Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Probably she will get the job

Will Christine Lagarde become the new head of IMF? She is certainly campaigning as the Wall Street Journal reports.
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said she will fly to Brazil Sunday night and also plans to visit the Middle East as she kicks off her global tour to rally support from the emerging world for her bid to lead the International Monetary Fund.

Brazil is to be her first stop as it was the first country to have invited her, Ms. Lagarde said in an interview with French radio Europe 1. She told The Wall Street Journal last week that Brazil, China and India were must stops on a global campaigning tour to secure broad backing to be the first woman to lead the international institution.
She is trying to make the various emerging world leaders understand that it should be another European at the helm of the International Monetary Fund just as, traditionally, an American heads the World Bank.

That, they say, is unfair. How about somebody from the BRIC countries or the Middle East? What about their interests? True, but then again, who contributes most money to these institutions. Not Brazil, that's for sure.
While Ms. Lagarde has the backing of most European countries, emerging nations are more skeptical toward her candidacy. Several of them have said the job should go to a candidate from an emerging nation to reflect their growing weight on the world scene, and they have questioned the clubby arrangement under which the job of IMF managing director has gone to a European while the World Bank has been headed by an American. Ms. Lagarde said her trip was intended to allay such concerns.

Mexico's central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, also declared his candidacy last week, while Israeli central banker Stanley Fischer is examining a formal bid to seek the position and figures he has an outside shot at the job if there is a deadlock in the voting, said an official familiar with his thinking.

Mr. Fischer, a former deputy managing director of the IMF, is a long shot. While he is widely respected among central bankers and finance ministers, his current position as Israel's central bank governor would make it tough to win the support of Arab nations and other emerging-market countries, said an Arab official who has worked with Mr. Fischer.
Just imagine what would happen if a Jewish banker were appointed to that position even if he is just a central bank governor. Our conspiracy theorists will go into overdrive.

Personally, I think she will be appointed for one very good reason: whenever there is a resignation over a sex scandal a woman is appointed as a successor.

Of course, they could consider the real solution and that is the abolition of the IMF but, somehow, with that many snouts in the trough, I do not think that will happen.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's great to find another useful blog

It is not clear to me why I have not come across European Disunion before, particularly as its author has put Your Freedom and Ours on his blogroll. I apologize profusely but shall now read it regularly.

There are excellent pieces about the mess that most Mediterranean countries are turning into (and don't say we didn't warn you), which means that I don't have to write about either Greek or Spanish riots, demonstrations and other unpleasantness. I particularly like the excellent summary of Commission President Barroso's career. Reminds me of the days I wrote about the man. Perhaps, I should start again.

As a matter of fact, I do not think there is a contradiction between being somebody who thinks power is to be taken in the streets and somebody who then exercises unaccountable power from some office. These two stances are, if I may put it that way, the two sides of the same authoritarian coin.

While we are on the subject, let me express a complete lack of support for these demonstrators who are screaming that nothing is their fault, that they have a right to a future, to jobs, to benefits, to anything and everything they want. They are no more revolutionaries than the people who rioted in London for higher taxes and a bigger state are anarchists. These are people who are terrified of any change, they do not want to face a future that is different and, perhaps, more difficult or, at least, full of the need to work harder. These are spoilt children, stamping their collective feet and demanding that sweets be handed out indefinitely.

So they say they want a revolution in Greece and are, allegedly, arming themselves for one. A revolution to achieve what, precisely?

Not going to happen, children. Sorry, but there it is. The euro with all the bolstering will survive for a while because there is a great political capital invested in that and for a while the bail-outs will continue. But, at some point, Roger Bootle's prediction will come true: "They can try to ‘delay and pray’ but the euro is running out of time". The sooner the better. Let the Greek government deal with their revolutionaries. Why should the rest of us be subsidizing it all?

Dangerous insanity

Do read this article by Phyllis Chesler. She may be going over the top in her fear for Israel and Jews in general but, equally, she may not be. As it happens, I think Obama's call for those 1967 borders is not going to be supported by a sufficient number of countries. Indeed, it has already been expunged through Canadian efforts from the G8 statement. I should like to think that our own government lined up on the right side in this matter but, I fear, that as ever, the Boy-King is bending with what he thinks is the prevailing wind (to quote Captain Renault). I would accept the argument that the Prime Minister of this country should not be seen to be a Patron of any charity that might be construed as being political (though I would like to see a list of those he is linked to) if he had also announced that no more taxpayers' money was going to Hamas. Let them find their own money to spend in those brand new shopping malls.

Whether her fears are fully justified or not (after all, the intent to kill all Jews and, presumably, other Israelis is there) the notion of "Queers for Palestine" is so monstrous as to defy description. Quite apart from Jews (and many of those Queers are probably Jewish), do these people not care what happens to people like them in Palestine and other Islamic Arab states?

Tax Freedom Day 2011

It is today as the Adam Smith Institute says, three days later than in 2010.

