Category Archives: politics

The Trump Effect: The “Clash” between the Pope and the Order of Malta

Here’s another of my articles, just published on Impakter:

The media has recently reported some eye-popping news about the Pope and the Order of Malta allegedly engaged in a power struggle, with the Grand Master of the Order losing the battle and “forced” to resign.

What we have here is the kind of spectacle the media relishes: On one side, the Pope is depicted as the “anti-Trump Pope” for example, see the New Yorker’s article written by James Carroll, an American Catholic reformer and author of eleven novels and eight works of non-fiction, clearly in search of his next plot. On the other side, the Order of Malta, a millenarian Catholic institution with a global, humanitarian mandate, is presented as helplessly in the grips of Cardinal Edmund Burke, a well-known hardliner. An American, Cardinal Burke is adamant about fighting Islam and he is a darling of the populists. So what do you get? A juicy alt-right picture of a clash between a supposedly rigidly conservative Order and a progressive Pope.

In the photo: Pope Francis receives the Grand Master in audience, in earlier better days (June 2006) Photo credit: Order of Malta website  

To make it more credible, the Order is reported by some as an out-of-step relic of the Catholic Church, with its members parading around in “nutcracker” red uniforms.  Instead, it is, historically, the oldest existing humanitarian organization. It started out nine hundred years ago to assist pilgrims in Jerusalem. Today, its mandate has broadened to cover children, the homeless, handicapped, refugees, elders, terminally ill and lepers around the world without distinction of ethnicity or religion.

In the photo: Upholding human dignity and caring for the people in need. PHOTO CREDIT: Order of Malta website

The Order deploys 120,000 people, some 13,500 Knights, Dames and auxiliary members, 25,000 paid medical personnel and 80,000 volunteers. With its world-wide relief agency, Malteser International, it provides emergency aid in natural disasters, epidemics and war.

The Order is not just another charitable organization: it maintains diplomatic relations with 106 countries, the European Union and the United Nations (the latter as permanent observer), thus effectively linking diplomacy with aid. In short, it has a status similar to that of a government-in-exile, having surrendered its territory – the island of Malta – to Napoleon in 1798 and never recovered it, in spite of a resolution of the 1802 Amiens Treaty and the 1815 Congress of Vienna (it was never applied, the English refused to give it back).

In fact, in this complicated story which we can only glean through partial and even fake news (!), the American Cardinal seems to play a key role. And, as I show below, this is not, contrary to stories in the press, a clash between the Pope and the Order of Malta: They are, and never stopped being together on the same side of human values.

THE ORDER’S GOVERNMENT CRISIS, THE FIRST IN OUR TIME

On 6 December 2016, the unthinkable happened: The Prince and Grand Master, Frà Robert Matthew Festing, the third Englishman to serve as Grand Master, suspended the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, a German national and moved to expel him from the Order. The Grand Chancellor, who had been faithfully serving the Order for 40 years (since 1976), immediately denied all allegations of wrong-doing, refused to resign or leave the Order and reportedly contacted Cardinal Parolin, close to the Pope, to obtain guidance.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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How Trump is Changing America and What Writers have to Say

This is how one Italian blogger sees the President-Elect – once Trump moves into the White House, since his wife Melanie apparently has no desire to live there, expect this to happen:

Yes, the American Presidency, with Trump in the driving seat, has lost much of its dignity. Satirists around the world are waking up to the golden opportunity to make fun of him.

But is there really much to laugh about?

The first shocking thing are the numbers. Perhaps Americans, familiar with their bizarre Electoral Voting System are used to it and don’t see the inequity in it. But people who are not American cannot understand that a man who has garnered fully 2 million votes less than his opponent still wins the Presidency.

What kind of democracy is that? Where is social justice?

We are bombarded with frightening news coming out of America, and people who normally write novels and short stories have suddenly turned political. That is very unusual for American writers: in my experience, and at least this was the case through the Obama years, most of them refused to “take sides”. I couldn’t quite figure out why but I imagined they were afraid of losing fans and book sales. Being a European writer myself, I find that astonishing. Over here, on this side of the pond, we are used to writers and artists taking sides – indeed, through most of the 20th century, most of them were Communists. Take the example of France, starting with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre   – very few were on the right, Céline being the historic exception, of course (he was pro-Nazi, anti-Jew and a collaborationist).

