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Saudis angrily attack US Senate vote against Crown Prince as ‘Blatant Interference’

Juan Cole - 1 hour 41 min ago

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia | AFP | –

Saudi Arabia on Monday slammed as “interference” US Senate resolutions over its war in Yemen and critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, warning that the move could have repercussions on its strategic ties with Washington.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted on Thursday to end American military support for a Riyadh-led war in Yemen, and separately held Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.

The largely symbolic vote dealt a fresh warning to President Donald Trump, who has staunchly backed the Saudi regime in the face of intense global outrage that analysts say has left the kingdom diplomatically weakened.

“The kingdom condemns the latest position of the US Senate that was based on unsubstantiated allegations and rejects the blatant interference in its internal affairs,” the foreign ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

On the Yemen measure, which more broadly attacks the president’s prerogative to launch military action, 49 Democrats or their allies voted in favour, along with seven Republicans, while another three Republicans abstained.

The Senate also approved a resolution condemning Khashoggi’s murder and calling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, “responsible” for it.

The Saudi ministry warned that the kingdom would not tolerate any “disrespect” of its rulers.

“This position by the US Senate sends the wrong messages to all those who want to cause a rift in Saudi-US relationship,” the ministry said.

“The kingdom hopes that it is not drawn into domestic political debates in the US to avoid any… significant negative impact on this important strategic relationship.”

– ‘Vulnerable to pressure’ –

A day after the Senate vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again defended US ties with Saudi Arabia on national security grounds, saying the kingdom was a bulwark against common foe Iran.

The Senate resolution acknowledged the US-Saudi ties were “important” but called on Riyadh to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy”.

“Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia, even prior to introduction of the Senate resolution, were discovering that the Khashoggi killing had weakened the kingdom internationally and had made it more vulnerable to pressure,” said James Dorsey, a Middle East expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The resolutions cannot be debated in the House of Representatives before January, and would likely be vetoed in any case by Trump.

But the Senate votes send a strong message to the White House over anger on both sides of the aisle towards Riyadh.

Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to the Washington Post, was killed on October 2 shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in what Riyadh called a “rogue” operation.

The murder has tarnished Riyadh’s international reputation, and Western countries including the United States, France and Canada have placed sanctions on nearly 20 Saudi nationals.

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday called for a “credible” probe into the murder.

Anger at the human cost of the war in Yemen has also prompted a harder line in Congress about the US military’s role in backing Saudi-led coalition strikes against Huthi rebels.

Since the coalition launched its campaign in 2015, the conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. But some rights groups believe the toll to be far higher.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “A handout picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on December 9, 2018, shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman looking on during the meeting at the Diriya Palace in the Saudi capital Riyadh during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. Bandar AL-JALOUD / SPA / AFP.

How the Right missed the Real Globalist Conspiracy, of Big Oil to Heat the Planet

Juan Cole - 1 hour 55 min ago

( Tomdispatch.com) – You know the story: the globalists want your guns. They want your democracy. They’re hovering just beyond the horizon in those black helicopters. They control the media and Wall Street. They’ve burrowed into a deep state that stretches like a vast tectonic plate beneath America’s fragile government institutions. They want to replace the United States with the United Nations, erase national borders, and create one huge, malevolent international order.

The only thing that stands in their way is — take your pick — the Second Amendment, Twitter, or Donald Trump.

Conspiracy theorists have, in fact, been warning about just such a New World Order for decades, going all the way back to the isolationist critics of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and to fears about the United Nations in the post-World War II moment. During the Cold War, the John Birch Society and fringe elements of the Republican Party nurtured just such anti-globalist sentiments, but they never made much headway in the mainstream world. As the Cold War ended, however, the anti-globalist virus began to spread again, this time more rapidly, and it’s threatening to become a pandemic.

The Agenda 21 Dystopia

On September 11, 1990, just after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait and just before the reunification of Germany, George H.W. Bush spoke of a “new world order” that would unite all countries in defense of the rule of law and thwart the Iraqi autocrat’s regional ambitions. The phrase was meant as a rallying cry, not an actual plan, but that didn’t stop the president’s America First critics from reading all manner of mayhem into his speech.

The elder Bush, who had long toiled in the shadow of Ronald Reagan, was in some ways a curious target for those who feared the end of U.S. sovereignty. As recent posthumous assessments revealed, he was an early champion of states’ rights (against civil rights), supported prayer in school and the NRA, made a U-turn as a presidential candidate to oppose abortion, launched wars in Panama and the Persian Gulf, and presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union. Anti-globalists, however, focused on a different part of Bush’s résumé: he’d gone to Yale, later belonged to a wealthy elite of Texas oil barons, served as ambassador to the United Nations, and was a card-carrying member of both the Council on Foreign Relations and that most elite of global agenda-setting outfits, the Trilateral Commission.

Such characteristics made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from the far right. Preacher Pat Robertson, for instance, disliked Bush’s staid Episcopalianism and resented losing to the future president in the 1988 Republican primaries. In his 1991 bestseller, The New World Order, Robertson refocused all his ire on the president’s presumed global ambitions. “Is George Bush merely an idealist or are there now plans underway to merge the interests of the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the United Nations?” he asked rhetorically and then, of course, provided the answer:

“A single thread runs from the White House to the State Department to the Council on Foreign Relations to the Trilateral Commission to secret societies to extreme New Agers. There must be a new world order… There must be world government, a world police force, world courts, world banking and currency, and a world elite in charge of it all.”

Though that 1991 book is largely forgotten, the televangelist’s attacks on Bush’s “globalism” resurfaced again and again in different forms. Beginning in 1994, for instance, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series spun Robertson’s dire predictions of a one-world government into 16 novels and several dreadful movies. Just to ensure that readers wouldn’t miss their point, they even installed the anti-Christ as the head of the United Nations. More recently, Donald Trump’s attacks on Hillary Clinton’s elitism echoed some of the very themes Robertson had sounded almost three decades earlier.

Oddly, though, Bush and Robertson agreed on one thing, on which they even found common ground with former Vice President Al Gore: the importance of addressing climate change.

As president, Bush pushed a number of environmental initiatives related to air quality, ozone depletion, and climate change more generally. In 1992, his administration even endorsed a tepid “action plan,” Agenda 21, that came out of that year’s global environmental meeting in Rio de Janeiro. In reality, it was just another of an endless stream of documents produced by such environmental conferences. For some Americans, however, those two words came to evoke the most terrifying aspect of the Bush era, proof positive that he was covertly constructing the very New World Order that he had invoked.

Perhaps the leading proponent of Agenda 21 conspiracy theories has been TV and radio personality Glenn Beck. In 2012, he even published a dystopian novel called (you won’t be surprised to learn) Agenda 21. In it, he and co-author Harriet Parke fingered environmentalists as the true agents of the coming apocalypse and issued dire warnings about climate change becoming the lever a future global authority would use to eradicate national sovereignty and enslave Americans to a collective vision. “Just a generation ago, this place was called America,” Beck and Parke wrote. “Now, after the worldwide implementation of a UN-led program called Agenda 21, it’s simply known as ‘the Republic.’ There is no president. No Congress. No Supreme Court. No freedom.”

