Thursday, September 30, 2010

One of the greatest

Tony Curtis has died at the age of 85. Here are three moments from his long and hugely successful acting career.

Daphne and Josephine meet the band in Some Like It Hot. This has now been blocked by MGM. I shall have to find something else. It was available on the day Tony Curtis's death was announced.

The Persuaders with Roger Moore. Made in 1971 but sooooooooooo sixties.

And here he is in one of my personal favourites taking in one of the two small parts he had in Paris When It Sizzles. He was not even credited with the two parts, which he took on as a favour to the screen writer, George Axelrod, who was his friend when William Holden went on a drinking binge and held up production. Curtis stole the film quite effortlessly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In a nutshell

I spent most of the day at a conference organized by the Legatum Institute, which was a mixed bag. I was, however, impressed to a very high degree by two speakers, both in the first session, Nicole Gelinas and Kevin Hassett.

There is an article by Nicole Gelinas on the subject of her presentation in the City Journal, in which she analyzes several books on the subject of the recent financial crash. She finds it extraordinary how many people who ought to know better have accepted the narrative that it was the untramelled free markets or capitalism or lack of regulation that was at fault.
It would be easy to read the Vegas story as one more piece of evidence that free markets in the financial world failed us over the past two years. How could the markets have been so wrong, so careless, and so wasteful? Even Steve Eisman—one of the four Vegas interlopers, who made a mint from their contrarian stand—sees the financial crisis as evidence of market failure. Eisman was shocked, he told Lewis, that “inside the free market” there hadn’t been any “authority capable of checking its excess.” This has become the casual mainstream narrative arc of the crisis: deregulation took the economy down, and the government had to step in to save us from free markets.

Over the past year, hundreds of authors have published books on the crisis. What becomes clear—often despite the authors’ own intentions—after reading ten of the most significant of these works is that the mainstream narrative is wrong. Over the two decades leading up to 2008, financial markets were anything but free. The nuts-and-bolts government infrastructure that free markets require to thrive—healthy fear of failure, respect for the rule of law, and fair rules for everyone—was crumbling. The crisis books make clear, too, that Washington’s extraordinary rescues of Wall Street have eroded much of what’s left of free-market infrastructure in finance. Worse, Congress’s efforts to reform the industry will do yet more damage. The next time the financial world implodes, it will hurt the economy even more severely.
The rest of the article, which is very well worth reading, tells the sorry tale of government interference, the prevalence of bail-outs, the creation of the "too big to fail" phenomenon and the people who bet on that. What there is very little of in this whole saga is untramelled or even mildly tramelled capitalism. And, as Ms Gelinas points out, present policies and reactions to the crisis make it an absolute certainty that there will be another one not too far down the line.

What we need to talk about

As readers of this blog know I rarely, if at all, discuss details of defence, leaving all that to the Boss on EUReferendum who knows a great deal about it whereas to me toys are toys are toys. However, it so happens, that I spent yesterday evening with a number of people to whom defence matters a great deal and we, naturally, talked about the forthcoming SDSR (Strategic Defence Spending Review), which, it is rumoured, will be coming out in sections rather as one whole document.

We all agreed (as does the Boss of EURef) that you cannot have a defence review until you have a serious discussion on foreign policy. What exactly is Britain's foreign policy? Does it have one? Given that we now have a government that, apparently, "doesn't do foreign" and to whom a strategic alliance with China is a perfectly sensible idea because it's a large country in the East, whose economy is growing and, therefore, no different from India.

The real problem is one we all know and understand. Given that membership of the EU means further integration into the institutions of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) though such a policy in reality cannot exist as there are no common interests, a discussion about British foreign policy has to start with a discussion about the EU and Britain's membership in it. Forget about a referendum. We cannot have one until we have brought out into the open all the implications of our membership and non-membership. And up with that our politicians will not put. So, we might have to do it ourselves, spreading the word as best we can.

Worth noting

President Klaus laid into the UN (having obviously decided that the EU is just too small for him) and its pretensions to wanting to run the world's economy. Given that this is an organization that cannot run its own, admittedly expensive, office, its hubris is quite extraordinary.
The solution to dealing with the global economic crisis, Klaus told the U.N. General Assembly, did not lie in "creating new governmental and supranational agencies, or in aiming at global governance of the world economy."

"On the contrary, this is the time for international organizations, including the United Nations, to reduce their expenditures, make their administrations thinner, and leave the solutions to the governments of member states," he said.

Klaus appeared to be responding to the address of the Swiss president of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, who said on Thursday at the opening of the annual gathering of world leaders in New York that it was time for the United Nations to "comprehensively fulfill its global governance role."
It has not global governance role. That was not why the UN was set up and being an unaccountable organization packed with nasty bloodthirsty kleptomaniacs it can have none. Why is it that none of our politicians has the guts to say what President Klaus says. Why do I even ask?

Dan Mitchell has called on every patriotic American to support the President .... of the Czech Republic. Attaboy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Well now, should I care?

Frankly no. Or not yet. Let us see how Ed Miliband shapes up. The fact that he won because of a fiendishly complicated electoral system is not something the Cleggeron Coalition should be making much of. Are they not wishing to impose a fiendishly complicated system of elections on the whole country?

Yes, he won with the support of the trade unions. Well, that's just the way it goes. To argue as Damian Thompson does in the Telegraph that this means Ed Miliband has forfeited his right to lecture us on democracy is to miss the point. As long as Britain is an enthusiastic member of the European Union with the more than enthusiastic support of all the main party politicians none of them have the right even to speak of democracy. Not even when they are offering cast-iron guarantees.

My last thought on the subject is that the Cleggeron Conservatives who are rejoicing in Ed Miliband's election and crowing that he will be a walk-over may well be in for a nasty surprise. They thought Blair would be a walk-over and he was anything but; even Brown turned out to be a far harder nut to crack and, in the end, they did not win that election. Miliband, an intelligent if dishonest politicians (and while there are many dishonest ones there are few intelligent ones), a new face who might enthuse the party, may well turn out to be a very tough opponent. But we shall see. At some point we might have to care.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mackerel wars?

Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson's blog about the mackerel dispute between Iceland, in whose waters most of the fish is found, and the EU. Not, please note, the country that is also affected by the problem of too many mackerel and the need to increase the quota, but the EU on whose behalf the Commission is negotiating and threatening Iceland with economic sanctions for its perfectly sensible behaviour legally and economically speaking.

Is this the language one expects from a Conservative Prime Minister?

The Daily Telegraph summarizes a long interview with the leader of the Cleggeron Coalition. Apparently, the chap, one David Cameron, a.k.a. the Boy-King of the Conservative Party and now of the Coalition Government, talks some about his family, baby daughter, disabled father and his death and other suchlike matters. All of this may be of interest but not really what one wants to know.

Fear not, he will have tax cuts so that people can "all share the proceeds of growth" as he used to say when he was only the Boy-King of the Conservative Party and the Cleggeron Coalition was not even a twinkle in little Nicky Clegg's eye.

People are worried about cuts, he acknowledges, and the Conservatives are worried about the fact that taxes are not going down in the foreseeable future. Indeed, they will probably be rising, starting with VAT. The problem is that the Cleggerons do not tackle the issue from where it matters. They do not because they cannot, being statist near-socialists themselves. The starting point ought to be that there are far too many things the state is doing now that it ought not to be doing; therefore we are going to move towards a position when the state no longer does those things as that is not useful, moral or efficient. In the process, we shall also save the taxpayer huge amounts of money, which will stay in the taxpayer's pocket for the taxpayer to spend as he or she sees fit.

