring camps: the German-Austro-Hungarian Central Alliance wished its participation in the war, while the Anglo-French-Russian Triple Entente desired its neutrality. So much so that on August 18, 1914, less than a month after the outbreak of hostilities, the Entente’s ambassadors to Istanbul assured the Grand Vizier of the empire’s continued survival were it to stay out of the war, while the British Foreign Secretary vowed the preservation of Ottoman territorial integrity “in any conditions of peace which affected the Near East, provided she preserved a real neutrality during the war”. Five days later, at Ottoman request, the three powers put down this pledge in writing.

Had the Ottomans accepted this guarantee and kept out of the war, their empire would have readily weathered the storm. But then, by the time the Entente made its far-reaching proposal, Istanbul had already concluded a secret alliance with Germany that had effectively transformed it into a belligerent. This, nevertheless, didn’t prevent it from maintaining the false pretence of neutrality vis-à-vis the Entente, or even feigning interest in joining its ranks, while at the same time laying the groundwork for war and exploiting Berlin’s eagerness for the immediate initiation of hostilities to extract substantial military and economic benefits.

Preserving the myth of immaculate Turkish victimhood, Rogan claims that “the Ottoman leadership had no wish to enter a general European conflict” and was grudgingly driven to the German embrace by the Entente’s indifference, if not hostility, to its predicament. His proof is the supposed French rebuff of an alliance proposal, allegedly made during a visit to Paris in July 1914 by the military leader Djemal Pasha, as well as the British requisition of two warships commissioned by the Ottomans. “The British decision to requisition the ships was treated as a national humiliation in Turkey and ruled out the possibility of any accord between Britain and the Ottoman Empire”, Rogan writes. “The very next day, 2 August 1914, the Ottomans concluded a secret treaty of alliance with Germany.”

The problem with these well-worn stories is that there is no shred of evidence of Djemal’s alleged overture (its only mention is in his memoirs, written after the war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire with the clear aim of exonerating himself from responsibility for this calamity), while the requisition announcement was made on August 3 – a day after the conclusion of the secret Ottoman-German alliance.

But even if the announcement had been made a few days earlier, it would have made no difference whatsoever for the simple reason that the terms of the Ottoman-German alliance had already been agreed on July 28. Moreover, it was the Ottomans rather than the Germans who had opted for an alliance within days of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 – weeks before the outbreak of hostilities; who were the driving force in the ensuing secret negotiations; and who largely prevailed over their German counterparts in deciding the alliance’s broad contours. As Kaiser Wilhelm ordered his more sceptical negotiators: “A refusal or a snub would result in Turkey’s going over to Russo-Gallia, and our influence would be gone forever … Under no circumstances whatsoever can we afford to turn them away”.

The truth of the matter is that the Ottoman Empire was neither forced into the First World War in a last-ditch attempt to ensure its survival, nor manoeuvred into it by an overbearing German ally and a hostile Entente, but rather plunged head on into the whirlpool. War, for the Ottoman leaders, was not seen as a mortal danger to be averted, but a unique opportunity to be seized. They did not seek “an ally to protect the empire’s vulnerable territory from the consequences of such war” but a powerful underwriter of their imperialist ambitions; and apart from their admiration for Germany and their conviction that it would ultimately be victorious, the Entente had less to offer by way of satisfying these ambitions, first and foremost “the destruction of our Muscovite enemy to obtain a natural frontier to our empire, which should include and unite all branches of our race” (in the words of the Ottoman declaration of war).

Just as the fall of the Ottoman Empire was not the result of external machinations but a self-inflicted catastrophe, so the creation of the modern Middle East on its ruins was not an imperialist imposition but the aggregate outcome of intense pushing and shoving by a multitude of regional and international bidders for the Ottoman war spoils in which the local actors, despite their marked inferiority to the great powers, often had the upper hand.

While Rogan occasionally alludes to this reality, these allusions are far too sparse and timid to break from the standard misrepresentation of the post-war regional order as an artificial Western creation. He aptly notes that “the map drawn by Sykes and Picot bears no resemblance to the Middle East today”, yet reiterates the standard depiction of the agreement as a colonial imposition rather than a British effort “to reconcile the interests of France with the pledges given to the [Arabs]” (to use Albert Hourani’s words), or indeed – the first-ever great power recognition of Arab right to self determination (well before President Woodrow Wilson turned this principle into a driving force of international politics). He similarly observes that Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia (or the Hijaz, as it was then known) “achieved independence within frontiers of their own devising”, yet parrots the conventional wisdom that the imperial powers outlandishly “imposed the borders and systems of governments of most states in the region”.

