Saturday, May 30, 2009

Another problem

The reverberations from the discovery that Benno Ohnesorg's killer was actually a Stasi agent are still going on. In the meantime, another potentially embarrassing discovery may have been made. It seems possible that Rosa Luxembourg's grave, "a shrine of sorts, visited every year by a procession of old communists and young left-wing activists", may not hold the murdered revolutionary's body after all.

As Der Spiegel reports:
But now, a startling discovery indicates that Rosa Luxemburg may never have inhabited that much-hallowed grave. If Michael Tsokos, head of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences at Berlin's Charité hospital, is correct, then Luxemburg's body has been stored in the hospital's basement since 1919.
One would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at this.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Apologies ...

... for not replying to comments. I am having as many technical problems as everybody else and I am immensely grateful to people who have fought their way through those problems to post comments and responses. Still trying to sort out what it is that's causing all the aggro and how to overcome it. As soon as I can, I shall reply. Please go on trying.

Whose fault was it?

There is a storm brewing up around the forthcoming 65th anniversary celebration of D-Day because of the lack of invitation to the Queen. Britain will, thus, be represented by one of the most unpopular prime ministers in modern history, Gordon Brown and there will be lots of pictures of him, President Obama and President Sarkozy. But no Her Majesty.

Not only is the Queen the Head of State in Britain and Head of the Commonwealth (ahem, who is representing the Canadians?), she is also the only living head of state who had actually served in the armed forces in World War II.

In 1945 Princess Elizabeth joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as No. 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, drove a military truck and rose to the rank of Junior Commnder. There are pictures of her in uniform; I chose one where she is actually mucking around with engines.

So who of the three self-important narcissists made the decision to insult not just the Queen but also the veterans who will be attending the ceremony? Was it President Obama, whose wife decided to treat Her Majesty as if she were a granny in an old people's home? Was it President Sarkozy, who married the luscious Carla rather hastily because she wanted to be invited to Windsor? Or was it our own Gordon Brown who is just sour enough and stupid enough to decide on such an unpopular move?

Two bloggers on Chicagoboyz have decided that it must be mostly President Obama's fault (a view that seems to be shared by other American publications such as the New Yorker).

Time Magazine thinks it was the French and find it all very amusing, though, one assumes they would be less amused if the President with his enormous entourage had been snubbed. But then his uncle (or maybe great-uncle) liberated Auschwitz (or maybe not, as that was liberated by the Red Army).

That it was the perfidious French seems to be the general assumption though, I think, they are right who consider that Sarkozy would have had the nod on it from Obama. (Sorry, but I think we can dispense with outdated titles like president.)

Me? I tend to agree with the veterans, as quoted by the Daily Mail. It was almost certainly Gordon Brown's fault. Well, it had to be. Everything else is. It seems there will be no royals at the ceremony, which means that the three narcissists can have as many photographs of themselves trying to cosy up to the veterans they are unworthy of even speaking to, as they like.

As for the Queen, I expect she will survive. She continues to be the most popular public figure in this country and hugely popular in others. And let us not forget that she, unlike venal politicians, has served this country in war and in peace. There, I have admitted it: I am an unashamed monarchist.

The other rather delightful picture is of the two princesses broadcasting from Windsor (very near London for non-British readers) to the children of Britain and the Commonwealth in October 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good point

I have just started reading Dambisa Moyo's important book "Dead Aid" and was, therefore, especially interested in Marian Tupy's article in the Financial Times today. Marian is a very sound chap, who writes about trade, freedom, Eastern Europe and Africa with occasional forays into the European Union, on which he holds all the right opinions. (He is against it for very good reasons.)

In his article Marian makes the point that all opponents of aid find themselves making sooner or later: it has a strong racist element.He compares attitudes to Africa with attitudes to post-Communist Eastern Europe:
Following the collapse of communism, virtually everyone assumed that the key to future prosperity in CEB lay in economic reforms, not in foreign aid. Implicitly, almost everyone understood that the people in the region would simply have to respond to market incentives, and produce goods and services that domestic and foreign customers would want to buy. Inability to compete with the west was inconceivable. Failure was not an option.

Such a mindset is demonstrably lacking when it comes to Africa. Globalization tends to be seen as a threat and seldom as an opportunity. Local politicians fret about competition from China and Bangladesh. Non-governmental organisations caution against liberalisation lest Africans be taken advantage of by unscrupulous westerners. Musicians and movie stars urge aid, not reform, as a solution to poverty.
Mind you, that was before the East Europeans were forced to readjust to EU rules but that is another story.

I find the idea of using the epithet "racist" against fervent proponents of aid rather an attractive one.

We need better stories

This lunchtime I went to hear Dan Ikenson of Cato Institute. Sadly, it was not in Washington DC (though, actually, I find that city rather tiring) but in London, the Adam Smith Institute, to be precise. His talk and the subsequent discussion was on the merits of free trade, the demerits of protectionism in a world of rapid transport and long production chains and the need for policy makers to understand these simple facts.

Among other points he mentioned that "we need better stories". In other words we, on our side of the political spectrum, must learn to produce good sound-bites and heart-rending stories. This can seem a problem only to economists and that is, of course, what has happened to much of the right - it has been captured by economists, who produce wonderful theories and spectacular graphs but find it hard to cope with the human side of the issues.

Mr Ikenson told of how his well-prepared presentations would be trumped by somebody referring to a clothes factory in, say, North Carolina being closed and what about the workers there. To which one should reply, said Mr Ikenson, well, what about the single mother with two children who cannot easily get a good job (or a full-time job at all) and who would have to pay far higher proportion of her income for her children's clothes if there were no cheap imports.

One could develop that story: people can get out of poverty by education and training. If that single mother with two children spends less on clothes and shoes for her children, she can spend more money on educational and training matters, such as books, visits to exhibitions, adult education classes and so on.

Let's have more and better stories. We need to collect them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Devolving power?

There is just one point that has been missed by many of the commentariat in both old and new media about the competition between David Cameron and Jack Straw for ideas that involve tinkering round the edges of our derelict parliamentary system.

Recall of MPs, set-term parliaments, committees elected by back-bench members, more scrutiny of legislation, all sound wonderful ideas but none of them tackle the main issues of legislation being done by bodies we do not elect or control.

Cameron is also talking about devolving power to ever lower rungs of government, an idea that he may or may not have acquired from Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell. Nothing wrong with that, though having a quango to supervise the House of Commons finances does not seem to me to be a step in the right direction.

This, however, has turned into articles and headlines that tell us about David Cameron wanting to devolve power to the people. If that is what the Boy-King means then he has completely misunderstood the basic tenet of modern English and Anglospheric power structure. The state cannot devolve power to the people because it belongs to them in the first place; the state does not grant the people liberties because those liberties are the people's property. It is all the other way round: the people might, for various reasons, loan powers and agree to forego their liberties for certain purposes. It is high time our politicians grasped this simple fact.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

About that North Korean nuclear explosion

Whether it is true or not and whether it is as powerful as described, we have to treat is as such. However, while all the usual suspects wring our hands, let us not forget that this is not precisely unexpected. As Powerline reminds us, John Bolton predicted it not long ago and was abused by the Left for being insane and alarmist. Apologies, anyone?

