Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Monday, March 24, 2014
Απεγνωσμένες οι προσπάθειες, εν όψει εκλογών, να επανακτηθούν οι ψήφοι που για δεκαετίες προσφέρονταν στη «σοσιαλιστική» φενάκη. Nα επανακτηθούν από ποιους; Προφανώς από όσους χρησιμοποίησαν τη φενάκη για να νέμονται, δεκαετίες τώρα, την εξουσία. Kαι να επανακτηθούν πώς; Mε τη δημιουργία καινούργιου κομματικού σχήματος «κεντροαριστεράς», δηλαδή με επανάληψη της εξαπάτησης των ψηφοφόρων, ίσως από πιο επιδέξιους παραχαράκτες.
H λέξη «κεντροαριστερά» θα ήταν λογικό να σημαίνει για κάθε ελλαδίτη ψηφοφόρο με μνήμη, κρίση και αυτοσεβασμό, τα εξής εξόφθαλμα δεδομένα: Tο εν ψυχρώ κακούργημα εξωφρενικού υπερδανεισμού της χώρας, προκειμένου να τραφεί ο Mινώταυρος του πελατειακού κράτους. Tο κατάφωρο έγκλημα αχρήστευσης και διάλυσης της Δημόσιας Διοίκησης, προκειμένου να εξαγοράζονται ψήφοι με αντάλλαγμα την «προστασία» της διαφθοράς και της ανικανότητας (την κατάργηση κάθε ελέγχου της ποιότητας - απόδοσης - εντιμότητας των υπαλλήλων, όπως και κάθε αξιοκρατικής ιεράρχησης ευθυνών). Tην ατιμωρησία, συγκάλυψη και μεθοδική «προαγωγή» της καταλήστευσης του κοινωνικού χρήματος από «διαπλεκόμενους» με την πολιτική ηγεσία εργολήπτες και προμηθευτές του Δημοσίου, «νταβατζήδες» του ιδιωτικού επιχειρηματικού χώρου, του ποδοσφαιρικού υποκόσμου, των εξαγορασμένων από κόμματα MME. H λέξη «κεντροαριστερά» στην Eλλάδα παραπέμπει ευθέως σε αυτό το όνειδος της διαπλοκής, της φαυλότητας, της λωποδυσίας – άμεση πείρα του δεδομένου έχει κάθε πολίτης.
Oχι ότι υπάρχει κάποια «δεξιά» ή «κεντροδεξιά» που τη γνωρίσαμε να διαφοροποιείται από την «κεντροαριστερή» λοιμική και ποταπότητα. Oύτε ότι υπάρχει κάποια αμιγής από «κεντρώες» αποκλίσεις «αριστερά», που ο πολιτικός της λόγος και τα πολιτικά της ενεργήματα εγγυώνται ρεαλιστική κοινωνιοκεντρική οπτική και σκοποθεσία. Tο απελπιστικά νοσηρό σύμπτωμα του συλλογικού μας βίου είναι η γοητεία που εξακολουθεί να ασκεί η λέξη «κεντροαριστερά» σε σημαντική μερίδα του ελλαδικού πληθυσμού – μια λέξη κενή από κάθε ρεαλιστικό πολιτικό περιεχόμενο και συνειρμικά φορτισμένη με τις πιο καταστροφικές εκφάνσεις αμοραλισμού, ανικανότητας και φαυλότητας.
Aπό το σύμπτωμα συνάγεται συνεπέστατα ότι το επίπεδο κριτικής σκέψης, ορθολογικών εκτιμήσεων και αντανακλαστικών αυτοάμυνας είναι στη χώρα μας πολύ χαμηλό. Πρέπει να ήταν υποβαθμισμένο και πριν από σαράντα χρόνια – ο Aνδρέας Παπανδρέου είχε σαφώς αντιληφθεί και στο έπακρο εκμεταλλευτεί τη γοητεία που ασκούσαν και τότε οι άδειες λέξεις, τα χωρίς παραμικρό αντίκρισμα πραγματικότητας συνθήματα.
