Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cyprus will probably be bailed out

Despite the marked reluctance shown earlier to bail out Cyprus and its banking sector to the tune of €17.5 billion, it would appear that, as predicted, German opposition to that course of action is lessening.
[P]ressure to reach a deal on Cyprus had grown from euro-zone member states, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. There is concern in Brussels and across Europe that were Cyprus to be allowed to slip into bankruptcy, it could reverse the recent progress that has been made in coming to terms with the euro crisis.
Apparently, it is not a solution anyone is looking for but merely a coming to terms with, which shows some rationality in the approach and an acceptance of the fact that there can be no solution.
Still, the bailout is not without risks. Cyprus is in urgent need of up to €17.5 billion ($23.6 billion) in emergency financing, primarily to prop up its ailing and outsized banking sector. But a bailout of that size would be roughly equivalent to the country's annual gross domestic product and would increase the island nation's sovereign debt load to a potentially unsustainable level. The International Monetary Fund had even demanded in December that the aid package be paired with a significant debt haircut.

There have been recent indications that the final bailout price tag might ultimately be lower. For one, Nicosia has said that its banks do not need as much help as had originally been estimated. For another, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Russia will very likely take part in the bailout package, lessening the burden on Europe.
That means the Russians are softening as well or someone has explained to the Russian government that Cyprus is essential for the welfare of the oligarchs who are, in turn, supportive of Putin. (Others are either abroad or in Siberia.) German Finance Minister Schäuble remains opposed to the bailout package but he may be outvoted at the next meeting of Finance Ministers.
Still, Schäuble isn't the only one in Berlin with his doubts. The Cyprus bailout, once it is agreed to by European finance ministers in Brussels in the coming weeks, must also be rubber-stamped by German parliament. And that, particularly with a general election coming in September, is no longer a foregone conclusion. Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats, have voiced significant skepticism of a Cyprus bailout and could see a no vote as a way to sharpen the party's extremely dull profile.

There are also several rebels within Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who are likely to vote no. Christian von Stetten, chairman of the CDU parliamentary caucus that advocates for small- and medium-sized businesses, said he would oppose an aid package for Cyprus if it came to a vote. "Cyprus applied for aid seven months ago, and since then it has been staying afloat with payments from the Central Bank of Cyprus," Stetten told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He added that the country's actions since then have been carefully scrutinized, and that "if a majority decides to transfer money to Cyprus from the bailout fund, I wouldn't be able to understand that." He said he would vote against any motion to grant Cyprus aid in parliament.
My guess is that the deal with go through and, naturally, will solve nothing. The time for the German rebellion is not yet. Besides, they may not be able to afford it. Whether the countries that are being bailed out can afford the process is another question.

Is this why we are in Mali?

I spent a good part of yesterday at a conference on what can be done about Iran and, as ever, some of the more interesting discussions happened during lunch or coffee breaks. A conversation with a leading analyst of the international scene turned to Mali and our ridiculous involvement. He summed the situation up rather well:

"It seems that the policy is to become involved in a third country only if we have absolutely no economic or defence interest in doing so. Anything else appears dirty to this government."

This, I presume, is what they mean by ethical foreign policy: never look to your own interests. Of course, first we might have to sort out what those interests are and that would involve strategic thinking and some notion of what our foreign policy is or ought to be.

France, one may add, does not share that attitude, no matter how much they harrump about American imperialism. Any French government over the years would consider that former French colonies (even if they were that for a short period only) remain in the French sphere of interest and, therefore, French bombs (well, American bombs all too often) can fall on them and French troops of various description can invade them. It might be for reasons of human rights or to salvage priceless manuscripts in Timbuktu or it may be simply because the situation is messy enough for people to ignore French involvement as is the case in Côte d’Ivoire.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I suspect a lack of thought

We have troops and many of them would prefer to be fighting to sitting at home. That is probably correct, though we have ever fewer troops in existence and shall have fewer still in a few months. So, in principle, one might not be opposed to some of them being deployed in Mali, as Downing Street has confirmed they will be.
Amid concerns on the Tory benches that Britain is being drawn into a conflict without an exit strategy, the government said that 200 UK troops would train an African regional force outside Mali, with up to 40 more on an EU training mission inside the country. A further 70 RAF personnel will oversee the use of a Sentinel surveillance, to be based in Senegal with 70 supporting crew and technical staff, and 20 will staff a C-17 transport plane for a further three months.

Britain has offered a roll-on, roll-off ferry to help transport French armour to Mali by sea, landing on the African coast. Britain is also offering air-to-air refuelling capacity to operate outside the UK, but based in Britain. It is possible the US will provide air-to-air refuelling.
But, while leaving the detailed discussion to the Boss, I cannot help sharing the Tory benches' concern (assuming benches do have concerns). Exactly what are we going to achieve (not that I would not like to see Timbuctoo or what is left of it saved from the various militias) and to whom are we going to hand power? Or, alternatively, whom are we supporting and will they, in turn, be on our side? Also, what is our eventual exit strategy?

A good many people in the United States must be asking themselves the same question as news comes through that President Obama, laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, is stepping up American military presence in West Africa.

What is most bothersome is the apparent ad hoc way of making important decisions about defence, which means, in effect that it is the other side, in this case, Islamist militias who decide how and when we become involved. Is it not time to have some kind of a discussion as to what our foreign policy is and then think what kind of defence policy we need to further it?

Monday, January 28, 2013

This is worth reading

Roger L. Simon, PJ Media CEO gave a speech to the Roanoke Conference, — the annual gathering of Washington state Republicans — on January 25, 2013 and the text was published, appropriately enough, on PJ Media. It is an excellent and fascinating speech, which tells of his involvement with the New Left and the Black Panthers, his gradual realization about the reality of that politics, his change from left to right, the founding of PJ Media, the need to conduct cultural wars as "politics is downstream for culture" and his immediate plan.

Here are a few quotes:
All right, here are five words that should make you smile: You don’t live in California…. I would imagine that saves many of you ten thousand dollars a year or more right there. There’s something to be happy about. Speaking of which, since I live in L.A. but spend a lot of time in this state, I’ve always been perplexed why everything seems to work better up here… the roads are better, the services are better… but we pay the ridiculous amount of state income tax. I don’t have to tell this crowd — don’t ever go there.

As an illustration, a significant number of people changed their views of global affairs immediately after September 11, 2001. Our country was attacked by an ideology that was misogynistic, homophobic, anti-democratic, racist, xenophobic, and religiously intolerant and that sought world domination — in short was the enemy of all classically liberal society since the Enlightenment.

Yet all around me I saw split personalities, still do. The prototypical Hollywood (and DC) liberal lives two disparate lives, one public and one private. In public he or she is the greatest of altruists, in private the greediest and most ambitious of persons. The former acts as a cover for the latter, to themselves and to others.

This system is so enduring, so entrenched, that it makes political change exceptionally difficult to achieve. How do you change someone so successful, someone who has so much wealth and power while feeling so inordinately good about him or herself?

I am speaking obviously about the so-called thought leaders here — the elites of New York, Washington and Los Angeles who dominate our media and entertainment and tell the hoi polloi how to live and think. These people have little incentive for change, even though in some cases their careers are in jeopardy. The New York Times is hemorrhaging reporters, last time I looked. Still, it’s hard for them to make a connection between the current economic uncertainty and the system that nurtured them for so long.