So what are American writers saying now about Trumpian America?

So far, not many have come out. I was able to only identify only two so far and, oddly enough, both of them with articles published in the UK Guardian: Barbara Kingsolver, the author of 14 books including climate fiction masterpiece “Flight Behavior” and Dave Eggers, a prolific author  spanning from non fiction, a best-selling memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” to fiction, including “The What is What“an extraordinary novel about a Sudanese child immigrant in the US.

How about the New York Times and Impakter magazine coming forward with similar pieces? As a Senior Editor of Impakter, I would welcome such articles…

Kingsolver strikingly summed up post-election America like this:

Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; limits on corporate influence over our laws. That’s the opening volley.

Quite a strong volley!

What’s left standing? Not much, it would seem – and hits to international trade and the fight against climate change can affect the whole world, cause a word-wide recession, perhaps a repeat of the Big Depression and even threaten the planet’s very survival as global warming proceeds unabated. We all need America on the front line of the climate change struggle, but with Trump in charge, can this happen?

Kingsolver minces no words, she calls on everyone to stand up and fight:

Many millions of horrified Americans are starting to grasp that we can’t politely stand by watching families, lands and liberties get slashed beyond repair. But it’s a stretch to identify ourselves as an angry opposition. We’re the types to write letters to Congress maybe, but can’t see how marching in the streets really changes anything. […]

But politeness is no substitute for morality, and won’t save us in the end.[…] So many of us have stood up for the marginalized, but never expected to be here ourselves. It happened to us overnight, not for anything we did wrong but for what we know is right. Our first task is to stop shaming ourselves and claim our agenda. […]

We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.

There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud.

Dave Eggers piece is in many ways the opposite of Barbara Kingsolver’s: he manifests surprise, he is almost awed by the divided country he sees as he travels through it. It’s a long, thoughtful piece, beautifully written, but his concluding comment is no less moving than Kingsolver’s, he is deeply worried, he tells us, because:

We are entering an era where uniquely vindictive men will have uniquely awesome power. Dark forces have already been unleashed and terrible plans are being made. On 3 December, the Ku Klux Klan are holding their largest public rally in years, to celebrate Trump’s victory, which they claim as their own. […]
You should be worried, too. George W Bush, a man of comparative calm and measured intellect, started two foreign wars and cratered the world economy. Trump is far more reckless.
We are speeding toward a dark corridor, my friends. Keep your eyes open, your hearts stout and be ready for the fight.

Are you ready?

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Death of the Euro: Thinking the Unthinkable

Impakter Magazine just published my latest article, here it is:

BOOK REVIEW “THE EURO: HOW A COMMON CURRENCY THREATENS THE FUTURE OF EUROPE” BY JOSEPH. E. STIGLITZ (PUBLISHED BY W.W. NORTON & CO, AUGUST 16, 2016)

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s latest literary effort, a new book about the travails of the Euro and Europe, published in August with the apt title “The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe” couldn’t land in the muddy European political waters at a more appropriate time.

The summer of 2016 was a turning point for the so-called “European Project” – Europe’s long-run attempt to build a United States of Europe that began with the 1957 Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community (EEC) with six founding members (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg), and continued in 1993, with the Maastricht Treaty, the European Union (EU) with (up to now) 28 member countries.

 

Problems have piled up this summer, relentlessly.

The opening salvo came in June with the UK referendum that unexpectedly led to “Brexit”, the decision to leave the European Union with 17.4 million Brits voting in favor. For the first time since its foundation, the EU is expected not to expand but to contract, down to 27 members – probably by 2019, when UK exit negotiations will be completed.

 

The most recent problem came in October with another referendum, this time in Hungary, calling on the population to disregard EU policies on refugees and reject quota obligation to accommodate asylum seekers. The referendum did not break the 50% threshold and the result was therefore declared illegal, but it did demonstrate that once again, a hefty minority, 3.6 million Hungarians (43% of voters), supported their government’s continuing opposition to Brussels.

 
Against this background, Joseph Stiglitz’s book has special resonance.
 