More on Instapundit. And yet, next time round, we shall go through the same pattern. Tiresome, isn't it? We know this all too well on this side of the Pond. Nobody wants the things that we on the eurosceptic side warn about; then somehow all those things happen and we are told to move on. Nobody is a very powerful person.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Same rules apply to the production of drugs as to any other

Two excellent articles on deal with the problem of drug production, the difficulties countries that need those drugs face and the prevalence of fake drugs in African and some South-East Asian countries. The conclusion is that, pace the activists and transnational regulators, lawyers and politicians, the same rules of economic development apply to the production and distribution of drugs as to any other produce. Sentimental ignorance kills many thousands of people unnecessarily every year.

In "Drug-induced dreams" Franklin Cudjoe, Director of Imani, looks at the insistent demands that African countries should produce drugs locally. He does not think it is the answer or not the whole answer:
Local production of medicines is not a bad thing in itself: there are many excellent African companies producing high quality medicines. The problems start when politicians intervene by pouring public money into new factories and into propping up businesses which would otherwise go bust. Quality is usually the
first victim.
He discusses the various reasons why African countries cannot manufacture all their own medicines at the moment and points out that harmful effect government legislation and high tariffs have had on the industry and on health care in many countries. These are introduced by governments whose members then travel round the world demanding subsidized local drug production.
Subsidised drug production is not only risky but is rarely cheaper than importing. A study by the US National Academies of Science showed that producing antimalarial drugs from start to finish in Nigeria would cost 15% more than simply importing them directly. The German aid agency GTZ says drugs produced locally in Ghana are often more expensive than imports from India,China, or Europe.

Such insights are not surprising: with globalisation demonstrating all the time that the production of certain goods is more suited to certain areas. This is why the Swedish don’t bother to grow grapefruit but do produce cars.

So why does this political support for state-financed local production continue? It is economically illiterate and endangers the health of Africans but it appeals greatly to activists and to vested political and business interests.

Any government that does really care about the health of its people must first drop the tariffs and taxes that hamper local production and that deter imports: unlike some doomed Five-Year Plan, it's an immediate boost to all patients, especially the poor.
And there you have it. An economically illiterate and dangerous policy that, quite literally, kills people is promoted by vested interests. All too often those business interests happen to be government political interests as well.

The other article is about counterfeit drugs, a terrible and dangerous blight in many poor countries, and often the outcome of inappropriate transnational campaigns. There is a link to a new report, produced by the International Policy Network, called "Keeping it Real".

It starts with a horrific statistic: counterfeit drugs kill over 700,000 people every year. Remember those scenes in "The Third Man" when the writer Holly Martin is shown what damage resulted from the counterfeit penicillin that his friend, Harry Lime, helped to distibute? Well, multiply that by many thousands every year.
The most fundamental cause of the spread of fake drugs in less developed countries has been the inability of manufacturers to protect the identity of their products. This is largely down to a lack of functioning rule of law, which makes it very difficult for manufacturers to protect their trademarks and brands – thereby handing a free rein to counterfeiters. In this context, the stiffer criminal penalties called for by WHO and other bodies may actually entrench the corrupt symbiotic relationship between counterfeiters, lawmakers and officials.
The suggestions the paper makes sound good but who exactly is going to put them into effect is unclear:
1. Strengthening local institutions, in particular the rule of law
2. Governments intervening less in the pharmaceutical market
3. Better use of technologies for identity preservation
Substitute almost any word for pharmaceutical and you would solve many of the problems of developing countries. Instead we keep giving aid, that keeps governments who benefit from there not being a rule of law, in power.

I am shocked, I tell you, shocked

Der Spiegel reports that "the United Nations special tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri has reached surprising new conclusions". The article goes through the various theories that have sprung up around Rafik's assassination, some more likely than others, though the Knights Templar seem to be missing from the list.

Then it comes to the point:
But now there are signs that the investigation has yielded new and explosive results. SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack. Tribunal chief prosecutor Bellemare and his judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month. What are they afraid of?
I rather like that sly use of the word "explosive" but the rest of the paragraph is a little strange.

What can those investigators who are about to finger Hezbollah (or not) be afraid of? Not some explosive device, perchance?

In any case, who is actually surprised by the notion that Hezbollah was behind that assassination? And why does that rule out Syria's involvement? Who is behind Hezbollah? Iran and .... yes, that's right, Syria.

Is that a yes or a no?

Well, it is both, if you are David Cameron. He was on the Andrew Marr Show this week-end but I did not watch it for two reasons: the sun being out I went for a long walk along the New River, London's first aqueduct that brought fresh water to the City (well, Islington, just north of it) in 1613; plus I do not have a TV set. (Yes, that's right, the BBC gets no tax from me.)

However, helpful friends have sent me various links and excerpts from the interview, all concentrating not on the "expenses scandal" but on that slippery promise to have a referendum on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. Will the Conservative have a referendum? Well, it depends. Here is the video of the exchange:

And here is the text of David Cameron's promise:
DAVID CAMERON:Well what we've said is that we support a referendum, we want a referendum. We want that referendum to happen now. It can happen now because the Treaty is still being discussed and debated elsewhere in Europe. It hasn't been signed and ratified by everybody. And the more people who vote Conservative on June 4th, the greater the pressure there will be on Gordon Brown to hold that referendum that he promised. And if we get the early election …

ANDREW MARR:(over) It sounds like UKIP are right.

DAVID CAMERON: Well no, if we get the early election that I'm asking for - either in July or in September, the Treaty's still there - we could have a referendum before Christmas. So that is what we should have.

ANDREW MARR:But you know it's likely that Gordon Brown will hang on and won't call an early election. And if the Irish then vote for the Treaty and it's ratified, we will be in the position that UKIP talk about, which is that if you get a Conservative government afterwards, it will have been ratified. What I'm asking is in those conditions, will you hold a referendum?

DAVID CAMERON:Well there are awful lot of ifs.


DAVID CAMERON:That's if we don't have an early election; if the Irish vote yes when last time they voted no; if the …

ANDREW MARR:(over) They're quite likely ifs.

DAVID CAMERON: … if the Czechs and others all actually put the Constitution through. If all of these things happen, then what happens?


DAVID CAMERON:What I've said there is we will not let matters rest. We think that too much power will have been passed from Westminster to Brussels and we'll want some of those powers back. Now at that moment, I will come on your programme and explain exactly what we'll do. Right now, I don't want to let Gordon Brown off the hook. He made a promise to hold that referendum and I'm going to try and hold him to that promise. And if I'm elected as Prime Minister while this Treaty is still alive, I will have a referendum very, very quickly. I will recommend to people that we vote no because I don't support the European Constitution. I think we've already passed too many powers from Westminster to Brussels and we should be trying to build a different sort of European Union. And if people, you know if people are angry with the major parties and they want to vote UKIP as a result, what they'll be doing is actually letting Gordon Brown off the hook. He will be able to sit back in Downing Street and think you know
I've got away with it again. I've got away with breaking my promise on holding this referendum, which was in their manifesto. And do you know this is why

ANDREW MARR:(over) It does sound … I think it'll sound to a lot of people watching as if you do not intend to hold a referendum in the circumstances, the not unlikely circumstances that I've outlined to you.