Once you start looking for Agenda 21, it pops up in all sorts of strange places. Newt Gingrich ran for president in 2012 with a pledge to rescind the “plan.” Ted Cruz linked it to — you guessed it — George Soros and warned that its implementation would deprive Americans of their right to play golf (no joke). Most recently, YouTube and Twitter have lit up with contrived reports that Agenda 21, not climate change, was somehow responsible for the latest California wildfires.

And here’s the truly bizarre part: while Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, and the rest of them were nattering on about an obscure, non-binding U.N. document, they were missing the real story. A nightmarish New World Order was indeed being constructed around them. It’s global, malevolent, aimed at destroying ever more American lives, and — according to a recent Trump administration report — getting worse by the minute.

The Real New World Order

A significant number of Americans believe that they’re still relatively safe behind the walls of Donald Trump’s Fortress America. Homeland Security protects them from international terrorists. Border patrol agents block caravans of refugees and asylum-seekers. By refusing to ratify membership in institutions like the International Criminal Court, Congress keeps the U.S. safe from foreign influences. President Trump has only reinforced such feelings by pulling the United States out of international pacts like the Paris climate accord and global bodies like the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Because the world keeps knocking on America’s door, the present wave of nationalist politicians has added a few more locks for safety’s sake. All such precautions, however, have done nothing to prevent the establishment of an actual New World Order on American soil. Yes, it’s happened, even if the conspiracy mongers haven’t cared to notice.

There is indeed a new global order. It’s called climate change and, unlike the scenarios imagined by the anti-globalists, it’s wreaking havoc not in some dystopian future but right in the here and now: the prairie fires that struck Oklahoma, Kansas, and the Texas panhandle in the spring of 2017, killing seven people and destroying an area equivalent to three Rhode Islands; Hurricane Maria that devastated large areas of Puerto Rico that fall, leaving nearly 3,000 people dead; Hurricane Michael that swept through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia with unprecedented winds and flooding this October, killing 45 and causing $30 billion in damage; and the wildfires that raged across California in November, killing more than 80 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes. And that’s just to begin a list of weather catastrophes in this country.

Global warming did not, of course, create the weather itself. It’s only intensifying it. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently put it, “A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.” This summer, for instance, saw record-high temperatures in the United States and around the world. Large stretches of the South and West experienced near-record droughts in 2018, while other parts of the country suffered from historic levels of rainfall. (North Carolina recently endured an astounding years’ worth of snow in barely more than 24 hours. Both the number and the severity of Atlantic hurricanes are also on the rise.

And according to a Trump administration report released last month that the president himself rejects, it’s going to get a lot worse fast. That Fourth National Climate Assessment paints a dire picture of plummeting agricultural yields, declining dairy and seafood production, spreading wildfires, shrinking water resources in the interior of the country, and flooded areas on the coasts before century’s end. Extreme weather events since 1980 have already cost the United States more than $1 trillion. By 2100, the assessment projects, the costs of climate change will absorb as much as 10% of this country’s annual gross domestic product. Meanwhile, any hopes that global carbon emissions had begun to flatline in recent years, thanks to efforts to move toward renewable sources of energy, were dashed this month with reports that the output will actually grow by a projected 2.7% in 2018, a larger percentage than the previous year, on the way to the highest levels on record.

Americans can blame state governments or Washington for failing to respond in a timely manner to these disasters, but such intensifying weather patterns aren’t a local or even a national phenomenon. What’s happening in the United States is happening everywhere. The New World Order of climate change connects people abandoning their homes to rising tides in Florida and Bangladesh, dying from drought-related fires in California and Australia, being swept away by huge storms in the Carolinas and the Philippines, or losing their livelihoods in Nebraska and Honduras. It’s an order defined by a terrifying new rulebook in which more carbon emissions translate directly into less polar ice, an increase in sea levels, and more extreme weather.

Climate change doesn’t care about borders. It thumbs its nose at laws and legislation. It is unaffected by the size or destructive capabilities of even the mightiest militaries. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this particular New World Order, at least in the United States, is that many of those most affected by it refuse to acknowledge its existence.

Interviewing people affected by last year’s prairie fires in the Midwest, for instance, the New Yorker’s Ian Frazier encountered an extraordinary level of denial:

“No one I talked to in Kansas told me that he believed in climate change. Prevailing opinion holds that nothing about the recent extreme weather here is much different from what’s always been. People say that Native Americans sometimes used prairie fires as an environmental tool.”

Yet the recent fires were both unprecedented and part of a longer-term transformation of the Great Plains from irrigated farmland into what will someday be a spreading desert thanks to rising temperatures and extreme weather above ground and the disappearing Ogallala aquifer beneath it. And this time, the dispossessed Midwesterners are unlikely to be able to relocate to California, as they did when dust storms hit in the 1930s, because the West Coast will have major problems supporting even its existing agriculture.

If all the death and destruction connected to this New World Order were simply the result of periodic shifts in the life cycle of the planet — as some climate-change deniers maintain — then humans could just prepare for the inevitable, dinosaur-style extinction to come. But that’s hardly the case. Climate change is the direct result of human action — and some humans are so much more responsible than others.

Blame the Globalists

From 2006 through 2016, before he served briefly as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson was the head of ExxonMobil. He was supposed to be a cleaner, greener Big Energy CEO, but during his tenure he never altered the company’s basic DNA of drill, drill, drill. He entered into murky energy deals with Russia, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Saudi Arabia. Worse, he attempted to profit off climate change by, among other things, expanding operations into a rapidly warming Arctic. Even though he publicly acknowledged global warming — with plenty of caveats and misstatements — he also helped funnel millions of dollars to climate denial groups and suitably climate-denying politicians.

Not much changed when Tillerson became Trump’s first secretary of state. He failed to prevent the president from withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. He dutifully implemented new rules to facilitate the international funding of coal-fired power plants. And he presided over a gutting of the State Department meant to hamper its ability to address global issues like climate change.

Through it all, however, Rex Tillerson remained just the kind of globalist that Donald Trump had railed against as a presidential candidate. While head of Exxon, he had, for instance, been a regular participant at the World Economic Forum at Davos as well as in the Clinton Global Initiative. Ultimately, Trump criticized his secretary of state for having “totally establishment” views on foreign policy before unceremoniously firing him by tweet.

But there’s the establishment Trump likes and the establishment he doesn’t. Despite their very public falling out, the president has always admired establishment types in the Tillerson mold, those who belong to the international network of fossil fuel execs (oil, gas, and coal) chiefly responsible for building the New World Order of climate change. Rockefeller, Hunt, Getty, Mellon, Drake, Buffet, Koch, and Icahn: these are the globalists who set in motion the transformation of our world in which a growing dependency on fossil fuels morphed into an economic system geared to ever-expanding exploitation of such resources, and finally to an ecosystem on the verge of catastrophe.

Keep in mind that this is exactly what Donald Trump grew up with in fossil-fueled New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s what he’s still nostalgic for. Hence, his push for the United States to become “energy dominant” by extracting every last drop of fossil fuel from land, sea, and ice. Hence, his close relationships with petro-autocrats, especially Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This is, in short, his kind of globalism, and it’s now fully embedded in the White House, his administration, and Washington.