My disaffection with Communist China and the Soviet Union was probably step one in my political evolution. Step two was, of all things, the OJ trial. The mega-circus took over my home city of Los Angeles back in 1994-1995. In fact it dominated the country’s media and in the process changed the face of media as we know it. I wanted to attend the trial myself. It was the hottest ticket in the city and every writer I new wanted to be there.

After I finally got to see it, sitting in the surprisingly small room in L.A.’s Superior Court, I was mightily depressed. The miscarriage of justice was overwhelming. I had been a civil rights worker in the South in the sixties and was appalled to see racism turned on its head with obvious DNA evidence disdained. In this one case at least, the blacks were worse than the whites. The great lie of political correctness stalked the land and I was just beginning to see it, even though I didn’t want to. Change, as I said, is hard.

But when step 3 happened, 9/11, all the scales dropped from my eyes. There was no longer any way I could hold them up.

I started writing about this change online — and that is some of the reason PJ Media, now called PJ Media, was born.
Read the whole piece. It is very well worth it.

Who knew?

Having never been a great fan of Jeremy Bentham's - a very dull writer and thinker - I was astonished to discover that he defined one of the great modern historical developments and invented a word for it.
In his most famous work, written in 1780 but not published until the end of the decade in 1789, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, he writes as follows:

“XXV. In the second place, with regard to the political quality of the persons whose conduct is the object of the law. These may, on any given occasion, be considered either as members of the same state, or as members of different states: in the first ease, the law may be referred to the head of internal, in the second case, to that of international jurisprudence.”

Then comes his explanation:

“The word international, it must be acknowledged, is a new one; though, it is hoped, sufficiently analogous and intelligible. It is calculated to express, in a more significant way, the branch of law which goes commonly under the name of the law of nations….."
Quite so. Nothing wrong with the law of nations or international but when it turns into transnational then we are in trouble. (Unless we are talking about the British Empire.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

President Milos Zeman

Perhaps, Carl Bildt will be able to analyze what this tells us about the Czech Republic: former Prime Minister Milos Zeman, a supposed left-wing politician and statistician, has won the first direct presidential election by 54.8 per cent to 45.2 per cent on a turn-out of 59.11 per cent.

The BBC tells us that
Although Czechs are generally disillusioned with politics, they turned out in their droves to choose between the two very different candidates - Mr Zeman, the acerbic former Social Democrat prime minister, and Karel Schwarzenberg, the elderly, aristocratic foreign minister.

The urban elite voted en masse for Mr Schwarzenberg - who was supported by many in the media and had a strong Facebook following, says our correspondent.
I wouldn't go as far as calling under 60 per cent "turning out in droves" but it is beter than many elections. The funniest comment in the BBC report is
Mr Zeman is seen as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking politician, known for his witty put-downs of opponents.
Seen by whom? Is he hard-drinking and chain-smoking or not? His wit was not exactly in evidence when he accused his opponent of being more or less anti-Czech because he had spent the years of Communism in Austria, having been thrown out of the country under President Benes by those infamous decrees. In fact, one of the things this election does tell us about the Czech Republic is that the people are still sensitive enough on the issue not to wish to discuss it.

As so often the case, it is the man who seems to have "links with former communist officials and businessmen with links to Russia" who has been brandishing the nationalist ideas.

As to President-Elect Zeman being in favour of further European integration, that does not make him any different from his opponent. I fear that with the retirement of Vaclav Klaus, Europe has lost its only rational politician.

Friday, January 25, 2013

On another note

Hands up all those who thought that the high street was dying because it was being taken over by various chains. Ha! You were all wrong. The high street is dying now when those chains are going out of business.
The recent woes of entertainment retailer HMV, coupled with the collapse of camera retailer Jessops, DVD rental chain Blockbuster and the electronics retailer Comet, have all led to much talk of the death of the high street.
But, as this article tells us, one chain is surviving (even though the Notting Hill Gate branch had given way to Jamie Oliver's emporium) and that is W. H. Smith.

The Smith collapse has been predicted for years and yet it stubbornly keeps not happening.
Although its Christmas trading statement for the 20 weeks to 20 January 2013 was less than sparkling — total sales down 4%, with like-for-like down 5% — Peter Saville, partner at advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper in London, noted: “These results are disappointing rather than disastrous. In these market conditions, a 5% sales decline combined with gross margin improvement isn’t a crisis — especially for WHSmith, which is heavily exposed to the turbulence of the current retail market.”
It seems that the outgoing CEO, Kate Swann got out of recorded music and DVDs in good time and turned back to stationery and books.

The same article gives a brief history of the chain, which can be said to be a fairly typical British success story, which is why, I suppose, one cheers it on. The thought of a large chain that started "as a tiny “newswalk” ie paper round, in 1792 in Little Grosvenor Street in Mayfair, next to Berkeley Square" is rather jolly. The rest of the history is also entertaining.

I am, however, astonished at the article not talking about other details, in particular the lending library and, of course, the career of Mr W. H. Smith II who became an MP in 1868 rising to the position of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877. This is of particular interest because it has always been assumed that the character of Sir Joseph Porter KCB, "the ruler of the Queen's Navee" in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore was based on Mr Smith. To be fair, W. S. Gilbert always denied that and there is a theory that it was his predecessor that was the butt of the mockery.

Oh really, we cannot stop there. Here is "When I was a lad ..." performed by Richard Sheldon and the Opera A La Carte. (Yes, it is an American company.)


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Catalonia votes for sovereignty

Thanks to a reader of the blog, the real news of yesterday has not been lost. Catalonia has voted for sovereignty. The article is in Spanish but one can ask the site to do a somewhat inadequate translation that will give the gist of it.
The division into the two main parties in Catalonia, Convergence and Union and Partit dels Socialistes , yesterday marked what was to be a historic day in Parliament. Catalan The House overwhelmingly approved with 85 votes in favor (CiU, ERC, Initiative and a deputy of the CUP), 41 against (PSC, Partido Popular, Ciutadans) and two abstentions (CUP), the text proclaims the "legal and political sovereignty of the Catalan people" . The resolution marks the path to self-determination consultation, scheduled for 2014. The specific date is not in the text, it does not solve the legal reserve of the vote. He argues that "use all existing legal frameworks to enforce the right to choose." The proclamation states that will seek dialogue with the "Spanish State, the European institutions and the international community as a whole" to legitimize the process.
Presumably the self-determination consultation will be a referendum or, as I mostly prefer to call it, a plebiscite. All sorts of interesting issues will then arise to do with EU membership, the Spanish debt and a few others.

Well, what about THAT speech

I  have spent a good part of the day watching the British political scene exploding with excitement because the Prime Minister made a speech in which  he said very little and that already predicted. The Conservatives are either whooping with joy or having a cat fight in the case of Louise Mensch and Nadine Dorries.

Whoopee, they are saying, we have a truly eurosceptic Prime Minister who has shown the way out of the European Union; and, whoopeee, they are saying with more justification, we have just outmanoeuvred UKIP. Others seem to think that he might have destroyed the Conservative Party or as good as won the next election. Blah-blah-blah!