In fact, most states in the region were established pretty much as a result of local exertions. The modern state of Iraq, to give a prominent example, was created in its present form (rather than divided into three states in accordance with the existing realities of local patriotism and religious affinities) on behalf of Emir Faisal of Mecca and at his instigation, while Jordan was established to satisfy the ambitions of Faisal’s older brother Abdullah. Likewise, the nascent Zionist movement exploited a unique convergence of factors to harness British support to its national cause, to have this support endorsed by the international community and incorporated into the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, and to cling tenaciously to these achievements until their fruition in the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948.

Eugene Rogan acknowledges that “the borders of the post-war settlement have proven remarkably resilient”. Yet he fails to draw the selfevident conclusion that this state of affairs reflects their congruity with local realities, instead echoing the common refrain that ascribes the region’s endemic volatility to the supposed dissatisfaction with these boundaries.

Had this actually been the case, Arab leaders would have seized some of the numerous opportunities they had over the past century to undo the post-Ottoman order and unify the so-called Arab Nation; and they could have readily done this by peaceful means rather than incessant fighting. But then, violence has hardly been imported to the Middle East as a by-product of European imperialism; it was a part of the political culture long before. And if anything, it is the region’s tortuous relationship with modernity, most notably the stubborn adherence to its millenarian religiously based imperialist legacy, which has left physical force as the main instrument of political discourse to date.

But to acknowledge this would mean abandoning the self-righteous victimization paradigm that has informed Western scholarship for so long, and treating Middle Easterners as equal free agents accountable for their actions, rather than giving them a condescending free pass for political and moral modes of behaviour that are not remotely acceptable in Western societies. Sadly, The Fall of the Ottomans signals no such paradigm shift.

 

* The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan. The review first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement and was reprinted in the Wall Street Journal.

A political puzzle 9

The Washington Post and the EU are finding it hard to understand the behavior of the newly elected far-left government of Greece.

It is doing things that could possibly be interpreted as signs that it feels friendlier towards Russia and China than to its fellow members the EU. But no one wants to jump to conclusions. It’s strange and puzzling, as the Washington Post reports it:

[Greece] is complicating Western efforts to take a tough line against Moscow amid an escalating Russian-backed insurgency in southeastern Ukraine.

The new dynamic was on display Thursday, with European foreign ministers gathered for an emergency meeting in Brussels to consider fresh sanctions against Moscow just days after shelling killed 30 civilians in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. But amid Greece’s doubts, the ministers could agree only to extend existing sanctions while deferring any decision on new ones after hours of emotional debate.

“The discussion was open, frank and heated,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said in an interview.

Take note of that “heated”.

Although Greece is just one of 28 members of both the European Union and NATO, both organizations operate on a principle of unanimous consent, meaning any member can block policy with a simple veto.

After years of Russian support for populists on the far right and far left in an attempt to undermine European unity, the election of Syriza gives Moscow a potentially critical spoiler at the heart of Western decision-making.

The prospect of a Russian beachhead inside Western alliances has stirred Cold War-style fears within European defense ministries this week. “If you can’t sit down in a NATO meeting in Brussels, dive into the intelligence and be sure that it’s not going straight back to the Kremlin, that’s a pretty significant and shocking development for the alliance,” said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank.

But just how far Greece’s new government will go in hewing to a pro-Russian line remains unclear. …

The threat of disruption to Europe’s Russia policy, some officials said, may be a mere tactic ahead of broader and, for Greece, more important negotiations to come over the terms of the country’s mammoth debt. Syriza has demanded that the country’s $284 billion bailout agreements be renegotiated, with a significant portion of the total forgiven and austerity restrictions lifted. …

In other words, members of the EU suspect that Greece may be blackmailing it: “Save our economy, or you may find you have big problems with Russia.” But they don’t want to think about that. They prefer to feel bewildered. So what, they wonder, is Greece playing at?

Before the party’s victory Sunday, Syriza’s leadership was outspoken in defending Russia against Western criticism. Last spring, Tsipras visited Moscow and met with Kremlin associates. Western sanctions, he said, were counterproductive.

“I’m sure the E.U. should conduct dialogue and seek peaceful ways out of the conflict together with Moscow and not impose sanctions on Russia,” Tsipras told the state-owned daily newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Since Sunday, Syriza has doubled down in its backing for Russia.