DAVID CAMERON:But this is exactly what Gordon Brown and those wanting to get away with it want, which is for the Conservatives to answer a whole string of hypothetical questions about what might happen in the future. I want to maximise the pressure for a referendum right now.
Just for the record, since the Boy-King of the Conservative Party sounds a little confused: the Czech Parliament has voted the treaty through and all that is left is the president's signature; the same applies to Poland; in Germany, however, the Constitutional Court still has to make a decision on whether this treaty is constitutionally acceptable.

It is highly unlikely that Gordon Brown will call an early election. From the day he became Prime Minister it was clear that he would go to the wire. Voting Conservative on June 4 will not achieve that. Therefore, the oft-heard argument that voting UKIP will merely be letting Brown or Labour off the hook is rubbish. Voting UKIP (or, for that matter BNP, much as I dislike that party) will show that there are people out there who do not like the Labour Party but are not exactly overwhelmed by the non-promises made by the Conservatives.

Dick Cheney's speech

The Wall Street Journal has published the text. Those who disliked him as Veep, ain't seen nothing yet.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Does this change anything?

In the last few months I have read a good deal about the much more frightening period of the international terrorist movement of the seventies. It all started with my seeing "The Baader-Meinhof Complex", an interesting but somewhat inadequate film, and writing about it for The Salisbury Review [full article in print only].

I re-read Jillian Becker's "Hitler's Children" and read Stephan Aust's account on which the film was based. At present I am reading Michael Burleigh's ground-breaking study of terrorism and culture, "Blood and Rage". Indeed, I am beginning to feel as if my life were filled with words about terrorists, terrorism and those who support both.

Going back to the German Red Army Faction, all those who remember anything about it will know that the violent protests, which eventually developed into the RAF were started by the shooting of a student, Benno Ohnesorg in West Berlin in 1967. He was demonstrating against the visit of the Shah of Iran (how that takes one back); there were serious clashes between demonstrators and supporters of the Shah; the police tried to control events and a police officer fired his gun as Ohnesorg rolled up on the ground trying to protect himself.

Karl-Heinz Kurras was tried for reckless manslaughter and acquitted for lack of evidence. To the overwrought students this proved that the state was out to get them. Among the most overwrought ones was Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader's girl-friend and one of the real organizers of the Red Army Faction.

The most likely explanation, it always seemed, was that Herr Kurras lost his head in the violent chaos that was going on. That may still be true.

However, there is some new evidence that adds an interesting twist to the story. It seems that Karl-Heinz Kurras was a Stasi agent, tasked with spying on the West German police. There is no evidence that he was ordered to kill Benno Ohnesorg or that he was ordered to kill anyone. But the outcome of his action was many years of fear and instability in West Germany and widespread sympathy for the enemy of the West, in this case East Germany. We are sill not rid of that incubus.

Would it have been any different if this information had been available at the time, asks Deutsche Welle. By definition, something like this cannot be known. More interestingly, will this piece of information change anything in our perception of what happened then?

More on the whole story and the unlikelihood of Kurras making a mistake at the time here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wait a minute!

The British media seems to think that everything has changed in the United States and the new President is presiding over a happy and righteous society or, to put it another way, he has done away with everything President Bush put into place, not least Gitmo and all the "horrors" around it.

It seems that things are not quite as simple as that. Powerline has run a whole series on "Dueling Speeches" (they're American and do funny spelling) and, it would seem, that in the debate between President Obama and former Vice-President Cheney, the latter may well have done. Here is the last of those postings. And here is Sister Toldjah with a video. Rich Lowry explains how President Obama manages to excoriate his predecessors (is he ever going to stop campaigning?) while putting very similar practices into place.

Now we have the New York Times, well-known for its hatred of the President Bush and unquestioning support for The One, harrumping.
President Obama's proposal for a new legal system in which terrorism suspects could be held in “prolonged detention” inside the United States without trial would be a departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal charges or walk free.
Any chance of the British media understanding any of this?

Friday, May 22, 2009

A very appropriate quotation

In the debate that took place in the House of Lords on Wednesday about the proposed Parliamentary Standards Authority (during which many wise words were spoken and I shall blog it separately), the Bishop of Lincoln, very sensibly, quoted "that illustrious political commentator, Groucho Marx":
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Unfortunately, the Noble Prelate drew the wrong conclusions, opining that "today’s Statement goes some way towards not only diagnosing the situation correctly but also applying the right remedies". Yet who can deny that the Marxist analysis is entirely appropriate to the hullaballoo that is going on at the moment, especially in the House of Commons.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

By the pricking of my thumbs

Something rather nasty this way comes. I do know that the real word there is “wicked” but I think that is too big a concept for this rather shabby piece of filming.

Christmas 2009 will see the release of Guy Ritchie’s version of Sherlock Holmes, which will almost certainly be another remake of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” though in Victorian costume. That is what it looks like from the trailer and I am not likely to see any more than that. (Warning: some of the comments are truly dumb.)

Sherlock Holmes will be played by Robert Downey Jr and Dr Watson by Jude Law. I suppose there might be two actors less appropriate for their parts but, off-hand, I can’t think of any.

In the past I have amused myself with inappropriate but entirely possible casting in films. For instance, I cannot understand why somebody has not thought of a version of Macbeth with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Even so, it would not have occurred to me to produce a cast of this silliness, though I suppose Robert Downey Jnr has had drug problems in the past. Of course, Holmes kept his habit under control but that is a mere detail. This will be, presumably, Downey’s attempt to make it back to stardom and as he will have to run around, shoot and fight rather than do any real acting he might be able to manage it.

But Jude Law! Can he really step into the shoes of Nigel Stock, David Burke and Michael Williams? Altogether a film to miss but an infuriating loss of opportunity except that with Guy Ritchie directing that opportunity was not really there.

The obsession with Sherlock Holmes, particularly on the other side of the Pond is rather curious – it seems to combine nostalgia for a period of greater certainties with a desire to “improve” a literary classic. Tuesday’s trip to a charity bookshop (presents for someone else, honest) meant that I acquired for myself a copy of a curious novel by Caleb Carr, author of “The Alienist”, a novel about late nineteenth century New York with a psychiatrist as a hero. (These themes are becoming all the rage.)

Mr Carr has more recently decided to write a new Sherlock Holmes adventure, which is, naturally enough for our times, a full-length novel. There have been many new Holmes adventures written by other people; far from becoming obsolete the genre has acquired a new life in the last decade. All these people prove is what a good writer Conan Doyle was with his tight plotting and taut logical developments. That is why most readers miss the faults in reasoning at first reading but go back again and again even when they have realized that Holmes’s intellectual fireworks are not quite what they seem.

Lengthy dialogues, lose plotting, more action that is necessary make one see the problems immediately with plots, writing and, above all, Holmes’s personality. Would the man have really spluttered with hysterical anger over the murder of David Rizzio and the supposed wrongs done to Mary, Queen of Scots as he does in “The Italian Secretary”? I think not.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not an American tourist in Scotland but a man of Scottish blood himself. He would have had a shrewd idea about all those myths and legends.

Would Holmes really expound on ghosts and their existence? Unlikely, even though Conan Doyle himself believed in spiritual manifestation. Would Holmes put his cigarette out in a dish of butter when Dr Watson is having breakfast? Certainly not.

