Monday, January 31, 2011

Everyone is an expert

Watching events in Tunisia, Algeria and, especially, Egypt, I have been struck by the number of people who probably would be hard put to place various Egyptian cities and all the different countries of North Africa, the Horn and the Middle East on the map are, in fact, apparently experts on events there.

Expertise varies from people who are certain that Egypt without Mubarak will be a far greater threat to Israel and the West than it was under him to those who think all Muslims are "nutjobs" anyway.

Readers of this blog will know that I do not think all Muslims are "nutjobs" and have been very doubtful about Mubarak's good faith though, to be fair, he did have a difficult task, as will anyone who emerges as Egypt's leader in the near future. Will it be ElBaradei (a gruesome prospect as Claudia Rossett points out) or will he be supported by the Muslim Brotherhood the way a hanged man is supported by a rope?

I have no doubts that the demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt and any other country run by some Arab despot are there because they have finally realized that it is not the West, the Great Satan, the Lesser Satan or Israel who is causing their problems but their own governments. As they do not have free and fair elections (unlike us in Britain and what a success we have made of that privilege) they have been rioting in order to overthrow those governments. What next? Nobody seems to know for certain.

Will it be 1989 for the Middle East? One hopes so, of course, but that seems unlikely for a number of reasons. The East European countries and Soviet republics (most of whom have not actually done terribly well out the last twenty years) had one coherent enemy though the situation was different in different places. In the Middle East and North Africa the enemy is diffuse though there are similarities, so each country will have to cope on its own.

There was a civil society present in many of the then Communist countries and the ones in which it was weak are still suffering from post-Communist traumas. There is a civil society in Egypt but not so much in the other countries and even there it may not be strong enough to create a political structure. Even non-experts have realized that the Muslim Brotherhood, not the leaders of the demonstrations or the riots are, nevertheless, waiting in the shadows, hoping to grab power if they can. Possibly they will be able to and the Islamists will return to Tunisia and take over in Algeria.

It may well turn into a re-run of 1979 when Khomeini took over in Iran and imposed a far worse regime than anyone could dream of under the Shah.

Meanwhile, one lot of tourists are showing their faith in ... well, something or other. It would appear that nothing will stop Georgians from going to seek the sun in Sharm el-Sheikh. After all, the riots have not spread beyond Cairo by the looks of it.

ADDENDUM: An excellent article by Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal pours cold water on all those who tell us that President Mubarak is the West's greatest ally and those who are whooping with joy at his imminent departure
Thus while Egypt's security services cracked down hard on Islamist terrorism in the 1990s when it was threatening the lucrative tourist trade, Mr. Mubarak has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood—the mother of all Islamist organizations—to become the main opposition party. This has made him, as he well knows, the indispensable man to the West—the only thing supposedly standing in the way of an Islamist power grab.
Then again:
Mr. Mubarak's downfall could well be a good thing in the long run if it opens up Egypt's closed political and economic systems to greater dynamism and debate, so that in the future frustrated young Egyptians can find peaceful expression rather than strapping on a suicide vest. Yet we should be realistic about the short-term costs of a new regime in a country that has been subjected to decades of anti-Western and anti-Israeli propaganda by Mr. Mubarak—and where many blame us (with some justification) for inflicting Mr. Mubarak on them. A government that better reflects the will of the people will be less willing to cut deals with the U.S. or Israel.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the former U.N. atomic agency head who has emerged as the leader of the opposition, made clear his anti-Israel sentiments in an interview last summer with the German magazine Der Spiegel. He called the Gaza Strip "the world's largest prison" and declared that it was imperative to "open the borders, end the blockade."

Mr. ElBaradei also spoke glowingly of Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has assailed Israel in harsh terms and voted against United Nations sanctions on Iran. Mr. ElBaradei said: "Turkey is a member of NATO and partner of the West and Israel. And yet Prime Minister Erdogan has no qualms about supporting an aid flotilla for Gaza that was supposed to breach Israel's sea blockade. The people of the Arab world are celebrating him. Erdogan's photo can be seen everywhere."

That is probably what we can expect from a post-Mubarak Egypt. It is doubtful that Mr. ElBaradei would terminate Egypt's peace treaty with Israel—a move that would cost Egypt more than a billion dollars annually in American aid. But it is probable that, like Mr. Erdogan's Turkey, Mr. ElBaradei's Egypt would be less cooperative with Israel and more friendly to its enemies. In the Muslim world, this is actually a moderate position compared to the jihadism of the Islamists. But from the standpoint of the U.S. or Israel it is obviously far from ideal.
The moral of the story is that supporting two-faced dictators never ends well.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Worry not, the government looks after you

Just recently people have realized that the European Arrest Warrant and the European Investigation Order is not just a silly boring joke but real encroachments on our legal and judicial system. Of course, neither of them constitutes a surrender of major powers to the EU; otherwise we would have had a referendum on, say, the EIO. Would we not? Oh stop giggling at the back.

It's not a particularly new subject, having been covered on numerous occasions by EURef (a few examples: here, here and here plus many more by the Boss) and a couple of times on this blog (here and here) but better late than never or so one keeps saying about eurosceptic organizations and supposedly eurosceptic politicians. As it happens, the subject came up in the House of Lords in which there are a few (just a few) genuine opponents of Britain's membership of the EU.

Yesterday Lord Vinson (who had, on Tuesday, also chaired the somewhat ill-fated meeting of Better Off Out) asked
Her Majesty's Government to what extent the European Arrest Warrant and European Investigation Order conform with the principle of habeas corpus.
Readers will be glad to know that HMG, represented here by the egregious friend of Douglas Hurd and Slobodan Milosevic, Baroness Neville-Jones (here and here) is not worried in the slightest. Well, maybe in the slightest. But only just.
The UK's transposition of the European arrest warrant complies fully with the concept of habeas corpus. UK implementation of the European investigation order will also be fully compliant. However, I understand that the noble Lord's principal concern is the separate issue of European arrest warrants being issued for trivial offences. The Government share this concern and are talking to other EU countries, bilaterally and through the European Union, to stop this happening.
There followed a discussion that the noble Minister might not have appreciated as she was attacked on all sides and was shown up to be somewhat ignorant of all matters, including the exact title of certain EU legislative documents. What do they have advisers for?

HMG seems to put a lot of faith in Sir Scott Baker and his panel of wise individuals who will be looking at the operation of the European Arrest Warrant (and it is perfectly clear from her shifty responses that habeas corpus does not protect anyone who has been detained wrongly under the EAW) to suggest changes and improvements. Exactly how is HMG going to change and improve European legislation that has already been transposed into British legislation.

