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MARCH 2015 REPORTS
A Slow-Burning Revolution;
Afghanistan at Half-Speed;
A SLOW BURNING REVOLUTION
In this issue we offer a new
Bryan Gould piece on the effects of monetary policy. Bryan’s piece represents how the modern Keynesians are coming into
their own. The same message, that austerity is not and was never the answer to
the long-running financial crisis, has consistently been advanced by the US
Economic Nobel Laureates: Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, whose views have
been in advance of western governments.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of the monetarists minds, stemming
from the abrasive ideas of the Chicago School, seems to have been the notion
that indebtedness and sin, stem from the same root cause– punishment being
prescribed as inevitable in both cases. This Gould commentary is certainly
incontestable, at least in the sense that economic change, big-time is coming in.
Newnations has reported Syria for many years and government there is
again coming in for serious re-appraisal. The Al Asad administration is almost the
only constant in the whole miserable Syrian conflict. Our report ‘Reconfiguring
Syria’ makes the case for rehabilitating Asad, since the overlapping ISIS war is
more threatening for the region and the world generally. The Syrian civil war has
currently become a damaging, horrifying nonsense, which 'grown-up' governments
should reconcile with reality, so that if nothing else, the real regional enemy
can be properly confronted.
Given the dramatic emergence of ISIS it seems clear that if Asad forces had been
annihilated by a proposed US strike, or even if Asad had taken the then
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s earlier advice ‘to go’, then the ancient
city of Damascus, not the dusty desert town of Raqqah would by now have become
the capital and seat of the Caliphate –as in the days of yore. Alarming for the
west, with the Islamic State as a Mediterranean power, as well as for Israel,
who would then have shared the Golan Heights frontier with them - an Armagheddon
concept that could still happen!.
We review the current situation in Afghanistan. The new elected
president has taken every opportunity to consolidate his position, leaving his
election rival Dr Abdullah, now Prime minister, somewhat flat-footed, unable to
be effective at all.
Fifteen years on–and what have we got? A government superficially more of
an independent Afghani mould than for years, but quite apart from the US, with ‘heavy leaning’
neighbours: Pakistan, Iran, Russia and as we report here, most
recently China, which of course has a frontier with the Afghans, and for the
first time in modern, possibly even ancient history, looks like becoming a
player in its affairs. China’s presence is possibly resented by Foggy Bottom as it comes fresh to the arena. But China is the actual regional
great power, even sharing a frontier with Afghanistan. Better that they take on
the continuing nightmare of working in a nation that doesn’t now and never did,
want foreigners of any stamp. This is of course in no way a conventional nation
state, but a conglomeration of powerful independent tribes, most of them obsessed with their
own form of Islam.
* * *
As the world struggles to deal with threatening outbreaks of
violence – most dangerously, in the Middle East and the Ukraine – another less
dramatic and slower-burning revolution is getting under way. This revolution
does not threaten violence – but it does promise change, and almost certainly
change for the better.
The revolution that is gathering pace is a shift in understanding and
increasingly in policy. What we are now beginning to see is the painfully slow
and invariably reluctant abandonment – in the face of evidence that is now
impossible to ignore - of an economic orthodoxy that has dominated the global
economy for nearly four decades.
The late 1970s saw, as we know, the development of what came to be known as the
“Washington consensus” – a neo-classical economic policy orthodoxy that proved a
hugely valuable travelling companion for neo-liberal politics. It was driven by
the rejection of Keynesian interventionism, a faith in the infallibility of the
market, and the conviction that the most that could be asked of macro-economic
policy was to use monetary policy, responsibility for which was to be delegated
to bankers, to control the money supply in order to restrain inflation.
Government was to have a limited role, merely holding the ring while
unchallengeable “free-market” forces enjoyed free rein. [...]
Including President al-Asad in
a political solution to the Syrian war is the most effective policy towards
stopping the Islamic State and the war itself.
The Syrian ‘civil’ war has been completely lost in the quagmire that is ISIS and
the wider problems stemming from Iraq, from the war that was waged upon it by
President Bush and the Neocon establishment. The dangers of meddling in Iraq
were clear to anyone who had read even a minimum of modern Middle Eastern
history, but few in Western power circles were honest enough to criticize the
move to such an extent as to prompt governments to think twice, before again
meddling in other Middle Eastern affairs. Iraq then, its failed reconciliation
and seemingly permanent state of crisis were not enough of an inhibition for the
West, and other governments, that should have known better (i.e. Turkey, Saudi
Arabia and Qatar to name three), to stop them interfering in the wave of
protests that began in Syria at around the same time as the protests in Tunisia,
Libya and Egypt had reached a mature point, in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of
The media carried away with the concept of the ‘Arab Awakening,’ interpreted the
coincidence of the timing of the Syrian protests as an expression of the desire
for democracy. Global institutions, regional and world powers, meanwhile saw an
opportunity to bring Syria under their ‘sphere of influence’ and change the
Baathist government that had ruled in Damascus for almost 50 years of skillfully
navigating through many traps, to maintain a degree of independence.
Little attention was given to the more expert analyses that the Syrian
‘awakening’ never actually happened; democratic ambitions were dormant then and
remain ever more lethargic today, excepting a small secular presence, in the
event overwhelmed by a great surge of Sunni Islamic fervor and well-armed
fighters, sponsored by the wealthy neighborhood Salafist states. [...]
Still waiting for most
Seven months after the elections, five months after the presidential
inauguration of Ashraf Ghani, the new ruling coalition still has managed to get
only eight ministers approved, out of a cabinet of 25. Because Ghani sacked all
outgoing ministers, 17 ministries are still being run by first deputies as
acting ministers. For a country at war this is quite a unique situation, the
more so as amongst the missing ministers is the defence minister as well!
The parliament rejected most candidate ministers, while others had to drop out
because they did not qualify for various reasons, including in some cases owning
dual citizenship. Then the MPs went into winter recess, meaning that until April
there will be no chance of voting for the new ministerial candidates.
Although opinion polls in Afghanistan have never been very reliable, the fall in
Ghani’s popularity that they show is unmistakable, with something like a
two-thirds drop from the early post-inauguration honeymoon. Despite the debacle,
Ghani appears at least to have gained the upper hand on his chief executive (a
kind of prime minister) and erstwhile rival for the presidency, Dr. Abdullah.