Instead, we get no acknowledgement that the state is tackling with great inefficiency far too many matters. In fact, the state will go on running all these things like education or healthcare but on less money while we all go on paying ever more to that inefficient leviathan. No wonder people are worried. They will have less money and the services they think they are entitled to, having paid their taxes will be run on a shoestring albeit a fairly long and thick one.

But, as I said, fear not.
In the interview he says: “You’ve got to describe what you want the world to look like when it’s all over. That is, that there will be more jobs, higher growth, a stronger economy.

“There will be an ability over time once you’ve sorted out debts and deficits to give people back something from a growing economy. I nearly said, share the proceeds of growth.”
Gosh, how witty and post-modernist in its ironic references. Nevertheless "giving people back something" is not quite the language one expects from a man who calls himself a Conservative. It ain't his to give back - it is ours to keep.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pledge to America

Republicans unveil their "Pledge to America". Something to remember when it is time to hold their feet to the fire. Of course, our politicians can pledge nothing to this country as they are not really in charge. With around 80 per cent of legislation coming from you know where and Parliament not being allowed to block it while HMG shows no interest whatsoever, there really is not point in pledging anything.

NGOs criticized shock!

A very good and very detailed article in Der Spiegel about the ghastly NGOs in Afghanistan and their lack of popularity. Something to do with the fact that they dare not leave Kabul, spend their money on their own security and welfare, appear to be pally with the Taliban, undermine the local economy and, generally, help nobody but themselves. Otherwise, there is nothing terribly wrong with them.

The Boss over on EUReferendum is ahead of me. He has linked already.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good to have a non-socialist coalition government

It always seemed likely that the Cleggeron Coalition will run into difficulties with the members of their various parties though the Lib-Dim problems might be greater than the Conservative ones, the members being more outspoken. There had to be a reason why Nick Clegg decided to toddle off to New York just as his Anti-Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was about to stand up and make an all-out attack on business. It couldn't have been just so he could pledge money this country cannot spare on an anti-malaria campaign that will not work.

The Lib-Dim Conference has gone the way they always go with lots of speeches attacking free choice in education, cut-backs in the public sector and other suchlike socialistic statements. None of this mattered in the past - they were just a joke. They are still a joke but they are now a joke inside the government so it begins to matter somewhat when the Anti-Business Secretary makes a speech that creates the impression of wanting to kill business and, particularly, financial business in this country. (Mind you, I don't know why he bothers. The EU will do it for him, anyway.)

Markets need to be controlled and controlled tightly, the Anti-Business Secretary told the cheering crowds as they are often "irrational or rigged". Irrational by whose standards? Markets are the only method whereby production and distribution can be adjusted to the greatest benefit of the greatest number but, presumably, they do not comply with the plans devised by politicians and regulators. As to rigging them, who does it more than anyone but the state in response to political lobbying or according to a favoured ideology.

As Mark Littlewood, Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, points out in his Telegraph blog
If uncompetitive practices really are what keep him awake at night, he should focus his fire on the public sector. In health and education, state-run behemoths crowd out and crush private alternatives. Consumers have very limited rights of exit and are obliged to tolerate sub-standard, inefficient services.

Some have even interpreted his speech as a coded threat to Rupert Murdoch. But if Vince Cable wants a greater choice and variety in broadcasting, it would be good to hear his views on the outrageously privileged position – and carnivorous behaviour – of the BBC. Being forced to pay an annual licence fee – on pain of a substantial fine and even imprisonment – is a deeply uncompetitive practice. On this matter though, Dr Cable seems silent.
Well, the Lib-Dims rather like certain uncompetitive practices. They have moved a long way from classical liberalism.

I must admit that I disagree with Mr Littlewood on one point. He thinks that "[t]he Coalition has made a reasonably encouraging start on tackling the deficit and ensuring public spending is got under control". The latest figures do not show this. One would not expect an immediate noticeable fall in the spending but the August hike was far bigger than anyone could predict.

Allister Heath, editor of City AM, does not mince his words and how right he is:
PLAIN awful. That is the only way to describe yesterday’s government borrowing figures, which saw the deficit jump to another record for August, dashing hopes the public finances were improving of their own accord. Revenue growth was tolerable at 6.3 per cent. What was shocking was that government current spending jumped 11 per cent year on year in August. Yes, that’s right, in the midst of a supposed period of austerity, the government has seemingly lost control of the public finances. In part, this is because of the higher costs on index-linked gilts, pushed up by our excessively high inflation; but nevertheless these figures smack of a government and civil service which are failing to get a grip.
If, in the midst of all this, our government also makes it clear that this country is particularly unfriendly towards business, we really are in trouble and that is even before we start examining the EU's destructive legislation.

And just to make sure that everyone who is at all a useful member of our society gets it in the neck, the Anti-Business Secretary has also proposed that tax on property should be increased. Presumably he and his colleagues, as politicians would be able to dodge it somehow. After all, if we really want to see "spivs and gamblers", particularly the first, you need to look no further than the members of the House of Commons. Does Mr Cable realize that he and his colleagues are viewed in that light by most of this country's population?

Not so much died as was never born

There is a good deal of excitement on certain forums or fora (take your pick, they are both correct) about this article by Iain Martin in the Wall Street Journal. Mr Martin is the Deputy Editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe and used to be all sorts of things in the Telegraph group. In other words, he ought to know about British politics. When it comes to the title of his piece: "Strange death of Cameron's Euroskepticism" one could argue that the more accurate one of "Euroskeptic critics of Cameron are proved right" does not have quite the same zing to it.

To start off, he lists all the things that were going to happen according to "the widely accepted wisdom". Interestingly enough, they were all things that this blog and EUReferendum dismissed as so much froth and got a fair bit of abuse for. You'll see, our abusers, said, Cameron in Number 10 will be the best thing for Britain and the eurosceptics. To some extent, the second part of that is true: Cameron in Number 10 has made ever more eurosceptics realize that they cannot ever rely on the Conservatives and that is a good thing. In the same way, President Obama and House Leader Pelosi have been a good thing for the right in the United States.

Mr Martin lists all the things that were going to happen: troubles with the EU, fraught relations with Sarkozy and Merkel, an explosion of opposition to further integration. Notice that even now Mr Martin cannot give any kind of definite ideas as to what the Boy-King was going to do in the EU. In any case:
Absolutely none of this has happened. Why?

Almost unnoticed, his MPs have voted for a list of measures that would a few years ago have triggered full-scale Tory war. There was the expansion of justice and home-affairs powers, involving the extension of the so-called European arrest warrant. The European External Action Service—or EU diplomatic service—was nodded through. New regulations for the City of London require the establishment of three pan-European supervisory bodies. This was accepted by the Treasury and if there were protests from the Conservative benches they didn't make much noise. A higher budget for the EU has also been approved.
Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear. Well, why?
Ask senior Conservatives about all this and they point to the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, enthusiasts for integration. It necessitates compromise.

But that is the myth designed to make Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg feel good. Mr. Cameron had decided long before he failed to win an overall majority at the general election that he was not going to die in a ditch over Europe. He prepared accordingly, removing his commitment to a referendum on the Lisbon treaty on the grounds that it was too late and would look ridiculous.

Mr. Cameron also put in a lot of effort into wooing Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy ahead of the election, reassuring them that he would be a good member of the European leaders' club. This work has continued since he took office.

He is aided by having William Hague at the Foreign Office. One of the most enduring myths of public life in Britain is that of Mr. Hague as Euroskeptic. He was once so minded, when he lost the 2001 election heavily pledging to "Save the Pound." Since then he has kept the reputation while moving steadily onto mainstream establishment territory. As a fellow Conservative puts it: "William has a couple of years ahead of him doing an agreeable job, and then a lifetime of book signings and profitable speech-making afterwards. He's not going to do anything confrontational that puts all that at risk."
True enough except for one thing: neither the Boy-King nor the disaster we call the Foreign Secretary are all that pragmatic. Mr Martin is still trying to be nice to them and showing them to be a lot smarter than they are. In actual fact, Cameron is a europhiliac as we have known for a long time and Hague does not exactly know which way is up. [OK, stop sniggering at the back.]