Lord Tebbit's interesting suggestion has caught some amused attention:
My Lords, could my noble friend not take some advantage of the provision of European arrest warrants? We also have the problem of control orders. Perhaps she could get some friendly European country to take those who are currently subject to control orders and bang them up in a jail somewhere, without the need ever to bring them to trial. That would seem to be a most convenient solution.
Baroness Neville-Jones was not amused. Nor was she impressed by the perfectly sensible question put to her by Lord Stoddart of Swindon:
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that one of the prime duties of government is to protect the interests of the citizen, particularly when abroad. She will be aware that members of the British public have been extradited to other countries without the production of any prima facie evidence at all. Moreover, they often go to countries that do not have the same respect for law and individual interests as we do in this country. The Government were warned about this when the Bill was discussed in Grand Committee. It is a serious matter and I hope that the Government will understand the level of concern about it throughout the country.
She replied:
My Lords, the point that the noble Lord makes about the Government having been warned at the time of the passage of the legislation is perhaps to be directed at the other Benches. We are concerned about the operation of the European arrest warrant, which is precisely why we believe that it needs to be looked into. I would add one point about the European supervision directive-I may not have the title quite right. There is a framework agreement on an arrangement that will come into operation whereby individuals who have been summoned for jurisdiction can nevertheless return to their country of origin during the period of bail and, if sentence is passed on them, can also serve that sentence there. Extra remedies are coming into operation to protect people's rights.
In other words, we know it is a mess and a destruction of the English (and Scottish) legal system but do not worry: we shall look into it and .... errrm .... well, that's it really.

Celebrities talk utter rot - shock

The celebs are on the warpath again and, as ever, have managed to bamboozle a few people. It's as if a stupid idea becomes less stupid if it is articulated by the likes of Dame Judi Dench (a wonderful actress but hardly a thinker) or Sir Ranulph Fiennes (also not a thinker). And, as far as this blog is concerned, anything that the ArchDruid, Dr Rowan Williams supports is ipso facto suspect. (Ha! Didn't expect that, did you?)

The matter in hand is the government's proposal to sell Britain's forests or, to be quite precise, those that belong and are administered by the ineffable quango the Forestry Commission with a bit of interference from other ministries and regulatory bodies, to private individuals, organizations, companies and, if it is right, voluntary bodies. Shock, horror! Anyone would think that the total devastation of ancient hunting forests has been proposed.

As Eamonn Butler says in today's ASI blog:
From the sound of it, you might think that Britain's forests are going to be sold off to keep Rupert Murdoch in paper, or maybe concreted over for car parking. Hardly. State forestry is a mess, and private ownership will revitalize it, and will actually extend the public amenity that our forests afford us. Private owners are actually more likely to encourage public access than the Commission has been – they can see more commercial potential in doing precisely that.

The Forestry Commission already plans to sell small bits of its forest estate, which will earn taxpayers a useful £100m. The question mooted by the government today is whether it should sell the whole lot. That's actually no really big deal. The Commission owns only a fifth of England's forest land. Most of the rest, about 68%, is already in private hands. (Various government departments, like Defence, own other bits too.) Many of the celebs who are saying how much they love forests could well be thinking about ones that are already private.

And private forestry is already heavily regulated in terms of the owners' obligations to the protection of nature, logging schedules, public access, and development. Thos protections would remain, even if the whole estate were sold. And indeed there would be extra protections for ancient woodlands like the Dean, New, and Sherwood forests. As in New Zealand and other countries, there could be a mixture of commercial, non-profit, community and mixed ownership.
In a previous blog Dr Butler referred to the various celebs who had signed a sobbing letter to the Sunday Telegraph as being "thick as two short planks" an obvious but still accurate description. Furthermore, he gives very good reasons why we should not assume that the celebs in question actually know what they are talking about. In this blog's opinion, a period of silence from all of them starting with His Bloviation, Dr Williams, would be very welcome.

Pause for some light entertainment

Yes, I did hear yesterday about the upheaval in eurosceptic circles about the events at the meeting of the parliamentary section of Better Off Out, but was laughing too hard to write anything about it. In any case, there were more important matters to deal with.

The account (and who leaked it, one wonders) first appeared on this blog, was picked up by Autonomous Mind and thence by the Boss on EURef (though, as ever, I think it is unfair to compare politicians to useful farm or any other animals). Nothing I can add really.

Does Better Off Out achieve anything, especially in Parliament? Well, that's a moot point. It has meetings (to which neither the Boss nor I have ever been invited) and, no doubt, all who attend congratulate each other mightily about their various achievements, difficult though these are to discern. Certainly questions are asked in the House of Lords (and this blog needs to catch up there) but those tend to be done by individual members rather than as part of a campaign; equally certainly amendments are introduced, mostly by Bill Cash and Douglas Carswell, to various bits of legislation and equally regularly they are defeated by large majorities. The one undoubtedly useful purpose BOO serves is in providing us all with a list of politicians who actually dare to sign up to the notion that Britain should not be part of the European Union. It makes it easy for the rest of us to dismiss the pretensions of others to something called euroscepticism.

Still, Better Off Out remains a more coherent organization than yet another cross-party campaign for a referendum, which will ensure that yet more money, time and energy is wasted on campaigning for something that is unlikely to happen under the Cleggerons and something that we may well lose because of the lack of time etc that has been put into explaining to the populace about the EU and our part in it.

However, one can't help laughing out long and loud at the sight of all the Hannan and Carswell worshippers suddenly turning on a sixpence and deciding that those two are the terrible twins rather than the daredevil duo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Things are happening all over the world - 3

Let us turn to our own country and what passes for its Parliament in Westminster. There are several matters to report from the House of Lords (which is being turned ever more into a dumping ground for the not-so-great and dubiously-good with two or three new peers being introduced every day), but I shall concentrate this time on the question of what is and what is not to be put to a referendum. Apparently, this does not depend on the constitutional importance of the particular issue but on the way the government of the day and its meek followers parliamentary politicians feel.

On Monday the subject came up because Lord Grocott asked:
Her Majesty's Government what criteria are used to determine whether or not a constitutional change should be submitted to a referendum.
HMG in the person of Lord McNally replied:
My Lords, the Government believe that Parliament should judge which issues are the subject of a national referendum.
Oh goody. There's a fine body of men and women on whose judgement we can rely. Just have a look at Lord McNally's political career (more here).

The rest of the debate took the form of not very friendly questions about the House of Lords reform and whether that would be put to a referendum vote (stonewalled by the noble Minister) and some other issues such as this one, asked by Lord Pearson:
Why is it right to have a referendum on the voting system, about which the British people appear to be somewhat indifferent, and not right to have a referendum, which was promised to the British people by the Prime Minister who gave a cast-iron guarantee and about which the leader of the Liberal Democrats walked out of the House of Commons when that referendum was not granted; it was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto-in other words, the referendum on whether we want to stay in the European Union or leave it? How can it be right to have the first without the second?
And the answer? Well, you might have guessed - quite a lot of waffle.
It is a very interesting question. When the Constitution Committee looked at this matter, one of its recommendations was that, if ever we came to the point of a proposal to leave the EU, it would be a matter for a referendum. What happened with the Lisbon treaty, as with all other treaties since the referendum which endorsed our membership, is that it went through the parliamentary process.
You know you can rely on the politicians we, the people of this country, elected in a free and fair election of the kind the majority of the world can look at longingly.

Things are happening all over the world - 2

Tunisia issued an international warrant "for ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and six relatives, accusing him of taking money out of the North African nation illegally". I expect he did, too.