Tο ΠAΣOK, ίσως η πλέον εντυπωσιακή καπηλεία της «κεντροαριστεράς» στην Eλλάδα, καταμετρείται σήμερα στις δημοσκοπήσεις πολιτικά τελειωμένο, ιστορικά νεκρό. Tο ΠAΣOK ναι, όχι όμως και η γοητεία της «κεντροαριστεράς». Oι απόπειρες να συγκροτηθεί καινούργιο κομματικό σχήμα κενολογίας κεντροαριστερής διαδέχονται η μία την άλλη: «Kοινωνικός Σύνδεσμος», «Kοινωνική Συμφωνία», «PIKΣΣY», «Eλιά», «Ποτάμι» – και επαπειλούνται πλείονα. Eίναι η πρόσφορη ώρα, διότι το «σύστημα» (η σύμπτωση συμφερόντων που υπαγορεύουν πολιτική στις ελλαδικές κυβερνήσεις) δείχνει απροκάλυπτα αυτό που θέλει: Nα συνεχίσει η χώρα να κυβερνάται οπωσδήποτε από τη N.Δ. με «κεντροαριστερό» συνεργό – και μαγειρεύουν τον συνεργό. H προβολή και διαφήμιση που προσφέρουν τα MME (ιδιωτικά και δημόσια) σε κάθε τέτοιον πιθανό συνεργό, κραυγάζει την εύνοια (και τις προθέσεις) του «συστήματος».
Oμως η λογική λέει ότι, ακόμα και αν κυβερνήσει τη χώρα ο ΣYPIZA ή και το KKE, πολιτική στους κυβερνώντες θα συνεχίσει να υπαγορεύει το «σύστημα»: Διότι οι μαρξιστές και το «σύστημα» έχουν κοινή βιοθεωρία, τον Iστορικό Yλισμό – την ίδια τη Σοβιετική Yπερδύναμη τη συνέτριψε η δυναμική της καταναλωτικής βουλιμίας. Oταν μοναδικό «νόημα» (αιτία και σκοπός) της επιβίωσης, αποκλειστική χαρά ζωής, είναι η καταναλωτική αυταξία, οποιαδήποτε ιδεολογική λεοντή κι αν ενδυθεί ο ιστορικο-υλιστικός μηδενισμός, το πολιτικό αποτέλεσμα δεν αλλάζει. Στην αφομοίωσή τους από το «σύστημα» οι αντιστάσεις του «κεντροαριστερού» Tσοχατζόπουλου ήταν ισχυρότερες από αυτές του δεξιότατου Λιάπη;
Που σημαίνει: Aνάκαμψη, επανασυγκρότηση και ιστορική συνέχεια του ελλαδικού κρατιδίου είναι λογικά αδύνατη, με οποιοδήποτε από τα σημερινά κόμματα (ή τις τεχνητές αποφύσεις τους) στην εξουσία. Tα καίρια πολιτικά αιτήματα αυτής της ώρας δεν χωράνε στις γραφικές γλωσσικές φιοριτούρες της «κεντροαριστεράς» ή της «κεντροδεξιάς» φενάκης – ψηλαφήσαμε όλοι την απόλυτη εξομοίωση του πράσινου ΠAΣOK, του γαλάζιου ΠAΣOK και της κοκκινοπράσινης ΔHMAP στην κυβερνητική πράξη. Aριθμητικό (ανεξίτηλο) στίγμα της εξομοίωσης: η σχέση 4.2.1. στη μοιρασιά των ρουσφετιών. Στίγμα ες αεί.Tα σημάδια του «καινούργιου» στην ελλαδική πολιτική, αν ποτέ προκύψει το «καινούργιο», θα είναι λίγα, σαφή, συγκεκριμένα. Πρώτη επιδίωξη: η συνεπής, συνεπέστατη κατάλυση του πελατειακού κράτους. Oχι ως εξαγγελία, αλλά ως ήδη συγκροτημένο, άκρως συγκεκριμένο πολιτικό πρόγραμμα. Θα προδιαγράφει τα ενεργήματα που απαιτούνται για τον θεσμικό αποκλεισμό των συντελεστών αυτής της σύμφυτης με την κρατική μας υπόσταση λοιμικής. Tόσο για την επιβολή αξιοκρατίας και καταξίωσης της αριστείας στη δημόσια διοίκηση όσο και για τον στεγανό αποκλεισμό της διαπλοκής «νταβατζήδων» με την εξουσία.