The U.N.? Environmentalists? George Soros? Peanuts compared to the real globalists, the ones who have controlled the supply and pricing of energy for more than a century and now have a representative sitting in the Oval Office. Think of it as a magician’s classic misdirection trick: look over there at Agenda 21 while the real globalists pick your pocket and poison your world. As environmentalist Bill McKibben has pointed out, the latest generation of fossil-fuel globalists knew exactly what they were doing (and what the consequences would be) when they devoted immense amounts of money to emphasizing “the uncertainty” of the science of climate change.

The magician David Copperfield once created the illusion that the Statue of Liberty had disappeared. The present crew of magical globalists have done him one better. They have been surprisingly successful in creating the illusion that the New World Order of climate change doesn’t exist when the proof is increasingly all around us.

There’s no conspiracy, no weather mafia, but the United States is nonetheless firmly in the grip of a New World Order. Many thousands have already lost their lives, their liberty, or their ability to pursue happiness thanks to the global forces now being loosed on our planet — and the more the United States has asserted its exceptionalism in recent years, the more it has proven to be no exception to the rules of climate change.

Here’s the rub: it’s long past the warning stage. Metaphorically speaking, the black helicopters have already landed on the White House lawn (and probably in your own backyard as well). A New World Order is indeed beginning to tyrannize America and Donald Trump is encouraging the globalists responsible to do even more of the same. The only way to address this ultimate threat is through the sort of international cooperation that the anti-globalists fear the most,a linking of arms across the rising seas to defeat a malign global force and the powerful elite that maintains it.

This challenge requires the equivalent of war against something as evil as totalitarianism. Anything less would be like trying to put out a wildfire with gasoline or like spitting into a (Category 5) hurricane. Anything less would be an epoch fail.

John Feffer, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His new novel, Frostlands, a Dispatch Books original and book two of his Splinterlands series, has just been published. His podcast is available here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2018 John Feffer

Via Tomdispatch.com


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

The Oregonian: “7 reasons why Arctic sea ice matters”

What can I do about Global Heating?

Juan Cole - 2 hours 18 min ago

Generally, it seems, we are not supposed to do anything about the climate emergency producing global heating. It’s a Chinese plot. It doesn’t exist. It’s “libtard nonsense.”

Well, I don’t agree. I think it’s really serious. So, what can I DO about it? Well, there is one thing, for homeowners and building owners:

This is the Google Earth view of our house with its 73 solar panels, installed by Amy Strutz of AJ Leo Electric and Solar, in Ypsilanti. Aren’t they beautiful?? Solar panels, all busy making electricity!!

There is something I can do about global warming. Well, how much? you ask. On average, as of mid-October our panels had produced on average 55.25 kilowatt hours [kWh] per day this year. They produce the least on snowy days, especially if the panels are covered with snow. The best predictor of how much they will produce on any given day is the number of minutes of sunlight per day we have. Then it varies with cloud cover and other weather issues. This year, the highest production was 111.76 kWh on April 19.

We do still need our electric utility,DTE. We can’t produce power at night, and we don’t have storage batteries. But we often produce more in a day than we can use, and it goes into the grid to power your house. (DTE credits us a tiny amount for that excess.)

We have a big house, and we use a lot of electricity. But, before we installed the solar, we were paying approximately $11 per day for electricity from DTE. Last year, we paid $3.20 per day. In 2016, we paid $2.99 per day. That is a WIN.

But there is more. This year, to date, we have avoided producing 10,829 kilograms (=11.94 tons) of carbon. That is also a WIN, our contribution to fighting global warming. It warms me!

It was expensive to install. But with the savings I noted above, we will be even in about 6 years after installation. After that. . . it’s all gravy. This was possible in part because of the Federal solar tax credit of 30% of the installation costs (through 2019; after that it goes down over a few years to 10%, at least with current law).

Occasionally, I walk outside and down through the flower garden, and turn around to just LOOK at them. So so beautiful!!

How the Catholic Church Created Our Liberal World

American Conservative - 2 hours 40 min ago

Why did the West rise above the rest? Over the last two decades, academics and pundits have tried to answer this question. Most begin their search for the birth of the modern world somewhere over the last few centuries: the discovery of the Americas, the invention of the steam engine, perhaps the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Yet the research of two pathbreaking economists suggests that these answers are misplaced. In separate works, they argue that the invention of capitalism and liberalism in Western Europe should be traced to one surprising source: the medieval Catholic Church.  

The research program of Jonathan Schultz, an economist currently attached to the Culture, Cognition, and Coevolution research group at Harvard, is built on a simple observation: Western Europeans—and their cultural descendants in places like North America and Australia—think differently from people raised in other cultures. This is not a unique observation. Over the last two decades, psychologists have asked questions like “Do you think most people can be trusted?” and “Is it important to think up ideas and be creative, to do things one’s own way?” They’ve complimented these questionnaires with games cleverly designed to test how willing subjects are to trust strangers, punish rule breakers, break rules themselves, and treat friends and family impartially.

Schultz and his team drew on 20 of these cross-cultural experiments (including several “natural” experiments, such as the likelihood that a diplomat at the U.N. from a given country would call on diplomatic immunity to get out of a parking ticket) to sketch a psychological profile of the Western mind. They found that on average, Westerners are more individualistic, more trusting of strangers and public institutions, more likely to donate anonymously, less concerned with the opinions and judgments of their peers, less likely to cheat or bend rules (especially for the sake of friends and relatives), and far less tolerant of nepotism than those from other parts of the world.

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This will come as little surprise to anyone who has lived both in and outside the West. It also won’t shock psychologists, who have even invented an acronym to label this unique psychological type: “W.E.I.R.D.”—Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Developed. But in contrast to past research, which tended to emphasize the gap between Europe and the rest of the globe, Schultz and his team have focused their attention on differences within Europe itself. They have found that WEIRDness is not uniform across Europe. Some European populations are far WEIRDer than others. What explains this variation in WEIRD psychology? Schultz provides a simple answer: the date at which a region first fell under the influence of the Catholic Church. To predict how civic-minded, individualist, and trusting a population is today, you need only check whether a Catholic bishopric had been established there by the 7th century AD.

Family structure is the link that connects Catholicism to social trust. Most of us are not inclined to think deeply about this. If you are an American, the fact that your kids will leave their childhood home when they grow up to establish their own households is utterly banal. The expectation that your son will only be married to one wife at a time, or that your daughter will not consider marrying her cousin, is so obvious that it is rarely articulated. Yet these commonsense assumptions are not human universals. Most traditional cultures expected their sons and daughters to continue living on their parents’ estate after marriage. In imperial China, for example, it was common practice for all of a family’s sons, as well as its wives, children, and concubines, to live together with their father and mother in one giant community until both parents had passed away (daughters were sent to live with the in-laws). Likewise, cultures that accept polygamous marriage are far more common than those that prohibit it. From the Western point of view, even odder is a marriage practice common to many cultures—like most in the modern Middle East—where parents eagerly arrange marriages between their nephews and daughters.