Nor do I exactly agree with Mr Martin that the scene is tranquil and everything in the garden is coming out roses because the old Tory civil wars over the EU have died. Mr Martin does not seem to realize that those promises of strong euroscepticism and standing up for Britain's interests that he and his media colleagues produced before the election are likely to backfire as supporters of the party (not exactly an overwhelmingly large proportion of the population) and people who are a little bemused as to why politicians keep not being able to see the problems turn on Cameron.

Free speech is not for everyone

Or so it seems. This blog ought to have picked up on the story of Molly Norris a few days ago but better late than never. Here is the Washington Examiner on the subject:
Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had "gone ghost." Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn't protect her against death threats from Muslims she'd angered. Earlier this year, Norris started "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" to protest radical Muslims' violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.
Indeed, it is more newsworthy, or ought to be. Here we have a clear example of an artist and journalist (good cartoonists are both) being silenced by threats from a vociferous minority and the media, so proud of its so-called courage when it is a question of flinging endless insults at Sarah Palin or the Tea-Partiers, is silent. (Molly Norris actually tried to backtrack from the whole Draw a Mohammed Cartoon Day but, clearly, that did not work.)
When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE's Web site describes its mission as supporting "the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world." We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication "to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty."
The security services are at a loss and can do nothing but tell the lady in question to go into hiding and behave as if she is a criminal on the run.
Freedom of speech and press are in deep trouble when the American government thinks the best it can do to protect a journalist from death threats is to counsel her to go into hiding, and when the elite voices of American journalism can't be bothered to say anything in her defense. But it's actually worse than that. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof thinks Muslims are owed an apology. "I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you," he wrote Sunday. "The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you."

Instead of telling the rest of us that we're all bigots, shouldn't Kristof and the rest of the journalism profession be outraged by what has happened to Molly Norris? And shouldn't they be angered that her government believes it cannot protect her? Imagine what they would be saying if white-hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan were threatening to kill Norris in Selma, Ala., instead of radical Muslims in Seattle. Would the FBI tell Norris she had to stop being a journalist and go into hiding? And would ASNE and SPJ look the other way as the First Amendment and freedom of the press were symbolically turned to ashes by flaming white crosses?

The reality is that the FBI fought the KKK at every turn, including when it threatened brave Southern newspaper editors who stood up against racism and violence. And from the start, journalists were prominent figures in the civil rights movement, courageously reporting the truth about the crushing stranglehold of segregation on life and liberty across the old South, often at risk of their very lives. It's time the present generation of American journalists found the same brand of courage many of their fathers showed in the 1960s.
Nor have we heard much from the President who was quick to say that building a mosque near Ground Zero is an example of the First Amendment (mind you, he was just as quick to retract).

James Taranto picked up the story a couple of days earlier and asked that very pertinent question:
Here's another question: Where is President Obama? Last month, speaking to a mostly Muslim audience at the White House, the president strongly defended the right of another imam held up as a moderate to build a mosque adjacent to Ground Zero. The next day, and again at a press conference last week, Obama said he was merely standing up for the First Amendment. As far as we recall, it's the only time Barack Obama has ever stood up for anybody's First Amendment rights.

Now Molly Norris, an American citizen, is forced into hiding because she exercised her right to free speech. Will President Obama say a word on her behalf? Does he believe in the First Amendment for anyone other than Muslims?
Here is the news of Molly Norris being put on the hit list in July.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Perhaps one day even China's history will become known

Back in the days when Communist fellow traveller Owen Lattimore (here is a link to the FBI file and here is Wikipedia, which tries to put him in the best possible light) was professor then professor-emeritus of Chinese studies at the University of Leeds with many people horrified by the fact that he had had to leave his American position because of ... shock, horror ... McCarthyism, there were many people who repeated his ecstatic descriptions of the glories of Chinese Communism and the wonderful benefits that accrued to the people of that country.

It was easy to work out that Lattimore was talking poisonous rubbish - he had been just as guilty about the Soviet Union during and after his notorious trip to some of the worst camps in the Gulag at Magadan and Kolyma. He had defended the horrors of Stalinism and was, in the sixties and seventies, defending the horrors of Maoism.

Other supporters of Mao were newcomers to the field. But even to my young ears they sounded utterly wrong. The fact that the language and arguments they used about China, of which I knew little, were the same they had used about the Soviet Union, made them very suspect.

Time has moved on and many people have accepted, more or less, that Mao was the greatest mass murderer in a century that was replete with them. Not everyone has done so. Notoriously, one of President Obama's short-lived aides, Anita Dunn, told not so long ago an assembled audience that Mao Tse-tung was one of her favourite political thinkers (along with Mother Theresa).

Above all, the people of China are still being denied the truth about their own history. It is slowly coming out, at least in the West. Ronald Radosh writes on Pajamas Media about a book that ought to become as well known as all the ones about the Holocaust: Frank Dikötter's Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962.

Interestingly enough, the Independent has written about the book and its author.
Mr Dikötter is the only author to have delved into the Chinese archives since they were reopened four years ago. He argued that this devastating period of history – which has until now remained hidden – has international resonance. "It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century.... It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot's genocide multiplied 20 times over," he said.

Between 1958 and 1962, a war raged between the peasants and the state; it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation, Mr Dikötter said.

His book, Mao's Great Famine; The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been "quite forgotten" in the official memory of the People's Republic of China, there was a "staggering degree of violence" that was, remarkably, carefully catalogued in Public Security Bureau reports, which featured among the provincial archives he studied. In them, he found that the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as "digits", or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.
Mr Dikötter's next book will be on the Communist Party's bloody take-over of China after World War II.

Heh, told you so!

It is so much fun to be able to say to people: heh, told you so. There is quite a lot of it going on at the moment certainly for me and probably for the Boss over on EUReferendum. In particular, there is a great deal of whining and gnashing of teeth about the Cleggeron Coalition and the un-Conservative, nay, socialistic tendencies of the Boy-King. Well, heh, told you so. Over and over again, we told you so.

For all of that, it is good to have Jeff Randall on side. Nobody can accuse him of ever supporting the Labour government or its Chancellors. Indeed, he was the first to go into battle over Gordon Brown, possibly the most disastrous Chancellor of the Exchequer this country has ever had (other candidates' merits will be considered), raiding the private pension funds.

Yet he is saying the unsayable but obvious: "The Coalition is spending even more than tax-and-waste Labour".
Given the scale of opposition to the Chancellor's surgery, even though he has not yet released the full details, a curious bystander might be forgiven for thinking that many billions are going to disappear from the bottom line of state expenditure. Like one of Todd's victims, the final bill for taxpayers is about to be dismembered in a grisly fashion.

This is what happens when the state is shrunk, right? Er, not quite. In fact, not at all. In terms of cash flowing out of the Treasury's coffers, there is no evidence of cutting back. Total government outlay is set to go up this year, next year and every year thereafter to 2014-15.

According to estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the figures will be £696 billion in 2010-11 (up from £669 billion in 2009-10), then £699 billion, £711 billion, £722 billion and £737 billion. These sums are not inflation-adjusted, but even so, they belie the idea that a demon barber is about to "polish off" the Budget and stuff its remains into one of Mrs Lovett's delicious meat pies.
Well, well. And even, ahem. Mr Randall then discusses the terrible debt this country faces, which is not the government's debt but ours since the government's money is our money. Somehow, one cannot trust a government that has ring-fenced the NHS and international aid while drivelling about building a Big Society, to be able to cope with that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Swedes are shocked

Well, some Swedes are. To be precise, the ones who spoke to the BBC correspondent appear to be in shock.
BBC regional reporter Damien McGuinness said the success of the far right has shocked many voters in Sweden.