Mind you, freedom is not precisely blossoming under the new regime:
As [Justice Minister] Chebbi spoke, Tunisian police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who have been pressuring the interim government to get rid of old guard ministers who served under Ben Ali. The clashes broke out in front of the prime minister's office in Tunis, the capital. Some demonstrators responded by throwing stones at police.

Several injured protesters were carted away from the melee. Others tried to smash the windows of a police van, leaving the ground covered in blood. There was no immediate word on casualties.
It's always easier to overthrow an old regime than to build a new one, as the Russians found in 1917. Let us hope that the Tunisian experience will not be as horrific as the Russian was.

Meanwhile, protests are going on in Egypt. Secretary of State Clinton is urging restraint all round, the avoidance of violence (too late for that, I should have thought) and political reform. Understandably, the riots have affected stock prices and are expected to affect foreign investment in the country. Will they affect the stupendous amount of aid Egypt receives from the West? Hard to tell.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government is trying to crack down on the remaining protests and blocking social media such as twitter, whose only use, as far as I can tell, is to aid protesters and demonstrators in highly authoritarian countries.

There have been rumours that President Mubarak's family, possibly accompanied by him, have fled the country to Britain but this has now been denied.

Let us note something interesting about the protesters in both countries: none of them seem to care about or even remember the Palestinians. As has been noted before, that particular myth is being exploded (if one may use that expression).

Things are happening all over the world - 1

Things are happening all over the world. In Russia President Medvedev has been dealing with the aftermath of the Domodedovo explosion in the time-honoured Russian tradition, by sacking a senior transport official and three police chiefs in charge of security. At least it does not look like they are about to be shot or imprisoned (after all, they have no record of opposing Prime Minister Putin), though the language the President used was eerily familiar:
There must be a shake-up of the entire transport police. If people don’t understand how to work we’ll find different people.
Or as Stalin famously said: "Незаменимых нет." (There are no indispensable people.)

Possibly, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are right in targeting these particular individuals but as the FT says:
Russian media said previous security shake-ups had had little effect. Russian newspaper Kommersant pointed out that numerous bureaucratic reorganisations since two suicide bombers blew up aircraft departing from Domodedovo in 2004, killing 90, had essentially left no one in charge of ensuring security in parts of the airport open to the public. Meanwhile the transport police had been targeted for cutbacks under sweeping police reform launched by Mr Medvedev last year.
There are also other problems. So far nobody has claimed responsibility for the explosion, which is a little unusual. President Putin informed the media that the unknown bomber was not from Chechnya. Does that mean he/she was from Dagestan or Ingushetiya? If so, this proves that far from being controlled, the war in the Caucasus has definitely spread to Chechnya's neighbours, something that has been reasonably clear to all who follow events there.

Secondly, there must be people in Russia who are asking the obvious question as to why so much time, money and effort is being spent by the security services on cracking down on peaceful demonstrators, arresting former Prime Ministers who lead those peaceful demonstrators, and then arresting those who protest the previous arrests, instead of dealing with the obviously serious security threat.

I am assuming that this was a suicide bomber of some description who caused the dreadful bloody mayhem at Domodedovo.

ADDENDUM: International Relations and Security Network gives a useful background to the whole mess in the Caucasus that has long ago spilled over into the rest of Russia, aided and abetted by the behaviour of Putin's friends and colleagues in the security services. I ask again: will there be a proper investigation of what really happened in Domodedovo? Or will everyone settle for grandiloquent statements and a few scapegoats?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Explosion in Domodedovo

The news from Russia about the explosion at Moscow's busiest international airport, Domodedovo, which has already resulted in 31 dead and well over 100 injured, can excite nothing but horror. The speed with which "a criminal case" has been opened instead of an investigation as to what happened and how does not make one feel at all certain that this time the Russian government will be interested in getting the truth. The time-line published by the Guardian of "terrorist" in Russia show that information has not been much available, investigations have not happened and dubious events such as the infamous apartment block explosions were not clarified. As ever, the people of Russia suffer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where do the Cleggerons stand on this?

As the political world in Britain yawns and turns away becomes convulsed by the news that the egregious Baroness Warsi has decided to deflect criticisms of her hopeless chairmanship of the Conservative Party by accusing the entire country of being prejudiced against Muslims (Ed West's very sensible piece, Lord Tebbit's ditto and even ConHome has come up with mild criticism of the good lady) some people are looking further afield.

Baroness Cox, not a token appointment by any manner of means, being one of the hardest working peers in the realm, asked HMG on Tuesday:
they will make representations to the Government of Egypt to ensure adequate protection of all religious minorities, following the recent killings of Christians in Alexandria
There was a good deal of pleasant waffle in the subsequent debate but one thing comes out fairly clearly from Lord Howell's evasive replies: the Cleggeron Coalition may have said that it is terribly upset and saddened by the events though heartened by some of the reaction in the rest of Egypt (the evidence for the latter is patchy) but it made no representations to the Egyptian government whatsoever. I hear from other sources that while other governments issued some kind of stern warnings the British one kept quiet. Perhaps they do not want to upset Baroness Warsi, who is, presumably, trying to pre-empt her well-merited dismissal from a post she never deserved.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Russians can still nominate Assange for one of the Nobel Prizes

As this article on RawStory reminds us
It was just over a month ago when a high-ranking, unnamed Russian official told a state-controlled media outlet that Julian Assange, founder of secrets outlet WikiLeaks, deserved a Nobel Prize for his work exposing the US empire's secrets.
That encomium does not apply to the Russian equivalent of Wikileaks, [in Russian], which had the temerity to publish pictures of Prime Minister Putin's grand palazzo on the Black Sea, which, incidentally, has been mentioned recently in the Russian media. As I said before, Mr Putin's ability to control that media is beginning to weaken.

RawStory explains:
A Russian-language version of WikiLeaks came under cyber attack and was inaccessible to Russian visitors Wednesday after the site published leaked photographs allegedly depicting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's lavish, sprawling estate.

The images appeared to have been taken by one or more individuals connected to workers building the still-under-construction mansion, and showed what appeared to be two different people whose identifying features were blacked out posing on and around expensive pieces of furniture.

Russian media had in recent days been discussing the alleged value of Puntin's so-called "pleasure complex," with one estimate suggesting the cost exceeded $1 billion.

Much of the funding came in the form of gifts from Russia's business elite, according to Russian whistleblower Sergey Kolesnikov, whose tale was told by The Washington Post in late December.
RawStory suggests that Assange may not be nominated for the Nobel Prize by the Russian government after all. I don't see why. has nothing to do with the man who is still fighting extradition to Sweden. He is not likely to anger somebody whose enemies have had an unfortunate tendency to die, be badly hurt or find themselves on the wrong side of the labour camp fences. Those who passed the photos on to, on the other hand, had better look out.

The experts were wrong

As were all politicians, most of the media and the entire contingent of the chattering classes with all their followers. As Caroline Glick points out, events in Tunisia prove that beyond any doubt.
For nearly a generation, successive US administrations have based their Middle East policies on the collective wisdom of the likes of Ross, Hadley, Berger, Indyk, George Mitchell, Dan Kurtzer, and Tony Blair. And for nearly a generation, these wise men have argued that Arab reform, democracy, human rights, women's rights, minority rights, religious freedom, economic development and the rule of law can only be addressed after a peace treaty is signed between Israel and the Palestinians. In their "expert" view, Arab autocrats and their repressed subjects alike are so upset by the plight of the Palestinians that they can't be bothered with their own lives.