Marriage practices like these are not just cultural trivia. Schultz’s research advances the claim that these differences have decided the fate of entire civilizations. Those who marry within their families, marry more than one wife, and live together in large communities of extended kin learn from an early age that they are embedded in powerful networks of extended relations. Varied terms are used to describe these networks: among the Romans, they were known as gen; among the Scottish, clans; among the Norse, lines; in Arabia, tribes; in China, lineages; in Sicily, cosca. These kin-groups are the central organizing unit of their societies. A clansman in need turns first to kinsmen for succor and relief. A clansman wronged turns first to kinsmen for revenge. To live in a clan is to equate the family honor with personal interest. These societies put the family before the man and the community behind the clan. Healthy civic life is hard to sustain in such a restricted social world. There simply is no sense of shared civic identity that can supersede the claims of private family interests. In this respect, ancient Rome and modern Warizstan have more in common than either does with the modern West.

For this, Westerners have the Catholic Church to thank. In the early days of Europe’s darkest age, the Church waged a tireless war against the clans of Western Europe. The first step was broadening the doctrinal definition of incest to include marriage to almost all kin relations. Starting with the Synod of Agde in 517 AD, more than 15 synods on the subject were held in France, Spain, and Northern Italy over two centuries.

In kingdoms where the Church was strong, kings were eager to incorporate the new Catholic understanding of marriage and incest into their laws. By the end of the seventh century, legislation against incestuous marriages was written into the Merovingian, Visigothic, and Lombard legal codes. No one, however, was as active a promoter of the new understanding as Charlemagne. He decreed that all prospective spouses must undergo interviews by local bishops or priests before they were allowed to marry. These churchmen would investigate the family relations of both parties; if they were found to violate Church statutes, Charlemagne’s decrees empowered authorities to end the marriage. The power of the clans was being destroyed one marriage at a time. What followed was one of the greatest social transformations in European history: Western Europeans stopped thinking of themselves as kinsmen and started thinking of themselves as neighbors.

Why were leaders like Charlemagne so eager to encode Catholic social teaching into law? This question is the starting point of the research of economist Jared Rubin, whose work traces the origin of modern economic growth to the history of medieval and early modern Europe. In his recent book Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not, Rubin argues that the Catholic Church’s unique position in medieval European society determined the unique trajectory of Europe’s modern economy. In the days of Charlemagne, European kingdoms had the least developed economies of Eurasia. Governments were weak and agents of the crown were few. To maintain power, political leaders needed the support of the Catholic clergy. Laws like those banning plural and cousin marriages were the price of their support.

The kings of Western Europe were not unique in their use of religious authority. The rulers of Byzantium and the Middle East also relied on religious leaders as sources of political legitimacy. What separates the Catholic experience from its Orthodox and Islamic counterparts was the increasingly weak influence Catholic leaders had on secular leaders as the Middle Ages came to a close. The waning authority of the Church had powerful economic effects. In Byzantium, the Arab kingdoms, and the Ottoman Empire, religious leaders retained more than enough political power to frustrate financial and technological innovations that threatened to violate religious doctrines or subvert their cultural authority. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church, in contrast, had little choice but to adapt themselves to unwelcome changes. Rubin’s case studies include the invention of modern banking and the printing press. In both cases, religious leaders across Europe and the Middle East opposed the spread of these new technologies. Only in Western Europe were the protests of the churchmen ignored. The foundations of modern trade were laid on the unique relationship between the Catholic Church and Catholic states.

Rubin traces the origins of Catholic political weakness back to the Church’s first centuries. Unlike Islam, born in conquest and endowed from its origins with political power, Christianity began as the religion of a persecuted minority. The notion that different things might be rendered unto God and unto Caesar made no sense to the jurists of the early Caliphates. This ancient Christian distinction between secular and sectarian was buttressed by the curious institutional history of the Latin West. In contrast to the Arab and Turkic kingdoms, which had no formal religious hierarchy capable of spanning the many Sunni lands, or Byzantium, whose strong Orthodox hierarchy was married to an equally vigorous state bureaucracy, the Catholic Church had a stronger institutional foundation than any kingdom in medieval Europe. This state of affairs led European kingdoms to cling to the Church for support. But if the divisions of feudal Europe brought the princes to the Church’s altars, Rubin shows how these same divisions would eventually lead them into open conflict with the Church itself.

“For Christians it is not possible to have a Church and not have an emperor,” wrote the patriarch of Constantinople in 1393, “for the empire and the church have a great unity and a commonalty, and it is impossible to separate them.” This crude equation of an individual kingdom with all of Christendom was not possible in the Latin West. The Western kingdoms were too fractious for this, the papacy’s claims too catholic. Byzantine emperors and Eastern patriarchs were not without conflict, but they shared a sense of common self-interest. An emperor might worry that the Orthodox hierarchy might favor a popular general or royal relative over him; he did not worry that they would favor an enemy kingdom over his own. Catholic kings had no such assurance. The result was that, as their power increased over the centuries, the kings of the Latin West grew less and less comfortable with their dependence on the papacy.

What followed from this is well known: the Investiture Crisis, the Avignon Papacy, Charles VIII’s march on Rome, and eventually the Protestant Reformation. For Rubin, these events have more than just religious significance. By refusing the blessing of the churchmen, the kings of Europe had to turn elsewhere for support. They turned to a new European social group: the merchants. This nascent business class was happy to legitimize Western monarchs; in return, Western monarchs were happy to promote laws and institutions that favored cross-border trade and finance. The late medieval eclipse of the Church by the market, Rubin concludes, set the scene for Western Europe’s capitalist revolution. Only the political threat posed by a cross-national religious hierarchy could have prompted medieval leaders into the arms of the merchant class. Thus it was only in Western Europe that the development of modern markets began.  

Though the methods used by Rubin and Schultz differ (in his papers, Rubin employs game theory and calculus to model the calculations of popes and princes; Schultz and his co-authors rely on statistical methods to correlate modern outcomes with Europe’s medieval heritage) when placed together, their work presents a compelling account of the origins of modernity. Capitalism and liberalism are the twin pillars upon which the modern world was built. And both of them were built, unconsciously, by the priests and popes of the medieval Catholic Church.

Tanner Greer is a writer and analyst formerly based out of Beijing. His research focuses on the relationship between traditional Asian history and modern Asian politics.

The Better Era of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

American Conservative - 2 hours 40 min ago

In Whit Stillman’s splendid third film The Last Days of Disco, Alice turns distraught when her friends Charlotte and Holly head off late at night with their new boyfriends. “I thought we were here as a group,” she protests, perhaps feeling isolated after she was insulted earlier in the evening by a young man who a few days before had captured her virginity. After they leave, Alice complains to Des, the disco functionary, “All week Charlotte’s been talking about the tremendous importance of group social life, opposing all this ferocious pairing off.”

To which Des turns philosophical. “Well,” he says, “group social life has its place, but at a certain point other biological factors come into play. Our bodies weren’t really designed for group social life. A certain amount of pairing off was always part of the original plan.”

That exchange came to mind the other day when I read in The Wall Street Journal that radio stations across the country have been banning from their playlists Frank Loesser’s famous song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” an instant hit and perennial Christmas favorite since it captured an Academy Award as best original song in 1949’s Neptune’s Daughter. It seems that some of the #MeToo people think it evokes “date rape and coercion,” as the Journal puts it.