Σημάδι του «καινούργιου» θα είναι και το έτοιμο θεσμικό μόρφωμα για τη ριζική αλλαγή του σχολειού και του εκπαιδευτικού συστήματος. Nα συνδεθεί το σχολειό με την επιδίωξη της κοινωνικής συνοχής και την άνοδο της κατά κεφαλήν καλλιέργειας. Nα ετοιμάζει πολίτες και όχι οπαδούς, εραστές της ποιότητας και όχι της «φροντιστηριακής» χρησιμοθηρίας. Σημάδι του «καινούργιου», η προγραμματική φιλοδοξία να προσφέρει η Eλλάδα στην Eυρώπη τα καλύτερα δυνατά κλασικά λύκεια, τα πιο προηγμένα ερευνητικά κέντρα ανθρωπιστικών επιστημών. Συμβολική σηματοδότηση του «καινούργιου»: H γλώσσα ως λογική, τα μαθηματικά ως γλώσσα – Aρχαία Eλληνικά, σαν παιχνίδι, από το Δημοτικό.Σημάδι του «καινούργιου»: Mε τους σημερινούς όρους ζωής, επιστροφή στη μικρή, αυτοδιαχειριζόμενη κοινότητα, στην πολιτική δυναμική της συνεπούς αποκέντρωσης, της κατά πρόσωπο λογοδοσίας.
Για να μη συγχέουμε το «καινούργιο» με αναμηρυκασμούς σαράντα χρόνων κουτόχορτου.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
By CONNIE CASS (AP)
A new study finds Americans of all ages are charting their own paths across a media landscape that no longer relies on front pages and evening newscasts to dictate what's worth knowing.
They still pay heed to serious news even as they seek out the lighter stuff, according to the Media Insight Project.
The conclusions burst the myth of the media "bubble" - the notion that no one pays attention to anything beyond a limited sphere of interest, like celebrities or college hoops or Facebook posts.
"This idea that somehow we're all going down narrow paths of interest and that many people are just sort of amusing themselves to death and not interested in the news and the world around them? That is not the case," said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, which teamed with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research on the project.
People today are nibbling from a news buffet spread across 24-hour television, websites, radio, newspapers and magazines, and social networks.
Three-fourths of Americans see or hear news daily, including 6 in 10 adults under age 30, the study found. Nearly everyone - about 9 in 10 people - said they enjoy keeping up with the news. And more than 6 in 10 say that wherever they find the news, they prefer it to come directly from a news organization.
The study found relatively few differences by age, political leanings or wealth when it comes to the topics people care about. Traffic and weather are nearly universal interests. Majorities express interest in natural disasters, local news, politics, the economy, crime and foreign coverage. With so many sources and technologies, 60 percent of Americans say it's easier to keep up than it was just five years ago.
But at the same time, Jane Hall, an associate professor of journalism at American University, said no one is setting the national news agenda the way The New York Times and network evening news once did.
"I do lament those times in which something could become so important that we all watched," Hall said. "But that doesn't mean we aren't all engaged now."
If you're under 30, the future of news is in your hands, literally.
Three out of four young adults who carry cellphones use them to check the news. Most owners of tablet computers also use them to get updates; young people are the ones most likely to have tablets.
But the young think of news differently than previous generations did, said Rachel Davis Mersey, an associate professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Their broader definition includes anything happening right now, whether it's sports or entertainment or politics.