Winning 20 seats in parliament, the Sweden Democrats have obviously touched a nerve, he adds.

The party appears to have tapped into voter dissatisfaction over immigration, says our correspondent, with the result undermining the image of Sweden as a tolerant and open-minded country.
Given that the Sweden Democrats [in Swedish] managed to get those 20 seats because people voted for them, even though they were apparently not asked to take part in any of the official debates, I cannot quite see that there is anything shocking about it all. As for Sweden being a tolerant and open-minded society, that is a matter for debate. But, however one looks at it, tolerance and open-mindedness needs to be reciprocal. When a sizeable or, at least, vociferous proportion of the 14 per cent that is Sweden's immigrant population, refuses to accept those tolerant and open-minded ideas but insists on imposing its own non-tolerant world-views, the question is altered.

The Wikipedia entry on the party has been locked for obvious reasons and is, therefore, just a shade out of date as it has not the election results. What it tells us about the party does not sound so absolutely horrifying: they are against Sweden joining the euro but so are most Swedes; they want to renegotiate Sweden's membership of the EU but so do many Swedes though it is not clear how they are going to do it; they believe in freedom of speech for all even people who draw cartoons of Mohammed; and, as all political parties, their views are a hotch-potch.

Reuters points out that the Swedish result with the Centre-Right party remaining the largest though lacking overall majority as well as the so-called far-right winning those crucial 20 votes point to the various problems socialist parties have had recently in Europe. Since my definition of socialism would probably be different from Reuters I am not sure I would agree entirely. After all, very few of the so-called right-wing parties are anti-socialist in any real sense of that expression. Still, it is true that within the very narrow parameters of European politics, electorates seem to go for the right.

To sum up: the Centre Right alliance under the Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, has won 172 seats, which means a minority government or a coalition with another party. Nothing on earth, says Prime Minister Reinfeldt, will make him form a coalition with those nasty Sweden Democrats. He prefers that Greens, who are definitely on the left, are socialists and opponents of any kind of a free economy. But the Opposition with its 157 votes maintains that the alliance there stands firm. We shall see.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just for fun

Here is the young Tom Lehrer with one of my favourite songs: National Brotherhood Week.

Quite like this blog

The idea of a blog devoted to books and book reviewing appeals to me. I have to admit that I am not going to read either of the books reviewed so far (sorry Gregg) but there will be others in future. Plus there is the promise of a book-selling business that will be got off the ground soon.

A few news items from Iceland

Thanks to EU News from Iceland, which has been quoted on various occasions we can see that at least that country might be safe from the difficulties of EU membership.

It would seem that a new internet poll conducted by the radio station Bylgjan (admittedly not as scientific as some polls but, then, how scientific are they?) shows that 58 per cent is against Iceland joining the EU and 29 per cent in favour. The remaining 13 per cent, presumably, have just come back from holiday and cannot quite cope with the question.

Earlier the Icelandic government has decided that application for membership is not government policy. Oh dear me, no. Well not now that it is shown to be so very unpopular.

The Foreign Minister seems to be in favour still, but he is not happy because so many people are against. Do these people not know what is good for them?

This is good news

Via Aidwatchers, a blog I have not seen before but whose tag-line "just asking that aid benefit the poor" I take issue with, I find that
The External Affairs Ministry has instructed the Finance Ministry to inform London that India will not accept further aid from next April.

Last week, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told the ministry that “internal discussions” within UK’s Department for International Development — which accounts for over 80% of all bilateral aid to India — were “to limit the aid further and channelise it to specific projects of their choice in certain states instead of routing it through the Central government”.

“Rather than wait for such a situation to develop... it would be better if our decision not to avail any further DFID assistance with effect from 1st April 2011 could be conveyed to the British side in an appropriate manner at the earliest,” she wrote to Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla.
Excellent. Let us hope that the Indian government sticks to its guns, stops taking British and any other foreign aid and concentrates on making India investment-friendly for its own people and for foreigners.

Let us also hope that DFID accepts that and does not plead with the Indian government to go on accepting aid that is so destructive and something that we really cannot afford any more. Nor should we, incidentally. Unfortunately, DFID's existence and ever growing financial clout depends on countries getting foreign aid. They are not likely to kill the goose that lays those golden eggs.


One can't help being cheered by French politics. It always involves lots of money, frequently sex and drugs, not to mention various other crimes and, as an absolute minimum, the French security services.

As it happens I am not a fan of Le Monde, which is not "the newspaper of record", no matter what Jean-Paul Marthoz might think. It is not only unspeakably dull but also suffers from all the problems of the modern Western media: it is europhiliac in that it is anti-American, anti-Anglospheric, tends to be pro-Arab on all occasions, right or wrong. But there is something in its favour: it does not like President Sarkozy. Well, to be quite precise it does not like the fact that President Sarkozy does not like it.

The news is that Le Monde is actually suing the President's office
Earlier this week, Le Monde, the most prestigious French newspaper, announced the imminent filing of a lawsuit accusing the office of the president of unlawfully using the intelligence services to identify a source for its reporter Gérard Davet. He had been covering an influence-peddling scandal involving key members of the ruling center-right party UMP (Union for a Popular Movement).
The article gives a reasonable summary of the complex and long-running saga of Liliane Bettencourt and the supposed financial shenanigans that surround this l'Oreal heiress and the funding of UMP.

M Marthoz describes this latest development in very hushed and self-important tones:
The newspaper Le Monde against the Elysée Palace, the office of the president of the French Republic: Two of France's main symbols of influence and power are facing each other in a judicial battle that promises to be a litmus test in the running battles between the press and Nicolas Sarkozy's so-called "imperial presidency."
This blog, on the other hand, is delighted to be following a legal contest in which neither side deserves to win. As in that story that President Lincoln is supposed to have said, we can sit back with the man who was watching a bear attacking his wife and shout: "Go it woman; go it bear!"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yes, and?

The Daily Telegraph reports that the manufacturers' organization, the EEF, has suddenly woken up to something that the Boss on EURef and I on this humble blog have mentioned once or twice before (for instance here): you can make any promises you like about "one in - one out" legislation, it will not and cannot affect most of the regulation about such matters as environment, elfnsafety, working conditions that includes working time etc etc because it comes from the European Union and our own Parliament, even if it knows about the laws, cannot thrown them out.
The EEF, which represents manufacturers, said the decision to leave out EU legislation from the Government's recently launched "one-in, one-out" rule meant the burden of new environmental and employment regulation could rise unchecked.

A task force set up by the EEF, which included Rolls-Royce and Corus, called on the Government to replace this policy with departmental budgets by 2015.

The EEF's Steve Pointer said it would give the Government more flexibility. For instance, it would allow the Department for the Environment and Climate Change to meet carbon reduction targets or the Treasury to regulate financial services, while still enabling the Government to reduce the overall burden in business by giving other Whitehall departments negative budgets.

The EEF's members also warned of the damage being done to industry by the unfettered roll out of UK, European and international standards.

These largely private-sector organisations create valuable standards for machined parts, such as the thread on screws, the EEF said. But it added that industry had seen this role spread to setting standards in business process and management.
Well, it is good to know that they noticed but what exactly do they expect the government to do about it?

What matters to the Cleggerons

Only one thing, as far as I can see, and that is staying in government, for they are not exactly in power. With all the problems this country faces, the House of Commons is debating the Fixed Term Parliament Bill that its own Select Committee considers to be "unnecessarily rushed" and one that raises a number of legal and constitutional questions.