As he convincingly argues, the Euro was supposed to bring the European project forward but it has done nothing of the kind – if anything, the European Project has suffered setbacks just as much outside as within the countries of the Eurozone, the 19 EU members who use the Euro as a common currency. Incidentally, this is not a minor currency: The 19 European countries together account for roughly 14 percent of world GNP, making it the third largest economy in the world, after the United States (20 percent) and China (18 percent).
 
Do not delude yourself into thinking this is not important for the rest of the world: should the Euro collapse, the shock would shake the whole world.
 
It could even start another Great Depression.

A SLOW DEATH

Stiglitz minces no words in roundly chastising European leaders for “muddling through” a succession of Euro crises, ever since the first Greek debt scandal broke out in 2010. The book is a convincing diagnosis of what went wrong and why successive “bailouts” of Greece (three so far) have failed miserably, leaving the country six years later with an inexorably rising debt and a Gross Domestic Product diminished by a quarter, while the exceptionally high unemployment (a mind-boggling 50% for the young) won’t budge – really as bad as a war. Stiglitz’ detailed description of the Greek case is harrowing. A must read for anyone who hasn’t followed the drama closely.

And he is equally convincing in arguing that Ireland, often promoted (mostly by Germans) as the “poster child” of the success of Europe’s monetary and austerity policies is no such thing. EU-imposed austerity measures “helped ensure that Ireland’s unemployment rate remained in double digits for five years, until the beginning of 2015, causing untold suffering for the Irish people and a world of lost opportunities that can never be regained.”

Tough words that apply equally well to the other “crisis countries” of the Eurozone. For example, Portugal, also promoted by the IMF as a “success”, is far from that: The facts are that “the government might be borrowing with more ease, but the Portuguese people never experienced a real recovery.” Indeed, across Europe, excessive reliance on austerity and monetary policy “has resulted in even greater inequality: the big winners are the wealthy, who own stocks and other assets […]; the big losers are the elderly who put their money in government bonds, only to see the interest rates generated virtually disappear.”

 

The reason for such a deplorable state of affairs?  

First, a misplaced belief in what another famous economist, Paul Krugman, calls the “confidence fairy”: the idea that with austerity and a balanced budget, business confidence will be restored, which overlooks the simple fact that when consumer demand is depressed, business has no incentive to invest. In a recession, the confidence fairy, as Krugman says, becomes a zombie.

 

To read the rest, click here

NOTE TO MY READERS: Stiglitz’s advice on how to fix the Euro is truly excellent, and I sincerely hope our political leaders will read this book and act on it. I’ve tried to focus on the policy measures that are really doable among the many ideas Stiglitz presents. Eminently practical, they would take VERY LITTLE EFFORT… if only Germany would stop focusing on stupid austerity policies that are destroying Europe!

Go over to Impakter to read about those policy measures and tell me what you think!

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Filed under Book review, Economics, European Union, politics, Uncategorized

Europe: Time to Clean Up Your Act!

Seven months ago, I blogged about the ignominious stance of Ms. Merkel’s Germany, weighing down on poor little Greece, stripping it bare so it would repay its debt – in short, dangerously rocking the Euro boat and nearly sinking it. That post was titled: “Shame on You Germany, You are Killing the European Project”.

How times have changed in just seven short months!

Now Europe is facing the twin challenge of Brexit and the refugee crisis.

Student debate held at Speak Up November 2015 (video here)

Brexit – if it actually leads to the UK’s exit from the EU and, for now, the chances that it will are about even – could open the way for other Euro-skeptical countries to leave, particularly East European countries like Poland and Hungary that seem to have forgotten how happy they once were to escape from the Soviet Empire.

The refugee crisis has seen an extraordinary change of heart in Merkel: all of a sudden, she has turned into Europe’s paladin, fighting for a generous, dignified humanitarian stand (in fact, the only one that would do justice to Europe’s values). By contrast, East and Central European countries, in a selfish, amoral and ungenerous fit, led by Hungary and Poland in this case too, are fighting Merkel and closing their borders with razor-thin walls, reminiscent of the infamous Berlin Wall.

This is a continent truly divided: on its western and eastern borders, EU members are hitting hard at the European project, while at the center, particularly in Germany, it has to valiantly grapple with the influx of over a million refugees and economic migrants.

The crisis is not longer at its doors, it’s within. Yet, in spite of the deadly urgency, the EU is still grappling in the dark, EU meeting after EU summit, for a solution.

Paralyzed.