Thank goodness for Mary Ellen Synon who points out in the Spectator
What the Commission won’t come out and say – because it would hand another weapon to eurosceptics – is that it is legally impossible for any EU institution or EU member states to hand back powers to Britain, even if they want to.

Legal mechanisms for handing back powers – ‘competences,’ in the jargon – do not exist. A whole new treaty would have to be created, re-jigging the legal basis of the EU. Is that going to happen? No. Anyway, it would be the work of a generation, not of the few years between now and the middle of the next Government.
Or, in other words, the talk about handing back powers or negotiating them back or whatever one wants to call it is fudge. I am not sure that admitting it would hand another weapon to eurosceptics since, as far as I can tell, many eurosceptics or people who call themselves that have not understood this.

We are, however, being given a slight indication as to how the forthcoming campaign to keep Britain away from negotiating her way out will be run. The Telegraph has an article on the front page, entitled  Merkel hints at deal for Cameron after EU referendum promise. Actually, I had already seen a gleeful comment about this by the highly esteemed Matthew d'Ancona who suggested that the other side had blinked. I responded by suggesting in turn that this is the projected campaign: there will be hints of compromise, faux vetoes and cosmetic changes (as real ones are not possible), all to convince us to vote to stay in. So far, I have had no response.

Meanwhile, what of UKIP? Well, they seem to be stuck in two modes, both unhealthy and unhelpful. Nigel Farage is telling all and sundry that the promise of a referendum, maybe, in 2017 is a victory for UKIP. This is being repeated ecstatically by his acolytes. Others are snarling that one cannot believe anything "Dave" says. The second one may be true but since he said nothing much of substance it matters little. The first one is rubbish. By focusing on a campaign for a referendum instead of an exit strategy UKIP has been comprehensively outwitted by the Boy-King (and what a sorry state of affairs that is).

In the past, the argument "vote UKIP - get Labour" could be answered with "and so what?". No longer. Vote UKIP - get Labour and no referendum has changed the game. It is entirely possible that for the first time in its twenty year existence UKIP will actually lose votes in the next general election.

That leaves the one or more organizations who were set up to campaign for a referendum and in that name have muddied the waters, fudged the issue and siphoned off resources. They should now declare victory and retire from the field. I see a squadron of pigs taking off in the distance. The main purpose of every organization is to prolong its existence beyond any need for it. We shall hear many and excuse from the likes of the People's Pledge (or the East European Furniture Polish, as I like to call them) why they should carry on "with their work".

I find that having written all that, there is no need for me to quote from the speech at all. Well, really everyone knows what he said.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Let me make it quite clear

I am NOT getting up in time to hear THAT speech at 8 o'clock in the morning. I shall read the text afterwards and fisk it without bothering to read the comments made by those who will be up at the crack of dawn. After all, a pot of coffee will be needed before one can even face the whole issue.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The media and "European values"

There is a flurry of excitement, which some of this blog's readers may have noticed. It stems from an article by Bruno Waterfield, entitled Leveson: EU wants power to sack journalists. The Financial Times, whose journalists also picked up the story, gave it a more sedate headline: Brussels tables tighter EU media laws. Whichever way you look at it, this is not a pleasant story, not least because the dreaded oppressive EU is taking a leaf out of the British rule book. Who owns the Leveson Committee and its report? Not Latvia or Germany.

The subject of all these articles is a report produced by a "high-level group" that was set up in October 2011 to discuss freedom and pluralism of the media across the EU. The report was welcomed by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission with special responsibility for the digital agenda on her blog. One could argue (and in the case of this blog, one does argue) that such a position is a ridiculous joke and a scandal at the same time, the scandal being that it costs an enormous amount of our money, both in the sums received by Commissar Kroes and her staff and in the problems they inflict on business including the media.

Over the week-end, Commissar Kroes tells us, she read the report and has not presented it to the Commission. The next step, she tells us, is an EU-wide discussion and she gives a link as to where people can send their feed-back to. Here it is, in case anyone is interested: CNECT-TASKFORCE-MEDIA at ec dot europa dot eu. (Oh well, I suppose they want to be protected from difficult correspondents but it is not hard to deal with that.)
After recent events concerning media freedom and pluralism, for example in Hungary but really in quite a few Member States, many – including indeed many journalists – complained that the EU was not doing enough, and does not have sufficient powers to act to protect freedom and pluralism. On the other hand, I am also aware that there are risks to freedom and pluralism from having too much power, or acting too much. And that is exactly why I would like a political debate, with all stakeholders contributing.

The report contains recommendations for consideration by a number of Commissioners on matters such as appropriate EU powers in this field, regulator independence, competition and media pluralism, journalist codes of conduct and net neutrality.
I am afraid I can believe that even journalists have complained that the EU was not doing enough to preserve their freedom. They clearly do not know the numerous fables that tell of complaints against existing oppression to a higher power and what happens when the higher power takes it upon itself to deal with the situation. Actually, they simply do not know how regulatory capture works or think that, somehow, they are outside the rules.

Here is the link to the actual report, which I have not yet read through (not having the week-end at my disposal or the kind of income Commissar Kroes gets to read such things) but I object to the title: A Free and Pluralistic Media to Sustain European Democracy. How many times does one have to repeat this: there is no and there can be no European democracy? Some European countries have democracy (though even that needs definition), others not so much. The European Union as a whole has none. The fact that a report of this kind, commissioned by a Commissioner who is not only unelected but is unaccountable, would indicate a certain problem with one part of the process. The additional fact that the EU thinks it has some kind of a right to decide on how the media can or should operate would indicate that the concept of a free media is simply incomprehensible to these people.

Let us have a look at Section 5.2 European Coverage. [Scroll down in the index panel and click.] We have a problem, apparently.

In the context of the current economic and financial crisis and the steps the European Union has taken to address it, the need for democratic legitimacy at the EU level has become an even greater priority. The democratic legitimacy of the European Union is closely dependent, however, on the emergence of a public sphere which is informed about European issues and able to engage in debates about them. This requires, in turn, adequate media coverage of European issues and politics.

The political challenges the Union has faced in tackling the crisis have also highlighted the extent to which the European dimension of certain issues has been insufficiently internalised in the national public spheres. This insufficient Europeanisation of national politics has affected both national debates on EU issues and decision-making processes at the EU level. In the long run, it risks undermining both national democracy and European democracy as a whole.

The very idea of promoting a European public sphere, the possible emergence of European media, increased European awareness within the national public spheres, or increased national coverage of European affairs, is still controversial in many quarters. More importantly, there is a fear that policies to increase European coverage by the media would be guided by some particular conception of the value of European integration, rather than just encouraging broader discussions. This does not mean, however, that the Union and its Member States should abstain from any policy or action aimed at promoting increased media coverage of EU affairs. On the contrary, in the same way that EU and State actions (including funding) may be necessary to promote pluralism at the State level, it is equally appropriate for the Union and its Member States to undertake actions to promote pluralism in the form of increased coverage of EU affairs.

European coverage means more than just the coverage of European Council meetings or Commission activities. It requires a deeper understanding by media of the European dimension of multiple national policies, even when these are being covered at a national level. It also requires for genuinely European politics to be more closely followed and reported on, but this requires both human and infrastructure resources, including high-quality investigative journalism. In the case of small countries, or those particularly hard-hit by the prevailing financial and economic crisis, such resources may simply not be available.