We have already had attempts to muzzle the 1922 Committee and, undoubtedly, there will be legislation to ensure that votes of no confidence become as difficult to pass as possible. All to the greater good of keeping the Cleggerons in government for many more years. And just to make sure that nothing interferes with that plan, they are proposing to postpone the next Queen's Speech, due in a year's time till spring 2012 so that sessions do not come to an end before every bit of planned legislation is pushed through.

On the whole, I am not a fan of Denis MacShane's but I do agree that this constitutes a major power grab for the sake of "a smooth transition to a new system of fixed-term Parliaments, when general elections would take place every five years". Whenever I hear of any proposals for a smoother running of government I start wondering whether I should take up an offer made to me by a Texan friend to go over and learn to shoot. The smooth running of government is not a desideratum in a free society. Mind you, I cannot understand why they want to grab all this power over the electoral cycle and the running of Parliament - they have given away powers to legislate to the EU.

Erdogan wins referendum in Turkey ...

... and immediately pledges more constitutional changes if his party wins a third term next year.

The victory in the referendum was 58 per cent to 42 per cent, which is a decisive one but not a landslide, as described in the Washington Times article. Despite various statements by Prime Minister Erdogan about this being the end of tutelage, the way forward and even references to freedom and legality, the truth is that the new rules as voted through in the referendum gives politicians far greater powers over the army (a number of whose officers have been arrested recently for supposedly plotting coups but, quite possibly, in order to pre-empt any move they might make after this referendum) and, most importantly, the judiciary.
Many of the 26 amendments to the country's 1982 post-coup constitution garnered support from across the political spectrum, such as those promoting gender equality and union rights for public employees.

However, the proposed changes to the judiciary had sparked heated debate between the Islamic-rooted AKP and the nationalist and secular opposition parties that feared they would only consolidate the ruling party's power.

The judicial reforms will increase the number of justices on the nation's historically secular Constitutional Court from 11 to 17 while giving AKP-dominated institutions such as the parliament more power in appointing them.
Meanwhile, a long article by Claire Berlinski in the latest issue of Standpoint describes the gradual control of the media by the Turkish government, not complete, as we know from the story of those pictures of the Gaza flotilla, but ever more strident.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An Act that will make bolting the stable door compulsory

What else would one call the forthcoming piece of legislation on an EU referendum but making it compulsory or, at least, legally desirable to bolt the stable door after the horse had bolted.

The Daily Telegraph is being either disingenuous or nauseatingly silly in proclaiming today that
The Government must prevent further erosion of national sovereignty by holding a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.
The idea is that, having reneged on that cast-iron guarantee for a referendum on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty, the Boy-King and the Cleggeron Coalition will push through legislation that will lock a referendum into British legislation.

Errm, no, not an in/out referendum about the EU. No, that exists merely in the dreams of certain Conservative commentators. The referendum will be on any future treaty that might give away further major powers to the EU.
Many will feel that all this is too little too late to check a newly authoritarian streak in the EU. French and Dutch rejection of the constitution in 2005 was blithely disregarded and the Lisbon treaty, an almost identical document, served up in its place. When the Irish rejected that, the same question was put to them 14 months later. Having backed a referendum on the constitution, the Labour government refused one on the treaty, arguing with shameless casuistry that the two documents were fundamentally different. The "ever closer union" specified in the Treaty of Rome means that the drive to limit the powers of the nation state is the EU's raison d'être. The reaction of members to such encroachments has been lamentably weak.
Many will, indeed, feel that. Many or, at least, those who have understood how EU legislation works (and that does not seem to include MEPs or our own domestic politicians) will also understand that major powers are given away all the time. The treaties produce the overall framework; it is what is legislated on the basis of those Articles that matters.

For instance, most of us would say that giving the EU supervisory powers over various financial products and the City of London does imply giving away very major powers, indeed. Having to discuss the Budget with the colleagues and the Commission even if it had been presented to the House of Commons first is giving away major powers and accepting the EU's absolute supremacy in economic and financial matters. None of that is going to figure in this piece of completely useless legislation. Nevertheless, you can expect all the Conservative groupies to hop up and down with excitement and tell us what an important blow this is for Britain's sovereignty. And then they wonder why people do not vote for them.

Approaching it from the right side

A friend has passed on to me his copy of Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny, the American publishing sensation last year. Subtitled, A Conservative Manifesto, it is a summary of conservative ideas as opposed to what Mark Levin calls "Statist" ones. How right he is not to subscribe to that ridiculous misuse of the word "liberal". There is nothing liberal about people who want to strengthen the state, take away people's liberties and impose their own idea of utopia on them.

Mark Levin is a writer, a journalist, a radio show host and another perpetual thorn in the left's collective side. He is also a constitutional lawyer. A real one.

The book swings along at a merry pace and, so far, there are only two quotes that I want to share with those who have not yet read the book. [Spelling as given, i.e. American.]
And yet, the Statist has an insatiable appetite for control. His sights are set on his next meal even before he has fully digested his last. He is constantly agitating for government action. And in furtherance of that purpose, the Statist speaks in the tongue of the demagogue, concocting one pretext and grievance after another to manipulate public perceptions and build popular momentum for the divestiture of liberty and property from its rightful possessors. The industrious, earnest, and successful are demonized as perpetrators of various offenses against the public good, which justifies government intervention on behalf of an endless parade of "victims". In this way, the perpetrator and the victim are subordinated to the government's authority - the former by outright theft, the latter by a dependent existence. In truth, both are made victims by the real perpetrator, the Statist.
It is, of course, important to recognize how much of this has already been put into place and to what extent we have all become both "perpetrators" and "victims" as defined by Statists. It is also of some importance to try to define what the response ought to be.
However, the Conservative seeks to preserve and improve civil society, not engage in a mindless defense of the status quo inasmuch as the status quo may well be a condition created by the Statist and destructive of civil society - such as the 1960s cultural degradations, which are all too prevalent today. It is the Statist, then, who rejects even minor change if such change promotes the civil society, thereby challenging his authority.
We see this reluctance to accept change in many from the europhiliacs to the trade unions who are threatening the country with all manner of ills if the slightest necessary change is made to the current suicidal state of affairs.

But what of the times our own entitlements are taken away. Here is a story in yesterday's Scotsman. It seems that
FAMILIES will have to take more responsibility for looking after their frail relatives because the state can no longer afford to care for a soaring elderly population, Scotland's councils have warned.
Setting aside the thought that these days not all people over fifty or even sixty, seventy and eighty are so frail as to need constant care, one needs to ask why it should be considered to be such a terrible idea that families be asked to look after their relatives. Just another example, one might say, of our reluctance to take responsibility for what should be our duty.

Yes, but hang on a minute. In its fraudulent claim that it can look after us all and, particularly the frail and the elderly, the state has taxed us to a considerable extent, smugly taking away our money in order to use it for "our benefit". Now it tells us (and Scotland is not the only part of the country where this is true or going to be true) that it cannot do so and we have to take our share. With what, may one ask. Is the state going to stop taxing us to the point where we have no money to care for anyone who needs extra care in our families?

Furthermore, in its fraudulent claim that it can look after us, the state has produced regulation after regulation that has made it impossible for private individuals and companies to run care homes for those frail sick and elderly. Now it tells us that we need to find some way to look after the frail. Where exactly are we going to do it? Are those regulations going to be changed to make it easier for us to do so?

In other words, we must start with the notion that it is not the state's business to look after us and it should stop pretending it can do so; stop taxing us in that pretence or making it impossible through ridiculous and vindictive regulations for us to do so for ourselves. Sadly, that is not how the story is reported or accepted by many: the state should be looking after us; how dare it give the task over to the families of those frail elderly people?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What do they do between rages?