Tsipras had been in office for only hours Monday when he welcomed his first foreign visitor, the Russian ambassador.

The second was the Chinese ambassador.

Greece objected vehemently when European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday issued a statement condemning Moscow for the shelling of Mariupol [in the Ukraine] and asking European foreign ministers to draw up new sanctions. …

For Syriza, challenging the EU stance on Russia reflects an ideology “that says we have to be skeptical of certain things our European partners do because the EU is a capitalist, neoliberal enterprise,” said Spyros Economides, an international relations professor at the London School of Economics. For Russia, he said, support for Syriza is more “a marriage of convenience”.

Some Russian officials have responded to Syriza’s triumph with undisguised glee.

“Syriza’s victory will be a breakthrough and will destroy Europe’s liberal consensus,” Mikhail Emelyanov, head of the Russian Duma’s committee on economic policy, told the state news service RIA Novosti. …

But say it is not so! It seems as if … but no … surely not … we simply cannot be sure ….

“You have a lot of people asking themselves whether Greece is going to play the role of the Trojan horse,” said Ben Nimmo, a European security analyst and former NATO official. “But nobody really knows. … ”

A baffled EU. Unable to interpret the signs with any conviction. Lost in a cloud of unknowing.

A kaleidoscopic shift of the political pattern of Europe 2

New political parties have been rising in many European countries to oppose established policies of both leftist and conservative governments, particularly policies towards the European Union and immigration.

Most of the new parties are on the Right, but recently some have been formed – or have quite suddenly grown from being inconsequential groupings into forces to be reckoned with  – on the Left.

The newly aggressive parties of the Left are mainly in the South, in countries at the receiving end of EU subsidies, angry that the subsidies are not substantial enough.

The new parties of the Right are mainly in the North, in countries at the paying end of the system, angry that they have to subsidize the failing economies of the South.

That sections of the Left should see how badly Europe needs a strategy for survival, should find fault with the EU, and object to unending immigration of dependents into their already hard-pressed welfare states, is a startling development. It means that new political patterns of alignment and opposition are emerging.

In the following article, which we quote from Gatestone, Peter Martino writes about the new parties’ concern with the adverse economic effects of EU membership. He only touches on immigration as a factor in the intensifying discontent which prompts the formation of new political organizations, movements and agendas, but it is in fact quite as hot an issue.

Last week, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won a landmark victory in the Rochester & Strood by-election. With this win, UKIP secured its second Member of Parliament. The UKIP candidate, Mark Reckless, won 42.1% of the votes, thrashing the Conservatives (34.8%), Labour (16.8%) and the Liberal Democrats (0.9%). It was the first time ever that UKIP stood in Rochester & Strood. The party won votes from all the major parties. The Conservatives lost 14.4% of the votes, Labour 11.7% and the Liberal Democrats a whopping 15.5%.

UKIP is expected to do very well in the British general elections next May. Last month, a poll predicted the party could win up to 25% of the vote in these elections. In the 2010 general elections, the party had only 3.1%.

UKIP stands for the preservation of the Britain’s national identity. It opposes the European Union (EU) and wants Britain to remain a sovereign nation rather than become a state of a federal Europe. The party is also critical of mass immigration, in particular from Eastern Europe. Though Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, carefully avoids the issue of Islam, the party has also become the refuge of voters who worry about Islamization. Above all, however, the party embodies the dissatisfaction of the electorate with the traditional political establishment.

As such, UKIP is part of a broad trend that can currently be perceived all over Western Europe.

In Spain, a poll this week said that Podemos, a brand new party that was established only nine months ago, is currently the largest party in the country with 28.3% of the vote. The governing conservative Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would finish second with 26.3% and the Socialist Party would get only 20.1%. Three years ago, in the November 2011 general elections, the Partido Popular won 44.6% of the votes.

Unlike UKIP, Podemos is a party that clearly belongs to the left of the political spectrum. Podemos (the Spanish for We can) was founded by “anti-capitalist” academics and trade unionists who want to “oppose the dominating EU politics from the left”. Unlike UKIP, Podemos does not want to abolish the EU. On the contrary, since Spain is receiving billions of euros in EU subsidies, a majority of the Spaniards clearly want their country to remain an EU member state.

However, the party opposes the austerity policies that the EU is imposing on Spain as a prerequisite for the continuation of the flow of EU subsidies. Both the Spanish Socialist Party and Prime Minister Rajoy’s Partido Popular are perceived by voters as implementing the same set of EU-prescribed policies.