Another point about the Sherlock Holmes adventures is that they tend to be part of ordinary life not events that involve shoot-outs in various parts of the country, attempts at the Queen’s life, large numbers of intelligence officers escorting the two heroes and so, exhaustingly, on.

There have, needless to say, been some dire updates of the stories before. Once I managed to see a truly execrable film that updated Sherlock Holmes to the New York of 1940s, with Roger Moore as the detective and Patrick Macnee (of Avengers fame) as Dr Watson, played in the outdated Nigel Bruce mode of a complete idiot. Looking at the IMDB link I note that it had quite a good cast.

It did have one very good line. When Holmes explains why the villain (possibly Moriarty) wants to break into Fort Knox, that being the necessary prerequisite to take over the world, Watson says in the strange hoarse tones employed by Mr Macnee: “But Holmes, why does he want to rule the world?” A very good question.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blogging later

Going to Oxford today and with no laptop I shall not be able to blog till late tonight or, maybe, tomorrow.

In the meantime, let me apologize once again about the Comments. There seems to be a real problem there. This morning I couldn't even read them. I have put enquiries into place and shall know whether it is something to do with the site or a general problem with Blogger comments that I can do nothing about.

Also, let me remind readers that this afternoon MPs will be debating what sounds a lovely idea - that agreement made by all the party leaders (always suspicious) about controlling their expenses. In actual fact, as mentioned before, what is being proposed is the creation of a quango that will control the House of Commons. No, of course, it will not be accountable to anybody.

Gordon Brown seems to have excelled himself in his ability to make nauseating self-serving statements. By referring to a "gentlemen's club" he has tried to suggest that this is all a matter of class - "real people" would not behave like that. Except that they all did. Gentlemanliness does not come into it; we are talking about politicians with their snouts in the trough.

Secondly, Mr Brown and other MPs who have been bloviating on the subject are wrong to think that this is what has brought politics and Parliament into disrepute and once there is a quango to control matters all will be well.

What has brought them all into disrepute is their refusal to admit that they have given away their legislative powers to the EU and to various quangos (another one is not likely to solve anything) and their inability to do the little work that has been left to them. Deal with that, ladies and gentlemen.

My colleague has a longer piece on the subject over on EUReferendum with a nice picture. He is praising Dan Hannan. Roll up and read it - this will not last.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Well, he has resigned

Speaker Martin has announced that he will be leaving his position on June 21 and a new Speaker will be elected on June 22. Astonishingly (or perhaps not) Bob Spink, the one and only UKIP MP was the first to jump up with his tributes.

Sadly, the Tories still don't get it. ToryBoy Blog thinks it is a victory for Douglas Carswell. It is not, despite the excellence of his campaign; it is not even a victory for the House of Commons. Speaker Martin has gone because the Prime Minister has decided to throw his now useless ally under the bus. To the end, he has obeyed the Government not the House.

Already voices are being raised that this venal, incompetent bully who has never understood his constitutional position is being scapegoated by the nasty MPs. If only. But the Tories have once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

If this report of a proposed "reform" or, in other words, more power being taken away from the Commons and given to a quango, is true, then we can say for sure that not only the Tories but the entire system of parliamentary government (still there in theory though not in practice) will suffer a huge defeat.

We will stand firm unless ...

... somebody important tells us not to. This is not about our miserable set of politicos and wannabe politicos but about the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which had accepted and listed around £300 from the Israeli Embassy to enable a young film graduate from Tel Aviv to travel to the screening of his short film.

Naturally the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign waded in, threatened to picket screenings (which they probably will, anyway, being great believers in the freedom of the arts) and started a huge e-mail campaign.

The EIFF held out:
EIFF managing director Ginnie Atkinson said not accepting support from one particular country "would set a dangerous precedent by politicising a cultural and artistic mission".
This would indicate that they routinely do accept contributions from various countries.

Then Ken Loach, the well-known maker of political propaganda films and a man who has never seen a tyranny he could not support, waded in and threatened to boycott the festival if the £300 were not returned. Guess what? The EIFF folded immediately.
The following day the EIFF – which has since been in talks with Mr Loach – did a U-turn. It said: "The EIFF are firm believers in free cultural exchange and do not wish to restrict film-makers' abilities to communicate artistically with international audiences on the basis that they come from a troubled regime."

Although the festival is considered wholly cultural and apolitical, we consider the opinions of the film industry as a whole and, as such, accept that one film-maker's recent statement speaks on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli embassy."

EIFF spokeswoman Emma McCorkell said yesterday she hoped Shalom Ezer would still attend the festival. Mr Loach did not respond to requests to contact The Scotsman yesterday. However, Ms McCorkell said he was "pleased".
I bet he is pleased. He has managed to bully an organization into accepting his own rather cock-eyed view of the world. Is Ms McCorkell pleased, though?

She or her minions cannot even produce a decent press release. Exactly who has appointed Ken Loach to be spokesman for "the film industry as a whole"? Who says Israel has a "troubled regime"? The country has free and fair elections, a free parliament and a free media in all of which the Arab population takes full part. Can the various Palestinian entities say the same? or, indeed, most Arab states?

As for Shalom Ezer, I wish him well but I hope he will manage to make his views known in some form or another.

Will there be an election this side of Christmas?

Somehow I doubt it. It has always seemed clear to me that Brown will go to the wire and not call an election till spring 2010. I still think that and events so far have not really been pushing him in a different direction.

Opinion polls show that there is a general mood of fed-upness with all the main parties. That is not a problem with the European elections as people can either stay at home (most always do) or vote for one of the smaller parties, notably UKIP or the BNP. Curiously the Greens are not benefiting from this disillusionment with the big boys.

Conservative canvassers self-righteously report that people out there want an election. Do they? I wonder. It all depends how you put the question. Do you think Brown should call an election in view of all these scandals might well get a yes. But what if you ask it differently: do you want Brown to call an election in which the same people with their hands in the sweet jar will be standing to consolidate their positions? You might get a very different answer.

Then there is the question of the House of Commons powers. It looks like the Speaker might well resign this afternoon, prodded by the Prime Minister, not because the House has asserted its rights and powers. Iain Dale thinks that he will then continue to act as Speaker until the election of a new one and nobody will mind. He may well be right but it will be a sad fizzing out of a so-called revolution.

That will leave the basic problem in place: Parliament has lost much of its legislative power to the EU and various quangos and its members have abandoned all attempts to hold the Government to account even when it is still within their powers to do so. What are the honourable members going to do about any of that?

Meanwhile Sky has published a poll that shows a third of voters seriously thinking of voting for a smaller party even in an early general election. One cannot rely on polls, of course, as people may well change their minds with an election campaign unfolding, but if these sort of results keep appearing, I suspect that Conservative call for an early election will lose some of its vehemence.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Constitutional revolution postponed indefinitely

Where is John Hampden when we need him?

The House of Commons has rejected the opportunity to reaffirm its control over the Speaker's position. What chance of them ever reaffirming their control over legislation?

Speaker Martin made a statement in which he announced that they were all guilty and the public had been let down and there should be a meeting between the party leaders and no, they were not going to debate Douglas Carswell's Early Day Motion.