I wish I could understand this

Latvian politics seems to be extraordinarily complicated:
Latvian president Valdis Zatlers has called for the dissolution of parliament after MPs blocked an anti-corruption probe against a prominent politician.
The move means a referendum will be held in the next few months on whether to break up parliament and hold new elections.
Somewhere in there a £6.4 billion international bail-out, a presidential election in parliament next week and, undoubtedly, a good deal more. As the article says, political turmoil is indicated.

Meanwhile, in West Dunbartonshire ....

Archbishop Cranmer has a better than usual (and that is high praise, indeed) posting on a piece of idiocy by the West Dunbartonshire Council that has decided to ban all goods from Israel, including, of course, as His Grace points out, all books published and printed there. As he rightly asks, why not just burn them all. Nobody thought of that before.
His Grace does not know why these anti-Semites don't just go the whole hog and start burning all books written by Israeli authors. It beggars belief that any democratically-elected municipal council in Britain can get away with such blatant racial prejudice and discrimination. The Council has no concern for the crimes and inhumanities of China, Iran, Sudan, North Korea or Zimbabwe, all of which have appalling records on human rights. Their focus is Israel, and Israel alone.

By this act, West Dunbarton has made anti-Semitism respectable and acceptable in a country whose leader is intent on eradicating all expressions of Protestant-Catholic sectariansm. In the Council, the SNP form the largest group. It is rank hypocrisy with more than a hint of Goebbels.
It would seem that the Council has banned the idea of buying anything new that may have been produced in Israel. That, as His Grace points out, quoting Ray Cookewill present the odd difficulty in that the list of things they will now have to do without is a very long one and includes some important computer equipment and medication.

Read the whole list through one link or the other. No point in my copying it out. What exactly will the people of West Dunbarton think of this?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

UNICEF and football

Saturday afternoon in the centre of London saw an enormous number of Barcelona FC supporters who were celebrating in a surprisingly jolly fashion (i. e. they had not drunk themselves into a stupor) their spectacular victory over Manchester United. I am told by people who watched the game that it was a walk-over for Barca who played beautifully, which makes me regret that I did not watch it somewhere as football played well is a joy. Sadly, it rarely is played well.

Anyway, I shall not draw any conclusions about the need for English footballers to start paying attention to what they are paid for rather than the need to act like superstars of celebworld. Instead I want to mention something curious I noted as I walked through Trafalgar Square, which was packed with aforementioned Barca supporters. (Nor do I intend to wade into the appalling thickets of Spanish-Catalonian relationship.)

A surprising number of supporters had the word UNICEF on the football shirt they wore. Now I know well enough that when you see such words as SAMSUNG or GULF AIR or EMIRATES on those shirts they indicate some sort of financial arrangement between the company in question and the team or, at least, their stadium. But UNESCO is a UN organization of dubious usefulness that lives very handsomely on money from taxpayers around the world but mostly the United States and a few other Western countries.

So how do they get their name on the FC Barcelona shirts? Well, Mr Google is one's friend or, at least sometimes and I found the following information.

Futbol Club Barcelona kicked off a new global alliance with UNICEF today at a press conference in New York. The partnership, benefiting children across the developing world, will focus on those affected by HIV/AIDS in Swaziland during its first year.

In addition to donating some $1.9 million per year to UNICEF over the next five years, the legendary sports club will feature the UNICEF logo on its 2006-2007 jersey, the first such placement in the club’s 107-year history.
Must be the first time a football club paid for the privilege of wearing another organization's logo. it seems that the football club has a charitable foundation.
Through the work of its foundation, FC Barcelona has an extensive philanthropic history. It has committed itself to social, cultural, educational and humanitarian activities in Catalonia and has expanded internationally during the last few years under the motto, ‘More than a club’.
I can see that this might sound rather annoying to many people but as football clubs are rich businesses there seems no particular reason why they should not do what other businesses do and carry out charitable work. But handing money to UNICEF seems rather an odd idea. And wearing their logo is even odder. Is there any evidence that this has achieved anything anywhere?

Apparently, UNICEF has been outclassed or outbid by Qatar Foundation
The UNICEF logo was bumped off the front of the jersey by the Qatar Foundation, which signed a record shirt sponsorship deal with Barcelona last December for 30 million euros a season, or 165 million euros until 2016.

The deal with the Qatar Foundation, which promotes education and research in the Middle East, was criticised at the time by former Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff who said it was “sullying the jersey” of a team that boasts to be “mes que un club” (more than a club).

Barcelona said they would provide more details of the agreement with UNICEF in June.
But, what has been the outcome of that partnership with UNICEF? One cannot be sure. But it sounds good.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Time to look at real politics

It is not exactly a secret that I am pro-American, a confirmed Anglospherist (no, dear, that is not the same as thinking the Commonwealth can be revived as a real political force) and someone who is very interested in American politics. The reason for the last of these is because ... well ... how shall I put it .... American politics is more interesting than our own. And the reason for that is the readiness of a substantial and ever growing section of the American population to engage in politics and not just by voting on the day or, even, getting all excited about parties. One can see this in the growth and importance of the blogosphere and, more recently, of the Tea Parties (which remain a dirty word or dirty two words for a number of allegedly politically active people on this side of the Pond).