In this regard, Podemos does resemble UKIP, which also accuses the British political establishment of simply implementing EU mandated policies. In Britain’s case, the dissatisfaction with the EU stems mostly from British taxpayers having to pay billions to the EU, which are then transferred to countries in the south of Europe [such as Spain -ed], where governments use them to fund welfare programs. In this sense, the rise of leftist tax-and-spend parties (or rather tax-other-countries-and-spend parties), such as Podemos, reinforces the rise of parties such as UKIP in the north of Europe.

Indeed, all along the Mediterranean, parties opposing the EU-mandated austerity policies are growing spectacularly.

One of the keynote speakers at Podemos’ recent first-ever party congress was Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s neo-communist party Syriza. In last May’s European elections, Syriza became Greece’s biggest party with 26.5% of the votes, ahead of the governing Nea Demokratia party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Syriza draws on the same kind of sentiments as Podemos and is popular for exactly the same reasons.

The same is true of Italy’s Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, which, with 21.2% of the vote, became the country’s second largest party in last May’s European elections.

And the same is even true for the Front National of Marine Le Pen in France. Ms Le Pen claims that without the euro, the EU’s common currency, there would be “no need for austerity”. Drawing on anti-EU sentiments, the Front National became the largest French party in last May’s European elections with 24.8% of the vote.

The popularity of these parties is still rising. A recent poll in France revealed that Marine Le Pen might win the next French presidential elections, not just in the first round, but also in the decisive second round. It is the first time ever that the FN leads in a presidential poll against France’s two major parties, the Socialist PS and the Center-Right UMP.

In the countries to the north, however, the popularity of the parties opposing the EU subsidization of the southern countries is rising equally spectacularly.

In the Netherlands, the anti-establishment Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders is currently the biggest party in the polls. Wilders has consistently opposed the bailing out of countries such as Greece and Spain with Dutch taxpayers’ money.

In neighboring Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party established last year to oppose eurozone bailouts, is shaking up politics with its astonishing wins in recent state elections.

In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD), opposing both immigration and the EU, won 13% of the vote in last September’s general elections, but their popularity keeps rising. Last week, an SD spokesman said the party is currently expected to win up to 18% of the vote.

All across Europe, the electorate is deeply dissatisfied and disillusioned with both the Conservative and the Social-Democrat parties of the political establishment. Voters no longer see much difference between the traditional political protagonists, who are perceived as imposing an EU agenda that, for various reasons, is seen as bad for the country.

In Europe judging by the polls, political landslides are on the way.

One hundred years ago today World War One began 1

Today is the centennial anniversary of the start of the First World War. On 28 July, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian army fired the first shots, to crush rebellious Serbia. What happened then, and why, is traced in this video. 

Blame is laid on the growth of nationalism, and even more on imperialism – the acquisition of colonies by the powers of Europe on other continents, in fierce competition with each other, Britain being far and away the  winner. The fact that at least some empires, chiefly the British, brought incalculable benefits to the lands they conquered, colonized and ruled, is touched on briefly; in our view, too briefly.

We think it is an overview worth watching, though there are points where we would place a different emphasis.

We agree with the presenters that the day World War One broke out was the day Europe began its terminal decline.

 

Voting to be poorer 4

A majority of those who live in the Crimea have voted to join Russia.

They will likely be the poorer for their decision.

If what remains of Ukraine were to become – as many Ukrainians wish it would – more integrated with the West, it would likely be much better off.

Here is a table, from Wikipedia, comparing average monthly wages. For us, it contains some surprises, eg that Austria (at $3,437) has a higher average wage than the US (at $3,263), and that Germany ($2,720) has a lower national wage than Ireland (at $2,997).

The average wage in the Russian Federation, at $1,215, is lower than that of bankrupt Greece, at $2,300.