Tunisia's revolution exposes this "wisdom," as complete and utter piffle. Like people everywhere, what most interests Arabs is their own standard of living, their relative freedom or lack thereof, and their prospects for the future.

Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian college graduate who set himself on fire last month after regime security forces destroyed his unlicensed produce cart did not act as he did because of Israel.

The Egyptian man who set himself on fire in Cairo on Monday outside the Egyptian parliament, and the Algerian man who set himself on fire in Tebessa on Sunday, did not choose to self-immolate in the public square because of their concern for the Palestinians. So too, the anti-regime demonstrators in Jordan are not demonstrating because there is no Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.

The Tunisian revolution demonstrates that "Arab unity" and commitment to "Palestinian rights," is little more than a sop for Western "experts."

The chief concern of Arab dictators is not Israel, but the prolongation of their grip on power. From their perspective, one of the keys to maintaining their iron grip on power is neutralizing US support for freedom.
Somehow, I don't think anything much will change in Western political discourse.

Group of Danish citizens allowed to sue the Prime Minister

Civitas reports the news that last Tuesday a group of Danish citizens were given the go-ahead to "challenge the legality of Denmark's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty
Plans to hold a referendum in Denmark on the Constitution Treaty were scrapped in 2005, after the Dutch and Irish ‘No’ votes, and in 2007 the Danish government decided that a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (the reformed Constitution Treaty) wasn’t needed as there was no transfer of sovereignty. However, yesterday, the Danish Supreme Court unanimously decided that a group of Danish citizens can sue the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, for breaching the Danish constitution by ratifying the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum.

The leader of the plaintiffs, professor Ole Krarup, has spoken of his hope that the case will find the treaty has not been ratified in the requisite manner, thus the treaty is non–binding. He believes that, if the Court finds in their favour, there could still be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
As it happens, there is an error in that account. It was, as most of us recall, France and not Ireland, who voted No to the Constitutional Treaty in 2005 as well as Netherlands. Ireland voted No to the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and was forced to vote again in 2009. One wonders whether they think that panicky Yes in the second referendum was worth it.

The horror stories and threats have already begun:
The daily Berlingske Tidende criticises the EU opponents:

“If it were up to them … Denmark would go on being a small, idyllic country with no other contact with the external world than our agricultural exports. We would have no other binding cooperation apart from the loose sort of trade relations Europe had almost 40 years ago. Luckily the EU has developed since then, and since 2000 we’ve had no less than six referendums, in four of which the Danes voted in favour of closer cooperation.

… Hopefully the judgement will come down in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon. If it doesn’t, we’ll go right back to the days of the Maastricht Treaty and the eternal discussion of whether we can live on an isolated island outside the EU.”
It would appear that all those islands outside the EU, Switzerland, Norway and, more recently, Iceland are not doing too badly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An even bigger mess

Readers of this blog and of my past work on EUReferendum will know that I have never been an admirer of Vladimir Putin, have never thought much of his teddy bear (mishka), Dmitri Medvedev and was not particularly taken by the theory advanced on the basis of no evidence, that Russia was turning into a new superpower, ready to use its economic and military might. It seemed to me that there was precious little of that might, thanks to the policies of the Terrible Twins, Putin and Medvedev, and whenever it appeared there was trouble, all too often for Russia.

It would appear that I may have underestimated the chaos that is Russia though not by much. (There is a story that when Soviet historians under perestroika were finally allowed to discuss Stalin and his victims with the great Robert Conquest, they accused him of underestimating the number of victims. Understandably, he was taken aback.) Let me put it this way, some of the details are new to me, though, judging by the persistent rumours that the ex-Mayor Luzhkov and his family have acquired expensive property in London and have even partly taken up residence here, the story of any investigation into his and his wife's finances being dropped is not exactly a surprise.

Via Georgian Daily we can find this story on the Jamestown Foundation site with many references to the original accounts.
For Western observers and potential investors, it is Russia’s incessant slide to the very bottom of the “Corruption Perception Index” compiled by Transparency International that constitutes the clearest evidence of the all-penetrating rot (Vedomosti, December 30). Perceptions are certainly not scientific proof, but many other indexes provide corroborating evidence: for instance, in the “Political Risk Atlas” published by Maplecroft last week, Russia is listed as one of the ten most risky states together with Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and North Korea (Kommersant, January 13). The “Economic Freedom Index” is only marginally better, awarding Russia 143rd place out of 179 (RBC Daily, January 13). Methodologies behind these indices may be imperfect, but the massive exodus of capital from Russia is estimated to reach $38.5 billion in 2010, twice higher than the worst forecast by the Central Bank, which proves that Russian entrepreneurs find it prudent to take their business elsewhere (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 14).

The Russians are indeed less concerned about international rankings but more attentive to several high-profile corruption stories that are developing in the increasingly aggressive blogosphere. One of these involves state-owned Transneft, which according to documents published by investigative lawyer, Aleksei Navalny, and opposition politician, Vladimir Milov, vastly exceed the usual kickback margin in the recently completed construction of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline (Ekho Moskvy, Moskovsky Komsomolets, January 14). Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has ensured that Transneft is off limits and its former CEO, Semyon Vainshtok, was allowed to depart quietly to Israel on a “golden parachute.” Nobody in Russia is shocked by the WikiLeaks revelations about deep corruption in Gazprom, but there have been expectations that the scandalous sacking of the Moscow Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, would lead to the cleansing of his Augean Stables (Vedomosti, January 11). Luzhkov, however, has wisely chosen to swallow his grievances, and the investigation of the loans provided by the Bank Moskvy (owned by the Moscow government) to Inteko (owned by his wife Elena Baturina) has been discreetly discontinued (Kommersant, January 13).
This is curiously at odds from the way Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, formerly of Yukos, have been and are being treated.

According to the article what really worries the "new Russians" is the country's own blogosphere, which seems to have become extremely outspoken on the subject of corruption recently.
Russia’s rich-and-powerful would not be impressed by yet another rhetorical salvo in the feigned war against corruption, but they are concerned about the outrage among the “have-nots,” fuelled by the unverifiable but irrefutable information circulating through millions of blogs. The palaces outside Moscow and Sochi that have caught the attention of bloggers are abandoned by their anonymous owners (Vedomosti, January 11). Moscow is becoming far less of an arrogant “in-your-face” megapolis of wealth and luxury and the glamorous life-style in its clubs and salons is distinctly toned down. Even the famous Russian week in the Courchevel ski resort in the French Alps that was once a carnival of crazy money was this year a rather subdued affair (, January 13).