"We don't see young people thinking of it as a civic obligation to keep up with news," Mersey said. "We see young people including news as part of a very complex, very diverse, very large media diet that includes a diversity of sources, a diversity of platforms and really goes 24/7."
The Media Insight Project study found 20-somethings likelier to follow up when they hear something big is happening.
"They're the sort of on-demand news generation," Rosenstiel said.
Americans get that first word in an assortment of ways. Traditional news operations still dominate, but word of mouth, email and text messages, Facebook and Twitter, and electronic news alerts also come into play.
Most people say they have more confidence in a story when they get it directly from a news-gathering operation. But their media habit doesn't include paying for it - only about a fourth have paid subscriptions.
Nine out of 10 watched some type of TV news in the previous week.
Newspapers, including online editions, and radio news each reached more than half the country. Online-only news sources such as Yahoo! News and Buzzfeed reached nearly half.
People flit across the news landscape, depending on what they're seeking, the study found.Wonder why local newscasts seem fixated on crime, traffic, weather and health warnings? That's why viewers go there.
Cable TV channels draw the most people looking for foreign news, politics, social issues and business stories.
Readers prefer newspapers - online or in print - for local news, stories about schools and education, and arts and culture coverage. Among news sources, newspapers have the widest range of topics that attract a significant number of people.
Americans most often turn to specialty media these days for their sports, entertainment news, and science and technology coverage. When a natural disaster strikes, they turn on the TV.
"People of all generations are picking and choosing the media that fit their needs at the moment and the story they're trying to follow," Rosenstiel said. "Consumers are becoming more in control," he said, "and not simply reacting to what is thrown at us."
The survey was conducted Jan. 9-Feb. 16, 2014, by NORC at the University of Chicago with funding from the American Press Institute. It involved landline and cellphone interviews in English or Spanish with 1,492 adults nationwide. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Thursday, March 13, 2014
By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ (AP)
There aren't supposed to be any mysteries in the Digital Age.
The answers to most questions, it seems, can be found using Google or Twitter. So, maybe that's why the world is captivated by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and why it has created a legion of armchair sleuths, spouting theories in some cases so strange they belong in science-fiction films.
Casual conversations in supermarket aisles, barbershop chairs and office building cafeterias have centered on the mystery and how much we don't know.
With the search for the missing Boeing 777 entering its seventh day, the passengers' families are left without closure while the intrigue - and hypotheses - continue to grow for the rest of us.
On TV and in online forums, aviation experts are more measured and analytical than the amateurs but in the end can't say with any certainty what happened.
With no distress call, no sign of wreckage and very few answers, the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane is turning into one of the biggest aviation mysteries since Amelia Earhart vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
Theories abound. Some are serious: there was a catastrophic failure in the airframe or engines or there might have been a pilot error. Other ideas are the kinds to be found in science fiction movies: a new Bermuda Triangle, an alien abduction or something out of the Twilight Zone.
Terrorism isn't suspected but hasn't been ruled out either. But some people have come up with elaborate plots worthy of a James Bond villain where the plane is hijacked and lands on a remote island, undetected by radar. Others have sat in their homes or offices scouring new commercial satellite images of the ocean, looking for any debris from the plane.
False leads and conflicting information have only added to the mystery, the speculation and the frustration. It's still unclear how far the plane may have flown after losing contact with civilian radar - and in which direction. On Thursday, planes were sent to search an area off the southern tip of Vietnam where Chinese satellite images released by the Chinese government reportedly showed floating objects believed to be part of the plane. Nothing turned up.
Even if the plane is found soon, the speculation likely won't fade. It can take months, if not years, after a plane crash to learn definitively what happened.
That's an anomaly in an age of instant answers. If something isn't known, we just Google it. If we are lost, we use the GPS on our smartphones to find our location. And if our flight is delayed, even five minutes, the airline sends us a text message.In this situation - to everybody's frustration - we still don't have a conclusion.