It’s a rough figure based on data from 72 countries, omitting some of the world’s poorest nations. All figures are adjusted to reflect variations in the cost of living from one country to another. [PPP = Purchasing Power Parity] 

rank Country Monthly average wage $PPP
1 Luxembourg $4,089
2 Norway $3,678
3 Austria $3,437
4 United States $3,263
5 United Kingdom $3,065
6 Belgium $3,035
7 Sweden $3,023
8 Ireland $2,997
9 Finland $2,925
10 South Korea $2,903
11 France $2,886
12 Canada $2,724
13 Germany $2,720
14 Singapore $2,616
15 Australia $2,610
16 Cyprus $2,605
17 Japan $2,522
18 Italy $2,445
19 Iceland $2,431
20 Spain $2,352
21 Greece $2,300
22 New Zealand $2,283
23 South Africa $1,838
24 Malta $1,808
25 Israel $1,804
26 Czech Republic $1,786
27 Croatia $1,756
28 Turkey $1,731
29 Qatar $1,690
30 Hong Kong $1,545
31 Poland $1,536
32 Slovakia $1,385
33 Hungary $1,374
34 Republic of Macedonia $1,345
35 Bosnia & Herzegovina $1,338
36 Estonia $1,267
37 Russian Federation $1,215
38 Jamaica $1,135
39 Lithuania $1,109
40 Argentina $1,108
41 Latvia $1,098
42 Serbia $1,058
43 Chile $1,021
44 Botswana $996
45 Malaysia $961
46 Belarus $959
47 Romania $954
48 Bahrain $917
49 Panama $831
50 Mauritius $783
51 Brazil $778
52 Macau $758
53 Kazakhstan $753
54 Bulgaria $750
55 Colombia $692
56 Ukraine $686
57 China $656
58 Mexico $609
59 Georgia $603
60 Azerbaijan $596
61 Egypt $548
62 Thailand $489
63 Armenia $471
64 Dominican Republic $462
65 Moldova $438
66 Mongolia $415
67 Syria $364
68 Kyrgyzstan $336
69 India $295
70 Philippines $279
71 Pakistan $255
72 Tajikistan $227

Other tables on the page give OECD statistics, and official national statistics. They demonstrate that the US and western Europe – including almost all the EU’s eastern European affiliates – plus Japan, Israel and South Korea, are doing best; better than Russia and very much better than China and India.

There’s a great deal more to be discovered from the figures. They reward examination. (Eg the average gross monthly wage in Cuba is $19!)

But our concern at present is with Russia and Ukraine. We are not above outbursts of Schadenfreude, and we expect to find occasion to indulge in it when the Ukrainians who voted to join Russia complain about their comparative poverty. We confess that we look forward to it.

Posted under Commentary, Economics, Germany, Greece, Russia, United States by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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Ending the pax Americana 2

We are in principle against intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. But we are not for isolationism or pacifism – we regard either philosophy as a formula for national suicide. If other countries become belligerent, build up their armed strength, send their warships towards our shores, establish bases in countries on our borders, and declare their aggressive intentions towards us, the politics of those countries become our business. That is happening now. We are under threat – because Obama is deliberately weakening America. And his reaction to the result is to weaken America even more.

The conditions for major war develop much more easily when the U.S. is too weak. They are developing as we speak. 

To a meaningful extent, the significant increase we’ve seen in unrest around the globe since 2010 has been made possible, and inevitable, by the retraction of American power. Even where we still have power in place, it has become increasingly obvious that we aren’t going to use it. 

We quote from a website interestingly named Liberty Unyielding. The article on the extreme folly of the Obama administration’s moves to weaken America is by Commander Jennifer Dyer, now retired from the US navy. (Her own blog is at Theoptimisticconservative.wordpress.com):

The collapse of order in the Arab nations in 2011 was the first significant stage of the process. The perception that the United States would do nothing about a Hezbollah coup in Lebanon was tested in January of that year. The perception proved to be true, and when protests erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, for causes both natural and manufactured, a set of radical Islamist actors – the “establishment” Muslim Brotherhood, Sunni jihadists, Iran – saw an opportunity. The establishment Muslim Brotherhood has largely won out in Tunisia, but the battle still rages among these radical actors for Egypt, Syria, and now Iraq. Lebanon is being incrementally sucked into the maelstrom as well.

In multiple venues, Russia has watched the U.S. and the West effectively back Islamists in Russia’s “near abroad”: in Turkey (with support for the now struggling Erdogan government); in the Balkans, especially Bosnia and Kosovo; and in Syria. …

There was a time when the implicit determination of the U.S. to enforce the “Pax Americana” order – the post-World War II alignments of the region – held Russia in check. The Russians still derived some security benefit from that order, after all … It appears to me, however, that 2014 will be the year in which it becomes clear that, according to Russians’ perception, they no longer benefit from the old order. If we’re not going to enforce it, Russia will do what she thinks she has to.