Among possible concrete measures that might offer a partial remedy to this situation, the European Commission could explicitly and emphatically include journalism in the existing Jean Monnet Programme.Higher Journalism Schools, Universities with Journalism programmes and their Professors could then respond to the calls for proposals published every year by the Commission. This would be valuable in increasing their opportunities to address cross-border issues and broaden the pool of those with special competencies in EU affairs.
So there we have it. The problem is not that the EU appears to be messing up the areas it already controls but wants to control some others, not that the eurozone is an economic disaster area for most of its members, not that democratic structures are undermined or that national governments and legislatures are deprived or their rightful powers. Goodness me, no.

The problems is that the EU is not being discussed the way it should be in the national media and, therefore, the answer is to promote a European public sphere with the possible emergence of a European media, which would, obviously, be subsidized by the European tax payer or, at least, those Europeans who bother to pay tax.

I cannot quite understand why neither Bruno Waterfield, nor Toby Young, nor the FT journalists mentioned this. I suppose we have heard all this before but what if this time they really mean it and the sums that will be pumped into the "European media" and the training of "European journalists" will be quite substantial?

What these journos seem to have read (or one of them read and the others simply lifted the story as Toby Young admits to have done) is Section 4.4 Enforced Self-Regulation. The report suggests a list of desiderata that can be enforced on the media companies.
Because the trust that the general public places in the media is an asset to them, media organisations themselves should justify this trust by being more proactive in matters of selfregulation. Each media outlet should follow clearly identifiable codes of conduct and editorial lines, and it should be mandatory for them to publish these on their website or to state explicitly where the organisation follows common international codes of conduct and ethical guidelines. While there must be flexibility in the choice of the code of conduct an organisation decides to follow, a number of key domains can be identified in which the position of the organisation should be set out, including:

 A clear enunciation of the ethical principles it has decided to follow;

 An explicit affirmation of the principle of editorial independence;

 Transparency in divulging final ownership along with a listing of other media interests held by the same owners;

 Potential conflicts of interest between outlets belonging to the same owners should be noted;

 The general working terms and conditions for their journalists should be available for public scrutiny, including the proportion of full-time workers as against levels of freelancing;

 Any commitment to pay a ‘fair wage’ should be publicised;

 In case of a change in ownership, the rights of those journalists differing from the new editorial line should be stated;

 Policies on training and qualifications, if any, should be clearly enunciated;

 Adopted approaches to, and/or available statistics on, workplace diversity, including ethnicity (where appropriate) and gender should be available on demand.
That is quite a set of rules there with some of them being vague enough to catch out any media company that is deemed to be somewhat unreliable.

Some indication of this may be found in Section 2.1 EU competences in protecting media freedom and pluralism.

It goes through the various existing legal bases on which the EU is already entitled to interfering protecting media freedom and pluralism. There are four recommendations.
Recommendation 1: The EU should be considered competent to act to protect media freedom and pluralism at State level in order to guarantee the substance of the rights granted by the Treaties to EU citizens, in particular the rights of free movement and to representative democracy. The link between media freedom and pluralism and EU democracy, in particular, justifies a more extensive competence of the EU with respect to these fundamental rights than to others enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Recommendation 2: To reinforce European values of freedom and pluralism, the EU should designate, in the work programme and funding of the European fundamental rights agency, a monitoring role of national-level freedom and pluralism of the media. The agency would then issue regular reports about any risks to the freedom and pluralism of the media in any part of the EU. The European Parliament could then discuss the contents of these reports and adopt resolutions or make suggestions for measures to be taken.

Recommendation 3: As an alternative to the mechanism suggested in the previous recommendation, the EU could establish an independent monitoring centre, ideally as part of academia, which would be partially funded by the EU but would be fully independent in its activities.

Recommendation 4: All EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences to investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that media organisations have published a code of conduct and have revealed ownership details, declarations of conflicts of interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status. The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.
I am not sure any of it actually says that the EU will have powers to sack journalists but what it does say is quite ridiculous and dangerous enough. The purpose is quite clearly to create an overall structure that media outlets would have to adjust to or expect more stringent legislation as none of this can be enforced at the moment.

The concept of those European values is, this blog and EUReferendum have discussed on occasions too numerous to link to, is interesting. There is, according to this, something called European values (many of which are actually Anglospheric ones, but let that pass) that have nothing to do with European history, which, as every school boy and girl ought to know, has produced many values of varying attractiveness. In other words, the EU's duty is to use those nebulous European values to save Europeans from their own history for it is only European values that can prevent a repetition of the nasty events created by Europeans at various times.

Another far-off country

As we go on waiting for THAT speech it might be worth taking a look at some other members of our real government (not that you will hear David Cameron acknowledging that). Let us turn our attention to that other far-off little country about which we know next to nothing about: Hungary.

The excuse is a fascinating article by the Hungarian economist and MEP, Lajos Bokros, in the Financial Times, which excoriated the ruling party FIDESZ for all the right reasons though the semi-defiance of the EU is briefly referred to as well.
Founded as an anti-communist group in the 1980s, Fidesz certainly had the potential to establish itself as a centre-right movement, capable of sweeping away the corruption and inefficiencies of communism and helping to build a modern, efficient, Hungarian state.
However, since it came to power in April 2010 Fidesz has implemented a strongly populist, nationalist, anti-market agenda. It has introduced punishing taxes on banks, energy utilities, telecom companies and big retailers.
Since most of these sectors are dominated by foreign strategic investors – many of whom brought in their money and skills when the future of Hungary and central Europe was far from secure – these measures reveal a strong anti-foreign and anti-market bias. The government justified its predatory taxes by claiming that financial firms and public utilities generate no value, but only expropriate and redistribute income earned elsewhere.
Far from being centre-right, this is an obsolete world view reflecting raw Marxist thinking, under which value is created only by agriculture and manufacturing. Services, the main source of growth, revenue and jobs in all developed economies, don’t contribute to social welfare in the Fidesz view. According to the government, the regime is constructing a new society “based on labour”.
As it happens, I recall talk at the time FIDESZ emerged as a political force to be reckoned with of Viktor Orbán wanting to build up a new kind of right-wing party in Hungary, one that looked to British conservatism  as a model rather than the old-fashioned Central and East European nationalist and statist right. Alas, for high hopes. Mr Bokros's article summarizes what has happened rather well.

He also manages the growing control of the media, of the financial institutions and of the Constitutional Court. Here we do have one piece of good news to report. Earlier this month the court upheld the President's complaint against the government's attempt to distort the electoral legislation. Will Mr Orbán accept that decision for any length of time? We shall see.

In the meantime, as Kester Eddy reported a couple of days ago, the question of who will take over from András Simor as head of the central bank is looming. Past experience tells one that it is likely to be someone from Mr Orbán's immediate political circle.

Monday, January 21, 2013

News from the Czech Republic

We  have had the first round of the first direct election of the President of the Czech Republic. 24.2 per cent of the vote went to Milos Zeman and 23.4 per cent to Karel Schwarzenberg (or Prince Schwarzenberg if we are going to be pedantic). So much for the suggestion that the Czech Republic could have the first Jewish Head of State outside Israel.

We have news of Karel Schwarzenberg launching a phone campaign and generally rolling out a personal campaign while Milos Zeman intends to concentrate on the internet and on catching up with his rival  in social networks.

