Viernes, 20 de septiembre de 2013

If you want to know the prime reason President Barack Obama didn't want to bomb Syria and why the Syrian deal on chemical weapons may actually work out, however imperfectly, think one word: Iran.

Sure the limited military option against Syria was always imperfect; it would neither have ended Syria's chemical weapons capacity nor removed its president, Bashar al-Assad. There was almost no public or congressional support for a military strike either. And one of the strategic objectives of the Obama presidency was getting America out of profitless wars, not into new ones.

But motivating the president too was the challenge and opportunity of Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

Not in my lifetime have I witnessed a pope who has so quickly succeeded in making more Catholics, and non-Catholics, hyperventilate than Pope Francis. Indeed, some are ready to jump off the bleachers. They all need to calm down.

Pope Francis is delightfully frank, and that is what makes him positively engaging. He is also provocative in the best sense of that word. He seeks to challenge us and shake us out of our comfort zone. But he is not about to turn the Catholic Church upside down and inside out. Such talk is pure lunacy.

In a three-part meeting in Rome with Catholic journalists last month, Pope Francis offered his thoughts on a wide range of subjects; they were published Thursday by America magazine, the Jesuit weekly.…  Seguir leyendo »

Angela Merkel has a reputation as something of an enigma. Biographers, commentators and political opponents have created a cottage industry of Merkel astrology around a leader that everyone finds hard to read.

With a general election scheduled in Germany for Sunday, a poll at which the chancellor is likely to win a mandate for a third term, speculation is rife about Merkel’s political course, especially on foreign policy.

But contrary to widely held beliefs, the chancellor’s positions are in fact not all that difficult to identify. Merkel has basically made three fundamental decisions that have defined the structure of her foreign policy.…  Seguir leyendo »

A few weeks ago, Germany’s left-leaning Social Democratic Party threw a lavish campaign event for more than 200,000 people next to the Brandenburg Gate in the middle of Berlin. There were bratwurst, balloons and songs, but the party never quite took off.

Perhaps that’s because in this Sunday’s national election, the Social Democratic Party, Germany’s oldest and proudest, is likely to endure yet another crushing defeat, just as it did in 2009, when it was voted out of government with a meager 23 percent of the vote.

When you ask leading members of the Social Democrats to explain why on earth they are losing so much ground at a time when global capitalism has been getting such bad press, they have an easy answer.…  Seguir leyendo »

Three months ago, my platform of “prudence and hope” gained a broad, popular mandate. Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue. I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.

The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.

The international community faces many challenges in this new world — terrorism, extremism, foreign military interference, drug trafficking, cybercrime and cultural encroachment — all within a framework that has emphasized hard power and the use of brute force.…  Seguir leyendo »

An unlikely political voice recently reminded Argentines of the economic difficulties they face due to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s bankrupt economic policies: the president’s own 23-year-old daughter.

Florencia Kirchner told reporters on Sept. 15 at the government-sponsored Unasur International Film Festival: “I like visiting slums, and I believe everyone should have access to the same things the middle and upper class have”. The young Kirchner was at the festival to unveil her film project “La Propia Mirada” (One’s Own View), a series of short stories told from the perspective of Argentina’s poor. Her work “goes beyond politics. That's because it's social inclusion, which is the duty of every citizen", not just those in politics, she said.…  Seguir leyendo »

This month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will begin releasing its fifth assessment report. Like earlier reports, it will undoubtedly lead to more calls to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide worldwide.

As the discussion unfolds, I would urge everyone to keep four numbers in mind: 32, 1, 30 and 1/2. These are the numbers that explain why any transition away from our existing energy systems will be protracted and costly. Let’s take them in sequence.

First, 32: That’s the percentage growth in carbon dioxide emissions that has occurred globally since 2002. In the past decade, these emissions have increased by about 8.4 billion tons.…  Seguir leyendo »

A great deal about Germany’s elections this weekend can be discerned from the hand gestures that define the two leading candidates.

On one side, two hands are gently counterpoised against each other, thumbs and index fingers pressed together at the tips. This is the “Merkel rhombus,” the resting position in which the hands of Chancellor Angela Merkel can usually be found. Whether standing alongside world leaders at a Group of 20 meeting or talking to ordinary Germans outside a supermarket, this gesture has become so famous that it appears on posters for her party, the Christian Democratic Union, without any accompanying text.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last weekend, as the German election campaign moved into its final week, the Social Democrat candidate managed to insult the entire electorate. Peer Steinbrück approved a cover photo for one of Germany's biggest weekend supplements that showed him thrusting a middle finger at the reader with a sneer of contempt on his face.