In fact, Moscow’s pushback against the plan for Ukraine to affiliate with the EU constitutes just such a blow for perceived Russian interests. It is of supreme importance for Westerners to not misread the recent developments. The EU and the U.S. did back down when Russia pushed hard last fall. The only ones who didn’t back down were the Ukrainian opposition. I predict Vladimir Putin will try to handle the opposition factions cleverly, as much as he can, and avoid a pitched battle with them if possible. He respects what they are willing to do. But he has no reason to respect Brussels or Washington.

And that means he has more latitude, not less, for going after the regional props to the old order, one by one. As always, Russia’s inevitable competition with China is a major driver, along with Russia’s concern about Islamism on her southern border. The whole Great Crossroads – Southwest Asia, Southeast Europe, Northeast Africa, the waterways that snake through the region – is, if not up for grabs, at least in ferment. Look wherever you like: there are almost no nations where there is not a very present menace from radicalism, or where governments and even borders are not gravely imperiled by internal dissent.

Israel is the chief standout for politically sustainable stability and continuity. Romania and Turkey seem likely to at least retain their constitutional order in the foreseeable future, but Turkey’s geopolitical orientation, in particular, is less certain. Greece and Kosovo – even Bosnia – have serious internal problems. Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia all remain in crisis at various levels. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are relatively stable, and the Arab Persian Gulf states relatively so as well. But their neighborhood is going downhill fast. Iran is riding a wave of radical confidence, and the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan.

In this tumultuous region, it’s actually a little funny that Pakistan looks stable and staid compared to Iran, Afghanistan, and neighbors west. We can hope that Islamabad’s perceived need to maintain a symmetrical stance against India will keep Pakistan’s loose federation of intransigents federated, and the nukes under central control. But as we move across South Asia, we near another boiling pot. Thailand – long an American ally and pillar of stability in the region – has been rocked in recent months by national unrest of a kind not seen in Southeast Asia for decades. Islamist radicalism is a growing threat in Indonesia, and an unpacified one in the Philippines, after more than a decade of U.S.-Philippines collaboration in fighting it.

And, of course, China is making real, transformative moves against regional security with her proclamations about air space and maritime rights off her southeast coast.

This disruptive process, like the battles for many of the Arab nations, is already underway. We’re not waiting for something to happen; it’s started.

China assumes, quite correctly, that there will be no effective pushback from the United States. But two other nations with power and means will regard it as intolerable for China to dictate conditions in Southeast Asia: Japan and Russia. The dance of realignment among these nations has implications for everyone in Central Asia and the Far East. The day may be on the horizon sooner than we think when maintaining a divided Korea no longer makes sense to at least one of the major players. The day is already here when Chinese activities in Central Asia are alarming the whole neighborhood, just as Chinese actions are in the South China Sea. …

Russia and Iran are advancing on the US through Central America:

It’s no accident that as radical leftism creeps across Central America (falsely laying claim to a noble “Bolivarian” political mantle), the maritime dispute between Nicaragua and American ally Colombia heats up – and Russia shows up to back Nicaragua and Venezuela – and so does Iran – and unrest turns into shooting and government brutality and violence in Venezuela – and Hezbollah shows up there to openly support the radical, repressive Maduro government.

Now Iran has a naval supply ship headed for Central America, very possibly with a cargo of arms that are not only prohibited by UN sanction, but capable of reaching the United States if launched from a Central American nation or Cuba.

We’re not still waiting for the shocks to start to the old order. They’ve already started. I haven’t surveyed even the half of what there is to talk about …

She looks at the latest defense cuts with dismay and considers what the consequences will be:

This is the world in which the United States plans to reduce our army to its lowest level since before World War II, and eliminate or put in storage much of its capabilities for heavy operations abroad (e.g., getting rid of the A-10 Warthogs, moving Blackhawk helicopters into the National Guard). It’s in this world that DOD proposes to cease operating half of our Navy cruisers, while delaying delivery of the carrier-based F-35 strike-fighter to the Navy and Marine Corps. These cutbacks come on top of cuts already made to training and maintenance expenditures in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force that will affect unit readiness for years to come. …

Then comes what should be a shocking observation:

By cutting back on defense so drastically, America is deciding, in essence, to “fight fair”: to give whatever opponents emerge more of a chance to kill our soldiers, damage our interests, and drag out conflicts.

That would be hard to believe of any American leadership – until now. It is ludicrous. Worse, it is lunatic. But Obama has never concealed or disguised his wish to weaken America’s military capacity.