Outgoing President Klaus, unsurprisingly has tried to endorse Milos Zeman. He could not do it openly because of his own position but stated that he would prefer his successor to have spent his life in the country, which excludes Karel Schwarzenberg who has spent much of his life  in Austria, having left Czechoslovakia involuntarily, as he has pointed out, in 1948.
In a Czech Radio debate between the presidential candidates on Wednesday, Mr Schwarzenberg addressed the concerns of a listener who accused him of being a foreigner.
“As for me being labelled an Austrian – it’s true that I lived there for a long time but I have never been a citizen of that country. I have never given up my Czechoslovak citizenship. But I have been faced with this prejudice all my life and I’m used to it. Some things are just thrown at you and there is nothing you can do about it. Another matter altogether is that in 1948 I left this country involuntarily.”
Of course, as Radio Prague, points out President Klaus's endorsement might not be all that useful, especially after the somewhat controversial amnesty announced earlier this month. Schwarzenberg has never hidden his life story so, one must assume that people who vote for him know the facts.(I know that is a tall assumption with an electorate in any country.)

Others are also joining in the fight. Carl Bildt, a man of dubious political attitudes, has pronounced on his blog (in Swedish and sent to me by a regular reader of this blog) that the Czechs really should vote for Karel Schwarzenberg, friend of Carl Bildt.

According to Mr Bildt, his friend is eminently qualified for the position but, alas, has to withstand the poisonous arrows of narrow nationalism. He does rather graciously allow that the choice is the Czech Republic's but adds somewhat grimly that the result will tell "us" something about that country.

The next round is due on January 25 - 26.

Latvians don't want the euro

Well, I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. Apparently the idea of the euro, due to be introduced in  Latvia in January 2014, is unpopular with the people of that country. What can they be thinking of?

They are thinking of two things: the fact that their currency is the symbol of their cherished independence (a questionable concept within the EU) and the equally important fact that they cannot trust their politicians to tell them the truth. How extraordinary! I dare say they might also be looking at the mess the eurozone is and wondering whether it is worth their while to be part of it.

ADDENDUM: I see The Banker has nominated Andres Vilks of Latvia its European Finance Minister of the Year 2013 [scroll down].
In the first nine months of 2012, Latvia’s economy grew 5.6%, the fastest pace of any EU country. The road to this remarkable turnaround was not an easy one, however. After entering into an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-supported readjustment programme in 2008, Latvia implemented a programme of fiscal adjustment which totalled about 15% of its GDP. The results were painful, but resulted in renewed confidence and subsequent successful bond issues.
In fact, a somewhat better result than seen in the eurozone.

No clashes

David Cameron will make THAT speech on Wednesday morning, thus avoiding any clashes with President Obama's second inauguration. Of course, something else might turn up. I am losing interest.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Latest on THAT speech

Word is that it will be delivered on Monday, one day before it was scheduled in the first place, which will be the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German peace accord, the Elysée treaty. As the New Statesman points out, the timing remains slightly unfortunate as it will clash with President Obama's second inauguration ceremony. On the other hand, nobody who will be paying attention to that will want to know what Mr Cameron says, anyway.

Friday, January 18, 2013

An interesting post from the indispensable DiploMad

This is, naturally, from the American point of view and the message seems to be do not listen to those pesky Europeans.

Am I surprised?

The BBC gives us some extracts from the postponed speech. Yes, THAT speech.
Extracts from Mr Cameron's speech released on Thursday night reveal he had intended to set out a "positive vision for the future of the European Union. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part".
Gosh! Not a positive vision. I was fully expecting him to give us a negative one. (Sorry, that is a bit lame but what can you expect?)
He planned to stress the EU's structures were undergoing "fundamental change", adding: "There is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is - yes - felt particularly acutely in Britain."
I seem to recall that being the reason for the Laaken Convention, which resulted in the Constitution for Europe.
"If we don't address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit," he was to say.
"I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."
Maybe that speech is not worth making.

Show time

As it is the hundredth anniversary of Danny Kaye's birth today and as it really is snowing all over Britain, even in London, this seems appropriate. Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas singing about snow.


Here is a developed country with a long history of imperial expansion and subsequent intervention in other countries, particularly if they are politically and militarily weaker using the excuse of some terrorist organization to go into a poorer country that might conceivably useful from the point of view of oil production. No UN vote to authorize them. No proof presented that the terrorist organization offers a direct threat to the developed country. No care taken about the possible spread of hostilities and destabilization of other countries, which promptly hapens. This is known as old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy. Surely we have moved beyond it? The EU, for example, does not believe in such actions but prefers soft power and negotiations. The EU is about to raise the issue in the UN and through various media outlets with France as the lead protester.

Uh, hang on. This is France we are talking about and the EU is fully supportive of its action in Mali with the UK and the USA providing logistical support and Germany mulling over similar actions. Well, well. And the media are apparently very happy with it, though clearly the military action is going to be longer and harder with greater costs than envisaged and equally clearly the destabilization and terrorist actions promised over Iraq are actually happening over Mali.

Now what?

This may be out of date

Attentive readers of this blog would have noticed that I have not been analyzing the many comments, statements, reports and other forms of advice or threat that poured over us because of THAT speech. I reasoned that those who are interested would have read the Boss's updates and cogent postings. Why do what he does so much better?

We  have, independently, laughed at the ridiculous proposals by Fresh Start and noted that, apart from the odd sound bite, there has been a deafening silence from UKIP.

However, I did do an analysis for EUObserver, which was put up before the news of the postponement of the speech came through.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

So where are we?

First Al-Jazeera, quoting Reuters and before that the Algerian state TV, then the BBC reported that the siege in Algeria is over with appalling results.
At least 30 hostages and 11 members of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group were killed when Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant to free the captives, Reuters news agency has quoted an Algerian security source as saying.
Eight Algerians and seven foreigners, including two British, two Japanese and a French national, were among the dead, the source said.
Algerian state television reported earlier that four foreigners had been killed after the end of the operation was announced late on Thursday.
Communication Minister Mohamed Said said troops had been forced to act after talks with the kidnappers failed.
He said many fighters had been killed in the operation at the In Amenas gas field.
Earlier, a spokesman for the group holding the hostages said 34 of the captives had been killed along with 15 kidnappers as a government helicopter attacked a convoy transporting hostages and their captors.
Somebody asked me on another forum whether the Algerian security services were worse than Spetznaz. They don't seem to have killed as many hostages as Spetznaz did in the theatre siege in Moscow and in the school in Beslan so, perhaps, not.

The BBC gives the older numbers of victims but points out that the site is still being searched whether for victims or militants is not clear. In fact, nothing is clear. The government is awaiting precise information about the fate of the British hostages.

An earlier piece in the Financial Times said that
UK officials said they were not informed about the operation before it was launched. David Cameron, UK prime minister, postponed a long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with Europe, describing the crisis in Algeria a “difficult, dangerous and potentially very bad situation”.
The implication is that they are not best pleased either as the operation does not seem to have been particularly well planned or carried out. In the meantime, what of THAT speech? Can the Prime Minister not make it in London?