First things first: I am against book burning. This may sound a very trite observation but I have had to argue my way through a number of forums in the last few days over the lunatic pastors in one or two strange churces in the United States who said that they wanted to burn the Koran. I don't need to link to the story as it was all over the MSM in a way, as a number of people have pointed out, that any old common or garden Bible burning would not be. Naturally, I am against that as well and, equally naturally, I dislike the double standards, the hyperbole (burning the Koran is very bad idea but it is not the same as declaring war or invading a country and it is not the worst thing that could have happened in the world). Nor am I absolutely certain that the publicity hungry pastors did intend to do anything of the kind.

Most rational people have come out against it. These include, randomly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sarah Palin. In fact, the Koran burning has been cancelled with the possible threat of it being revived at some later stage. Nevertheless, it is not going to happen unlike the Ground Zero Mosque, the plan for which seems to be going ahead despite the outcry against it across the United States and even in NYC.

What has not been cancelled is the rage. Well, it is a few months since we have had a good Islamic rage story and the wretched Koran burning threat has been a gift to the ragers.

Thousands demonstrated in Afghanistan against Koran burning, which is not happening, in some place in Florida most of them have never heard of. Eleven people have been injured.

In Pakistan only "hundreds" turned out for a party to protest and burn the American flag.
An AFP reporter in Multan said about 600 demonstrators - including clerics, political party workers and activists - held four protests in various parts of the central city of nearly four million people.

Despite the Florida-based American church saying on Friday it had decided against burning hundreds of Korans, the Pakistani protests went ahead to make it clear such acts would not be tolerated in future, organisers said.
600? In Pakistan? That's pathetic. Nevertheless, one expects the rage to grow in proportion to the speed with which reasons for it disappear.

Defiance 2001

Will Belgium survive?

More news from France. Causeur, which is according to one of my correspondents, one of the two best news sites in France (so I had better bookmark it) ran a story, which was then picked up by Le Monde. It seems there was a fairly high-level discussion of experts on Belgium (yes, I am afraid so), including the present and previous French ambassadors, on the future of that country. Undoubtedly, it was to stop this kind of discussion going on that Viscount Palmersong Palmerston [apologies for that egregious error], then Foreign Secretary, actually decided to create the country. I am not sure it was one of his more successful achievements but, perhaps, he never intended it as more than a temporary solution.

Anyway, no agreements have been reached but there are clearly some thoughts among French diplomats and political analysts that Belgium as one country may not survive for long. Of course, the European Union, in theory, does not care whether its member states survive as they are now or whether they break up into contingent parts or regions. That is the theory. But a real break-up, rearrangement, possibly the creation of an even "greater" France will not cheer the colleagues much as nothing is so unpredictable as any change in the accepted internal borders. Who knows where such a change might lead to.

Friday, September 10, 2010

No change then

As a typical little Englander I shall link to two stories that say more or less the same thing in French, both on AFP. This one is about French Budget Minister François Baroin, and it explains that he has been getting nowhere with his British counterparts who do not want to give up on the rebate. Then again, says M Baroin, we are not giving up on the Common Agricultural Policy. Indeed, President Sarkozy's position on a strong CAP is not negotiable. So there! Sucks to all those who think that the Cleggeron Coalition is going to reform the CAP. They may decide to give something in order to get something but will they get that something?

This story is about a proposed study by the Budget Commissar Janusz Lewandowski. It will be presented at the beginning of October and its subject is new sources of EU funding. That may include anything. After all the business of the European Union and its growth must not be stymied by the mean-minded member states whose politicians are worried that they will not be able to sell the idea of more money going to Brussels while many things at home will have to be cut back.

Is that word so important?

Norman M. Naimark, Professor of East European Studies at Stanford University and author of several important books on the darker aspects of Soviet history (yes, I know, are there any others?) has just published an interesting study of Stalin's criminal rule: Stalin's Genocides. I have not seen it yet though I fully intend to read it on the grounds that there might be some new information or analysis there.

What intrigued me about the title and the blurb given out by Princeton University Press is the insistence that somehow it is important to prove that those crimes were genocide.
The book puts forward the important argument that brutal mass killings under Stalin in the 1930s were indeed acts of genocide and that the Soviet dictator himself was behind them.

Norman Naimark, one of our most respected authorities on the Soviet era, challenges the widely held notion that Stalin's crimes do not constitute genocide, which the United Nations defines as the premeditated killing of a group of people because of their race, religion, or inherent national qualities. In this gripping book, Naimark explains how Stalin became a pitiless mass killer. He looks at the most consequential and harrowing episodes of Stalin's systematic destruction of his own populace--the liquidation and repression of the so-called kulaks, the Ukrainian famine, the purge of nationalities, and the Great Terror--and examines them in light of other genocides in history. In addition, Naimark compares Stalin's crimes with those of the most notorious genocidal killer of them all, Adolf Hitler.
There are still some people (among whom there are various academic historians such as the egregious J. Arch Getty) who do go on bleating that the purge just growed and growed like Topsy without the little guy at the top knowing anything about it but many a document has been unearthed that has shown up the fallacy of that school of thought. Still, there is no harm in repeating the truth and publishing some more evidence.

Does it matter, however, whether what Stalin indulged in was genocide? The victims of Stalinism probably outnumber the victims of Hitler (and we can argue who was responsible for the fantastically high casualty rate on the Eastern Front). Even if anybody disputes that, there can be no question that there is no real need to compare Stalin to Hitler in order to prove that he and his system were evil. Or is there?

>Genocide is a relatively new term in international relations though, undoubtedly, the concept has existed in reality for many centuries. It's just it did not matter to people whether they were exterminating someone else for ethnic, religious or any other reason.

According to this summary
In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews. He formed the word "genocide" by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing. In proposing this new term, Lemkin had in mind "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves."

The next year, the International Military Tribunal held at Nuremberg, Germany, charged top Nazis with "crimes against humanity." The word “genocide” was included in the indictment, but as a descriptive, not legal, term.

On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust and in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Lemkin himself, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention establishes "genocide” as an international crime, which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish.” It defines genocide as:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
As we know this activity was directed not just at Jews but the Roma and, to some extent, Slavs in Poland and the old Soviet Union.

There is, nevertheless, a problem with the definition or, rather, not so much with the definition but the importance accorded to this particular form of mass murder just as there was a problem with the definition of crimes against humanity in the framework of an aggressive war. (There were many other problems with the Nuremberg Trials but this is not the place to discuss them. Readers, however, are free to pile in.)

Unsurprisingly, the Soviet Union happily supported both that narrow definition of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg (a wider definition might have interfered with some members of the Soviet legal team) and the prioritizing genocide, as defined by the UN Convention above any common and garden mass murder.

One of the unintended consequences of that Convention was that everything, whether it be the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1915 or Stalin's wide-ranging crimes, need to be defined as genocide. Otherwise, people might not take them seriously. Yet when one thinks about it, is it really so much more heinous to murder millions of Ukrainian peasants, let us say, because they were Ukrainians than it is to murder them because they were peasants?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Professor Hankel is right

Hardly a surprising title for this blog. I have written about Professor Wilhelm Hankel (who looks and sounds just like a liberal German academic of the very old school should) before (here and here).

Yesterday he spoke at an event organized by Open Europe and there were strong indications that his own thinking has overtaken that organization's hand-wringing attempts to find some way of reforming the EU.

Professor Hankel is not happy about the way the EU is breaking its own laws as enshrined in the treaties. Nor is he too happy about the way the IMF has broken the rules under which it was set up.
According to Professor Hankel, the eurozone bailout package is illegal on three grounds: the loans violate the “no-bailout clause” in the EU Treaties; the ECB’s decision to intervene directly in the crisis and buy government bonds from weaker eurozone countries breaks the ECB’s statute; and, the IMF violates its own rules through its involvement, since under the IMF statute central banks (and therefore not governments directly) are allowed only to get aid in a foreign currency. However, Greece will get paid in euros.
In fact, he is not happy with the euro and never has been because of the complete politicization of money.