It delivered, the pundits agreed, the fatal blow to his chances. But it was also a fitting gaffe to close on, because it worked as a vulgar counterpoint to the hand gesture that has dominated this election: Chancellor Angela Merkel's Raute ("rhombus") – fingers touched carefully together, pointing down, held in front of the abdomen to make a diamond.…  Seguir leyendo »

Five years ago, this week, the world of finance and economics changed forever.

At least that's the story.

It started with a sad milestone in Wall Street history: the fall of the House of Lehman.

Between Sept. 13 and Sept. 20, 2008, Lehman Bros., the legendary 158-year-old Wall Street firm, wobbled, stumbled and finally ceased to exist. In the conventional narrative, the failure of Lehman and the equally storied trading outfit Bear Stearns was part of an epic, once-in-a-generation meltdown in which global financial markets collapsed simultaneously in ways that nobody could have possibly foreseen.

But some people did foresee the disaster.…  Seguir leyendo »

In an autumn ritual, an Iranian president is once more coming to New York for the United Nations' annual meeting of the heads of state. Media frenzy is likely to follow, as the smiling visage of President Hassan Rouhani dominates the airways next week. Beyond vague pledges of cooperation and lofty rhetoric about turning a new page, the question remains how to assess the intentions of the new Iranian government. The early indications are that Rouhani has put together a seasoned team that seeks to both advance and legitimize Iran's nuclear program.

One of the peculiarities of the Islamic Republic is that at times it seemingly floats its strategies in the media.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Sunday, German voters will elect a new government for the next four years. That means politicians will try until the last minute to persuade undecided voters to side with their party.

As Americans well know, politics are not always about content but about how candidates look and act. Who hasn’t seen photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin shirtless on a horse? Well, German politicians these days have their own ways of raising some attention in public — intentionally or unintentionally

Show your middle finger, and you get attention. Former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrat Party (SPD) candidate who wants to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, appeared in this pose in a German news magazine.…  Seguir leyendo »

I would rather no one wore a niqab. I would rather that no woman had effectively to disappear, from a young age, because that is the norm in her family. I would rather that no one had to go through the discomfort and social awkwardness of dealing with a woman whose face you cannot see. I would rather that Islam be purged of the niqab and all its permutations.

But for all the controversy this piece of cloth has generated this week – from schools and hospitals to courts of law, barely has a day gone by when there has not been a story of either a woman forced to take off her veil or coerced into putting it on – I am afraid that the law does not exist to pander to personal penchants.…  Seguir leyendo »

De pronto, lo vi ahí, en la portada de la revista semanal de uno de los más importantes periódicos alemanes: el dedo corazón levantado del principal adversario de Angela Merkel, un gesto que estremeció a todos los medios de comunicación. Los alemanes se conocen muy bien a sí mismos, son gente decente y de orden, y alguien que aspira a ser canciller no hace algo así. Qué horror, podría ocurrírsele empezar a hacérselo al presidente ruso, si Putin se empeña en que la orden de usar el gas venenoso no fue de El Asad.

Escribo este artículo en Menorca, donde resido parte del año, alejado de todo, pero, en medio de mis olivos, hay una antena parabólica que me sitúa en Alemania en un segundo, y en las últimas semanas he visto a políticos alemanes en la pantalla bailando, con escasa soltura, en un ballet que nadie había coreografiado: entrevistas, encuestas de opinión, sucesivos debates dirigidos por varias damas muy atildadas que emplean mano dura para mantener a las partes enfrentadas en torno a la mesa.…  Seguir leyendo »

Las elecciones que se celebrarán el próximo domingo en Alemania son de ámbito nacional. Sin embargo, lo que está en juego no sólo es el futuro de mi país sino sobre todo, el porvenir de Europa. Alemania es un país fuerte y exitoso. Hemos logrado salir reforzados de la crisis económica y financiera global: tenemos menos desempleados que hace cuatro años y más asalariados que nunca.