Postponed again

David Cameron will not be delivering THAT speech tomorrow, after all, but chairing a COBRA meeting in London because of the Algerian crisis that seems to be the outcome of the Mali crisis rather recklessly made worse by France. Or should one not be saying that about our "mistrusted allies" as Sir Humphrey Appleby once put it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How different it would have been ...

... had Mariya Alyokhina been closely connected to President Putin's party United Russia. A quick flash-back to something that happened in February 2010 in Irkutsk where a video caught the car of Anna Shevinkova running down two women pedestrians, one of whom subsequently died.

The driver displays complete callousness in  her subsequent to the accident behaviour yet the police at first refused to treat her as anything but a witness and did not test her for alcohol. Why is that,  one wonders.
Police originally said they did not suspect Miss Shavenkova of any wrongdoing over the accident and were treating her as a witness, according to the website.
It also claimed investigators had not tested her for alcohol after the crash.
The footage resurfaced this week after a website revealed that Miss Shavenkova was a political consultant for United Russia, the pro-Kremlin political party backed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
She is the daughter of the Irkutsk region's election committee chairman.
Miss Shavenkova did go on trial but, astonishingly enough, her two-and-a-half year gaol term (only six months than the one dealt out to the Pussy Riot members) was suspended for fourteen years because she had a young child.

Latest on Pussy Riot

6.35pm Moscow time Alyokhina's appeal rejected. She will serve her sentence in full.
6.30pm Moscow time Court has resumed.

One of the young women sentenced to two years of hard labour, Mariay Alyokhina, is back in court but this time on her own initiative. She is appealing to have her sentence (of which she has served a chunk already) suspended as she has a young son, Philip. to look after.

According to the BBC Russian Service [in Russian] the Procurator's office opposes this appeal on the grounds that Alyokhina has already had six reprimands from the authorities. The hearing had been scheduled to take place in Penal Colony No. 28 where Alyokhina is serving her sentence but her defence and human rights activists managed to change that to the court building in Bereznikov in the Perm region. (Yes, do have a look on the map.)

The hearing has been going on for some time with Alyokhina being questioned about her son and whether she had ever taken him to public meetings (according to her, not) and whether she had taken him to various educational undertakings, as well as about the various reprimands about such matters as appearing at the morning line-up late (according to her because it is hard to hear the order to get up) and, more to the point, answering back to the guards. Alyokhina's defence lawyer maintains that people have displayed a friendlier attitude to her because of the latter.

The Russian Legal Information Service (RAPSI) is running a live blog or text broadcast on the proceedings in a somewhat idiosyncratic English. At present the court has taken a break but will be back at 3pm GMT, that is 6pm Moscow time and 9pm local time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stupidity carries on

There is some excitement around at the news that
The crime of "insulting" someone through words or behaviour, which once led to the arrest of a student for asking a police officer whether his horse was gay, is to be dropped.
Well, actually, it is being dropped because the House of Lords voted back in December to remove the word "insulting" from Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which stated in its original form that
"threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" might be deemed a criminal offence.
As a friend said, a small step towards freedom. Maybe.

In fact, nothing very much will change and their lordships together with all those who care for freedom of speech can just, well, shut up.
Ahead of the Lords vote, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer wrote: "We are unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as 'abusive' as well as 'insulting'.
"I therefore agree that the word 'insulting' could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions."
Mrs May said that, following Mr Starmer's intervention, ministers were "not minded" to challenge the Lords amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill.
Or, in other words, the Home Secretary will accept the Amendment passed in the House of Lords that tried to bring some semblance of common sense into this messy Section only because she knew that it would make no difference. How very sensible and courageous!

More on Cyprus

Couple of articles in Der Spiegel that might be of interest or amuse readers of this blog. Spiegel Staff write collectively on the problem that Cyprus is causing, the opposition to the bail-out in Germany itself and other eurozone countries and Chancellor Merkel's visit on Friday.
The financial woes of Cyprus are a thorny issue for the German government, the mood in global financial marks and, most of all, for Europe's bailout policy. Ever since last fall, when SPIEGEL published a report by Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) on money laundering in Cyprus, it has been clear that an aid program for the country would also benefit Russian oligarchs who have deposited billions in assets from dubious sources on the Mediterranean island. According to the BND analysis, if Brussels released the requested aid money, German taxpayer funds could very well be used to protect the illegal assets of Russian business magnates.
This realization triggered hectic activities in various places. In Brussels, the Euro Group of euro zone finance ministers postponed its decision on the bailout program last week, while donor countries like Germany, Finland and the Netherlands voiced concerns. In Cyprus, the government is trying to show it's tough on tax dodgers and money laundering. "Cyprus is no tax haven," Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly insists in an interview with SPIEGEL. 
The euro rescuers face a dilemma. On the one hand, they want to prevent the country from going bankrupt. On the other hand, they lack the support of a majority of member states for an aid program that would mostly benefit rich Russian tax fugitives.
The tricky situation is prompting European leaders to do what they always do when a crisis comes to a head: play for time. They want Nicosia to satisfy additional conditions in the fight against tax dodgers and economic criminals. At the same time, Brussels is hoping that current President Dmitris Christofias will be ousted in the February election.
There is also an interview with the Cypriot Finance Minister, Vassos Shierly,  in which he "denies accusations that Cyprus encourages worldwide money laundering and is attracting investment by means of tax dumping". Not sure what he means by tax dumping but the money laundering has been reasonably well proven.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's been brought forward

Yes, that speech. You know, the one that has been trailed like some blockbuster movie for weeks on end. The one that will be made in the Netherlands. That one. What's his name's speech on you know what. Got it, David Cameron's speech on ... well, we really don't know what it will be on as it has been trailed variously as being on Europe, on Britain's "relations with the EU", on the referendum and on David Cameron's political future. (Well, OK, I made the last one up.)

The Boss is ahead of me, as usual. (I suspect he does not drink quite as much coffee as I do.) But I, too, noticed that the reason for moving the speech from January 22nd to the 18th was that somebody realized that the original date was "the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German peace accord, the Elysée treaty, the formal ratification of the coal and steel agreement that led to the formation of the EU". As the Guardian adds: "A speech attacking the current shape of the EU on such a day was seen as diplomatically unwise."

Mind you, those attacks are likely to be very mild and more like a slap on the wrist then a real blow.

I assume this means that the Boy-King and his advisers have finally worked out what he will say though I still assume that it will be an anodyne speech that will please nobody. At least, he will have no excuse for not being in the Chamber for the Second Reading the Succession to the Crown Bill 2012 - 13. Unless he considers celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Elysée treaty is more important than a serious change in this country's constitutional set-up.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

We have a problem with Cyprus

Come February 10 there will be another country whose bail-out will  be discussed: Cyprus. There will be certain problems with the whole discussion. Not just the usual problems - corruption and political stagnation - but an extra one. Just who will be receiving the €17.5 billion (as Wolf Richter points out, this is about the equivalent of the country's GDP) that the country is requesting from the EU or, maybe, just the eurozone but there is usually a way of drawing other member states in?
A “secret” report by the German version of the CIA, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) was leaked last November, revealing that any bailout of Cyprus would benefit rich Russians and their €26 billion in “black money” that they deposited in the now collapsing banks. The report accuses Cyprus of creating ideal conditions for large-scale money laundering, including handing out Cypriot passports to Russian oligarchs, giving them the option to settle in the EU. Much of this laundered money then reverses direction, turning minuscule Cyprus into Russia’s largest foreign investor.
The assumption is that €12 billion of the requested €17.5 will "go directly to the murky and putrid banks".