Why? Are all our politicians stupid, don’t they realize that if they do nothing, voters at home will make them pay? Or is it the EU institutional framework that is causing paralysis? That framework was carefully constructed to preserve “sovereignty” so that no country joining the Union would lose one shred of its precious “national identity”.

Result? Political paralysis. Inability to take any decisions. Focus on irrelevant details (like the length of bananas or wrapping mozzarella cheese in paper) rather than keeping an eye on the main road.

Of all the institutional stupidities, the worst offender is the EU presidential system: here, since the Lisbon Treatycame into force in 2009, we have two “presidents” of Europe, one for the EU Council who is full time – first it was the Belgian Herman van Rompuy; now, since December 2014, it is Poland’s Donald Tusk –  and then we have a continuing six-month rolling presidency as each EU member country takes its turn at the helm. The next EU presidency falls to Slovakia.

And Slovakia in its recent elections has taken a turn away from Europe: its parties are dangerously anti-European. If you don’t believe me, read this excellent analysis in the New York Times: Slovakia’s Governing Party Loses Majority as Far Right Makes Gains.

My question is: why do we need a rotating presidency of EU member countries if we have a European President of the Council, a man who presides over the Council that consists of the heads of states or government of EU members as well as the President of the European Commission? Why is this President that comes closest to an individual selected by ALL European citizens (since he is elected by the European Parliament), why is he set aside every six months by whatever country that happens to take over the “EU presidency”?

This is a perfect recipe for political paralysis.

What kind of game are our politicians playing at? Obviously, this is a way to have more juicy positions to fill their pockets as they “rush to Brussels”. But it is at the clear expense of European citizens and tax contributors. Slovakia, once it is sitting in the presidential driving seat next July, can be counted upon to at best do nothing and leave the European machine stalled, and at worst, to promote its own anti-European agenda and force the European machine to backtrack.

Time to put a stop to this game and reform the EU institutions. Unifying Europe is a management matter: countries will need to leave behind  chauvinistic nationalism in order to rise up to the challenges and make decisions. Solutions will never be reached as long as countries cling to their antiquated national identity.

To begin with: cancel the six-month presidency turn-over game.  This is the only way to have a real European Union President. Someone we know who is dedicated to the European project. Someone who will push it forward and not stall it – as Slovakia no doubt will.

It’s only a start, but it would be a good start. Your views?

Update: Turkey is suddenly playing tough on EU demands to help it stem migrant flows – a stiff bargain that reveals how weak the EU really is. “EU Welcomes Bold Turkey Plan to Stop Migrants” is the way Reuters titled it (see here) EU “welcomes”? “Bold Turkey Plan”? In fact, the Turks simply asked for twice the money!

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Poverty in America vs. Poverty in India: The Making of Bestsellers?

I just wrote this article and uploaded it on Thingser, the only social network that lets you do this – write an article and post it on the platform – if you don’t believe me, try doing this on Facebook!

It comes with the Thingser logo as a featured image to draw attention to this special feature:

And here’s the article:

POVERTY IN AMERICA vs. POVERTY IN INDIA: A JUICY SUBJECT FOR BESTSELLERS?

 

Featured image on NYT review of Evicted, published February 26, 2016

 A book about poverty, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, a sociologist and Harvard University professor and Co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project, was defined by the New York Times as “an astonishing book”. Before going on sale on March 1, 2016, it had already 23 positive “customer reviews” on Amazon. The publisher, Crown Publishers, is ensuring this will be a smashing hit, including pricing the hardcover edition lower than the digital edition. The objective? Echo Katherine Boo’s success with her 3-year study of a Mumbai slum. Here are the reasons why such a book, in spite of its dark, depressing content, is very likely to make it as a major best seller and perhaps even as a future blockbuster movie.   

In a recent and impassioned review of Matthew Desmond’s latest book, Evicted:Poverty and Profit in the American City, to be published shortly (on 1 March 2016, Crown Publishers), the New York Times wryly noted: “Poverty in America has become a lucrative business, with appalling results”.

The author of the review is Barbara Ehrenreich, the noted political activist who was perhaps the first one to publish a best seller about the subject of poverty,  Nickel and Dimed that came out in 2001.

It caused a stir and inspired others to follow in her path, including Adam Shepard with Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25 and the Search for the American Dream and Charles Platt with his blog “Boing, Boing”.