The decision “to further limit our capabilities to use power in politically relevant ways” will result in “even more global unrest: more conflict, more shooting, more blood, more extortion and political thuggery menacing civil life in the world’s poorer and more vulnerable nations”, and that cannot be good for America. The point is that -

These unpleasant trends will spill over into civil life in the wealthier nations soon enough

As it has, she points out, in Ukraine, Thailand, and Venezuela, “whether directly or through second-order consequences”.

Peace and freedom have to be tended constantly; they are not the natural state of geopolitical indiscipline, but its antithesis. …

We’re extraordinarily unprepared for the world that is shaping up around us. …

[And] a world that doesn’t want quiescent trade conditions, tolerance of dissent, the open flow of ideas, and mutual agreements, peacefully arrived at, will not have them.

That’s the world we are sentencing ourselves, for now, to live in. Perhaps we will learn from the consequences how to think again: about what it takes to guard freedom, and indeed, about what freedom actually is. 

It is Obama who needs to think again, but there is no reason to hope that he will. It could hardly be more obvious that he does not care for freedom.

So this is the transformation of America 5

Look up! See the  skies filling with pigs on the wing – because: The left-biased media are exploding with disapproval of the president they have long and deeply adored.

CBS finally got round to airing a report on what happened in Benghazi on 9/11/12  that is not flattering to the Obama administration because it shows – without explicitly stating – that Obama and Hillary Clinton lied about the disastrous events of that night of death and defeat. [But see Postscript.]

Obama’s most faithful dog NBC reveals to its audience that Obama lied when he said that people could keep their health insurance under Obamacare.

Four opinion columnists of the left-leaning Washington Post are shocked, shocked at Obama’s display of incompetence, his denial of culpability, his claimed ignorance of what his administration has been doing badly.

Ruth Marcus becomes quite strong in her disapproval, here. Her theme is “the chaotic reality of the Obama administration’s second term”. She writes:

The menu of current problems [that] go to issues of core competency to govern [are]:

Eavesdropping on foreign leaders. The choices here are unflattering. EitherPresident Obama did not know what his spy agencies were up to, in which case he is not fully in control of the reins of power after nearly five years in office, or he knew, in which case he did not think through the obviously inadequate cost-benefit ratio and his aides are misleading the public now. … How could he not know? If he did know, how could he think the information gleaned could possibly be worth the risk of having foreign leaders discover the surveillance? …

Syria. …   the herky-jerky nature of the administration’s approach — drawing a red line, failing to enforce it, trumpeting enforcement, then suddenly shifting to Congress — does not portray the president in a flattering light. This is first-year-of-first-term amateurishness

Oh yes, health care. The president’s signal domestic policy achievement. Probably the most important legacy of his administration. …  So how could the roll out of the Web site be so bad?

Chris Cillizza writes skeptically:

“Obama didn’t know” has become a regular refrain for this White House. Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the president was unaware of the red flags that had been raised in regards the launch of Healthcare.gov, and back in May the President himself said knew nothing about the reports of the IRS targeting of conservative groups before he read about it in the media.”

And his column is illustrated with a video clip from a CNN report about Obama’s repeated plea that he “didn’t know”, questioning whether this was “a strategy”. The host’s air of mild surprise, his tone of “only asking”, fig-leafs the message that if Obama really doesn’t know what’s going on in his administration, he should.  

Dana Milbank seems more than a little irritated (writing here at IBD):

For a smart man, President Obama professes to know very little about a great number of things going on in his administration. .. Is it better that he didn’t know about his administration’s missteps — or that he knew about them and didn’t stop them?

Richard Cohen – seeming hurt and even a touch angry (here):

[Obama] has lately so mishandled both domestic and foreign policy … [His Syrian policy is] intellectually incoherent and pathetically inconsistent … The debacle of the Affordable Care Act’s Web [raises]questions about confidence. … An erratic presidency has made the world a bit less safe.

Why were they unable to see what sort of man Obama is until now?

They saw what they wanted to see.

What’s happened that they see him more clearly now? Why did they let him get away with so much? Why are they still not complaining about the lies and cover-up of Benghazi?

Is it too late to undo the harm Obama has done to America?

*

We now know that perhaps 16 million peoplewill lose their health coverage because of ObamaCare. But David Axelrod sniffs “the overwhelming majority of the population won’t lose their current coverage,” and Anna Eshoo (my congresswoman) assures us that these millions will now be able to purchase “better” insurance (which they don’t want and which doesn’t fit their needs).