But does it? Nearly everyone knows the song. It’s cute and clever and definitely a period piece. Loessing wrote it as a little ditty for him and his wife to sing at parties—hardly evoking, at least at the time, anything sinister or troubling. It’s about a guy—in the 1940s, remember—who’s trying to seduce a woman after what appears to have been a lovely but sexually incomplete evening. She says she has to go home (to her parents) because it’s late and people will talk if she stays the night, and she must, after all, do what’s right. But wait, he says, it’s snowing and cold, and the night is forbidding while inside the fire is roaring. Besides, he thrills when she touches his hand, her hair looks swell and her eyes are like starlight.

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The song doesn’t tell us how the little drama plays out. All we know is that the couple was navigating that delicate territory that Disco Des identified as “always part of the original plan.” He’s using cajolery, a bit of pleading, and plenty of flattery—pretty much all the tools that respectable men of the time employed in that endless negotiation between the sexes. She isn’t insulted by any of it, and clearly she wants to stay, but she’s held in check by the conventional morality of the day. As a female friend characterized to me her apparent struggle, “I want to but I don’t want to, or rather I want to but I don’t want to want to, and I have to always think about what other people will think. But I want to. So what should I do?”

Ah, that was the dilemma for women in those days. But she had one powerful weapon of her own as she struggled with that delicate question. The default position for women back then was “no.” This was established by society and enforced by cranky maiden aunts and other meddlesome moralists. In fact, our female protagonist in the song even notes that her own maiden aunt’s “mind is so vicious,” to which her would-be seducer replies, “Your lips look so delicious.”

Perhaps the #MeToo folks can’t appreciate “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because they don’t appreciate the significance and value in that old default stance. Much has been written about the “hook-up culture” of men and women, and even boys and girls, these days. Camille Paglia recently lamented the diminution on college campuses of women’s standing in the gavotte of sex and men’s appreciation of that standing in previous times. Nearly gone now, she says, is “a man, behaving in a courtly, polite and respectful manner, [who] pursues a woman and gives her the time and the grace and the space to make a decision of consent or not…. Today, alas, too many young women feel they have to provide quick sex or they’ll lose social status. If a guy can’t get sex from them, he’ll get it from somebody else.”

Just seven years after Frank Loesser’s song got an Oscar, the pioneering ad writer Shirley Polykoff produced an advertising slogan that was considered provocative, even risqué, at the time. It was a television commercial for Clairol hair coloring. As an attractive woman walks with grace and style across the screen, a voiceover intones: “Does she…or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Like the song, this is entirely a period piece, a relic of a different cultural era. Today, it doesn’t work at all. In fact, what a stupid question! Of course she does (well, we don’t know about her hair).

But in Polykoff’s day it was the woman’s question to answer, which surrounded her with intrigue and mystery. If men were interested, they had to find out largely through “courtly, polite and respectful” means, as Paglia puts it in lamenting the passing of such behavior.

Amy Wax, the University of Pennsylvania law professor and provocative social commentator, has written that the hook up culture has given rise, for women, to a surge of what she calls “sex without desire.” She asks: “What is the relevance of this supposed surge in undesired sex to the rise in allegations of sexual assault on campus?” She notes that Georgetown law professor Robin West, who also has written extensively on the subject, believes there’s a link. In this view, the hook up culture has created what Wax characterizes as “a rough, competitive marketplace in which women are impelled to rush headlong into superficial, short-lived physical intimacies as the condition for social popularity and the company of the opposite sex.” That may be a culture ready-made for regret and recrimination, though Wax is careful not to try to answer the question of whether there is a link between all this and the rise in allegations of sexual misconduct.

But “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” harkens back to that earlier time, as does Polykoff’s famous question. In the song, our young woman definitely holds the trump card and can make up her own mind. Of course, in doing so she has to contend with all kinds of social pressures that don’t exist today, and her decision couldn’t be separated, as such decisions are now, from matters of morality. But this particular negotiation is carried on in a context of sweetness and mutual regard. We don’t know the outcome, but we can hope. And we do know that, at the end of the line, there wasn’t likely to be any sex without desire, though the prospect of desire without sex remained a distinct possibility.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author most recently of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century.

What The Weekly Standard Has Wrought

American Conservative - 2 hours 40 min ago

There’s a sadness in the shuttering of any print publication, and The Weekly Standard is no exception. If its website is dismantled as the owners have suggested is likely, it will be a loss to the reading public and even to the world’s ability to understand itself. Any right-of-center reader would have found much to admire in the Standard, both in its early days and now. Christopher Caldwell, who has written for the magazine since its inception, has developed into America’s most important analyst of contemporary Europe. Andrew Ferguson always writes with wit and style. Several Heather Mac Donald essays have fiercely told the truth on the delicate subjects of race, policing, and political correctness on campus.

The term “bobo”—David Brooks’ coinage for the new sociological category of bourgeois bohemian—first surfaced in a Weekly Standard essay, and eventually became an American contribution to both the French language and the French description of their own society. The Standard’s polemics could be both civil and well-informed: one could read an attack of Pat Buchanan (when Buchanan’s presidential run was threatening the Republican establishment) and actually learn something about the lineage and successes of protectionist economics. There were occasional gems of the insider gossipy sort: who could resist the guilty pleasure of forwarding along Joseph Epstein’s recollection of meeting the 25-year-old Leon Wieseltier?

But all this, the work of gifted writers in high demand by many conservative outlets, is not the reason The Weekly Standard is an historically important publication. Nor is the fact that its most prominent figure, Bill Kristol, its founder, longtime editor, and, until it shut down, the editor at large, was an opponent of Donald Trump from the beginning. Nor that the magazine has maintained its Never Trump stance in the face of a more general GOP accommodation of the president. As the numerous television appearances by Kristol and other conservative opponents of Trump on liberal networks attest, Never Trumpism is not without its career enhancing benefits. In fact, the Standard’s opposition to Trump earned it a strange new respect among liberals. In a nearly hagiographic New York Times obituary, we are told the Standard was “a publication that was proudly heterodox from the start, eager to buck the prevailing values of conservative dogma and forge its own provocative point of view.”

Invariably left unsaid or minimized in such accounts (the Times devoted a full eight words to the subject) is the role the Standard played in fomenting the Iraq war, the sole policy question where the magazine’s role was unambiguous and decisive. Given the centrality of foreign policy to Kristol’s concerns, it is probably not too much to say that for the Standard, the main purpose of publishing the writers referenced above was to provide an attractive gift wrapping for neoconservative foreign policy advocacy.

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It was far from obvious how the United States would respond after the terror attacks of 9/11. Pretty much everyone but pacifists agreed there would be a military campaign against the Taliban, which had provided a base for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and a campaign to destroy al-Qaeda, which had been conducting major terrorism operations in Africa and the Mideast. But Iraq was not on the radar for most. There were no serious connections between Saddam Hussein’s essentially secular dictatorship and a group bent on restoring a caliphate based on fundamentalist Islam. But Iraq had been on a neoconservative target list for years, with the neocons lamenting that George H.W. Bush had not pursued regime change and occupied Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf war. The United States had put in place heavy sanctions on Iraq, and there was a nominal congressional mandate for pursuing regime change by aiding dissident groups (the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998). But as neoconservatives themselves acknowledged in the 1990s, the idea of invading with American troops was a distant reach.

