The World This Week: Power is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac


© Shutterstock

February 27, 2015 20:34 EDT

Power is addictive whether it is Buenos Aires or London, and not many want to share it.

Once upon a time, not a very long time ago, Argentina was the tenth richest economy in the world. A hundred years ago, the glorious Retiro railway station came into being. From 1871 to 1914, the Argentine economy had grown by 6% every year, the fastest in the world. European migrants flocked to the land of the Pampas, the bounteous plains that bless Argentina with bumper crops and exquisite beef. Perhaps most importantly, during the country’s Belle Époque, Argentines could look down on Brazilians, their pesky northern neighbors, as poorer cousins lacking the racial purity or macho virility of their great nation.

Today, the country is ruled with an iron fist by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is the successor to her late husband. A federal judge has just thrown out a case in which she is accused of covering up alleged Iranian involvement in a bomb attack against a Jewish center in 1994. Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who made the accusation, was conveniently found dead in his apartment. More than 400,000 people marched in pouring rain to protest. What is going on?

At the heart of the Argentine situation is a simple problem: Those in power find it addictive and resort to any means to hold onto it. Even at the height of its economic boom in 1914, Argentina suffered from concentration of power. Unlike the prairie homestead in North America or the settler farmer in Australia, nouveau aristocrats owned most of the land. Investment in education was neglected, and Argentina failed to develop a highly skilled labor force or a viable domestic industry. Its food exports swelled coffers of landholders but caused Dickensian misery to the working classes of Buenos Aires. When Argentina’s triple bet “on agriculture, open markets and Britain soured,” the smoldering social volcano erupted and led to a military coup in 1930. There were more coups in 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976.

Juan Perón, the most charismatic of Argentina’s military leaders, continues to cast a dark shadow on the country. His two goals of social justice and economic independence were laudable, and many of his policies such as centralizing the central bank were sensible. However, he suffered the familiar Latin American curse of the caudillo and resorted to populism to stay in power. Evita, his second wife, remains an icon and Isabel, his third wife, even succeeded him as president. The Kirchners with their expedient populism and concentration of power are worthy successors to the Perons. Instead of investing in infrastructure and education, they have doled out subsidies and dispensed patronage. Power is far too valuable an aphrodisiac and those who live in La Casa Rosada, the grand presidential palace, have no intention of sharing it.

Great Britain, once Argentina’s biggest trading partner and investor, is well past greatness. Now, two former foreign secretaries, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, have been caught in a media sting promising a fake Chinese firm that they could provide access to British ambassadors. At the heart of the “cash for access” scandal is the increasing concentration of power in British politics. The days of mavericks in parliament are over. Instead, a few bigwigs decide on the destiny of Britain and when they say “jump,” party members respond by asking “how high?” The current government is run by Old Etonians, alumni of the infamously elitist school where people like Prince William studied. The headquarters of both the Conservative and Labour parties have been growing in power. This means that the likes of Rifkind and Straw can command exorbitant fees for peddling influence.

Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice © Shutterstock

Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice © Shutterstock

The concentration of power in Britain is not confined to politics. Thatcher sacrificed Britain’s industry on the altar of finance. The City of London, the square mile where bankers and lawyers in pin-striped suits work in impressive edifices, commands a disproportionate share of the British economy. The country does not have the equivalent of the Mittelstand, the small industries in little towns that form the backbone of the German economy. Instead, banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Standard Chartered and HSBC provide the backbone of the British economy. They are in trouble. RBS is still majority-owned by the British taxpayer. In 2014, it reported a loss of $5.8 billion, its seventh consecutive annual loss. Standard Chartered got rid of its chief executive. HSBC is involved in a major scandal involving tax evasion and ferreting away cash in Swiss banks. Its chief executive was subjected to mild questioning by a parliamentary committee.

The fundamental issue here is private gain and public loss. Most people believe that those in power are benefiting their cronies or just selling out to the highest bidder. So, voters are turning to parties like UKIP. Disenfranchised immigrants are convinced that the system is rigged against them. Radicalization occurs when “a cleric with a cause” inspires people like Jihadi John and the three East London girls to join organizations like the Islamic State. People in Britain are disillusioned, disheartened and angry. At a time of increasing inequality, the elites might have to share some power with les sans culottes again.

Even as this is being published, xenophobic attacks on foreigners have occurred in South Africa, another shooting took place in the United States and a Bangladeshi blogger campaigning for a secular society has been hacked to death. These are turbulent times unless you are lucky to live in a place like Silicon Valley and are attending the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.