Ms. Ehrenreich is also the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP) dedicated to “supporting journalism, photo and video about economic struggle”. EHRP is run by editor-in-chief Alissa Quart, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism and author of a socially-oriented non-fiction book Branded: the Buying and Selling of Teenagers .

Published in 2003, it was considered a “substantive follow-up to Naomi Klein’s No Logo” (Publishers’ Weekly).

In 2012, Katherine Boo, a New Yorker journalist and recipient of a Pulitzer prize, erupted on this American scene focused with her best selling book about poverty in India, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum .

It instantly earned praise from everyone that counts (1,851 customer reviews on Amazon, over 8,000 reviews on Goodreads) and an accolade from best-selling author Junot Diaz on the New York Times, calling it “a book of extraordinary intelligence and humanity…beyond groundbreaking”.

What have all these authors in common?

They all did something unusual…

Click here to read the rest.

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The Western Sahara

 Another one of my articles on Impakter magazine:
Western Sahara

on February 22, 2016 at 5:25 PM

The Western Sahara scandal. The last colonial war in Africa is still unresolved, in spite of over 40 years of efforts on the part of the United Nations. A people has been destroyed, its rights to its native soil confiscated, half of its people living in refugee camps – three generations now that have never known a normal, free life – while the rest barely ekes out a living in the barren eastern part of the country, just beyond a Berlin-like wall built by the occupant, Morocco.

And all the riches of the country from ocean fisheries and phosphate mining go to Morocco, leaving not a cent for the native people of the Western Sahara, the Sahrawis.
Morocco has brought into the country some 350,000 Moroccan immigrants; they help exploit the phosphate mines and have even set up modern agricultural infrastructures producing tomatoes, while the exploration rights to oil recently discovered in the ocean have been sold to Americans. The Moroccan tomatoes bought by Europeans are often in fact grown in the Western Sahara.

Who knew?

Actually, nobody knows. Or cares. This is an international scandal, one of the worst offenses against human rights and human dignity. And a conspicuous United Nations failure.

How did it all start?

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The Key for Peace: The Indispensable Role of the United Nations

Once again, one of my articles, just published on Impakter, with a remarkable introduction from the Editor (he is a millennial, a man deeply concerned about the issues of our time, value-driven like his whole generation, and this too is reason for hope in a better future). This is the beginning, to read the rest, go on Impakter, click here.

THE KEY FOR PEACE: THE INDISPENSABLE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS

on 16 November, 2015 at 19:00

Note from the Editor: In these hours, following the tragic killing of innocents in Paris and Beirut,  our thoughts are with the people of France and Lebanon.

Impakter is a global publication. Our team comes from every corner of our beloved World. We represent the citizens of the World. Furthermore, our aim is to express that through this publication. Today we want this thought to reach higher than ever before. 

We believe that the current events taking place during the G20 could potentially be a significant milestone in our human history. A unprecedented event. The G20 could potentially regroup all the citizens of the World.  All united into delivering a safer and united future for all the generations to come.

The road is full of challenges, but  we will all walk through it under one flag, that of Peace. This is without a doubt a key turning point in our history. Like the Phoenix, we are to be reborn from the ashes of our World’s darkest hours.

Now, more then ever, we must move upwards and onwards. 

This is a first analysis of what might be happening next.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE PARIS ATTACKS – THE WAY FORWARD

Once the United Nations Security Council is unblocked, we can hope to see an end to the Syria crisis. So far, because of Russia’s repeated use of its veto power at the Security Council, supported by China, its usual ally, the international community has not been able to move forward in a concerted fashion. Syria, after three years of a devastating civil war, is now pounded by Russian and American forces and their respective allies, but they haven’t agreed on common objectives: Russia supports Bashir al Assad, the United States targets Daesh, a.k.a ISIS or IS. But now things are changing.

On Sunday 15 November, at the G20 meeting in Turkey, a major political decision was reportedly taken, a page in the difficult relationship between Russia and the West appears to have been turned. It seems that Putin and Obama had an eye-to-eye talk that lasted half-an-hour and their meeting was caught on Turkish television.

Negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations between the Syrian opposition and the regime [meaning Bashir al Assad] and a cease-fire

A White House spokesman said afterwards…

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