No MP had the guts to move that the Speaker leave the Chair so the debate should continue.

David Cameron, having supported the Speaker has now called for the dissolution of Parliament and a General Election as soon as possible after June 4. Right. That is, of course, going to happen. Why didn't he support his own back-bench MP in his EDM? Incidentally, this proves that EDMs are a complete waste of time, something I have been saying for years.

The other thing the whole hullaballoo proves is that the official opposition will hide behind alleged conventions because they are, in the words of their last great leader, "frit".

David Cameron also said that the June 4 vote will be a vote on whether people want a general election. He is still pursuing those eurosceptic votes that are eluding the Conservative Party. The vote on June 4 will be for members of the Toy Parliament. It may well turn into a verdict on the entirel political class. That means you, Mr Cameron and your friends.

UPDATE: The Speaker's Statement and the subsequent debate is now on the Parliamentary website. I apologize to the readers of this blog: unwisely I have taken Speaker Martin's comment about Douglas Carswell's Motion at face value. I ought to have known he would get it wrong.

The Motion will appear in the Order Paper tomorrow as a Substantive Motion on Future Business of the House. Mr Carswell adds (and I do wish his blog's spelling were a bit better):
There is no precedent for such a motion in Erskine May. However, I am advised that given that this is the first direct challenge to the authority of a sitting Speaker in over 300 years, it is not unreasonable to assume that he now request the government find time for a debate on it.
We shall see. One also wonders whether Mr Cameron will finally realize that the procedure of the House of Commons is of greater importance than his endless calls for an election now, now, now.

Out there - politics in Britain and India

It is possible that today we shall see a constitutional upheaval with the House of Commons reasserting its power over the Speaker, who is or ought to be an officer of the House not the Government’s errand boy, which is what Speaker Martin has been.

There is talk of a vote of no confidence on Douglas Carswell’s Motion and of the Speaker being removed if he does not remove himself during his statement, which is hard to believe of a man like Speaker Martin, who has managed to show himself to be dishonest, a bully and a complete ignoramus about British constitutional structures (such as they still are).

Even Jackie Ashley of the Guardian thinks that “Gorbals Mick” must go, though her using that nickname makes it sound like the toffs are ganging up on the poor working class bloke. Nor does she seem to be able to grasp what it is that is wrong with the man and his behaviour now and throughout his Speakership.

Iain Martin of the Telegraph seems to think that getting rid of Speaker Martin is a sign of badly needed parliamentary reform. Well, no it isn’t. If it happens it will be a return to the real parliamentary tradition of having a Speaker that is not the Government’s errand boy. Can we bring Betty Boothroyd back from the Lords?

A real reform would mean the Commons actually taking legislative powers back from the EU and the various quangos to whom they have given those powers away. Still, doing something that has not happened since 1695 is a step in the right direction.

Now if only we could start thinking about separating the legislative and the executive.

But that’s enough British politics. Out there in the big world there is one very good piece of news. Manmohan Singh, India’s Anglospheric, forward looking Prime Minister has become the first full-term premier to be re-elected.
The Congress party and its coalition partners soared ahead with 260 seats in the country's 543-seat Parliament, just shy of a majority. It was Congress's biggest win in 20 years.

The BJP coalition, led by 81-year-old L.K. Advani, who is nicknamed Iron Man for his tough stand against terrorism, is set to take 160 seats.
The BJP is also known for being Hindu extremist and not averse to the odd spot of terrorism itself in its own cause. And, as an Anglospherist ally said to me, you cannot just write off 15 per cent of the population who happen to be Muslim. No more can you write off other parts of the population who may be Hindu or Christian or nothing much and would like to have a better life and see India take its rightful place in the world.

Does India now have a better government than either Britain or the United States?

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I have had a number of complaints from people who find it hard, not to mention impossible to leave comments on the postings. I cannot understand why that should be so. I have now changed the format so anyone can leave a comment; there is even an Anonymous subsection though I would prefer it if people signed their comments.

One problem I have noted and I shall try to address it - sometimes it takes two goes to post a comment. One writes and responds to the request for writing the random letters; then there is a response that says the comment could not be posted. Please do not despair. Press finish again, fill in the random letters again and post again. It works. I know this is a drag but it does provide an extra defence against spam.

I am looking forward to the comments.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Amazing, Americans are human

Well, in a manner of speaking. They are not that different from Europeans, whoever Europeans might be. Actually, this article in Prospect by Peter Baldwin, professor of history at University College of California, Los Angeles, is considerably better than so many on the subject.

Professor Baldwin seems to acknowledge that Europe is actually quite varied, though he appears to be a little surprised by that and he does not go too closely into how those divisions have appeared in history or appear now.

Nor does he bother too much with divisions in America. How does that high infant mortality pan out? Do we know? Nothing is more infuriating than being told a fact that is supposed to be important but is actually meaningless. Oh, and I assume he is being ironic when he lists President Bush's "sins".

But the piece is worth reading. It seems Americans are actually human. And well-read. This is my favourite paragraph because it confirms something many of us have noticed about America and has a go at that super-intellectual ditzhead, Simone de Beauvoir:
Simone de Beauvoir was convinced that Americans do not need to read because they do not think. Thinking is hard to quantify; reading less so. And Americans, it turns out, do read. The percentage of illiterate Americans is average by European standards. There are more newspapers per head in the US than anywhere in Europe outside Scandinavia, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The long tradition of well-funded public libraries in the US means that the average American reader is better supplied with library books than his peers in Germany, Britain, France, Holland, Austria and all the Mediterranean nations. They also make better use of these public library books than most Europeans. The average American borrowed more library books in 2001 than their peers in Germany, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Luxembourg, France and throughout the Mediterranean. Not content with borrowing, Americans also buy more books per head than any Europeans for whom we have numbers. And they write more books per capita than most Europeans too.
I must stop making assumptions about Californian academics.

Have we really forgotten what free speech means?

This is a very small episode and does not, in any way, imply that Britain with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister is similar to Nazi Germany/Communist East Germany/Soviet Union/China. Still it is curious.

The other day I was at the Legatum Institute (and more of that in a separate posting) and, while talking to one of their directors, said that even the sterling work the Daily Telegraph has done in the expenses scandal will not make me buy that newspaper again. Their coverage of the American election was so disgraceful, I explained, that I resolved never to give them another penny.

Pressed to explain further I did: it was not a coverage of an election campaign but a long series of love letters to Obama. No issues, no arguments, no facts were given. We were treated to journalists swooning over Obama, his wife, his family and his (completely untested) fantastic abilities. To this day readers of the Telegraph are surprised at the occasional bit of news that show President Obama being somewhat less than the greatest orator ever (here is a blog that is essential reading to all) or not perhaps the Messiah he was painted by that newspaper.

The person I was speaking to looked stunned then sighed with relief. It's so unusual, she said, to hear anyone say this. Clearly, nobody she had spoken to (and this is a think-tank on the right of the spectrum) has dared to admit to a distrust of The One and to a dissatisfaction with the way the British media covered that election.

What's with all these petitions?