Popular TV shows like "Lost," or movies like "Alive" or "Castaway," where people survive a plane crash only to have the rest of the world give up on them, just feed the curiosity. (Note: It was a Boeing 777 that disappeared over the Pacific in "Lost.")
Airlines and their employees don't like to talk about crashes. It's not in their nature. Instead, they defer to the crash investigators. Part of it is that they have nothing to gain by speaking and part of it is superstition.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
As part of trade talks, the EU wants to limit the use of names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States. The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses.
The Europeans say Parmesan should only come from the area around Parma, Italy, not from American plants or those familiar green cylinders that American companies sell. Feta should only be from Greece, they say, even though feta isn't a place. The EU argues it "is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product."
So, a little "hard-grated cheese" for your pasta? It doesn't have quite the same ring as Parmesan.
U.S. dairy producers, cheesemakers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4 billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers.
"It's really stunning that the Europeans are trying to claw back products made popular in other countries," says Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents U.S. dairy farmers.
The European Union would not say exactly what it is proposing or even whether it will be discussed this week as a new round of talks on an EU-United States free trade agreement opens in Brussels.
European Commission spokesman Roger Waite would only say that the question "is an important issue for the EU."
That's clear from recent agreements with Canada and Central America, where certain cheese names were restricted unless the cheese came from Europe. Under the Canadian agreement, for example, new feta products manufactured in Canada can only be marketed as feta-like or feta-style, and they can't use Greek letters or other symbols that evoke Greece. Canada made a similar agreement on Gorgonzola from Italy.
Existing cheeses would still be able to market under those names, but expansion would be limited for new products.
Though it has not laid out a public proposal, the EU is expected to make similar attempts to restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses, possibly including Parmesan, Asiago, Gorgonzola, feta, fontina, grana, Muenster, Neufchatel and Romano.
And it may not be just cheese. Other products with traditional ties to European countries that could be affected include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.
The trade negotiations are important for the EU as Europe has tried to protect its share of agricultural exports after a tough recession. The ability to corner the market on some of the continent's most famous and traditional products would prevent others from cutting into those profits.
Concerned about the possible impact of changing the labels on those popular foods, a bipartisan group of 55 senators wrote U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week asking them not to agree to any such proposals by the EU.
Led by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., the members wrote that in the states they represent, "many small- or medium-sized, family-owned businesses could have their businesses unfairly restricted" and that export businesses could be gravely hurt.Schumer said artisanal cheese production is a growing industry across New York.
"Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it," he says.
Trevor Kincaid, a spokesman for the U.S. trade representative, said that conversations on the issue are in the early stages but that the U.S. and EU have "different points of view" on the topic.
The agency wouldn't disclose details of the negotiations, but Kincaid said the U.S. government is "committed to increasing opportunity for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers through trade."
Large food companies that mass produce the cheeses are also fighting the idea. Kraft, closely identified with its grated Parmesan cheese, says the cheese names have long been considered generic in the United States.
"Such restrictions could not only be costly to food makers, but also potentially confusing for consumers if the labels of their favorite products using these generic names were required to change," says Kraft spokesman Basil Maglaris.
Jaime Castaneda works for the U.S. Dairy Export Council and is the director of a group formed to fight the EU changes, the Consortium for Common Food Names. He says the idea that great cheese can only come from Europe "is just not the case anymore."
He points out that artisanal and locally produced foods are more popular than ever here and says some consumers may actually prefer the American brands. European producers can still lay claim to more place-specific names, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, he says.
"This is about rural America and jobs," Castaneda says.
Dairy farmers and cheese makers say they are angry because it was Europeans who originally brought the cheeses here, and the American companies have made them more popular and profitable in a huge market.
"We've been manufacturing, marketing, advertising, and making the cheese interesting to consumers, and now we're supposed to walk away from it?" says Pete Kappelman, who owns a family dairy farm in Manitowoc, Wis. "That's not quite a level playing field."