No obstante, somos conscientes de que a los alemanes sólo nos puede ir bien si Europa está bien. Por lo tanto, se encuentra en nuestro propio interés pensar y actuar de manera europea, así como apoyar a otros países en Europa cuando ello sea necesario.…  Seguir leyendo »

El 22 de septiembre se celebran elecciones en Alemania; somos muchos los que pensamos que de su resultado depende en gran medida nuestro inmediato futuro. Los sondeos hablan de una victoria de Angela Merkel, de un hundimiento de la socialdemocracia alemana y de unos resultados escasos para los liberales (que pueden no alcanzar el 5%) los Verdes y el partido de la Izquierda. Estaríamos por ello ante una revalidación electoral de la CDU que podría gobernar en coalición con los liberales o, si ello no fuera posible, articular una política de gran coalición con los socialdemócratas.

Si los sondeos se confirman en las urnas, me temo que los males que nos aquejan se agudizarán.…  Seguir leyendo »

La justicia es un indiscutible elemento dinamizador de la economía. Lo es siempre. Pero parece más urgente señalarlo en tiempos como los actuales, marcados por una profunda y dolorosa crisis económica. Y tiene esa capacidad, al menos, en una doble vertiente: como garante de los derechos de los ciudadanos (particulares o empresas, nacionales o extranjeros), proporcionando así una valiosa seguridad jurídica; y como agente capacitado extraordinariamente para dar salida a procedimientos que estrangulan a miles de mercantiles y que mantienen inmovilizados miles de millones de euros.

Solo en los últimos 12 meses, los movimientos en las cuentas de consignaciones (en las que se deposita dinero en concepto de garantías, fianzas, cauciones; cantidades procedentes de la intervención, aprehensión o incautación de moneda metálica, billetes de banco, cheques bancarios o valores realizables; ingresos como consecuencia del embargo de bienes, en ejecución voluntaria o forzosa de títulos que lleven aparejada ejecución) en toda España (ingresos más devoluciones) han ascendido a más de 14.000 millones de euros.…  Seguir leyendo »

El papel equilibrador de los sistemas de protección social ha constituido una de las señas de identidad de la Europa democrática a lo largo de su historia reciente. Tras la II Guerra Mundial, nuestro continente ha consolidado el crecimiento del gasto social, la protección de los derechos y libertades de sus ciudadanos y el acceso a bienes públicos fundamentales como la educación, la sanidad, el apoyo a la vivienda, la protección por desempleo o la regulación de derechos en el trabajo, hasta límites que casi nadie creía posibles cuando en 1889 se aprobó en el Parlamento alemán el primer sistema público de pensiones contributivas.…  Seguir leyendo »

En 1966, el gran economista Kenneth Boulding cuestionaba la relevancia de la Economía que se enseñaba en los libros de texto, señalando que los individuos que los poblaban no eran seres humanos como los demás. Eran una suerte de creación literaria, miembros de una subespecie del género Homo sapiens muy especial, la llamada Homo oeconomicus, la de los “hombres económicos”. Subespecie que, en su opinión, no podía existir en el mundo real en estado puro por la sencilla razón de que no podrían reproducirse, dado que “nadie en su sano juicio querría que su hija se casase con un hombre económico, uno que ponderara cada coste y exigiese ante ello su recompensa, que nunca fuese afligido por arranques de enloquecida generosidad o amor no calculado, uno que nunca actuara a partir de un sentimiento de identidad anterior y que realmente careciera de ella incluso aunque ocasionalmente se viera afectado por consideraciones cuidadosamente calculadas de benevolencia o malevolencia”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Entre las serpientes del verano cultural de 2013 ha vuelto a pulular con intensidad la especie de la inminente desaparición de la literatura a causa de la sustitución de la Galaxia Gutenberg (McLuhan dixit) por la Galaxia Internet (dixit Castell). ¿Nos tendremos que disponer a aceptar la desaparición de la literatura a causa de la civilización electrónica? ¿Será que como escribió Umberto Eco, evocando al Frollo de Desde luego, algunos agoreros así lo vienen diciendo desde hace años, como podemos ver en el libro de Kernan o en la antología de Nunberg. Recordemos, no obstante, que cuando se empezó a difundir el vídeo doméstico también hubo quien anunció la desaparición del cine, lo que evidentemente no ha llegado a ocurrir.…  Seguir leyendo »