Sunday, April 29, 2012

He doesn't do irony

 New York Times Tom Friedman --

As I walk around the streets of Beirut, that verse from “The Sounds of Silence” keeps rattling around in my head: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls ...”

Thus revealing his pre-1980s musical awareness. Fans of the latter vintage would know better the wordplay on those lyrics in Rush's Spirit of Radio. Its cynicism is more appropriate to the rest of Friedman's column.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No, Pope Benedict did not endorse the House Republican budget

Leading Republican "thinker" Congresssman Paul Ryan at Georgetown University the other day:

The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are “living at the expense of future generations” and “living in untruth.” 

The words in quotation marks have started popping up in the Googlesphere recently, which suggests that someone is e-mailing around the quotes. It's important to look at the source, which is a book-length interview of Benedict by the German journalist Peter Seewald:

Q: If it is a question of a good example, the State has not proved to be very exemplary either. Governments today pile up debts to heights never seen before. A single country like Germany spent no less than 43.9 billion Euros just on interest payments to banks; in other words, for the fact that despite all our wealth we have lived beyond our means. Those interest payments alone would be enough to provide food for a year for all the children in developing countries. Worldwide, since the onset of the financial crisis, government debt has increased by 45 percent—by now totaling more than 50 trillion dollars—inconceivable figures, and a completely unprecedented situation. In 2010 the member states of the European Union alone are taking out more than 800 billion Euros of new loans. The new debt in the United States government budget is pegged at 1.56 trillion dollars, the high point of all time. The Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff says, therefore, that there is no normality any more, but only an illusion of normality.Certainly generations to come are being burdened with colossal debts. Isn't that also an insanely big moral problem? 

A: Naturally, because we are living at the expense of future generations. In this respect it is plain that we are living in untruth. We live on the basis of appearances,and the huge debts are meanwhile treated as something that we are simply entitled to. Here, too, everyone understands in theory that it would require careful deliberation to recognize again what is really possible,what one can do, and what one may do. And yet people do not take it to heart. Above and beyond the individual financial plans, a global examination of conscience is indispensable. The Church has tried to make a contribution in this regard with the encyclical Caritas in veritate. It does not give answers that would solve everything. But it is a step toward putting things into another perspective and looking at them not only from the point of view of feasibility and success, but from the point of view that sees love of neighbor as something normative and is oriented to God's will and not just to our desires. In this respect impetus would have to be provided in this way so that a change of consciousness can really come about.

A few things to note. The question is as long as the answer. By the end of the question, economics professor Ken Rogoff sounds like the dudes who wrote The Matrix. Benedict's answer -- as Ryan's carefully worded excerpt acknowledges -- says absolutely nothing about budget deficits per se, and especially not anything about the right way to address them. It's as much, if not more so, a critique of private debts as public ones to the extent that it addresses Seewald's 10-clause question at all.

Anyway, Ryan should know better (but maybe he doesn't) to go before the Jesuits in Georgetown and start picking and choosing his Pope quotes. In other segments of the interview book, Benedict talks about off-limit topics for Ryan, like global warming and social safety nets. Indeed, bear in mind that Paul Ryan is a Republican from Wiscsonsin and consider this part of the encyclical that Benedict referred to his answer:

Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

Paul Ryan supports Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin. Why do they hate the Pope?

UPDATE: Washington Post's Dana Milbank with more about the Georgetown even.

Note to self

Never, ever, appear on the cover of Pilka Nozna. There must be a curse.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Would you trust these people with a nuclear weapon

Who said the following today?

We need to end Barack Obama's presidency before Barack Obama's presidency ends our way of life.

(a) Ted Nugent
(b) Rush Limbaugh
(c) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
(d) Reince Preibus

Although your reaction to (d) may be, Who?, he is in fact the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. And yes, he said it, at an event podium (15 minute mark) in Scottsdale Ariz. including Mitt Romney and John McCain, the two most recent Republican candidates for US president. Do they think about what the words coming out of their mouths actually mean?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cool customer

The Saudi Ambassador to Yemen finds time to argue about his accent with an associate of Al Qaeda kidnappers phoning with a ransom demand:

Al-Shudokhi: The group (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has some demands which you can convey as they are. I am entrusted with this mission as a sign that everything is alright. I have been directed to talk plainly and tell you who I am and what is my name, since the state (Saudi Arabia) knows me.
Ambassador: Since the state knows you, why do not you tell me your name?
Al-Shudokhi: My name is Misha'al Mohammed Al-Shudokhi.
Ambassador: Are you from Qassim?
Al-Shudokhi: Yes, of course.
Ambassador: It seems that you have forgotten the accent of Qassim people.
Al-Shudokhi: No, I did not. We were brought up in Yemen, and this has affected my accent.
Ambassador: Qassim people would never lose their accent.
Al-Shudokhi: I am from Buraidah, take it as you like.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Newt Gingrich says centuries of Irish rebels were wimps

Here's the video. It's his speech to the National Rifle Association convention. After inflicting his Presidential campaign stump speech on an audience that admittedly deserved such a fate, he decided to address the actual topic of relevance to the NRA and said, inter alia:

When the British troops arrived at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 expecting to force the peasantry into surrender, something they had done quite well in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, they suddenly found they weren't up against peasants, they were up against Americans.

Later in the same speech, Newt promised that a President Gingrich will seek a global treaty establishing a human right to keep and bear arms.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The airport drive is the whole country

What is about European Central Bankers and Tom Friedman-style presentations of the airport road as representative of not just the nation, but deeper truths? Here's the ECB's Jorg Asmussen in Dublin yesterday:

Coming to Ireland yesterday was a very short journey for me, leaving my office in Frankfurt at 3 pm and arriving in downtown Dublin at 6 pm. On the way from the airport my Counsellor, who is accompanying me today, remarked that Ireland, however, has apparently come a long way compared to the time when she visited Ireland for the first time as a backpacking student almost 20 years ago in the early 1990s. While she recalled that her first impression of travelling from the airport downtown was rather sad, with run down warehouses and poor residential buildings, the picture has completely changed: modern office buildings and residential areas line the streets on the short trip from the airport to downtown nowadays. This is anecdotal evidence, of course, but I think it depicts in a nutshell Ireland’s truly remarkable economic development over the last 20 years.