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Barbie Latza Nadeau/ The Daily Beast
No one can dispute the fact that Jorge Mario Bergoglio has had an extraordinary year since being elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church last March. Every gesture, from his choice of the name Francis to his penchant for cold-calling parishioners, has endeared him with a most unusual fanclub, including atheists and gays. He has been on the cover of the Advocate and Rolling Stone and he was voted Time’s Man of the Year. He also attracts tens of thousands of Catholics and curious onlookers to his weekly Sunday blessings and Wednesday audiences in St. Peter’s square—something that hasn’t been seen in Rome since the early days of John Paul II. He even hashis own fanzine and smartphone app.
But just as the Pope’s pedestrian popularity grows, bolstered no doubt by a savvy public relations move from within the Vatican to get the ‘good news’ message out to the mainstream press, there are a growing number of dissident voices from deep within the Catholic community who aren’t exactly impressed with the so-called “Francis effect” on the church as a whole.
In fact, toeing the new party line instilled by Francis is proving to be the greatest challenge for conservative Catholics who are quite used to a prudent and predictable Pope. Francis’s comments about showing mercy to divorced couples, not judging gay priests and even toying with further examination of civil unions outside the church have proven to be tough for conservative Catholics to swallow.
John Vennari, noted Catholic observer and editor of “The Catholic Family News,” has been pounding a steady drumbeat on the danger of Francis’s widespread populist appeal since his election a year ago. “He seems to have a good heart and some good Catholic instincts, but theologically he is a train wreck—remarkably sloppy,” Vennari wrote in a recent blog post. “Though this might shock some readers, I must say that I would never allow Pope Francis to teach religion to my children.”
In an NBC news piece titled “Not Everyone Loves Francis,” Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome pondered whether or not true Catholic conservatives would be able to keep supporting the Pope’s new approach towards acceptance and mercy and still keep their faith. “I think it will be a real test for conservative Catholics,” he told NBC. “They have always pointed the finger, quoting the Pope for the last 35 years. Suddenly, will they stop quoting the Pope? It’ll be a good test of whether or not they’re really Catholics.”
But it’s not just traditionalists who arefinding fault with Francis. Writing in the New Statesman John Bloodworth, editor of the popular British progressive political blog Left Foot Forward, warns that Francis is no different from his predecessors and that the Catholic Church “stands on roughly the same political terrain as it did under the leadership of Pope Benedict.” He says part of Francis’s popularity is simply a result of “clever repackaging” of the same Catholic propaganda coupled with a troubled society’s search for a new hero, which, he says, “has resulted in people switching off their critical faculties and overlooking inconvenient truths.”
Bloodworth blames the mainstream press for essentially drinking the Catholic kool-aid without really checking for substance. “Pope Francis’s position on most issues should make the hair of every liberal curl,” he says. “Instead we get article after article of saccharine from people who really should know better.”
Some liberal Catholics believe that Francis is missing an opportunity to use his popular appeal to really make a substantive difference. Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, says that part of Francis’s appeal was his predecessor’s weakness. “To go from such an uncharismatic Pope to such a natural and warm leader like Francis has made people interested in what he has to say,” O’Brien told The Daily Beast. “But he’s not exactly CheGuevera for the church.”
While O’Brien believes that Francis’s off-the-cuff comments about divorced couples and gay priests are “driving the uber-conservative Catholics insane,” he worries that the Pope is actually getting a lot of undue credit for being a revolutionary when he hasn’t exactly shaken up the most troubling problems within the church. “I think that he could have a bigger impact, especially when it comes to women,” he says. “If Pope Francis has a blindspot, that’s it.”
O’Brien says that allowing divorced people to take communion or even be remarried in the Catholic Church would be a good first step towards moving beyond rhetoric. So would allowing women a greater role as decision-makers in the Church rather than isolating them further. O’Brien points to an interview Francis gave to a slew of Jesuit magazines earlier this year, in which he essentially poured cold water on any hope ofgender equality within the Catholic Church heirarchy. “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man,” Francis said in the interview. “But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology ofmachismo.” O’Brien says by locking women out of the room when decisions are made, he is sidelining half of the Catholic Church. “Comments like that cancel out a lot of the good,” O’Brien says.
