Kevin Rafferty

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Death and destruction in Nepal

Death and destruction have dominated recent news. Mass media deserted the tragedy of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and being smuggled to Europe in overladen boats. They had found a more powerful disaster, and rushed to earthquake-savaged Nepal.

Heart-wrenching scenes in Kathmandu of bewildered homeless people amidst the rubble of ancient temples were vividly beamed into comfortable living rooms thousands of miles away, showing how ruthless is the destructive power of nature. Three days after the quake, confusion still reigned: one man said sadly that he had received a single packet of noodles to eat but did not know whether it had been provided by the government or by some NGO.…  Seguir leyendo »

“I am Charlie” — the slogan of solidarity with the murdered editor, cartoonists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly — caught fire on social media and in spontaneous demonstrations that spread throughout Europe. Sadly it is too late for the dead journalists, and later than you think for press freedoms that have been badly eroded worldwide.

The hope must be that the assassinations may waken political and media leaders to understand what is at stake.

French President Francois Hollande went rapidly to the scene to condemn the murders as an attack on the values of France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron stood shoulder-to-shoulder offering support to Hollande.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pakistan at a tipping point

The savagery of the slaughter of 132 schoolchildren and nine teaching staff in Peshawar last month stunned even hard-bitten politicians and journalists used to senseless atrocities. The terrorist killers riddled students with bullets and forced schoolchildren to watch as they burned a teacher alive.

Such a horrific deed, leading commentators declared, should prove a turning point, if not a tipping point, finally to force Pakistan’s squabbling factions, the nominal political rulers, the army commanders, the insidious army intelligence, the judges who have given the shelter of the law to terrorists, to put their heads together and pull Pakistan back from becoming a failed state.…  Seguir leyendo »

Was it a grim defining moment when Leung Chun-ying, variously known, among more flattering titles, as the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and the Chief Puppet of Beijing, ruled out any prospect of China changing its mind or allowing concessions to the limited version of “democracy” it has promised for Hong Kong in 2017, when voters are to choose his successor?

He sternly warned demonstrators to give up their “illegal” protests that have taken over large areas of Hong Kong for several days. Just before the midnight deadline that students had set him, Leung agreed to dialogue but the concession was late in coming.…  Seguir leyendo »

Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the ambitious president of FIFA, must be pulling his few remaining hairs out of his head because his dreams of taking the so-called Beautiful Game to world sports domination are turning to nightmares. New squalid facts, claims and rumors are emerging every week suggesting that the game may be beautiful but some of its leading figures are too close to dark and shadowy criminal forces.

In Brazil, you might think there would be general rejoicing. Brazil is described as the spiritual home of soccer because of the exhilarating talent of its players. Brazil is the host of the World Cup that kicked off Thursday, and most pundits predict that Brazil will pick up its sixth World Cup championship when the final is played on July 13.…  Seguir leyendo »

We are now only days away from the start of the greatest democratic show on earth. It is hard to challenge India’s claims to be the world’s biggest living, breathing dynamic democracy. The 814.5 million Indians who will cast ballots at 930,000 polling stations from April 7 to May 12 are the proof of that.

Unfortunately it is a flawed democracy, too much of a tamasha (a show with much singing and dancing) and not enough serious substance. For that, I do not blame the voters: They play their part faithfully enough; the problem is that the message does not get through to those running the country day by day.…  Seguir leyendo »

Former Algerian Foreign Minister and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is a patient and painstaking man of many complex international negotiations. But even he was forced to admit failure to get the two sides in the Syrian conflict to come together last month. So the misery and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians, including babies and children, goes on with no end in sight, aided and abetted by powerful governments.

At the same time across the world, another tyrannical regime was accused this week in a United Nations report of widespread crimes against its own citizens.

The crimes include systematic executions, torture, rape and mass starvation, “wrongs that shock the conscience of humanity,” according to Michael Kirby, the retired Australian judge who chaired the U.N.…  Seguir leyendo »

Janet Yellen is just 152 cm tall and looks like a sweet old lady. How looks can be deceptive. She has just taken over as the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, making her the most powerful woman in the world.

Time magazine called her the “16 trillion dollar woman” referring to the size of the U.S. economy, but as the events of the last few weeks have shown, she might more correctly be called the “88 trillion dollar woman,” that being a rough calculation of the value of total gross world product, the annual value of goods and services produced worldwide, on a purchasing power parity basis.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bangladesh, most beautiful and tragic of countries, today risks tearing itself apart in renewed vicious and deeply personal squabbles over its violent creation.

It is as if the tormented ghosts of the country’s bloody past are rising to seek revenge. It is time for Bangladeshi and international leaders to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to exorcise the ghosts and try to heal the deep wounds before it is too late.

A twist in the tragedy is that it had begun to look as if — despite the terrible disasters of late in garment factories — Bangladesh was finally going to justify the golden dreams of its founding fathers and give the lie to Henry Kissinger who dismissed the country as an eternal basket case.…  Seguir leyendo »

China has — rightly — been the toast of economic and political commentators alike for the way that it has pulled itself out of poverty to become the world’s second biggest economy and potential megapower in just 45 years since Deng Xiaoping opened the door to the outside world, an unprecedented achievement.

But two official announcements last month show that the progress has come with a large price. Unconventional Economist expressed the problem bluntly on the macrobusiness site, declaring that, “China will grow old before it grows rich.”