But Professor Hankel went further than that. He dislikes the EU and thinks it is time to ... well, to change it completely so it will not be the EU any more. The financial crisis was used as he said to no-one's great surprise to accelerate the change from a federation of states to a federal state and that must not be allowed to go ahead.

However, he did not reply to a question as to how this reversal of the process could take place. I suspect he thinks that at some point the governments of at least some of the member states, led, perhaps, by Germany that will finally shrug off those 12 years of iniquity and recall the many post-war years of successful democracy will simply decide to abandon the Union and restore previous arrangements. Perhaps.

Attending events

The political year has restarted, which means that there are all sorts of events to attend. Today I listened to Dr David Nabarro CBE, UN Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition at the Henry Jackson Society. Yes, indeed, he spoke well about Global Food Security: Recent Developments and Challenges with a good power point back-up. In other words, the slides of the power point had real information that enlarged on what he said, maps, charts and some figures.

In the end I carried away some not vary happy impressions. It seems that in the last thirty years there has been a drop in investment in agriculture in many parts of the world and a rise in poverty and number of people who went hungry (though numbers and definitions are hard to come by). What he did not say is that in the same thirty years there has been a stupendous rise in NGOs, UN committees, criss-crossing of continents by people who attend conferences and all sorts of pledges of greater international aid. At the very least, one could say that this development has not been helpful yet Dr Nabarro's responses to various questions included references to further committees, meetings of transnational organizations and the international community.

To be fair, he seemed to be in favour of trade and investment, against export controls in Sub-Saharan African countries and import controls as well as dumping of subsidized produce on those countries by the EU and the United States.

He also had no real answer to the question I posed about the political reality of the worst region for poverty and famine, that is Sub-Saharan Africa. It is all very well for some people to ask about predictions about what kind of instability and violence might develop from climate change but the fact it is that those countries are already unstable and violent as well as corrupt. There are no legal structures and no rules of property ownership, which prevents investment and development. The governments live off foreign aid and are ready to be bribed by anyone, such as the Chinese government who have been known to use those countries as a place where unemployed Chinese workers can be utilized and where good land can be acquired for the production of food for China. Until those political and legal problems are solved the future of Sub-Saharan Africa remains bleak. An end to international aid would be a good beginning.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Charging tourists?

Yesterday's Evening Standard, London's freebie newspaper, had a little item on the subject of museum charging, something this blog has mentioned before. This time it was the Victoria and Albert Museum that was discussed. It seems (though one can never tell with the Standard whether what they report does seem to anyone except themselves and the security guard the hack in question managed to corner) that the V & A is thinking of charging tourists for entrance and not charging British visitors. The Standard thinks this is an excellent idea as anything would be better than charging people who live here for going to museums. Two reasons are advanced: foreigners are used to paying, anyway, as they do at home; and British visitors will stop going if they have to pay. It is also undoubtedly true that we already pay through various taxes.

There are a few problems with this idea. The first and most obvious one is the bureaucracy that the museum will have to set up to deal with the various kinds of people who visit it. Whatever they may take in through the entrance charges will go largely on that bureaucracy.

Will they take in all that much. The South Kensington museums, which include the V & A, unlike the large institutions have proportionately fewer tourists as, for some reason, British visitors do go to them in large numbers. Tourists quite often put reasonable sums into the collection boxes anyway. A tourist who might put in a fiver would probably decide not to do so if he or she has already had to pay at the door. There will be precious little gain as a reader of this blog, who happens to be an accountant reminded me.

Finally, the big question: will they be allowed to charge visitors from the EU or is that discrimination that the ECJ will not allow? Will it only be Japanese and American tourists who will have to pay?

Monday, September 6, 2010

And again

Another article, this time in City AM, on the question of how long Germany will stay in the euro. Guy Johnson of CNBC considers that "Germany will soon tire of footing the euro bill". Admittedly, Germany has gained something out of the whole mess.
To be fair there are some upsides to membership. Possibly the biggest one comes from the very weakness of the rest of the zone. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have all done German manufacturing a favour this year by driving the euro lower – in the process making German exports much more competitive.
But with the German economy, apparently, growing fast, will that be enough, particularly as other export markets become more important.
The single currency has always been a primarily political creation, rather than an economic one. But increasingly it’s economics that will determine its future, rather than politics. Put simply, it will not be too long before Germany doesn’t need its Eurozone partners and certainly won’t want to pay for their problems any longer.
Not this time round, I still maintain, but another crisis and that might happen quite soon, and Germany will probably look long and hard at her options. The war was a long time ago.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Many apologies for linking to the wrong Nikki Sinclaire in my earlier post. The mistake has now been corrected and the link is the right one.

Belgium still in crisis

This is not exactly man bites dog news but I thought readers might like to know that Elio di Rupo, a Socialist leader who was trying to form a coalition government, has resigned.
The king's next step was to ask one representative of each community -- the Francophone speaker of the lower house of parliament, Andre Flahaut of the Socialist Party, and the speaker of the Senate, Danny Pieters of the Flemish separatist party N-VA -- to mediate to restart the talks.
Furthermore, those commenters who insisted that there is a Prime Minister in Belgium, albeit a caretaker one, and his name is Yves Leterme, were right. He has just passed "a bill to cut the budget gap to 4.8 percent of gross domestic product this year, from a previous plan of 5.6 percent". Some good things might come out of this ritual crisis.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A very quick comment on the New Zealand earthquake

Naturally, one feels for the people of New Zealand, particularly of Christ Church but one also feels amazed respect for the way the Kiwis (they call themselves that so it is not an insult but a term of endearment) have simply picked themselves up and got on with restoring their lives. Here is one article but there are many more.

This was a particularly strong earthquake at 7.1 but these events are not unknown in the country.
"Although the country lies on a highly-charged seismic fault and experiences over 14,000 earthquakes a year, only around 20 have a magnitude in excess of 5.0." That is still quite a high magnitude, yet most of us have never realized this. Furthermore, there has not been a fatality for many years.

Compare and contrast with the sort of mass human tragedy that any earthquake, flood or hurricane creates in developing countries. Admittedly, New Zealand is sparsely populated and few earthquakes are around cities as this one was. But hurricanes happen all the time in the United States and, though we know about them, with the exception of Katrina when it hit New Orleans, evacuation is swift as is restoration.

In other words, let me come out with a truism: instead of wasting our time (I use the word "our" in its widest sense) passing endless regulations whose aim it is to prevent natural disasters, something we cannot do, we should be concentrating on ideas that would make it possible for more countries or, one day, all countries to cope with them. The way developed countries do it now.

More on that State of the Union Address

More news about Commission President Barroso's (not to be confused with all the other Presidents in the EU) State of the Union Address that he will be making on Tuesday. According to Daniel Hannan, Tory MEP, Daily Telegraph blogger and all-purpose Conservative eurosceptic, the rival President, that of the Toy European Parliament, is proposing to fine those MEPs who do not sit through the entire Address. Who can be so heartless as not to laugh at their predicament?

UKIP leadership

The time has come to write something about the forthcoming UKIP leadership election. The party conference finished today and, against all odds, it seems to have excited some media interest, most of it centred on the not entirely unexpected news that Nigel Farage is intending to stand for the leadership again. (Guardian, Press Association, and others).