Tim Montgomerie is one of the few Conservatives around I have any time for. He is a man of sound opinion and strongly voiced principles, unlike many of those who comment on Conservative Home, whose idea of principle is support our party or else you are a traitor to the cause, even if they cannot quite understand what the cause is. Mr Montgomerie does know what the cause is and he sticks to it, whatever the Conservative leadership might say or do.

However, I fear he has made a serious error of judgement in his latest undertaking, governed as it is from the best motives. He has started a new website with James Bethell, who has written an article in the Daily Mail to explain why he is “launching an online fightback against the poison of the BNP”.

Some people have criticized the pair for giving the BNP extra publicity (which they are) but Iain Dale is not alone in thinking that the BNP must be taken on. In other words, the Conservatives have finally admitted to themselves that it is not only the Labour Party that is going to lose votes to the BNP and have upgraded that party to the position of enemy no 1, just as UKIP seems to be steaming ahead in the polls.

The site is called “There is Nothing British about the BNP”. Some of the information like the details of the BNP’s economic policy is very useful though I wouldn’t call “hard line socialist economic policy” un-British. Stupid, dangerous and counterproductive, yes; un-British, no. It is not that different from similar policies in the past and even attempts to introduce them by Labour governments. Plus there are quite a few very British people who seem to like them. Being British does not mean you cannot be spectacularly wrong.

The list of various BNP members, activists or supporters who have criminal convictions is moderately useful as the crimes are of varying magnitude and, in any case, does not affect the leadership. Yes, there are pretty unpleasant people in the BNP but are they all more unpleasant than all the members of all the other parties? (By the way, a word to the wise: to list among criminal activities something that is not proven yet [my emphasis] is libellous.)

At this point I had better point out that anyone who has ever heard me or read me on the subject knows that I detest the BNP and all, but all, its policies. Nothing in the world would make me vote for them, support them, or even have a good word to say for them. But I do not happen to think that this sort of carry-on is sensible.

The most important part of the website is a petition. Readers of this blog know that I am not a great believer in politics by petitions. We have, I feel, moved on from the early Mediaeval monarchic government under which the benign (or not) ruler was petitioned by his humble subjects to remove grievances.

In any case, a petition should be addressed to somebody and be asking for something to be done. What is this petition doing? So far as I can make it out this petition is addressed to the people of Britain with the signatories asking them not to support the BNP.

We have this thing called an election, which is free and fair (give or take those postal votes but they are irrelevant in this case) and the best way of not supporting the BNP is not voting for them on June 4. Indeed, as Lord Tebbit, whose grasp of political niceties is far surer than most Conservatives’, has said, the best way of showing one’s dislike of any party is not voting for it.

(I see Libertas are also attacking the BNP, having spent a great deal of ammunition on UKIP yesterday. Given the growth in UKIP’s support, this may not be the best sign for those who do not like BNP. Nor am I too impressed by a party that wants to meld Britain’s once strong democracy into some kind of pan-European polity talking about the death of democracy. If it is dying, it is being killed by the europhiliacs. They have been far more successful than the BNP.)

None of these attacks seem to want to deal with the main question: what is it that is attracting people to the BNP? Some clearly like their brand of old corporatist socialism and racist attitudes but others are determined to vote for them despite those things. Instead of mounting petitions, it would be a good idea to tackle that problem.

To be fair to Tim Montgomerie, he has called on the Conservative Party on numerous occasions to produce policies, to show the electorate that they stand for something and that something is conservative (with a small c) principles.

I hear a lot of people moaning that the expenses scandal will drive people to the BNP (or to UKIP though not, apparently, to the Greens). Well, yes and no. The expenses scandal does not help but what has been driving people to the BNP is a far more general dissatisfaction with the main parties and their politicians.

There is, let us face it, a stench of far greater corruption around all three parties than just the penny-ante stories that have been coming out in the last few days. They are merely the symptom of what many of us have known for a long time and others of the electorate have felt, perhaps less coherently but equally accurately: we have a political class that does not fulfil its duties, does not even know what those duties are, and when challenged lies to the electorate in a comprehensive fashion. That, dear readers, is why people are attracted to the unlovely BNP though I can’t help hoping that they will be more attracted to UKIP who, with all their faults, have more attractive policies.

What does the Conservatives' ever more hysterical campaign against the BNP consist of? It is not that different from their previous hysterical campaign against UKIP: vote for us because otherwise those nasty people will get in. But why, I keep asking, should we vote for you? What exactly are you going to do when you get in apart from grandstanding a few times and claiming your expenses? (You think Westminster is bad? Have a look at what the Toy Parliament does.)

Answer comes there none for there is no answer. They will do nothing; they can do nothing; there is nothing the Toy Parliament can do to change anything in the European Union. And even if there were anything, the Conservatives would shy away from taking the opportunity. So, we are left with one thing only: everyone else is so nasty, you must vote for us. Very unsatisfactory. Sorry, Tim.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oliver Cromwell's great address to the House

“...It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God's help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.

“I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”

What can one add to that? Nothing would be put so cogently and so beautifully. Please, could we have him back, preferably in time for him to abolish Christmas celebrations as well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More on Marta Andreasen

I have now finished the book, which is very short, thus leaving people with no excuses. It is a tale of a person who started off meaning well and being basically favourable to the EU and to the whole concept of public sector. The book shows her progression to somebody who cannot believe that the EU is reformable and is now standing for the European Parliament for UKIP in the South-East Region.

As she says at the end of "Brussels Laid Bare":
With this experience in mind I have decided to stand as a UK Independence Party candidate for the European Parliament in the June 2009 elections. If elected I will join the Budgetary Control Committee and challenge each and every one of the numbers in the EU accounts. If elected, I will go to Brussels and find out how the British people's money is being spent and I will come back and tell them the truth.

I know where the bodies are buried.
She sure does. Is that the reason why is, somewhat illogically, concentrating its British campaign on UKIP, attacking a party that has very different ideas from itself? Potential UKIP voters are unlikely to change to, whereas potential Conservative ones might if they really believe in that bilge about reforming the European Union.

A study of natural history might be in order

Palestinian Media Watch, which provides much-needed information on what is seen, heard and read by Palestinians, had an interesting story yesterday. It seems that the main reason why the Egyptian government decided to slaughter all the country's pigs may not have been fear of swine flu (which cannot be caught from pigs, anyway). It may not even have been their normal desire to make life as difficult as possible for the Coptic Christian minority, many of whom would depend on those pigs for their livelihood.

They may well have been influenced by the pronouncements by various senior clerics, such as Sheikh Ahmed Ali Othman who is, according to the Al-Moheet Arab News Network, "supervisor of the Da'awa [Islamic Indoctrination] of the Egyptian Waqf [Islamic Holy places]", that pigs have descended from Jews and should, therefore, be exterminated.

It seems that there is some disagreement on the subject among Islamic scholars.
Sheikh Ali Abu Al-Hassan, head of the Fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar [Sunni Islamic university], said that the first view [that Allah turned Jews into pigs, monkeys and Satan-worshippers] is accurate, because when Allah punishes a group of people he punishes only them. When Allah grew angry with the nation of Moses, He turned them into pigs and monkeys as an extraordinary punishment... but they died out without leaving descendants.
Presumably, that means that the pigs can be left alone, though not the Jews whose ancestors had not been turned into anything. How very confusing.