Three years of blatant lies from Obama in order to herd the American people, mostly against their will, into an unworkable, financially disastrous system, all in the service of the long-term goal of the Democratic Party: to increase the power, the reach, and the intrusiveness of the federal government, thereby turning free, independent citizens into wards of the state. This is what Obama meant when he proclaimed shortly before his first inauguration that the total transformation of this country will begin in five days. Next on Obama’s agenda is universal pre-school, that is, a year or two more in state-run, generally mediocre schools and a year or two less time with their parents (who may harbor undesirable, reactionary views). And let us not forget the Obama administration’s long-standing policy of not enforcing immigration laws, which means an ongoing rapid transformation of the demographics of this country and a huge increase in the number of people who will vote for welfare state policies.

What is this transformed America that Obama and most Democrats envision? At best, it’s a bloated European-style welfare state similar to the ones that are currently sinking into insolvency, that are unwilling and unable to defend themselves against the enemies within and without, that are becoming more culturally enfeebled with every passing year, and that are locked in a demographic death spiral which ensures their virtual disappearance as a culture in the lifetime of my grandchildren. At worst, it’s a leviathan state which holds the commanding position in every critical aspect of life, both political and economic — something akin to a Soviet Union but perhaps without the gulags, the purge trials, and the sealed borders. This worst case scenario is not so far-fetched when one considers the chief influences in Obama’s life: the Reverend Wright, Frank Marshall Davis (Communist Party member), Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, and Obama’s revered father, a Marxist revolutionary. Steve Weinberg, Nobel Prize winner in physics, once expressed amazement that religious people actually believe that the Bible is literally true. When it comes to irrational belief, is it as difficult to grasp the notion that Obama might very well believe and wish to put into practice the anti-American, anti-capitalist worldview of those he has chosen to associate with throughout his adult life?

One may argue that a single man cannot possibly do irreparable damage to a society in eight short years. Let us hope this is true. But think about it! In two generations, Greece has gone from a nation of sturdy fishermen, farmers, and merchants into a bankrupt society whose citizens riot at the prospect of not being able to retire at the age or 50 with full pensions. Massive government intervention, in particular unearned benefits, has done to the Greeks what it has done to so many blacks in this country; that is, it has reduced them to feckless wards of the state. As Ambassador Daniel Moynihan pointed out, culture is more important than laws, but culture can be changed by changing the laws.

As far back as the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville described a new and distinctive culture, one that was totally different from those of Europe. It was a culture characterized by individualism, self-reliance, hard work, suspicion of authority, individual generosity, and the willingness to form local associations to solve social problems. It is what shaped and molded America and is the reason why the United States and not Brazil, Argentina, or Russia is the world’s preeminent power. Obama appears to have nothing but contempt for this culture, as exemplified by his off-hand comment about those people who cling to their guns and religion and his wife’s comment (almost certainly approved by him) on the campaign trail to the effect that for the first time in her life she felt proud of her country. When asked what made America great, Obama cited the passage of Social Security and Medicare – implying that the evolution of 13 weak colonies to the most powerful, the wealthiest, and the most innovative and creative nation in a little over two centuries was nothing compared to social welfare legislation. On another occasion, Obama opined that the Constitution was a flawed document in that it stipulates only negative rights (Congress shall not do this or that) and but does not stipulate positive rights (good jobs, free education, free medical care, free housing, etc.). But by their very nature, it is beyond the power of government to guarantee such “rights”. Government can decree the things it wants done but cannot ensure that these things will be done. If it could, the Soviet Union (which had a magnificent constitution) would have been an earthly paradise but, like all other states that have offered cradle-to-grave fulfillment of human needs, was a giant prison whose citizens were equal in their poverty.

 

Robert Kantor   TAC Associate    October 30, 2013 

 

*Footnote:  A Forbes article headlines: Obama officials [predicted] in 2010 that 93 million Americans will be unable to keep their health [insurance] plans under Obamacare.

Postscript 11/13/13: It turns out that the CBS report was based on a false account. This does not alter the fact that an Obama-supporting TV channel was prepared to discuss Benghazi without whitewashing the Obama administration – unless putting out the program was the start of a cunning plan to tell lies, have them exposed, and so make it seem that any adverse criticism of the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack is likely to be untrue. It’s a possibility, but we think it more probable that CBS was simply deceived, and its willingness to criticize the administration’s handling of that dire event remains the notable point.

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