Mr Farage is not going to ask my opinion (well, he never has in the past, so why should he start now?) but I would advise him not to do it. Should he get elected again the oft-repeated mantra that UKIP is not really a party but a Farage fan club will seem justified; the slightly less often repeated opinion that Farage needs UKIP as his fan club, power base and general prop-up because he cannot hack it any other way will also seem justified. Failing very badly in Buckingham, not by losing to Bercow as that was a given but by coming third by many votes, he will be seen as a man who is running home to the one place where he is appreciated. This will not look good either for the party or for him. On the other hand, there will be a great deal of media coverage as Mr Farage has definitely broken into the magic circle of politicians who are known to journalists and liked by them for whatever reason.

The BBC has produced a more general piece on the candidates as they are known now. They mention David Campbell-Bannerman, another MEP and one of the two Deputy Leaders under Lord Pearson, who has spoken about UKIP's lack of professionalism that showed itself all too clearly during the election campaign.

Gerard Batten is the MEP for London, who seems to model himself on Robespierre, endlessly demanding more radical policies. In particular, he wants the party to campaign for full proportional representation, an unlikely thing to happen. If the policy were adopted, it would, of course, confuse the electorate considerably more.

The previous version of the piece, which had a fetching picture of two leadership contenders looking as if they were about to knife each other, mentioned three other possible contenders: Nikki Sinclaire and Winston McKenzie and Tim Congdon.

While I have the greatest respect for Professor Congdon as one of the few genuinely free-market economists who manages to make his views heard I cannot help wondering how he would cope with that unruly bunch that defeated Lord Pearson's best intentions.

Nikki Sinclaire is fairly well known to followers of UKIP as the lady who has fell out with other members of the party several times and, most recently, lost the whip when she refused to sit with other members of the political group in the Toy Parliament. Anyone would think that she had not known who the other members were going to be or that it actually mattered. Those groups exist only for financial purposes. There are rumours that her expenses are to be investigated by OLAF, the organization that is supposed to be the EU's anti-fraud unit though its own reputation is hardly whiter than white. That could be considered a badge of honour, since OLAF never goes for anyone except the politically unreliable.

And so we come to Winston McKenzie, a man who seems to be a modern Baron Munchausen. According to his Wikipedia entry he "is a UK politician, notable for having joined every major political party, and for having stood as an independent or minor party candidate on numerous occasions".

As a matter of fact, I believe, he has joined every minor party as well, each time convincing himself that he ought to be the leader of that party or the Mayor of London or, for all I know, the Prime Minister. (This piece on the BBC from 2008 confirms that I am right on that.) I recall sitting next to Mr McKenzie on the 18 Doughty Street sofa when he explained to the viewers (both of them) that he was conducting top level secret discussions with senior police officers in London over a plan he had for solving gang gun crime. No, he could not reveal any details but in a few days' time all will become known. We are still waiting.

So there we are, ladies and gentlemen, the field as we know it now.

Great news

I found this on Chicago Boyz, a group blog I contribute to, though not as frequently, as I would like. There is a new book coming from Jim Bennett, whom Andrew Roberts described as the godfather of the Anglosphere and Lexington Green (he does have another name but I am not allowed to divulge it) who has caused something of a stir in American media and on the blogosphere by his analysis of the Glenn Beck rally.
It will be about the American way of life, where it came from, where it’s going and what we should be doing. So far it looks like we will have everything in there: The Magna Carta, the Singularity, Resilient Communities, the Haymarket Riot, the Anglosphere, the Constitution, Libertarians and Conservatives having a group hug, the inevitable doom of our would-be overlords, pretty much everything including the kitchen sink. We are still working on the book proposal. But we are moving along.
Can't wait.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is what matters

As I have said before I am profoundly uninterested in William Hague's sexual orientation or interests; I have also said on numerous occasions that Mr Hague is likely to be the most disastrous Foreign Secretary for some time if not ever. The fact that the man has no ability to think his way through a perfectly simple situation does not inspire confidence. The best way of putting it is to say that he made a series of egregious errors of judgement. Another way of putting is to say that he has shown himself to be an arrogant idiot. This does not inspire one with confidence and has not gone unnoted in other countries.

However, let us set the unfortunate saga of Chris Myers aside. The reason I think William Hague should be pilloried is summed up in this article that was published in Europe's World. Undoubtedly it was written by some bod in the Foreign Office but Mr Hague put his name to it and no SpAd of his pointed out the problems with it.

The article is about the "UK's Tory-led government's" EU policy.
The EU is an institution of enormous importance to the United Kingdom and to British foreign policy. And although the Conservative Party has seldom shied away from frank criticism when we have thought the EU has collectively been getting things wrong, we have equally been the foremost champions of the EU’s greatest achievements – the single market and enlargement.

Yet, as is widely recognised, this is no time for the EU to rest on its laurels. Today, its member states need to work together on the new issues we face in the 21st century; combating climate change, fighting global poverty and securing our energy supplies.

Our common economic future poses a fundamental challenge. Europe’s share of the world’s GDP is set to shrink and the world does not owe us a living. With the rise of new economic powers in many industries, Europe has already lost its cost advantage. If we also lose our knowledge advantage our future could be very bleak. Herman Van Rompuy has accurately said, ‘we need more economic growth, now and in the future’ and has rightly identified competitiveness as a key issue.
And so on, and so on. Read the whole thing and remember that this is not simply for show. This is their policy. Here is another taster:
The UK's new Conservative-led government intends to play a leading role in discussion of the European Union's external affairs. While we conservatives have taken a particular view on the utility and purpose of the EU's institutional structures, we have always argued that it is in the common interests of the nations of Europe that we should use our collective weight in the world to mutual advantage and to promote our shared values. We have consistently argued that EU member states have not shown enough determination and consistency in delivering on foreign policy goals. This Conservative-led government will be a strong advocate of the European Union’s collective demonstration of those qualities.

The European Union needs to show unity and purpose in its relations with Russia, where a balanced and constructive partnership would be desirable. And the EU should also prove that we Europeans have the political will to deliver the appropriate response to the Iranian Government’s stance on nuclear proliferation.

The EU's new External Action Service is going to have considerable bearing on the future success of Europe's global role. It is true that we in the Conservative Party were not persuaded of the case for the new EEAS as a service, but its existence is now a fact. Part of our critique of the Lisbon treaty was that rather than making the EU more streamlined and efficient, its new arrangement of the EU’s structures held the potential for inter-institutional confusion and discord. Nevertheless, we now look to the smoothest possible establishment of a service that must play a positive role for the EU and have the confidence of its member states. Britain's Conservative government will work closely with the High Representative, whom we wish well.
Compared to that, the story of Chris Myers is highly unimportant.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Another op'nin' another show"

Another Middle East peace conference in the White House, the first in twenty months as the Economist somewhat breathlessly tells us. Twenty months, eh? Has it really been that long? How time flies. The article is terribly hopeful because, astonishingly, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, appears to want to negotiate for peace. Well, there's a surprise.

Now, what about the other players? Jordan and Egypt might want peace as having the pesky Palestinians on their doorstep is not something they are very keen on but, on the whole, if Israel takes most of the flak, they can live with it. Mahmoud Abbas may or may not want peace. His main problem is with his own people and, even more so, with Hamas.

That brings me to the absentee organization. As before, Hamas is not there and they have already told us that they are not interested in peace with anybody and despise Mahmoud Abbas for talking to Israel. They have also expressed their views strongly by killing four Israeli civilians (five really, as one of the women was pregnant) in a gun attack and wounding two in another one. The Economist did mention this in the article but in line with certain other Western media outlets did not think that this was anybody's fault, except maybe the Israeli settlers.

These immensely courageous actions (the spraying of cars with ordinary civilians in them with bullets) have been described by the Palestinian Authority as a "military operation", we get the usual pictures of children celebrating wildly the news of the killings and so it goes on. Above all, there is no sign of Hamas (and one or two other organizations) accepting Israel's right to exist any time soon.

Are we placing bets on how long these talks will last?