You can receive “The World This Week” directly in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list. Simply visit and enter your email address in the space provided. Meanwhile, please find below five of our finest articles for the week.

[seperator style=”style1″]Who’s Marching in Argentina?[/seperator]

© Rodrigo Llauro

© Rodrigo Llauro

With the president under investigation for corruption, the year ahead will be an interesting moment for Argentina.

Argentine politics have never been straightforward. A tangled string of opinions, views, emotions and realities have shaped the official and unofficial histories of a country that still fights to understand its identity.

During the reign of the Kirchner family, Argentina’s diversity of opinion has become polarized. The multiplicity of thought that led the country to countless versions of Peronism has now led this outspoken society to face an “us vs. them” scenario. Some believe they are living under a corrupt demagogue government, while others argue that the rest of society serves the interests of imperialist neo-capitalist regimes. In other words, you are either in favor of the populist Kirchnerist project or you are anti-patriotic.

This divide is clear in every facet of Argentine politics and “The Silent March” was no exception. The protest held on February 18 was organized to honor the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman… Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]The Islamic State Cannot Be Defeated Without Iran[/seperator]

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

The US can work with Iran to defeat the Islamic State, or it can isolate Iran and risk provoking conflict on two fronts.

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more — and with that, we will yet again authorize war in Mesopotamia. There is no doubt that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to wage war against the Islamic State (IS) will pass Congress.

According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 78% of all Americans support the use of military force, which should come as no surprise. We are, after all, heavily invested in the idea of war, especially in places where we fail to grasp the underlying causes of conflict, like Iraq and Syria. The crowdsourced Twitter campaign from the Department of State, seeking solutions to fight terrorism, probably confirms this.

Waging war against IS, however, is a Faustian bargain and one that will inevitably challenge some, if not all, of our more established foreign policy positions on the Middle East. Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]Despite Problems, Greece’s Economy Has Growth Potential[/seperator]

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

Greece’s future needs to be underpinned by a credible plan that focuses on private sector-led growth, argues former Prime Minister John Bruton.

It is important to note that the recession in Greece has been much deeper than expected by those who agreed the original bailout package in 2010 — a 25% fall in output against a predicted 7% drop. The budgetary adjustments have been bigger than in other bailout countries.

It must be acknowledged that when Greece was bailed out by European governments and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the ultimate beneficiaries included banks — not only in Europe, but also elsewhere. These banks had been lending to the Greek government long after they should have stopped doing so, and they have forced Greece to confront reality. They assumed that, because Greece was in the euro, someone, somewhere would ensure they were repaid.

Yes, some of the banks, who were thus saved from their errors, were indeed German. But many of the banks that were rescued from their… Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]Sexual Sharing in Malay Polygamy[/seperator]

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

Sexual sharing within polygamous marriages in urban Malaysia is a tricky business.

The sexual relationship between husband and wife is one of the most contentious aspects of life in Malay Muslim polygamous unions. It can cause great strife and misery among co-wives. At issue is husband sharing, a polygamous husband’s obligatory equal distribution of his physical attention between all his wives. As with other aspects of polygamy, what is prescribed is not necessarily what is practiced, and hence the perspectives and experiences of first and subsequent wives can differ substantially with regard to sex.

Malays technically practice polygyny – a plural marriage in which a man is permitted more than one wife at a time. In Malaysia, the right to polygamy is based on Islam, which conditionally allows a Muslim man to marry up to four wives. I use the term polygamy, however, as this is used in daily conversation and legal texts in Malaysia. Some elite Malay men have three or four wives… Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]The Real Winner of the Ukraine Crisis Could Be China[/seperator]

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

US and European policy is pushing Russia into China’s arms.

The crisis in Ukraine has plunged US-Russian relations to their lowest point since the Cold War. Crimea is now Russian territory. Although prisoners of war have been exchanged and both sides have agreed to pull back heavy weapons, the accord signed on February 12 in Minsk has failed so far to stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The city of Debaltseve has fallen into the hands of separatists. On February 22, a bomb exploded at a rally in Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, killing two people — the suspects are accused by the Ukrainian government as having been trained in Russia.

For Washington, the conflict between the West and Russia has become much more than a battle over Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It has become a provocation to the Western liberal international order that the US worked hard to create at the end of the Cold War; an order based on democracy… Read more

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens / 360b /


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