What Parliament needs

On ToryBoy blog Tim Montgomerie points out that Parliament (I think he means the House of Commons but it is a common mistake) needs more MPs like Douglas Carswell. He is probably right. Douglas shows commendable independence and strength of character, consistently attacking Speaker Martin (not just when that becomes fashionable) for not doing his job and being a government stooge; speaking his mind on various issues; and joining the Better Off Out campaign. Not that it is particularly clear what the latter will achieve.

There are, of course, similar people in the House of Lords but they do not receive handsome renumeration.

This is not a criticism of Mr Carswell. My only point is that the House of Commons (or Parliament in Tory parlance) needs to learn what its purpose and history is. Therefore, every single one of them together with all the wannabes should be sent on a month's intensive history course. For reasonable remuneration I am willing to provide it.

Wouldn't it be nice if Ministers answered questions

Or had some understanding of what they were talking about. This occurred to me as I saw the Starred Question asked yesterday by Lord Willoughby de Broke:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to communicate more widely the recent statement by the Rt Hon. Ed Miliband concerning the unacceptability of objecting to wind turbines.
This referred back to the extraordinary statement made by the egregious Ed Miliband (brother of the no less egregious David) that those who opposed wind turbines (an ever larger group as this article, for one, makes clear) should be viewed as socially unacceptable. Something your best friend wouldn't tell you, except that presumably you know, anyway.

Mind you it that involves not being invited to dinner parties where one might meet one or more Miliband, opposing wind turbines might become even more popular.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath replied on HMG's behalf:

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government regularly communicate their support for wind generation as part of their commitment to developing renewable energy. We will reaffirm this policy in the renewable energy strategy, to be published this summer.
There are, alas, a few problems with wind turbines as Lord Willoughby pointed out in the follow-up question:
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Could he confirm that, because of the intermittent nature of wind power, all wind farms need permanent back-up from conventional generating plant? Does he agree, therefore, that supporting wind farms is as socially unacceptable as sneezing in public during a flu epidemic?
Whether Lord Hunt understood all that or not is not clear. After all, he has to say what his officials tell him and that is very unfortunate. Who'd be a Minister these days? He did, however, say, ignoring the subject of social acceptability or otherwise of the various Milibands:
However, as this House has frequently reminded me, that reinforces the need for a diversity of supply, which is why this Government have given their support to new nuclear and new coal under carbon capture and storage, as well as encouraging renewables.
Well that has to be good news though some action might be even better.

It was, however, Lord Lawson who cut across some of the rather odd comments made on a subject that often brings out the worst in people:
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, reminded the House, the Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State, declared that objecting to wind farms was socially unacceptable. Is the Minister aware that the distinguished scientist James Lovelock, in his recent book The Vanishing Face of Gaia, with a commendatory preface from the president of the Royal Society, no less—the noble Lord, Lord Rees—contains the most excoriating attack and demolition of the case for wind power that I have ever read and which every objector should use in every public inquiry? Does the Minister consider that Professor Lovelock is socially unacceptable?
Then again, would Professor Lovelock wish to attend dinner parties with any Miliband?

Tax Freedom Day

The Adam Smith Institute gives us the good news, the not so good news and the downright ghastly stuff. Today, is Tax Freedom Day. Well, up to a point.
This is the earliest Tax Freedom Day since 1973 – on the face of it, good news for taxpayers. But there is a downside: the traditional Tax Freedom Day measure only reflects the money actually raised by the government in taxes, not the full amount it spends. If the government deficit is factored in, Tax Freedom Day does not come until 25 June (the worst figure since 1984).
A cheering thought as we contemplate the public sector that is still waxing fat.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A taster

Yesterday I attended the launch of Marta Andreasen's book "Brussels Laid Bare". Setting aside the rather gruesom image that conjures up, this is a must read for all who want to have some insider information on how that extraordinary structure, the European Union, operates.

I shall write about the whole book but, for the moment, let me quote a couple of paragraphs that describe the situation she found when hired in 2002 to be Accounting Officer and Execution Director:
Yet the more I probed into the affairs of my own department the more I could see how the lack of controls made such scandals [like the Spanish flax] possible. There was little separation of duties - so that directors running programmes were also often authorising prayments. Indeed, when I began going through reports and acquainting myself with the computer procedures, I could scarcely believe the haphazard way in which much of the accounting was done.

Numbers in the computerized reports often changed from day to day. Some of the accounts came in on spreasheets on which anyone could make changes - and thus, if these were manipulated, leave no electronic trail. Some of the accounting did not even incorporate double-entry book-keeping - a system invented by the Italians in the 16th century - in which the two effects of every financial transaction are recorded: first, where the money comes from or goes to and, secondly, what is the item or service that is being paid for or received.
The complaint about lack of double-entry book-keeping had surfaced during the big scandal of 1999 that had resulted in the mass-resignation of the Santer Commission, which came back within an hour to continue as the Acting Commission. Clearly, nothing much was done between the two dates to rectify the omission.

We all know what happened when Ms Andreasen tried to draw attention to these and other problems. Her complaints were ignored and she was threatened with disciplinary procedure. When she finally went public she was interrogated by Commissioner Kinnock, heavily bullied and finally sacked. My guess is that the accounts are as much of a mess as ever. After all, the Court of Auditors has still not met an EU Budget it could sign off.

These are the people who are demanding more yet more power and money through the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty, solemnly telling us that the world will fall apart if they do not have that power and money.

Another day, another video

This one "explains how President Obama's new international tax proposal will put U.S.-based firms at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to foreign-based companies. The video also explains that America's "worldwide" tax system and high corporate tax rate already hinder American competitiveness, and that the Administration's plan makes a bad situation even worse".

There seems to be a pattern here: first you make taxes so high that businesses start moving out and people take money elsewhere; then you start bullying either those businesses or the countries that take the money and the investment. Result: universal misery.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Why not in Iraq?

The big news is that President Obama is going to leave behind the mess to do with Chrysler, the Airforce One low flight over New York City, the controversy over CIA interrogation techniques and many other aspects of hope and change in order to address the Muslim population of the world from Egypt.
President Obama next month will travel to Egypt to address the world's Muslims in a major speech, seeking to strengthen U.S. relations with the Islamic orld and fight extremism, the White House said Friday.

Mr. Obama chose Egypt as the venue for the long-promised speech, to be delivered June 4, because the country "in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
So is it Islam he is reaching out to or the Arab world or does he not know that there is a difference? Did he not mention during his campaign that his credentials for running foreign policy were better than others' because he had spent some years in a primary school in Indonesia? Errm, that is the largest Muslim country in the world but is not Arab.

Furthermore, last month there was a federal election in that country, which seems to have gone peacefully though the Jakarta Post shows itself to be unhappy with various problems and sees a possible constitutional crisis ahead.

Christian Science Monitor mentions that apart from Indonesia there are India with a large Muslim population and Turkey that can be called democracies, though I think they overegg the pudding a bit - there are problems in all three countries but, undoubtedly, they are more democratic than any Arab one, especially Egypt. (The one Arab country that was a democracy for a while, Lebanon, has not been able to climb out of the morass it had descended into.)