This superficial moderation of extravaganza does not change the fundamental fact that corruption in Russia keeps growing, while the economic performance worsens. The federal budget is in the red, petro-rent is shrinking due to rising costs of production, margins of profit in banking are narrowing because inflation runs high, which means that there is less wealth available for stealing –but the appetites in the bureaucracy cannot be reduced. Putin announced the plan to cut the number of government staff members by 5 percent, but experience shows that every attempt to trim the enormous army of bureaucrats only adds to its incessant growth. Medvedev’s pet-project to build a “wonder-city” in Skolkovo outside Moscow as a driver of his “modernization” strategy is in fact just another golden opportunity for embezzlement, because behind every Potemkin village there is always a “black hole” of corruption (, January 12).

The sudden collapse of the deeply corrupt regime in Tunisia is instantly interpreted by dozens of Russian bloggers as a sign of things to come (, January 16). The brutal suppression of opposition after the elections in Belarus last month was seen by many Russians as another possible future. Neither option looks appealing, but the system of governance that is still approved by the majority has simply stolen its own future.
Still, the blogosphere can be controlled and largely ignored until it gets too big for that. But if even Ezhednevniy Zhurnal (Daily Journal) dares to say that
Putin may pretend to be in charge of the rescue operation in the Sea of Okhotsk, but in fact it is directed through the bargaining between the company owning the fishing fleet and the company that owns the ice-breakers
then things are beginning to look rather difficult.

It cannot be reformed

It is, let me repeat, a transnational organization with astonishing ambitions, completely corrupt, so structured that it is not in the slightest accountable to the taxpayers of those countries who keep it going, and its members, committees, sub-committees, well-paid employees and officials will destroy anyone who tries to introduce any kind of a reform.

That is why I do not think there is much point to the new, Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee looking to ways of using the huge funds the United States hands over to the United Nations for a reform of that noxious organization.

There is only one solution and that is for the United States and other Western countries to stop whining and actually withholding those funds unconditionally. The party, started all those years ago in San Francisco under the benevolent gaze of the Soviet Union and its agents such as Alger Hiss, must come to an end.

Monday, January 17, 2011

In the meantime

Here is my review of The King's Speech over on the New Culture Forum. It's more mixed than most of the oohing and aahing that has been going on.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Censoring symbols will not change history either

One of the great advantages of having a blog is that one can take one's fierce arguments on other forums and turn them into a posting. Naturally, one's opponents can respond though in this case, I suspect, they or, rather, she will not. But if she does, she will be welcome.

Readers of this blog know well how I feel about the inequality between the opprobrium that is expressed by all sorts of people about the Nazi regime and about the Communist regimes (as there were several and some are still in place). I have written about it, have spoken about it and never fail to sneer at the morons who wear t-shirts with Che Guevara the mass murderer, the hammer and sickle, symbol of mass murder or Lenin the founder of that mass murder. But, the other side of that is the need to mention Communism when it is relevant to some event or activity or artistic performance in the way Nazism is always mentioned.

Not so long ago I wrote about in connection with plays about Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwängler. In the posting I postulated that one day the comments made about Strauss would be made about Shostakovich
There is, yet another way of testing our attitudes. Suppose the discussion quoted at the beginning had not been about Richard Strauss but about Dmitry Shostakovich. “He wrote glorious music but what a f***ing Stalinist.” How does that sound? Yet, it was true. Shostakovich wrote music to order, agreed to censorship, watched silently as his colleagues were persecuted and arrested without, to my knowledge, saving anybody. Perhaps he could not. It is not, precisely, for me to judge. But it is something to remember.
The debate on the subject was also about Shostakovich but took rather a curious turn.

The discussion started with Dan Mitchell, a man whose economic acumen and pronouncements I have quoted on this blog repeatedly, posting on his blog that he was slightly surprised to find that the hammer and sickle, a symbol of a regime, as he rightly said, which had murdered "nearly 62 million people between 1917 and 1987" in advertising a performance of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.
Is the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra really oblivious to the monstrous nature of Soviet Communism? Would they feature a swastika in an ad for concert featuring the music of a German composer who produced works in 1938? I hope not, just like I can’t imagine an architecture exhibit on the work of Albert Speer featuring a swastika (other than in a way designed to connote evil). Nothing positive should be associated with horrid regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
As a matter of fact it would be impossible to have an architecture exhibit of the work of Albert Speer without featuring a swastika in a purely factual rather than emotional manner. And yes, almost all German musicians who stayed in the country have the word Nazism mentioned somewhere during a concert of their music or any programme about them. That is, precisely, what I object to. Why should we not be told the truth about Shostakovich?

I replied to the blog and then re-posted the reply on another forum:
This could be justified by saying that Shostakovich wrote under a Soviet regime and was, largely, a loyal Soviet artist (well, he had to be – that is not a criticism). Cutting out the hammer and sickle would be like purging Tom Sawyer of the “n” word. You cannot change history by changing words you don’t like. And yes, I think a programme about Albert Speer will have to feature the swastika. Richard Strauss is a bit trickier.
On the other forum (which is private so I cannot link to it) I was attacked for mixing art and politics to which I replied by saying that in the Soviet Union the two were mixed. In fact, this particular symphony is particularly political.

In 1936, as the Great Purge was taking off, Shostakovich had fallen from favour and had been severely criticized for two of his works, particularly the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. He was under pressure to produce simpler music that could be called Soviet and patriotic. His immediate patron in the party hierarchy, Marshal Tukhachevsky, was arrested (and hideously tortured in prison though that was not known at the time) and shot with numerous other officers of the Red Army in 1937. Shostakovich's friends and colleagues were under threat or were being arrested. He, understandably, gave in to the pressure with alacrity. The Fifth Symphony was performed in the summer of 1937 at the height of the Great Purge, was a huge success and ensured Shostakovich's place in the Soviet arts hierarchy. The idea that there is no politics attached to that piece of music is balderdash.

When I presented some of this facts, I was asked by the lady mentioned above whether I had ever lived behind the iron curtain, a stupid question in my opinion. Nevertheless, I could reply in all honesty that I had been born and brought up there. I did not add that my father is still known, many years after his death, as one of the leading experts on the Soviet Union and that I have written on the subject myself. She seemed a little taken aback by the fact that she was not the only one who had lived behind the iron curtain and by my insistence that neither her nor my biography is of any significance in this case. It's Shostakovich's biography that matters, the facts of the arts in the Soviet Union and the peculiar situation there in the mid-thirties. Just as you cannot erase the nastiness of slavery by deciding that you are too sensitive ever to read nasty words, so you cannot change the facts that the Soviet system was appallingly nasty and interfered heavily in the arts by censoring its symbol and producing it only as an emotional hate picture. The facts matter. In fact, as Stalin used to say, "facts are stubborn things". (He did, honestly.)

ADDENDUM: Some time ago I wrote about the uselessness and, indeed, harmfulness of arguments on the basis of "I was there". Here it is.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Does the Oldham result tell us anything?

Well, it rather depends which all-knowing commentator you read. It could be that the Coalition took a pasting because people feel "betrayed" or it could be that David Cameron stopped the bullet that was aimed at Nick Clegg or it could be that the Conservatives had a dreadful night. Or it could be that Labour is deluding itself by this result. Or, possibly, nothing much was proved by a somewhat unusual by-election, called because the losing candidate complained to the courts that the winner had lied about him in the election literature.