9/11 provided an opportunity to change that. As a glossy weekly publication, with hundreds of issues hand-delivered every week to important Beltway figures, the Standard occupied a critical node in Beltway opinion formation. Neoconservative think tank types could publish a piece there, and then go on Fox News (another Rupert Murdoch property) to reach non-magazine readers. And unlike most in the American government, Kristol knew exactly what he wanted America to do after 9/11: overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Since the mid-1990s, Kristol had been heading a small foreign policy think tank and lobbying group, the Project for the New American Century, dedicated to espousing a more hawkish foreign policy. Nine days after the attack, a PNAC letter laid out the new post-9/11 line. It conceded that the first priority was to dismantle the bin Laden network in Afghanistan (which would not require an invasion, it said) but overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the next priority. In a not-so-veiled warning to President George W. Bush, PNAC intoned, “Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and decisive surrender in the war on terror.” The magazine’s first issue after 9/11 reaffirmed that line. The Standard’s war aims were laid out by two PNAC staffers, Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly, in a piece illustrated by a caricature not of Osama bin Laden but of Saddam Hussein. The approach they urged for the actual 9/11 hijackers was astonishingly mild: “While it is probably not necessary to go to war with Afghanistan, a broad approach will be required.” Taliban failure to help us root out bin Laden would be met with “aid to its Afghan opposition.” It would have been hard to find any member of Congress with a more dovish view.

Diverting the nation’s anger from bin Laden and towards Saddam Hussein was the priority. Wrote Schmitt and Donnelly, the “larger campaign must also go after Saddam Hussein. He might well be implicated in this weeks’s attacks or he might not. But…he is our enemy. Elimination of Saddam is the key to restoring our regional dominance.”

The magazine pounded this message relentlessly for months. Saddam was paired at the hip with Osama bin Laden in virtually every issue. “Who cares if Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks?” asked Max Boot. He, for one, did not, as he urged the American government to establish a regency on Baghdad to go with the one on Kabul. Reuel Mark Gerecht echoed PNAC, arguing that the war on terror would be a failure unless we removed Saddam. Stephen Hayes (later to become editor of the magazine) funneled intelligence scraps generated by a neoconservative nest in the Pentagon led by Douglas Feith to claim a relationship between Saddam and bin Laden that the CIA did not believe to be credible.

In a recent Twitter thread, Justin Logan linked to the some of the warmongering covers the Standard produced in the months after 9/11. They evoke the spirit of the publication, but can’t really do justice to the editors’ sheer skill at normalizing the idea that attacking a dictator with no connection to al-Qaeda was the only non-defeatist option. Seen in these terms, the Standard was a monumental success. It achieved its aims on a discrete policy issue more emphatically than any publication in living memory.

No less a student of the American political establishment than The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman speculated to a reporter from Haaretz that the Iraq war would not have happened without the machinations of two dozen people inside the Beltway:

It’s the war the neoconservatives marketed. They had an idea to sell when September 11 happened and they sold it. Oh boy, did they sell it. This is not the war the masses demanded. It is war of an elite. I could give you the names of 25 people, all of whom are at this moment within a five block radius of this office, who if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.

Could this group have succeeded without Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard serving as its public relations quarterback? Perhaps, but trying to imagine it led by the New York-based monthly Commentary or the American Enterprise Institute, without a glossy weekly and well-oiled entrée into Fox News studios, is difficult. As it was, the neoconservatives prevailed over the more cautious establishment figures within the administration like Colin Powell and Condi Rice and outside by George H.W. Bush veterans James Baker and Brent Scowcroft by a relatively narrow margin. War in Iraq was not inevitable; it was the culmination of concentrated political and ideological effort.

If the Iraq war was sold to the American establishment by a small elite, the price was borne by many. Estimates of the fiscal costs run from $1 trillion to as much as $3 trillion, (if you credit Nobel prize recipient Joseph Stiglitz’s calculations, which include the long-term care costs for American soldiers with lifelong and life shattering injuries). The human costs to the soldiers and their families was substantial. Throughout the Mideast, the number of people killed, wounded, or turned into refugees by the invasion was staggering. The American “regional dominance” touted by the Standard proved entirely fanciful.

Having more or less destroyed Iraq as a functioning country, the neoconservatives have now set their sights on Iran, their next candidate for regime change. In its final issue, the Standard touted the presidential ambitions of Nikki Haley. Few who follow politics are unaware that her preeminent qualification in the Standard‘s eyes is that she is a willing and attractive salesperson for hostility to Iran.

This essay began by acknowledging that something is lost when a sophisticated opinion voice falls silent. Yet the fact that those beating the drums for the next “regime change” war in the Mideast will have to do it without the glossy package of The Weekly Standard is not a bad thing.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars.

Russia used every major social media platform to help elect, support Trump, report says

Minneapolis Star-Tribune - 4 hours 52 min ago
A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the operation used every major social media platform to deliver content tailored to voters’ interests to help elect President Donald Trump — and worked even harder to support him while in office.

New Wisconsin laws likely to head to courts

Minneapolis Star-Tribune - 4 hours 55 min ago
Judiciary has tended to uphold Walker’s policies.

Chinese take over port in Israel

World Net Daily - politics - 5 hours 10 min ago

(JERUSALEM POST) — WASHINGTON – The US Navy has acknowledged that its longstanding operations in Haifa may change once a Chinese firm takes over the civilian port in 2021, prompting Israel’s national security cabinet to revisit the arrangement, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Haifa, the nation’s largest port city, regularly hosts joint US-Israeli naval drills and visits from American vessels. But a 2015 agreement between Israel’s Transportation Ministry and Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) – a company in which the Chinese government has a majority stake – has raised intelligence and security concerns that are only now prompting an interagency review.

That agreement granted SIPG control over the port for 25 years. The Chinese company has committed $2 billion to the project and, according to state-run media, plans to transform the port’s bay terminal into the largest harbor in the country.

The post Chinese take over port in Israel appeared first on WND.

The National

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - 5 hours 42 min ago

Welcome to The National, the flagship nightly newscast of CBC News

Irregularities in motorway contract award found: NAB

Dawn - 5 hours 43 min ago

ISLAMABAD: Confirming irregularities in the award of Rs148 billion Karachi-Lahore Motorway (KLM) project, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has completed an inquiry and decided to send the case to the next stage of investigation.

A source in NAB told Dawn on Sunday that the investigators had ascertained some gross violations of rules and irregularities in the award of the contract by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in 2015.

In March this year, NAB had decided to conduct a formal inquiry into alleged Rs14bn losses to the national exchequer caused by illegal award of the contract for Abdul Hakeem section (230km) of KLM.

Inquiry negates Nawaz Sharif’s claim of zero corruption during his government

The contract was awarded to a joint venture of a local firm ZKB and the China Railway-20 Bureau Group Corporation in Aug 2015.