Another perceived weak spot in the Francis papacy for many is his kid-glove approach to the horrific child sex-abuse scandal the church is still dealing with. He has not yet met publicly with any victims of priest abuse like his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI did, and he has persistently avoided making a public apology as Pope. In December, he did announce the formation of a special commission to deal with the issue of predatory priests and child sex-abuse cases, but he has yet to name the commission, meaning that their work has not yet begun. That is especially painful to victims of priest abuse like David Clohessy, head of SNAP—Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Clohessy says that Francis needs to immediately take tangible steps to remove predatory priests from the parishes and to punish bishops who continue to cover up their offenses.
“Policies, pledges, apologies, meetings with victims won’t work. they’ve all been said and done before. They are public relations placebos,” Clohessy told The Daily Beast. “They don’t safeguard a single child, expose a single predator or deter a single cover up. Symbolic moves are actually hurtful because they cause complacency instead of vigilance and give people false hope that real reform will follow, when it hasn’t followed and isn’t following.”
Clohessy isn’t holding out hope that the Pope’s abuse commission will make any difference. “A ‘carrot only’approach won’t work and he knows it. He must find the courage to wield a “stick” and he shows little or no sign of being strong and brave enough to do this.”
To be fair, Francis has shaken up the top-heavy Roman Curia with new appointments, and he has tapped 19 new cardinals from all over the world to diversify the mostly European College of Cardinals whose most important task will be electing his successor. He has also made some crucial steps towards cleaning up the scandal-prone Vatican bank with the appointment of a new Secretariat of the Economy, Cardinal George Pell from Australia. Writing in his new role as associate editor covering global Catholicism for The Boston Globe, Vatican expert John Allen says that Francis’s substantive moves get less press because they are essentially far more boring than what makes the headlines. He points specifically to the shakeup at the Vatican Bank. “That move may not have the sex appeal of Francis’s symbolic gestures, such as spurning the papal apartment or inviting three homeless men and their dog to his birthday breakfast, but insiders realize there’s little a pope could do that would be more challenging to the Vatican’s old guard,” he writes. “When that decision was announced, one could almost hear the sound of the tectonic plates of the church shifting in the direction of transparency and accountability.”
Love him or hate him, it is still too soon to measure the Francis effect on the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. Those who support him most say his style appeals to lapsed Catholics and makes moderate Catholics proud, even though arecent Pew Research poll on American Catholics and Pope Franci says it hasn’t lured them back to church just yet. According to the study, “Seven in ten U.S. Catholics also now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the church, a sentiment shared by 56 percent of non-Catholics. And nearly everyone who says Francis represents a major change sees this as a change for the better.” But the same poll showed that church attendance had not shifted since Pope Francis took the helm of the Catholic Church.
Even with all the analysis of Francis’s first year, the least likely person to actually take note is the Pope himself. Father Tom Reese, a senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church , says the Pope won’t likely worry about how people judge his first year on the job. “One of the things people like about Francis is that he is authentic; he says what he thinks in a simple straightforward way,” Reese told The Daily Beast. “If he starts worrying like a politician about what people on the left and right think of him, he will destroy himself. Let Francis be Francis.”
The pope would seem to agree. In a broad interview with Italy’s Corrieredella Sera newspaper, he shunned his popularity and said he is just an average person. “I don’t like ideological interpretations, a certain mythology of Pope Francis,” he said. “Sigmund Freud said, if I’m not mistaken, that in all idealization there is an aggression. To paint the Pope as if he is a sort of Superman, a sort of star, I find offensive. The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps peacefully and has friends like everyone else. He is a normal person.”
Monday, March 10, 2014
By Andrei Khalip (Reuters)
Portugal's international bailout is expected to end in mid-May. That won't mean the end of hardship for the Portuguese.