My view of the Phil Woolas debacle was that, while I was glad to see the back of him, I was less than pleased with the idea of courts deciding who should be the winner of an electoral contest. That is the job of the electorate. Possibly people in Oldham shared my view and helped to turn a marginal Labour seat into a fairly safe one though the junior Cleggeron maintains that the Lib-Dims will win it back next time. Hmm. Maybe.

In the meantime, here are the full results. The turn out was 48 per cent, considerably lower than at the General Election but not particularly low for a by-election:

Labour: 14,718 (42.1%)
Lib Dems: 11,160 (31.9%)
Conservatives: 4,481 (12.8%)
Ukip: 2,029 (5.8%)
BNP: 1,560 (4.5%)
Green Party: 530 (1.5%)
Monster Raving Loony Party: 145 (0.4%)
English Democrats: 144 (0.4%)
Pirate Party: 96 (0.2%)
Bus Pass Elvis Party: 67 (0.1%)

UKIP, I am very pleased to say, saved its deposit, increased both its vote and its share of the vote and beat both the BNP and the miserable Greens. Nevertheless, it would be good to see more people actually voting for one of the smaller parties instead of skulking at home.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

They keep telling us

While the House of Commons struggles with the irrelevant European Union Bill (first day of Committee was on Tuesday and nothing much was achieved, as predicted, the colleagues out there are making the usual threats and statements.

Benedict Brogan tells us that the Anglophile French Prime Minister François Fillon, has promised that France and Germany would do "anything" to save the euro. Well, there's a surprise that most of us did not foresee. Of course, the people and courts of Germany might think otherwise but the notion that the French and the German governmentswould do anything has been obvious for some time. Furthermore, M Fillon added in an interview with the newspaper no-one can read on line any more:
“In order to consolidate the euro we will need gradually to harmonise our economic, fiscal and social policies, hence we are going to go towards greater integration. We are going to need to put in place an economic system of governance for the eurozone. Great Britain is not part of the eurozone; at the same time the decision we will take will have great importance to Britain,” he says.

“The question is is the UK ready to accept or encourage greater integration of the eurozone or is the UK distrustful of that and will it create obstacles and make it more difficult to happen? I do believe the first solution would be much better. We in the eurozone have no other choice right now than further integration. Essentially the question is whether the UK wants to exert an influence on this changing Europe or not.”
So, in order to avoid the catastrophe of the euro's failure (and let's face it, the consequences will not be pleasant for anybody but the long-term future would be better) Britain must get more involved in creating an integrated economic governance.

No surprises there. Nor will there be any in the pusillanimous behaviour we can expect from the Boy-Ming and his side-kick, the Chancellor.

Meanwhile Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister has gone even further (not being the FM means that he can talk a little more openly):
At a large gathering on Wednesday evening (12 January) in the European Parliament, members of the Spinelli Group, a new network of prominent euro-federalists, called for an acceleration of European integration, arguing that a greater economic and political intertwining was urgently needed to solve the bloc's panoply of problems.

"To say that Europe is in a bad way would be euphemistic," the co-president of parliament's Green group and Spinelli member, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said by way of introduction.

Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer was equally pessimistic about the current state of affairs at the meeting, entitled 'A United States of Europe'. He acknowledged that "the EU's 'no-bailout' clause was quickly forgotten" in the face of Greek difficulties last year, and that "eurobonds are there, just in a different shape," but was critical of France and Germany's reluctance to move forward with further integration.

"Despite all the kisses [between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel], France and Germany are going through a difficult period," he said.
The idea that further integration will somehow create a strong, stable entity with a great deal of influence on the world is, of course, laughable but the amount of damage that will be done and is being done in the process is not.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Norway says no

Not to EU membership this time as that is not really on the agenda with any political party but to recognizing the non-existent Palestinian state (or one of them, anyway.
Norway is not on the verge of recognizing a Palestinian state inside the 1967 lines, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on the eve of a Middle East trip that will bring him to Israel on Tuesday.

Støre, in an interview that appeared on the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation (NRK) website on Sunday, said he was not ready to recognize a Palestinian state. He said this would only be a symbolic action and that the efforts now should be concentrated on negotiations that would bring about a “real result.”
And yet Norway was tipped as one of the first European countries to do so.

Important information

Let's get this straight: the legislative supremacy of the British Parliament was destroyed by the European Communities Act of 1973. Since then European legislation has been supreme. The EU Bill, which, incidentally, still has a number of stages to get through, is not of any real importance except to show up, yet again, the supineness of the so-called Tory eurosceptics. More on the debate and the vote tomorrow when I can put up a link to the formal Hansard.

Oh dear!

A very swift reaction to an article on the Freedom Association website about the EU Bill, going through the House of Commons as we speak and Amendments tabled at Committee stage. I have not seen the exact wording of the Chris Heaton-Harris's Amendment and am, therefore, relying on the article for information.

The article displays a certain lack of knowledge. For instance it starts with the words
Today Parliament has a chance to back amendments to the European Union Bill, and give the British people and Parliament the power to stand up to the EU.
Ahem, we are talking about the House of Commons merely and Parliament consists of two Chambers. Recent experience tells us that the House of Lords is much more likely to stand up to the British government, never mind the EU (which even an amended EU Bill is not going to make possible).

Secondly, on the basis of this article it would appear
One of the amendments being tabled by Chris Heaton-Harris says that for any decisions made at a European Council summit, transferring powers away from Britain to the EU, firstly the Government must make a statement in the House, and secondly the proposed EU legislation can only pass through an Act of Parliament. This would give Parliament time for additional scrutiny, and act as a bulwark against the present unsatisfactory situation.
I see TFA is hedging its bets, referring to a European Council summit. It's either one or the other and what it is is a European Council. The Prime Minister makes a statement after each one but very little of the actual legislation is decided at those Councils as Mr Heaton-Harris, having been an MEP for some years, ought to know. Clearly, even this amendment is not going to try to make EU legislation, which is decided between those Councils by and large, inferior to British legislation.

UPDATE: I note that the author of the article has (after my comment) changed Parliament to House of Commons, which is accurate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Show time

I've been trying to have a life and that little undertaking is coming to an end as Parliament returns and I shall be paying more attention to what goes on there, not forgetting the curious development in relationship between the EU and Switzerland. There is a longish posting about Russia in the works. But in the meantime, here is something to cheer everyone: Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore singing a medley.

Enjoy! Back to work tomorrow.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Not for the first time

The news that Greece is planning to build a fence along its border with Turkey (the very idea of it ever being completed makes one fall about with laughter) has reminded Stewart Baker of Volokh Conspiracy of something even more amusing: the different ways EU spokespeople of various stripes view fences when they are proposed by the United States and by member states of the EU. He does not mention it, but a certain other fence, put up to keep out terrorists in the Middle East has also been described as being particularly evil. Not the Greek one, though. Justified but likely to be only short-term.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Censorship will not make anything better

One of the most shocking reports from the United States was a relatively small one: it seems that a man who has the barefaced cheek to describe himself as a Mark Twain scholar will be publishing editions of the two great novels Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without what he refers to as "racial slurs". In other words the words "nigger" and "injun" will not appear in the text. Instead of the first one there will be the word "slave" and it is not clear what there will be instead of the second one.