Neither German politicians nor the euro-weenies like this idea. Handing over money to the Russian oligarchs is a bail-out too far.
Politicians in Berlin have said they are not prepared to help as long as Cyprus' banking industry lacks transparency. Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Nicosia Friday as Moody's downgraded the Cyprus' credit rating by three notches to Caa3. The mood is tense in Nicosia. Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly said there is only enough money to sustain the economy until the end of March.
What is to be done? Russia, having come to the country's rescue once in the past, will not do so again. Wolf Richter is sceptical:
If Greece is any guide, Merkel will vociferously demand more reforms and transparence in the banking sector. The February 10 deadline might pass. Cyprus will come up with a list of promises. Gradually the rhetoric will change. Words like “progress” will show up. “Black money” will disappear from the media. This might even culminate with a heartwarming meeting in Berlin between Merkel and Christofias. And suddenly, voting against the Cyprus bailout, once a safe bet, will become politically risky. It worked before. It might work again. If not, Cyprus with all its “black money” might become the first Eurozone country to go bust.
How many people can be fooled and for how long?

ADDENDUM: A knowledgeable reader of this blog has commented:
2 factors: (a) Cyprus has a presidential election coming up on 17/24 February. Christofias is not a candidate. It's likely Anastasides (EPP) will win (a potential ally for Merkel). So the change of government - Cyprus is the only EU Member State with a US-style Presidential government - may work in favour of a softening of the language. (b) which country has invested more political capital in building up and assisting the Russian oligarchs? Surely that's Germany. Can hardly expect them to complain now.
For all of that I fully expect the Germans to complain though, perhaps, not Chancellor Merkel.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Will that be in Dutch or Double Dutch?

It seems certain now that David Cameron will make his much-postponed speech on "Europe" or Britain's role in the European Union, to give it its proper title as he is unlike to refer to the possibility of Britain being out of said Union on January 22 during a visit to the Netherlands. Why on earth the Netherlands? I have nothing against that country or its people but why is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom making a supposedly important speech about the politics and constitution of this country somewhere else? One can't help wondering whether it is likely to be in Double Dutch.

James Forsyth in the Spectator gives a preview of what he thinks will be in the speech. It is uninspiring enough to make one think that Mr Forsyth does, for a change, know what he is talking about.
I understand that he intends to argue that Britain needs to remain inside the single market. But he will commit to a renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership, starting after the next election. Once this process is complete, the British people will be offered a refendum between staying in on the new terms Cameron is confident he can negotiate or leaving the European Union altogether.

This means that Cameron intends for the Conservative party to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU, albeit on new terms. If he is going to persuade his party to do this, then he is going to have to bring back terms of membership very different than Britain’s current ones. Exempting the NHS from the working time directive or repatriating regional funding can only be the beginning. But if this is all Cameron can get, the Tory party will face its greatest split since the Corn Laws.
My own guess, based on general knowledge of politics and politicians, is that Mr Cameron has no idea of what he is going to say as he has so many people and constituencies to reassure. Nor has he ever shown the slightest understanding of what the EU was, how it was structured, what Britain's role was in it and what the alternatives are. Indeed, as the Boss has shown repeatedly on EURef, he has actually lied about what the possibilities are for countries in the EEA. (Actually, he may not have lied in the technical sense that he believed what he was saying, having been told so by his advisers.)

Meanwhile, let us have a look at what he will be missing in Parliament (we have all been alerted to this by His Grace, Archbishop Cranmer in a tweet): the Second Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill 2012 - 13.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Declan Ganley again

This is a little hard to credit but, apparently, Declan Ganley of Libertas fame (or infamy) "Declan Ganley in what is thought to be one of the first libel actions taken by an Irish person over comments made on social media sites".

The blogger in question, Kevin Barrington, has apologized and made a substantial donation to the Poor Clares.
Mr Tweed [Mr Ganley's lawyer] said Mr Ganley was used to criticism but the comments made were “grossly offensive and personal”. “He was called the most outrageous things,” he said.
This is a little worrying when I recall what I said about Mr Ganley here, here, here and here. There are also a few less than complimentary postings by the Boss.

Hmm. Anyone knows a good libel defence lawyer?

Plunge taken

After some ineffectual fossicking on Twitter and a good deal of bad language I have set up an account that will be used for the dissemination of these postings as well as some other ideas though I promise not to put up what I had for breakfast. (There might be recipes, though.) I think the address is Helen_AT_londononthemap but I might be wrong. That is what I am using.

Czech presidential election coming up

Do we care? Well, we should because the President has a certain amount of power in the Czech Republic and is, therefore, a member of our own real government. Also, the only rational politician, Vaclav Klaus, has to step down and is ineligible for re-election, which is clearly a bad thing. On the other hand, he could not put his ideas into practice in any case and when no longer a President will have more time to write and lecture, which is clearly a good thing.

Here we have a list of candidates, none of whom are particularly inspiring. This is the first direct presidential election in the Czech Republic and the two front runners are Milos Zeman, former Prime Minister (1998 -2002), former leader of the Social-Democrats and present leader of the Party of Civic Rights and Jan Fischer, also former Prime Minister (caretaker government of 2009 - 2010), former President of the Statistical Office and former member of the Communist Party, though that is a widespread phenomenon among East Europeans of a certain age. As against that, Mr Zeman's party has been accused of taking money from Russian lobbyists through a colleague of his, Miroslav Šlouf.

Mr Zeman is known as an outspoken man, who agrees with President Klaus on the nonsensical aspect of man-made global warming though not on the European Union. Mr Fischer, on the other hand, might be the first Jewish President of a country outside Israel as his father is Jewish and is, in fact, a Holocaust survivor.

First round of voting will be on January 11 - 12.

So there we are. Now you know.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Decisions, decisions

I am feeling a little chastened as I have just been ticked off (mildly for him) by the Boss for not doing enough for the eurosceptic cause. "You are still on the battlefield, aren't you?" - asked he sternly. Well .... um ... yes ... sort of. As it happens, I was contemplating the possibility of moving the blog into less political waters this year and the two are mutually incompatible. So there we are. Decisions, decisions. Of course, I could do both if I spent less time skimming various stories on the internet and watching bits of musicals on YouTube. Hmmm. Anyway, I shall be setting up a Twitter account but have to decide whether it should be just for this and other blogs or one account for me that would be mostly for the purpose of spreading links to the blogs. Readers will be kept informed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

History will be kinder to him than people thought

Jonathan Aitken (who, unlike most politicians, actually served his sentence in prison) reminds us that it is the hundredth anniversary of Richard Milhous Nixon's birth. It's an interesting article as it tries to grapple with a complicated personality. Undoubtedly, the main thrust of it is right: Nixon's superlative abilities and achievements have been obscured by the Watergate scandal, which is still cited as the worst possible thing that could happen in politics.

The still unresolved scandal of Fast and Furious has been described as Obama's Watergate, as has the murder of the American ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi. Two important differences: the left-leaning media has devoted about one tenth of the attention it did to Watergate to the two outrages combined; and, most importantly, nobody died because of Watergate. Nobody. More people died in the back of Teddy Kennedy's car than at Watergate.