The question is if President Obama really wants to reach out to Muslims why does he not speak in one of the countries that are struggling to build up more or less democratic Islamic states? Egypt is not precisely one of them, though that was where Secretary of State Rice had proclaimed that America was now fighting for democracy rather than stability since the fight for stability had not delivered either that or democracy.

Better still, why not make that speech in Iraq?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

When diplomats fall out

For some time now there has been a magnificent row going on between two ex-diplomats, Our Former Man in Poland, Charles Crawford and Our Former Man in Uzbekistan Until He Left Under Something Of A Cloud, Craig Murray. The row has now reached of virtual fisticuffs.

I take Mr Crawford’s side not just because I know and like him, not just because his analyses of the situation in Eastern Europe, Russia and the European Union are invariably accurate, wittily expressed but because Craig Murray has always appeared to me to be rather dishonourable. He was, after all, a diplomat for many years and, apparently, swallowed all sorts of unpleasant things about the countries he had been posted to. The alternative to that is not having diplomatic relations with any country but the few that we really approve of (and that approval might change from day to day). That would suit me fine but would it suit the likes of Craig Murray who needed a career?

His rather sudden indignation about rendition and Uzbekistan’s involvement sounded a little desperate but was temporarily all the rage because of the underlying anti-Americanism, so popular among our media and political establishment. (Will that now change with The New Messiah in the White House or will he mess up before the huge tanker of that establishment manages to alter its course? Sir Max Hastings seems to have changed his stance. Is that the first swallow or is he making a big mistake?)

Given all that I was delighted to read Mr Crawford’s frontal attack on Mr Murray who had been sniping at him and accusing him of a dishonest supporter of the evil Bush regime and that terrible rendition.

Mr Crawford has, rather nobly, read Mr Murray’s famous self-publicizing book and has noticed some discrepancy between the two accounts of what really happened:

Let's go back to the first posting you made on this subject (emphasis added):

I was Ambassador in Uzbekistan, and Charles Crawford was Ambassador in Poland, at the time this torture traffic was happening. In Tashkent I uncovered it meticulously, reported it and protested against it. In Poland Charles made no protest.

Which Ambassador do you want to represent you, British taxpayers? Huh? HUH?

Plucky Craig, the energetic principled uncoverer and reporter and protester of Misdeeds?

Or supine Charles, the qualm-free complicitous ignorer thereof?


Only one problem. A trifle really.

It looks to be the case that Craig learned about the CIA 'secret rendition' programme only after he finally left Tashkent in some professional dishonour yet with his payout from the taxpayer of £320,000.

How do I know that? Because this is what he himself says in his book Murder in Samarkand (Mainstream Publishing 2007 edition, p 362):

From other journalists at this time [sc when he had already left Tashkent in mid-2004 and was back in the UK, formally suspended from duty - see p 359] ... I learnt the first details of the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme ...

I now believe that in protesting about intelligence obtained by torture in Uzbekistan ... I had stumbled unwittingly across the the extraordinary rendition programme, and my objections were therefore threatening the legal and political basis of major CIA strategy in the War on Terror.

In other words, despite what he explicitly claimed on his site, as HM Ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig did not uncover, report and protest against this programme, meticulously or otherwise!

Why? Perhaps because he knew nothing whatsoever about it?

So much for his forlorn attempt to rewrite history and set himself on a higher moral unrenditioning aircraft than the rest of his FCO colleagues on this subject.

Read the whole exchange. Several of the postings are highly entertaining and very interesting in Mr Crawford’s no-holds-barred attacks on those who make apparently highly moral but, in reality, rather dubious statements.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Good news (after a fashion)

On the day we remember Friedrich Hayek because of his 110th birthday, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit reminds us that his book sales are also getting a boost from President Obama and his Administration. This is probably becoming true in Britain as well, though we always lag behind our cousins over the Pond. As for Ayn Rand's novels and, in particular, "Atlas Shrugged", its growing popularity is beginning to be attested by anecdotal evidence as well as sales figures.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Instead of complaining

No matter how often and how carefully one explains that Britain not having a presidential system prime ministers are not elected, too many people respond by complaining (to put it politely) that Gordon Brown or whatever stupid nickname they decide to give him was not elected.

Indeed not and neither was any prime minister, especially not those who took over between elections. That would be Churchill in 1940, Eden in 1955, Macmillan in 1957, Douglas-Home in 1963, Callaghan in 1976 and Major in 1991 as well as Brown in 2007. It is the party that is elected and it is the party that decides who is to be the leader.

In many ways this is unsatisfactory and shows up once again that there is no real separation of powers in Britain with the Executive being part of the Legislative and, consequently, strongly in control of it. That, rather than the existence of parties, imposes constraints on MPs. (We are assuming that MPs, unconstrained, would actually be decent human beings.)

One could argue that with a smaller majority the Legislative would acquire more control over the Executive. Given the fact that between seventy and eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the EU with Parliament either knowing nothing about it or being unable to reject it, control of government is all our parliamentarians can hope for - power they cannot have and, apparently, they do not miss it.

Assuming that this country will one day be independent and sovereign again, should we not think of a different political system, one which would separate the two branches of government? Should the resignation of a Prime Minister necessarily entail a general election, thus allowing the people have some say in the matter of the next leader of the country? Alternatively, could we not have something resembling the American system in which the head of the Executive is elected separately from the Legislative and then chooses his (no women so far) cabinet, which is then approved of or otherwise by the Legislative? The question there would be how to reconcile that with a Monarchy, which is still the most popular body in this country and has many useful attributes, not least keeping politicians in their place.

It used to be the case that an MP who accepted a paid governmental position or an "office of profit" had to resign and a by-election was called. Though this principle is enshrined in the Act of Settlement (1701) and Act of Union (1707) and is still adhered to in the United States where it was enshrined in the Constitution. Since 1919, however, we have abandoned the notion in Britain and MPs are merrily accepting emoluments under the Crown without having to face the electors again. Despite the howl of outrage that would follow such a suggestion, a return to the ideas written into the Act of Settlement could be a first step towards a better regulated political system of separated powers.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Is Obama the most popular politician in history?

To listen to some commentators, particularly the British media, you would never believe that President Obama was not elected by a landslide (compare his results with Reagan's and Nixon's second electionm - they both carried 49 states) and he is not the most popular president in history, as well as the best loved politician in the world, the universe and everything else.

Obama's popularity rating after those famous 100 days is riding at 56 per cent. (One wonders whether these figures were taken before that idiotic performance with the Airforce One aeroplane over New York City and Jersey City.)

The headlines have been amazing. Nobody has ever been this popular. Errm, that is not exactly true. It seems a number of recent presidents clocked in at a higher rate after 100 days, not least the much derided George W. Bush. George Mason University's History News Network has the figures.

Obama is not the worst - he comes above Clinton, who scored 55 per cent at this point of his presidency. In other words, as the Washington Times spells it out, Barack Obama is the second least popular president at the 100 day mark in forty years. So it's all a media hype then, is it?

Should the United States be more European?

God forbid, is what many Americans and Europeans will say to that. Here is Daniel Mitchell, the star of YouTube, on the subject from an economic perspective: why America should not even dream of emulating France.

He tells me that he sent the e-mail with news of this video from an internet cafe somewhere in France. Well, let us hope nobody there finds out.