By deciding to convert the inquiry into advance stage of investigation, NAB negated a claim of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that not a single corruption case has surfaced during his government’s tenure.

The NAB usually orders an inquiry into a case when it finds some credible evidence of corruption during the complaint verification process and if something is found wrong in the inquiry it allows investigation into the matter. After the investigation, it prepares a reference and file it in an accountability court for trial.

At present, the NAB Rawalpindi is investigating the case and the source said it will soon be presented before the regional board meeting and then to the executive board meeting for its formal conversion into an investigation.

It has been learnt that NAB has decided to summon former chairman of the National High Authority (NHA) Shahid Ashraf Tarar and contractors of the project.

According to NAB, the inquiry against the NHA officers and contractors was started on the basis of a complaint of Transparency International (TI) and some evidence collected during the complaint verification process.

“We decided to convert the inquiry into investigation after we found solid evidences of corruption,” a NAB official said.

He said the inquiry was ordered against the NHA management for awarding the contract on exorbitant rates in violations laws/rules.

TI had lodged a complaint two years ago, but former NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, who was reportedly quite close to Nawaz Sharif, did not take any action. But current NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal ordered an inquiry into the case.

The NHA awarded the contract in Aug 2015 ignoring serious shortcomings in the successful bid.

It is believed that NHA could have saved Rs24bn if the project, which is being funded through Public Sector Deve­lopment Project, would have been awar­­­ded on merit and according to the instruc­tion of bidders or clauses of the contract.

NAB has also merged cases of Rs148bn KLM Abdul Hakeem section and Rs259bn Multan-Sukkur Motorway projects.

It received information that the Chinese company, which got the contract, was allowed to import duty-free machinery and cement. Similarly, the price of iron in Pakistan was Rs90,000 per tonne, but it was imported from China at Rs150,000 per tonne.

When contacted, Haji Zahir Khan, owner of ZKB, said he was not aware that NAB was converting the inquiry into investigation, claiming that his firm had not committed any irregularity.

He said he was confident that NAB will get nothing against his firm during the investigation. “We have saved over Rs200bn of the country by executing a number of important projects on low rates and the quality of our work speaks for tself,” he added.

Asked why most of the road contracts under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor were awarded to ZKB during the PML-N government, Mr Khan said his firm had won contracts because of its lowest bid and credibility.

Asked if he was accused of having close relations or even partnership with Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza, Mr Khan claimed that he had never met him.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018

Minister promises all-out support for PIA revival

Dawn - 5 hours 43 min ago

KARACHI: Federal Minister for Privatisation and Aviation Mohammadmian Soomro has said that the government is willing to extend all possible support to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to make it a viable entity.

“The PIA is moving in the right direction and the government will provide all-out support for its revival,” he said while speaking to senior officials of the national flag carrier.

Take a look: I want to see PIA dominate the skies again

According to a press release issued on Sunday, the minister visited the PIA head office and the airlines’ chief, Air Marshal Arshad Malik, briefed him on the performance of the national flag carrier.

He said the PIA had a lot of potential and it can regain its lost share in the market. “To compete in today’s market we must make best use of service and technology. Customer should be our main focus,” he said.

He also stressed upon austerity measures to be adopted in the PIA and appreciated the measures taken by the management.

Air Marshal Malik, the PIA president and CEO, apprised the minister of the current management initiatives such as reopening of routes, new destinations being planned to increase the airline’s network, improvement in food service, scheduling, and cost savings.

“Things are improving and we are working on convenience of schedule, opening of new destinations,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018

Saudi oil facility to ease pressure on rupee: SBP governor

Dawn - 5 hours 43 min ago

LAHORE: The pressure on rupee will ease as soon as dollars start flowing in and the Saudi oil facility of $3 billion becomes available, according to the governor of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Tariq Bajwa.

“The exchange rate has recently been under immense pressure because of the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves, which fell to just above $7bn on Dec 7 despite receipt of $1bn cash deposit from Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has since transferred $1bn more and is expected to deposit another $1bn next month as part of its assistance package for Pakistan,” he said on Sunday.

Mr Bajwa said that depreciation in the value of rupee was discussed with Finance Minister Asad Umar before the currency was last devalued. “The finance minister has himself clarified that the decision to devalue the rupee was in his knowledge as it was discussed with him beforehand,” he said.

Punjab’s finance minister says country ready to embrace ‘age of digitisation’

The government came under criticism over the sharp and abrupt devaluation of the rupee and initially Prime Minister Imran Khan came out with the explanation that he came to know about it through the media.

Mr Umar had also reportedly expressed reservations over the timing of SBP’s recent monetary policy and had told the SBP governor to take the government on board on such issues beforehand, adding that the government fully supported the concept of central bank’s independence.

Speaking to media personnel after a memorandum of understanding had been signed by the SBP, 1-Link and the Punjab government at the headquarters of Punjab Revenue Authority, Mr Bajwa said the rise and fall of dollar depended on macroeconomic fundamentals as well as market sentiment. “The rupee will get stronger when the market sentiment will be positive.”

He said the SBP had three priority sectors — low-cost housing, SMEs and agriculture — as well as two cross-cutting themes, Islamic banking and national financial inclusion.

“The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has taken ownership of the national financial inclusion processes by according impetus to them,” he said.

Mr Bajwa said a milestone in this direction would be digitisation of all payments and receipts of the government, and added: “Digitisa­tion creates an eco(nomic) system that helps enhance national financial inclusion.”

Lauding the PRA for following in the footstep of the Federal Board of Revenue, he said the online facility to pay general sales tax on services would facilitate the taxpayers.

Answering a question, the SBP governor said the provinces were deprived of a major revenue stream, from tax on pre-paid phone cards, after a Supreme Court decision. “We are trying to find a way out.”

Speaking on the occasion, Punjab Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht said the MoU signed by the SBP, 1-Link and the provincial government would help taxpayers pay their provincial taxes through alternative delivery channels, including online banking, ATM and phone banking. “This is a huge step towards the Punjab government’s vision of creating e-PRA,” he said.

Acknowledging that Pakistan’s rating with regard to ease of doing business was quite low, he said the provincial government was committed to attracting domestic as well as international investors, leading to improvement in the country’s rating.

Mr Bakht said the Punjab chief secretary was heading an “ease of doing business committee” to make processes simpler and easier to facilitate the masses.

Referring to the other countries’ evolution from agrarian to industrial economies and Pakistan’s failure to keep pace with the developments, he said the country was now ready to embrace the new age of digitisation. “We are committed to bridging the gap by digitising the economy.”

Chief Secretary Yousaf Naseem Khokhar said that digitisation provided the way forward by ensuring ease of doing business and improving the investment climate.

The committee on ease of doing business was actively working to achieve the milestones set for Dec 31, he added.

Finance Secretary H.Y. Sheikh was also present on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018

Three of four sitting ECP members were appointed unconstitutionally

Dawn - 5 hours 43 min ago

ISLAMABAD: Three out of the four members of the Election Commission had been appointed in contravention of a constitutional provision that bars re-employment of judges of the superior judiciary within two years of their retirement, it has emerged.