To avoid a repeat of the 78 billion euro ($108 billion) financial rescue agreed in May 2011 with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Lisbon cannot let up on shrinking its budget gap and trimming a huge sovereign debt.
The economy is starting to grow again, and the government is borrowing at the cheapest rates since 2010. That means it will be easier than in the past couple of years to meet goals imposed on Portugal by existing bailout terms and European treaties between now and 2017.
Still, with a population intent on making ends meet - and a general election due in the middle of next year - assurances from Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho often fall on deaf ears.
"I know and (the politicians) know that austerity will continue, because that's what our lenders demand and we still have to pay them back," said Helena Barroso, 51, a literature teacher in a state-funded university in Lisbon.
On Thursday night, more than 12,000 off-duty police gathered in front of parliament, waving banners with the words "Patience has limits!" to demand the reversal of wage cuts that have lopped almost a quarter off average police wages.
"I don't believe things will improve," said Armando Ferreira, head of the police union. "If nothing is done, if we do not show our discontent, things will only get worse."
By several measures, Portugal's center-right government is sticking to its fiscal commitments better than neighbor Spain.
Portugal beat last year's budget gap target of 5.5 percent of gross domestic product, bringing the deficit below 5 percent, according to the latest review by its lenders. It is expected to achieve a 4 percent deficit target this year.
By contrast, the European Commission expects Spain, which did not undergo a full bailout program, to miss its 6.5 percent goal in 2013, recording a 7.2 percent gap.
Portugal has to meet a bailout target of 2.5 percent in 2015, then slash the deficit to 0.5 percent by 2017 to meet the European Union's "golden rule" calling for balanced budgets.
Lisbon has to meet these targets regardless of whether it requests a precautionary loan while it eases its way back into full dependence on market financing. The government has said it would decide next month on whether to seek the loan.
But what to cut next is a daunting choice, particularly given next year's election.
Over the past three years under the bailout program, Prime Minister Coelho has relied largely on tax hikes to narrow the budget gap. Now, the administration has said it will cut the main corporate tax rate this year to 23 percent from 25 percent. It has also not ruled out easing value-added tax for some services from the current 23 percent. The government also hopes to trim income taxes from their record levels in 2015.
"They do want to start easing the high tax burden, but I don't think there's much room to cut taxes without increasing the deficit," said Giada Giani, a Citi economist in London.
The only answer is more permanent spending cuts. Repeated cuts so far have targeted public sector wages, pensions and thousands of jobs. But many such measures are temporary and fall well short of a long-term debt reduction plan.Moreover, the European Commission said last month that Portugal is still only half-way to getting wages down to levels that could bring down unemployment in a sustainable fashion after wages fell around 5 percent since 2010.
While exports are propping up economic growth, falling wages may threaten a recovery in consumer spending that started at the end of 2013, unless many new jobs materialize fast.
"My quality of life has already dropped a lot," said teacher Barroso, who has lost one-fifth of her monthly pay, now below 2,000 euros, in public sector wage cuts over the past few years, and more in tax hikes.
"They told me it was a temporary cut. Now it looks like it's going to be permanent. Makes you pessimistic."
POLITICAL OPPOSITION, COURT
Permanent cuts are a political gamble. Even if politicians have the courage to impose them so close to an election, such measures would almost certainly be challenged by Coelho's rivals in parliament and sent to Portugal's Constitutional Court.
The Court has already rejected some measures and is currently looking into whether some one billion euros in this year's wage cuts are constitutional.
"Budget discipline will remain there, but I think they will slow down on deficit cuts, doing only something that's more politically acceptable on the spending side," Citi's Giani said, adding the deficit target of 2.5 percent next year may not be achieved. A gap of around 3 percent is reachable and enough to keep investors calm, she said.
A year before elections, opinion polls show the center-left Socialists a few points ahead of the ruling coalition, though not with enough votes to win an outright parliament majority.
But "even with the Socialists at the helm, the policy of budget balance that depends on Europe should continue," said Antonio Costa Pinto, a political scientist in Lisbon.
Monday, March 3, 2014