I am glad to say the news has been greeted with an uproar of indignation. The comments on the piece I have linked to are all negative, pointing out the ridiculousness of it all. The Freedom Association has done a good job putting together some of the arguments. I can't help thinking about one of the best early teen novel that came my way some years ago, Nat Hentoff's The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. It deals with a school that decides to ban Huckleberry Finn because of the many unpleasant words in it and the fight against that ban in the name of freedom of speech and the need to understand history.

Professor Gribben, it seems, is using this method to ensure that the books are read at all in some American schools as teachers say they can't or, more like, won't teach them because of those painful words. The fact that they have not the ability or the courage to explain why those painful words were used, how Mark Twain made sure that his readers shared his outrage and how things have changed is a sad reflection on those teachers.

A bowdlerized version will not do much for the children who cannot face up to the truth of history or for teachers who have no ability to explain. It means that they will never really understand the horrors of slavery on the one hand or Mark Twain's brilliant writing and angry denunciation on the other. "Nigger" Jim is one of the finest characters in literature. Furthermore, by the end of the book he is a free man, so calling him a slave makes no sense. "Injun" Joe, on the other hand, is one of the nastiest, most frightening characters around and even his death is terrifying. And that is what they were called in Mississippi in those days and in many other place for many years afterwards. That is reality. The idea that ignorance should be perpetuated because of some artificially cultivated sensitivity about the past is very sad and one knows exactly who will suffer - the children who will not get a chance to read the real novels of Mark Twain.

UPDATE: When I was writing that post yesterday I wanted to refer to one of the most memorable moments in Huckleberry Finn, when Huck's pap, a drunken good-for-nothing liability complains bitterly about a free "nigger" who is regarded as a real human being and can vote. Clearly the monologue is powerful as other people remember it, too. I found that out when I discussed the whole issue with another fan of the book yesterday and this morning the rant is quoted in full by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal. He has some harsh words for Professor Gribben and others of that ilk who do not know and will not learn history. (And I don't care how well known Professor Gribben is as a Twain expert.)

How shameful

I was trying to find the latest news on the Russian ships trapped in the ice in the Okhotsk Sea (the Boss has been following the saga in detail on EURef) and saw that the most up-to-date story was was from Kyiv Post. I clicked on it and found this
The Kyiv Post, effective Dec. 14, 2010, is blocking access to all web traffic originating from the United Kingdom in protest of the draconian libel laws there that hinder legitimate free speech and threaten the work of independent journalists, authors, scientists and others worldwide. In a phenomenon known as “libel tourism,” rich and powerful plaintiffs file lawsuits in London – “the libel capital of the world” – to exploit laws stacked in their favor, stifling journalism and threatening news organizations and others with costly lawsuits.

If you have comments about the Kyiv Post ban, please address them to and include your name, city of residence and contact telephone number for verification.
Well I could come up with a few tu quoque comments but what's the use? They are right.

Tax Freedom Day 2011

An e-mail from the Adam Smith Institute tells us that Tax Freedom Day 2011
"falls on 30 May this year. That's three days later than last year, thanks almost entirely to the rise in VAT. It's now up to 20p in the £. Thinking about it, 20p in the pound seems to be roughly what we're left with after the government's had its slice. Wouldn't it be nice to have a government that lived within its means, not yours?"
The trouble with governments and politicians that they do not have a clear idea of the difference between meum and tuum. Bring back classical education, say I.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Problems for the Polish government

It would appear that the Polish government's plans to overhaul the pension system is running into difficulties. First, let us have a look at this overhaul:
To curb budget deficits and the growth of debt, the government plans to significantly reduce cash transfers to private pension funds—from 7.3% of employee wages transferred now to just 2.3%. The freed-up cash will go to the state’s pension system, which will operate pension accounts, according to Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The government will be able to cut subsidies to the social security administration, reducing borrowing needs, deficits and debt.
Hmm. Well, there is a phrase for that and it involves the words "state", "grab", "private" and "pensions".

The problems have a good deal to do with the well known inefficiency of the Polish state pension scheme.
It took the state’s pension system years, not weeks or even months, to fine-tune its enormously complicated software system after private pension funds were introduced in 1999. The software—put in place by a private company that it now part of Asseco Poland, Europe’s fifth-largest software vendor by sales—may have been hailed as the best electronic system in European public administration for 2005, but it’s been a bumpy ride.

An even bigger problem is time, or lack thereof. The government wants the new system to operate as of April. This leaves less than three months to get all the necessary laws passed by parliament, approved by the president, printed in the journal of laws, and—most importantly—processed by the byzantine pension organization.

It will need to create additional individual pension accounts for 15 million people. To do that, it needs the specifics of the legislation, which will take many weeks to draft.

To make things worse, the state-run pension system has to lay off 10% of its 50,000 staff.
The process of private pension grabbing freeing up cash for the state-run pension scheme should be interesting to watch.

Nothing like a healthily growing backlash

Bruno Waterfield, the Telegraph's hack in Brussels, tells us that there is a growing backlash against perks for EU officials. Fury, he informs us, is spreading. Well, good for fury, say I. And, indeed, for backlash. Maybe I shall call my next two cats Fury and Backlash. I have no doubt they will grow and spread all over the house. But let's be practical. Exactly, what are those terrible twins, Fury and Backlash going to do? Here are a few indications:
Despite being paid six figure salaries, 1,962 of EU's most senior civil servants have been allowed to join a "flexitime" scheme, originally meant for lower paid secretarial staff, that gives an extra 24 days off work every year for those that put in an extra 45 minutes a day in the office.

The perk comes on top of annual holidays of 24 days as well as seven days off for public holidays, and in 2010, 11 "non-working" days out of the office when the Brussels institutions are closed in summer and at Christmas.
The allowances mean that last year many EU staff were entitle to 66 days or 13 weeks or a quarter of the year off work.

Inge Grassler, the German Christian Democrat MEP who uncovered the time off perk, has urged that the "flexitime" is tightened up to exclude senior EU officials, whose working hours are not measured by the clock.

"This information must mean the death of the myth of the hard-working Commission official," she said.

"I have no sympathy for time off in leadership roles. Those who earn six figures must sometimes be willing to work more than 37.5 hours – as is customary in industry."
Stephen Booth, of the Open Europe pressure group, said: "If the top ranks of the EU's civil service can take this much time off it raises interesting questions about how much work they're actually doing."
And if that was not frightening enough:
On Tuesday, Bavaria's Christian Democrats, key allies of Chancellor Merkel, declared that a "radical overhaul" of EU pay and privileges was long overdue.

Markus Ferber, a senior German MEP, said: "The privileges of EU officials must be abolished as quickly as possible."
Besides, as Mr Waterfield reminds us, one must not forget that David Cameron has "wooed" Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel into accepting the notion of freezing future Brussels budgets. Oh no! Not the great budget freeze! Just look how successful it was this time round.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This looks rather familiar

Ed Morrissey on Hot Air details the disagreements between what the Russian government and the American government think the new START agreement is about. As he says, these matters should be discussed before the pact is ready to be ratified and has, indeed, been by one side and is about to be by the other. If the Russians decide to add their own interpretation, the new treaty will have to be taken back to Senate who will, probably, not agree to those words about limiting defensive systems.