Article 207 (2) of the Consti­tution reads: “A person who has held office as judge of the Supreme Court or of a high court shall not hold any office of profit in the service of Pakistan, not being a judicial or quasi judicial office or the office of Chief Election Commissioner or of Chairman or member of a law commission or of Chairman or member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, before the expiration of two years after he has ceased to hold that office”.

None of the three retired judges who had been appointed as ECP members had completed two years after their retirement.

ECP secretary says members’ appointment a past and closed transaction

The most glaring case was that of retired justice Shakeel Ahmad Baloch, who took oath as member of ECP from Balochistan five days after resigning as judge of the Balochistan High Court on July 21, 2016 - some ten days before his retirement date. Likewise, retired Justice Irshad Qaiser became the first-ever woman member of the ECP within 45 days of her retirement as judge of the Peshawar High Court on June 14, 2016.

The member from Punjab, retired Justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, had retired as judge of the Lahore High Court on March 5, 2015, and thus had more than seven months to go before the completion of the two-year post-retirement period when he was appointed to the Election Commission in July 2016.

Analysts believe that Abdul Ghaffar, the first-ever retired bureaucrat to have been picked as member of the ECP, was also not a good choice as his name was on the exit control list (ECL) over a Rs 2 billion corruption scam.

Months after his appointment as ECP member he got a one-time permission to travel abroad with a delegation headed by the Chief Election Commissioner.

The commission’s secretary, Babar Yaqub Fateh Muhammad, refused to comment on the dictate and spirit of Article 207 of the Cons­titution, saying the appointment of ECP members was a past and closed transaction.

“Let bygones be bygones,” he remarked and pointed out that half the term of the members would be complete next month while two of them would be retiring on Jan 26.

Asked as to who was responsible for violation of the Constitution, he initially said the question should be put to senior members of the previous government, but then suggested that there was room in the Constitution for judicial and quasi-judicial employment of retired judges.

Some judgements of the Supreme Court have, however, made it clear that the Election Commission was not a judicial forum. An 11-member bench held in the Benazir Bhutto versus federation of Pakistan case that the Election Commission was not a judicial body.

In its judgement in a recent case, a three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, said: “The ECP is an independent and autonomous body which exercises executive and regulatory powers derived from the Constitution.

“Although it has the power to appoint election tribunals [Article 219(c) of the Constitution] which exercise judicial powers under Article 225 of the Constitution, the ECP itself is a supervisory body which exercises regulatory and administrative powers under the Constitution and the law. Undoubtedly, the ECP is not a court or a tribunal, as argued by the learned counsel for PTI.”

The ECP members who are otherwise ineligible for appointment had been brought in under a covert understanding between the PML-N and the PPP. Although under the procedure, the prime minister, in consultation with the opposition leader, sends three names each for a position of ECP member for confirmation to a parliamentary panel, separate lists are sent in case they fail to reach a consensus.

While an impression had been created as if a consensus could not be reached, in both 12-name lists, all four successful nominees were mentioned by the PML-N as its second-choice candidates while two of the confirmed members were the PPP’s first-choice and two were its second-choice. So the panel picked all the four names that were common in the lists in an exercise that took less than two hours. This had only been done to defeat the spirit of the law, which otherwise required hearing by the parliamentary panel.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018

Blueprint for boosting economy formally submitted to IMF

Dawn - 5 hours 43 min ago

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has formally submitted to the Inter­national Monetary Fund (IMF) its Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) envisaging macroeconomic stabilisation graduating into growth strategy over the next three years.

“Yes, we have given it (MEFP) to the IMF,” confirmed Finance Minister Asad Umar when approached. “It’s under discussion” he told Dawn and declined to go into further details saying “they (IMF) may have something to add and come back to us”.

Sources said the government under the MEFP plans a fiscal adjustment of about 2.5per cent of GDP in three years — almost the same as the last Fund programme ending September 2016 — to bring down fiscal deficit to about 4pc at the end of 36-month programme. This time, however, the programme implementation would be front-loaded compared to relatively balanced implementation schedule of the last programme. “Most of the pain would be immediate this time in the form of revenue measures and energy pricing,” an official said.

Officials say the Fund has never proposed specific tax measures

In absolute terms, the adjustment would entail more than Rs1 trillion of additional fiscal space with a combination of increased revenues and reduced expenditures. Under the plan, the government will have to gradually reduce current addition of Rs30bn per month in the energy sector circular debt and bring it to zero within first two years of the programme besides addressing the bleeding of other public sector entities (PSEs). This will be followed by a long route to address the old debt stock of the PSEs.

On top of that, the government is also committing a series of taxation measures to increase revenues while the IMF wants new areas, like agriculture, real estate and others, to be brought under effective tax net to address the chronic problem of low tax to GDP ratio.

The sources said an IMF mission was expected to return to Islamabad after Christmas holidays for finalising the bailout package so that it could be taken up with the Fund executive board for approval. The mission had left Islamabad on November 20, leaving the talks inconclusive as Pakistan authorities were still unprepared to finalise the adjustment sequencing including circular debt capping plan, creation of Sarmaya Pakistan holding company to address structural reforms relating to PSEs.

In background discussions, officials said the IMF never proposed specific tax measures being reported in the media like increase in GST, income tax, etc., and highlighted broader issue of reducing budget deficit to about 3.5pc of GDP in three years, arguing that Pakistan’s tax to GDP ratio was the lowest among the peers and even lower than Bangladesh despite reasonable untapped potential and its existing tax system was regressive with minimal contribution from direct taxes.

The officials said IMF’s Resident Representative Teresa Daban Sanchez may remain in electronic contact with the government authorities and the IMF high-ups even during upcoming holidays even though the fund teams working on MEFP would not be available.

They said the two sides were in agreement that while tightening the fiscal and monetary policies, expenditure as percentage of GDP should be increased for social safety nets to ensure poor people remain unhurt as the tough fiscal adjustment comes into place.

The official said the authorities have been explained that they would have to navigate through changed geo-political circumstances for which they would have to produce bankable fiscal and monetary plans that could be advocated by the IMF mission and the teams on merit before the executive board for approval.

The authorities have been trying to gain time to see if the IMF’s insistence on upfront implementation of fiscal and monetary adjustment plans could be minimised through alternative financing plans but that was no more an option, the sources said, adding that they had to finally submit the MEFP to the Fund last week.

The sources said the Fund was tough this time on independent monetary policy but because of capacity constraints the monetary policy graduation to complete inflation targeting would be completed by 2020 in view of a major brain drain in recent years.

Difficulties have also stemmed from poor performance of the Federal Board of Revenue in the first five months of the current financial year that witnessed more than Rs110bn shortfall in revenue collection against the target. This necessitates not only steps to recuperate the lost ground in almost half of the year but also add on to that to meet tough targets being negotiated with the IMF.

This will be on top of an earlier adjustment of almost 2.1pc (about Rs800bn) introduced by the PTI government in September supplementary budget followed by about Rs120bn and Rs225bn additional adjustment in gas and electricity rates, respectively, together making almost 0.9pc of GDP.

Another round of energy price increase has to follow soon, beginning in January to ensure 100pc recovery of gas and electricity costs from consumers to reduce burden on the budget.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018