Not everyone is so pessimistic. One internationally respected economist of Chinese origin said, “China has a 15-20 year window of opportunity, which is the time between now and when the population peaks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Does the death of a single polar bear, which starved on the Arctic tundra, carry a warning for all human beings? Some leading scientists are afraid that it does. They are even more worried that the human beings do not get the message. The dead polar bear was little more than a sad rug of skin and bones when it was found lying on the earth at Svalbard far into the northern Arctic. According to leading researcher Dr. Ian Sterling of Polar Bears International, the animal was a victim of the melting Arctic ice: It did not have the sea ice from which to hunt seals, so it had to wander far and wide in a vain search for food.…  Seguir leyendo »

A really pernicious combination of distortions in the global driving force of capitalism, allied with indifference and apathy on the part of peoples and the arrogant greed of the rich and powerful, are threatening to push this fragile planet Earth beyond a tipping point where it will become uninhabitable.

We are all stewards of this beautiful planet, but far too few of us understand let alone accept the responsibilities of how to protect it to make it a continuing treasure for our children and grandchildren.

Most people are too preoccupied with the business of staying alive, keeping a job and remaining healthy even to think about the grand problems of the survival of the planet, while the rich and the powerful cash in on their advantages.…  Seguir leyendo »

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned this year that climate change is “the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century … Unless we take action on climate change future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”

Her warning seems to have been dismissed as hyperbole, judging by the lack of reaction by other political leaders. But she may be more correct than she knew.

In May, Planet Earth reached a grim milestone — carbon dioxide emissions reached more than 400 parts per million average for a day, which is 50 ppm more than what scientists regard as the safe level for keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels.…  Seguir leyendo »

What in the world is happening to this fragile planet Earth?

The situation has become so bad that Jeremy Grantham, one of the most respected global investors with $100 billion under management, warns that “our global economy, reckless in its use of all resources and natural systems, shows many of the indicators of potential failure that brought down so many civilizations before ours.”

He sees just two optimistic factors that could save the planet: declining fertility rates that on present trends may lead to the global population falling from a peak of just over 8 billion in 2045 to almost 6 billion by 2100; and progress in alternative energy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bangladeshi garment factory workers protested that cracks had appeared in the building and the police had declared that it should be evacuated. But the factory owners insisted they must work or they would not get paid.

So they went to work, and the building collapsed almost literally like a pack of cards. The count of the dead is more than 640, with an unknown number of workers unaccounted for in the world’s worst garment factory disaster. The tragedy that — yet again — killed hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers poses important commercial, political and moral challenges to the country and to the global leadership of politicians and business executives alike.…  Seguir leyendo »

Before giving his first Apostolic Blessing, the new pope, Francis, led the vast throng of 100,000 people below him in St. Peter’s Square in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. He asked them to pray for him, and ask for God’s blessing on him before he blessed the crowds. That was a good start: the pope certainly needs the prayers of the people. I pray that he follows up by listening to the people and then communicating with them rather than pontificating, as too many of his predecessors, and his confrere cardinals and bishops have been wont to do.

Francis, bishop of Rome, lately known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, looked stunned when he made his appearance as the first pope from Latin America or from a developing country.…  Seguir leyendo »

There has been a lot of speculation, led by the BBC, CNN and bookmakers, about who will take over from Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Roman Catholic Church since Benedict stepped down Thursday.

Will it be a Latin American or an African, since these are the areas where the church is actually growing, not shrinking, the media asked breathlessly?

Or how about an American, a people’s pope after the intellectual Benedict, or someone who will be in touch with the reality of modern life, not one blinded by the dust of ancient dogma?

National newspapers have joined in to promote the cause of their favorite sons, Argentina pushing Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Brazil claiming that Cardinal Odilo Scherer would be best, the Philippines supporting Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the United States backing New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Africans giving their votes to Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria or Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana.…  Seguir leyendo »

I thought that when the Group of 20 circus of finance ministers and central banker reached Russia on Feb. 15-16, it would presage six months of bizarre performances culminating in September with the grandest summit on earth in St. Petersburg. Given that Russia excels at circuses and that President Vladimir Putin is something of a showman in chief, it should have promised to be an exciting time.

But judging by the opening performance, the meeting of the finance ministers and central bank governors in Moscow, it threatens to be a total waste of time and money. Their six-page, 26-paragraph communique was full of woolly woffle.…  Seguir leyendo »

Too many years ago, this young reporter was about to move from one of Britain's biggest newspaper groups to a paper with a daily sale of fewer than 200,000 copies. A hard-bitten veteran, who had spent years reporting for the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph pleaded with me over farewell drinks not to go to the Financial Times.

"Don't commit journalistic suicide," he said. "This is your wake before you are dead. This is your funeral as a journalist. The Financial Times is not a newspaper: It is a trade magazine for the City."

How wrong he was. The Financial Times today is one of the top five daily newspapers in the world, the very best in my view.…  Seguir leyendo »

A new year needs a new word that reflects the special trends and tendencies, the hopes and dreams and challenges ahead. Sadly, a strong candidate for the word of the New Year 2013 has to be "omnishambles," meaning a mess everywhere. Wherever you look, economies are under unprecedented pressure, governments are suffering from budget deficits, unemployment rates are high and hurting millions of families, world trade is slumping and the very systems that underpinned recent rapid global growth seem to be breaking down.

Even globalization is facing important challenges. It is all about creating a single seamless world where national boundaries diminish in significance in the interests of economic freedom and greater opportunities for all.…  Seguir leyendo »