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  • Originally published 08/15/2013

    Lawyers hint at possible recovery of stolen Dutch art

    BRUSSELS — Paintings worth tens of millions of dollars that were stolen last October from an art museum in the Netherlands have not been burned, and a Romanian gang behind the theft wants to cut an unspecified deal with the authorities so the artwork can be returned, lawyers for the defendants said on Tuesday as they went on trial in Romania.“Our clients want to tell where the paintings are, but they want to make a deal,” one of the lawyers, Radu Catalin Dancu, told reporters in Bucharest after a judge ordered the trial adjourned until next month. “We cannot say anything more than that.”

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Dutch fisherman catches Panzerfaust

    If you want to go fishing in Germany, you had better watch what you put on your hook. It's a lesson that a Dutch tourist learned on Sunday when, instead of using bait, he decided to try using a magnet.His fresh catch was probably more than he bargained for. The fisherman reeled in a World War II-era Panzerfaust anti-tank shell in a shallow stream in Seifhennersdorf in the eastern state of Saxony....

  • Originally published 04/28/2013

    Time Again for Repayable Taxes?

    Denarius of Sabina Augusta, Roman Republic era. Credit: Dartmouth College.Today, legislators facing budget deficits must decide the degree to which to cut spending, increase taxes, or borrow. All three can have negative effects on the economy and legislators’ individual prospects for re-election. Gridlock has resulted on more than one occasion.Until a few centuries ago, governments regularly resorted to additional fiscal techniques. One was to pillage other countries. That does not work well anymore because most wealth today takes the form of flighty human capital, not easily appropriated physical stuff. Moreover, wars have grown too expensive and too destructive to make them paying propositions.

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    New Dutch queen daughter of junta minister

    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Prince Willem-Alexander’s ascension to the Dutch throne in April promises to be a shining moment on the world stage for his wife, Maxima, and her home country of Argentina. But there will be a glaring absence at the ceremony.Queen Beatrix’s announcement this week that she’ll step aside and let her son become king raised new questions about the future queen’s father, Jorge Zorreguieta, one of the longest-serving civilian ministers in Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.Maxima’s parents already missed out on their daughter’s 2002 wedding to avoid offending Dutch sensibilities about human rights violations by the South American junta. Anticipating more unpleasant questions, Maxima told the prime minister that her parents won’t attend her swearing-in as queen, either....

  • Originally published 01/29/2013

    Queen Elizabeth II not expected to follow Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands into retirement

    LONDON — One European queen has announced her retirement. Any chance Europe’s most famous queen — Elizabeth II of Britain — might join her?Not likely, experts say....Author Robert Lacey, who has written several books about the British monarchy, said Beatrix’s decision would likely firm up Elizabeth’s resolve.“It would reinforce her feeling that the Dutch don’t know what monarchy is about, and that she should go on forever,” he said. “The crown is a job for life in the British system.”...

  • Originally published 10/25/2013

    Unpacking the Arab Uprisings (Part 2)

    Figuring out the cause of the uprising is different from why it's perpetuated. I return to this blog after a break, with delight. I would like to continue the unpacking I started in the first post (here) by addressing a methodological point about the question causality. We need to separate the question of causality into two parts, in the Syrian and other cases: 1) What caused the uprising? And 2) What perpetuates the uprising? The answers are different. The first deals primarily with local factors and the second with a combination of factors tilting towards external ones. Even in dealing with the first question of causes, we must separate the structural from the circumstantial, by separating between the large structural reservoir of causes that built over time and the immediate causes that instigated social mobilization on a large scale. Syria, is a good case here. Herein, I will address the question of structural causes. The question of what instigated the uprising is less complex, and merits a detailed treatment once more information is available, though the facts are not too controversial. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences just one to two months prior, the narrative of the young kids who called for the regime’s fall on the walls of their school in Der`a constituted the first flame that ignited the heap of hay accumulating for decades. Surely, the local strongmen’s brutal response guaranteed the wider mobilization there at first, but it was bound to happen after a few such dissenting attempts. The same incident, if it had occurred one year prior, would have fizzled out within days, if not less. However, the regional domino effect and the continuing collective focus on the broader context gave that incident prominence while changing the calculus of individuals vis-à-vis the risk and potential success of taking to the streets en mass, especially in the more rural areas and small towns. The rest is bloody history. The set of structural causes that I would like to highlight, beyond the constant factor of repression, relate to political-economic factors that have engulfed Syria since 1986, when the regime effectively began shifting its social and political alliances from labor to business. Namely, I am referring to the growing relationship in the past few decades between the political and economic elite in Syria, and its continued policy implications for nearly twenty-five years. This new nexus of power pervades most global political economies but produces deleterious effects to the extent that the context allows. In many developing countries, including Syria, it is associated with the protracted process related to the unraveling of the state-centered economy, which also constitutes the rolling back of redistributive policies on which the masses increasingly relied in the absence of economic growth. I must caution in the same breath against the emphasis on such factors as singular causes for the uprisings, in Syria or elsewhere. Instead, I address this factor as a central one, not the only, one. Thus, this cannot be a comprehensive account of structural causes. Politically, the new nexus of power between the political and economic elite in Syria seems to have buttressed authoritarian rule in Syria over the past two decades, whether or not other factors contributed to this outcome. This is not simply a function of “support” for the status quo by beneficiary elites, for this is the norm nearly everywhere. It is also a form of legitimation of a changing status quo because the corollary of this particular nexus of power involves various forms of “liberalization” or state retreat: this includes a “budding,” “growing,” or seemingly “vibrant” civil society that may be considered a sign of political “opening;” a “freer” economic environment in which the state gives up its monopoly over some sectors of the economy; and a large “private” sector that purportedly grows at the expense of the state-run “public” sector, giving way to a broader dispersion of resources with economically democratizing effects. Though these outcomes are pleasing to some external actors (including that amorphous conception, “the international community”), they are not felt in any positive manner by the overwhelming majority of the population, who must fend for themselves as public provisions, jobs, and welfare dwindle. Quite the contrary, the majority of the Syrian people have seen their fortunes decline with the deepening of this alliance between state and big business since the mid 1980s.

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