One or two things are missing from this article. Nixon's paranoia was partly a personality defect but partly the understandable result of the media hounding that started soon after the Hiss case in which he played a pivotal part. In fact, if it had not been for the young Rep. Richard Nixon Whittaker Chambers's testimony would have been ignored. Neither Chambers nor Nixon were ever forgiven for being right on Hiss and many other Communist agents.

The other cause for his paranoia was the result of the 1960 Presidential election: not only was the result very close but there were and are serious doubts about some aspects of it. Votes disappearing and appearing in Illionois is not something that is calculated to enhance one's respect for the winning candidate and his party. Unlike Al Gore, Nixon decided not to challenge anything as he thought that the Constitutional process and Presidential position were all important. It would seem that Eisenhower was also strongly of that opinion. But it must have left a mark on Nixon.

As the anniversary approaches it will be interesting to see what sort of articles and opinions will be published.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Actually we need fewer MPs

How often do we hear the cry that MPs represent constituencies that are too large, that we need more MPs, that representative government cannot survive in existing circumstances? I suggest that all those who ever utter nonsense of this kind have a look at the latest brouhaha around the proposal made by Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary, that sugary breakfast cereals should either be banned or severely controlled by the state.

Apparently, he "has started garnering public and expert opinion on the subject as part of a consultation on tackling obesity". No doubt, he has, at our expense. Somebody has to pay all those experts to promulgate more state control.

His proposals are intended to prevent more obesity in children. Of course, they are. Everything these people do or propose to do is for the children, as if that made it all right to introduce state control over matters that is none of the politicians' business. Let us not even speculate who would be the people who would do well out of production of breakfast cereals that have passed some enormous quango's imprimatur. Corrupt? Our politicians and regulators? I am shocked, shocked that anyone could even suggest such a thing.

Obesity in children becomes an issue roughly speaking four times a year. The rest of the time we worry about eating disorders in children. The best solution would be to leave children to their devices (controlled by parents for the most part), encourage them to move about a good deal more and stop inducing neuroses in them about food. Eat less, move more is usually the best answer to obesity, assuming we can define it, which is not usually the case.

Having seen a number of MPs in my working life I have to report that a good many of them look unfit, have beer bellies and are often fat to the point of obesity. As with financial matters so with this: I see no reason why we should be lectured by these bozos (I use the word advisedly) on the subject.

Of course, we know what this is all about. Yes, it is our old friend, displacement activity. One way or another our MPs have given up any legislative power they might have to the EU, to quangos (and the two are often closely united) and, in the case of the unions, to the public sector unions who would like to paralyze all attempts to reform healthcare in this country. No real legislation is possible and they are mostly too scared to hold the Executive to account. So they come up with this nonsense. I say we need far fewer MPs. Halve the numbers at the very least.

Friday, January 4, 2013

I don't think it means what he thinks it means

The word the Boy-King who, for some unfathomable reason, is the Prime Minister of this country keeps using is "moral". I do not think it means what he thinks it means. He clearly thinks it means "whatever I happen to think of as policy on any day that might appeal to the media and all those who tend to vote with their emotions rather than their brains".

This blog has already pointed out that he and his Chancellor think we all have a moral duty to pay as much tax as this or any other government want to land on us as long as they pronounce it to be fair. He (Mr Cameron, Boy-King and Prime Minister), on the other hand, has a moral obligation to squander our money by handing chunks of it over to various kleptocrats who oppress their people and prevent their countries from developing economically. It is called foreign aid and is, according to the same source, entirely fair as well as moral.

Returning to the question of tax avoidance, Mr Cameron has once again pronounced, that
foreign companies like Starbucks and Amazon which have avoided paying large corporation tax bills in the UK lack "moral scruples".
As opposed to politicians, one presumes, who see no problems about feathering their nests at the taxpayer's expense without contributing anything to the economy unlike the said foreign firms. I love the way he has decided to use the word "foreign" to whip up discontent. Apparently "international" will no longer do.

According to the article, Britain has a very low corporate tax and it is a fair tax, so people should not avoid it and there will be a war waged on companies that do. As a matter of fact, it is not particularly low at 24 per cent (the lowering to 21 per cent is not due till next year) and as to whether it is fair, we have already discussed that. Who decides what is fair? A government that is incapable of reining in spending or reforming the public sector or even thinking of reducing the extent of government activity might not be the best set of people to discuss fairness. A politician who seems unable to grasp that a large international business contributes a great deal to the economy and, in one way or another, pays a lot of tax is not the best person to talk about fair levels of taxation. Just what did that PPE course consist of when David Cameron was at Oxford? Not basic philosophical or economic ideas, clearly.

There is something very worrying about a politician who keeps using the word "moral" to describe his policies, however ramshackle they might be.

Logic ain't in it

I rarely write about the whole climate change shenanigans, leaving that to people who know a great deal more on the subject. However, my attention was caught by this piece on EurActiv. It is entitled Scientists link global warming to England’s rainiest year on record, which means nothing as every year is the most something on record and articles of this kind never seem to tell you exactly what they mean by "since records began". (1910, in case you are interested, which is not all that long ago.)

Interestingly enough, when it comes to the UK as a whole, this summer was the second wettest on record, which just proves that you can produce figures to prove anything at all, if you are so inclined.

Going on, we get the usual mish-mash of evidence and argument:
But four of the UK’s Top Five wettest years have now occurred since 2000, a statistic in line with the expectations of climatologists who model the effects of a warming world.
“It is not just Britain but many other parts of northern Europe and north America that are getting wetter and there is a climate change component to it,” Kevin Trenberth told EurActiv over a phone line from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
Trenberth has won several awards for his scientific research, including the Nobel Peace Prize which he was co-awarded in 2007 for his work as lead author on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s fourth risk assessment report.
“The overall pattern has been that middle to high latitudes [have] an increase in precipitation that goes with a warming climate, and the fact that the air can hold more moisture so the hydrological cycle speeds up,” he said.
Setting aside the various scandals that surround the IPCC, ably covered over the years by the Boss on EUReferendum (too numerous to link to), James Delingpole and many others, there is one little problem: I distinctly recall many highly expensively mounted warnings that because of climate change we were going to have a drought in 2012. Instead, we got the rainiest year (sort of) since records began.

UPDATE: A splendid and vituperative attack by James Delingpole on the Met Office that gets £200 million of our money every year. Are you listening Taxpayers' Alliance?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Apparently Mr Cameron has a moral obligation to give away our money

A very good blog on the Adam Smith Institute site, which covers rather wearily the same ground about the sheer wrongness of foreign aid both as far as the enforced donors and the enforced recipients are concerned.

They quote the Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati:
Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.
He may have said it several years ago but the situation has not changed.

In a way the question with aid and with charities is what the purpose of the giving is. After all, we keep giving either voluntarily or, in the case of foreign aid, involuntarily through our taxes and yet nothing is improved and the same pictures of suffering are produced every Christmas and after every disaster, small or large, to wring our hearts. Which presumably means that we are not achieving anything and should start thinking of alternative ways of helping. Ah, but do we want to help or do we just want to feel virtuous, in the case of the government that is shelling out aid money to prop up kleptocracies, at other people's expense?