What caught my eye especially was this paragraph:
This leaves us with very little assurance that Obama has not bargained away missile defense. Their argument, that the preamble is not legally binding, is rather weak. Certainly the preamble exists for a reason; if Obama wanted to protect missile defense, why allow it to be mentioned at all? Doesn’t the existence of the at-least confusing language in the preamble have any meaning, and if it didn’t, why even bother to have a preamble? Clearly, the Russians wanted that language and wanted the preamble, and someone on the American side should have given that enough thought to understand that the Russians would find it meaningful.
How often have we heard from British negotiators of various EU treaties that the Preamble is not legally binding and is of no importance only for them and us to find that it is, indeed, binding and comprises the most important part of the particular agreement. I am rather shocked to find that American negotiators are no better than the British ones.

VAT goes up today

ToryBoys are divided. Some are a bit sheepish about the fact that this was opposed by both the Cleggerons during the election campaign; others feel that this government can do no wrong and all criticism is an evil attempt to destroy the great coalition.

Richard Wellings of the IEA looks at the likely effect of the VAT rise and is not happy. If one stops bleating about the importance of keeping the coalition together and the Boy-King in Number 10 and looks at what matters: the country's economy and wealth creation, the situation is not good.

Let us not forget that the Chancellor has already told us that 20 per cent is here to stay indefinitely (for which one can read: I honestly don't know what to do except raise taxes) and, in any case, it cannot go below 15 per cent as the EU would not allow it.


According to the BBC Russian Service the Kyrgyz Prime Minister, Almazbek Atambayev has signed an instruction that has gone to the Parliament for ratification (a great way of doing things) that will name of one the hitherto unnamed peaks in the Tian Shan range of mountains after Vladimir Putin the Russian Prime Minister. Make what you will of it. But one can't help wondering how soon Kyrgyzstan will be Kirghizia again? Here is the story in English on Indian Express.

Monday, January 3, 2011

She has a point

Mary Ellen Synon does not precisely defend Viktor Orban, the ever more unpleasant but democratically elected Prime Minister of Hungary. She merely points out the hypocrisy of those who criticize him and the new media law.
Also, check out what these let's-protect-the-Press eurocrats actually believe. First they believe in trying to influence journalists by way of big chunks of the commission's annual €2.4bn annual propaganda budget (that is the figure for 2008, calculated by Open Europe, and at todays exchange rate equal to just over £2bn). Plenty of perks, free trips, prizes and 'training' courses in nice places are available for compliant journos. In some cases the European insitutions simply hand cash to reporters for unvouched 'expenses.' (And before you ask, no, this blog doesn't take EU dosh.)

More to the point, look at the detail of the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in the Lisbon Treaty. Article 11 is supposed to guarantee 'freedom of expression and information,' including 'the freedom and the pluralism of the media shall be respected. ' (Wouldn't the judges at the European Court have fun defining 'pluralism?' Is Britain soon going to be forced to subsidise a national Islamic newspaper to ensure 'pluralism' in journalism?)

Okay, then keep going, past all the other 'freedoms,' until you get to the final article of the charter, Article 54: 'Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognised in ths Charter or at their limitaton to a greater extent than is provided for herein.'

In other words, far from protecting the right of each man to express his political opinions as he will, this charter limits the protection of the right to free speech and the right to the freedom of the press to the right to support the 'permissible' opinions defined by the charter.
Her example is the outrageous decision to allow "Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, a failed asylum seeker who ran over a 12-year old girl and left her to 'die like a dog,'" to stay because deporting him would violate his rights to family and private life, enshrined in Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union that is part of the Lisbon Treaty, passed without that referendum promised to us by all three main parties.
But to the point about the freedoms allegedly secured in the charter (a charter which, I will repeat, has been secured by Cameron): since this so-called 'right to repsect for private and family life' is guaranteed in Article 7, that means that, according to Article 54, none of us has the right to campaign for the destruction of that article.

In other words, while Ibrahim can kill and the charter will protect his freedom to stay in Britain, any British citizen campaigning against the ludicrous justice-dodging wheezes in the charter can be stripped of his right to free speech, and any journalist doing the same thing can lose the protection of the freedom of the press.
She has a point. And I have no desire to defend Mr Orban either.

A fascinating interview

John O'Sullivan is one of the best political commentators around and I do not say that just because he is a friend of many years standing. (In fact, I knew him before he was famous and important but that was a long time ago.) His book on Pope John Paul II, Thatcher and Reagan was a splendid and astonishingly (for someone who lived through those years) exciting account of a breathtaking period of modern history. I blogged about it here.

Since then the book has been translated into many languages, most recently into Italian. Here is an interview by Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review with John O'Sullivan about the launch of his book, its importance and many other matters.

I bet there were concerns raised

The BBC reports that several weeks ago two local employees of the UK Consulate in East Jerusalem have been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to fire rockets into a football stadium.

Fine, one has to accept that the offence is still an alleged one and, furthermore, the men in question did maintenance work in the Consulate and did not have any sort of a security clearance. Or so the Foreign Office tells us. But the case does raise the odd question about basic vetting procedures in a politically sensitive part of the world.

How can they possibly manage outside the EU?

When it comes to Norway, rather well by the sound of it.
The New Year’s outlook for the Norwegian economy is even better than prospects were a few months ago, according to several local economists. They predict solid economic growth in 2011.

“We’re working now at adjusting our projections upwards,” Harald Magnus Andresssen, chief economist at First Securities in Oslo told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Andressen said he sees several signs that demand from both business and households is rising both in Norway and internationally.
Other economists are less optimistic but remain reasonably hopeful. Indeed, considerably more hopeful than those inside the EU.
Kjersti Haugland, senior economist at DnB NOR Markets, is less optimist than Andressen but still expects “better development” in the economy. DnB NOR expects the mainland economy (excluding offshore oil and gas) to grow by 2.5 percent in 2011.
“We still see a quite moderate upswing, but it is moving gradually upwards,” Haugland told DN. Ida Wolden Bache at Handelsbanken agrees, predicting mainland economic growth of 2.6 percent.

Most of the economists polled by DN expect the unemployment rate in Norway to remain low, at around 3.6 percent, while incomes will rise by between 3.4 and 3.7 percent and private consumption will rise by around 3.5 percent.
I bet they are regretting voting twice not to join the European project.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Believe it when I see it

The fragrant hackette Melissa Kite of the Daily Telegraph tells us that
David Cameron faces the prospect of an embarrassing defeat on Europe next week as Labour prepares to join forces with Conservative Party rebels to oppose a flagship Bill.
Mind you, the actual article is not nearly so straightforward and that possible defeat is hedged with lots of maybes and possibles. But still, a possible Tory rebellion and defeat for the government over matters to do with the EU. Now when have we heard about it before? (Here, here and here) And next week? Well, we shall see.