So far so good. I have written about American politics over the years both on this blog and on my previous outlet but rarely about individual states, having maintained that you have to be in that state to understand how it works and what are the political issues. This might change as the 2012 campaign approaches and, in particular, I shall be following the senatorial challenge in the state of Maine where a friend and political ally of many years standing (we were both there at the founding of the Anti-Federalist League, which morphed into UKIP), Andrew Dodge is standing. Mr Dodge is an interesting figure in any political life but, especially, in the Republican Party. I shall be writing about him and his involvement in politics and the Tea Parties again but in the meantime, here is a piece by Tim Stanley, which analyzes Maine Republican politics, talks about the probable extinction of RINOs and gives a brief summary of what Mr Dodge is up to. Oh, and by the way, unlike President Obama Mr Dodge is entirely sound on the European Union.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

People seem to forget about this border

The ruling Egyptian military government has announced that the border between Egypt and Gaza, the one most Western media has forgotten, will be opened this week-end. This may be a sop to "growing sentiment here in favor of distancing the country from Israel". But one can't help wondering which way popular sentiment and, indeed, the government will go when Gazan Palestinians rush into Egypt in large numbers as has happened before. After all, we still don't know how long the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which is alleged to have prompted the move, will last. There is also the interesting question of how many of those peaceful Gazan Palestinians will use this development to build up an arsenal against Israel and to try to get a few suicide/homicide bombers into that country. Anything rather than do some hard work to make Gaza work.

Then again, do they need to make Gaza work with all the money that is pouring in. Apparently, this poverty-stricken region, this concentration camp, this latter-day Warsaw ghetto is about to acquire a huge shopping mall.
The biggest Palestinian shopping mall is scheduled to open in the Gaza Strip in mid-June.

This will be the second shopping mall to open in the Gaza Strip in a year. Last July, Palestinians opened a two-story mall that includes a supermarket, international clothing stores, a food court, beauty products, a children’s playground and a restaurant.
The modern three-story complex is the first of its kind in the Palestinian territories, said Ehab al-Issawi, executive director of the Al-Hayat Tureed Company that owns the mall.
Where exactly is the money coming from for this shopping mall and for the shopping that will be done in it?

Demonstration outside the Russian Consulate

As ever there will be a demonstration outside the Russian Consulate in Notting Hill (Bayswater Road, close to the northern edge of Kensington Gardens) on May 31. The idea is to demonstrate here in the safety of Britain in support of those who would like Russia to have the freedom of speech that is enshrined in Article 31 of the Constitution. Sadly, those demonstrations in Russia are rarely allowed, if ever, and when they take place tend to be dispersed by heavy-handed policing. And I do mean heavy-handed.

Here is the information in English:


in solidarity with «Strategy-31»

Everyone who wishes to support the Russian civic movement for the Freedom of Assembly, enshrined in Article-31 of the Russian Constitution, is invited to the rally which is going to be held at 6pm on Tuesday, May 31st, opposite the Russian Consulate in Bayswater Road.

It will soon be two years since men and women in Russia started trying to use their constitutional right at least on the 31st day of the month, but each time they have been beaten up, dragged to police buses, detained, fined and arrested. This has been happening on Triumphalnaya Square in Moscow, near Gostiny Dvor in St. Petersburg and at numerous other places in Russian cities and towns. This is going to happen again in Russia on May 31st as well.

Let us support those who fight for their rights inside their own country!

Let us attract the attention of people in Britain to what is happening in Russia!

Let us show the Russian authorities that the protest movement against their actions is spreading all over the world!

Let us gather at 6 pm on May 31st in front of the Russian Consulate!

Every person makes a difference.
And in Russian:



Приглашаем всех, кто хочет поддержать гражданское движение в защиту 31-й статьи российской конституции, придти на демонстрацию, которая состоится вo вторник, 31 мая, в 6 часов вечера, напротив Консульства России на Bayswater Road..

Вот уже почти два года те, кто хотят воспользоваться своим конституционным правом на свободу собраний, пытаются это делать хотя бы по 31 числам. Каждый раз мирно собирающихся людей избивают, волокут в автозаки, задерживают, штрафуют, а иногда и арестовывают. Это происходит на Триумфальной площади в Москве, у Гостиного двора в Петербурге и во многих других российских городах. Можно с уверенностью сказать, что это призойдет и 31 мая.

Поддержим тех, кто в России отстаивает свои права!

Привлечем внимание британцев, к тому, что происходит в России!

Покажем российским властям, что протест против их действий распространяется по всему миру!

Выйдем на демонстрацию перед российским посольством 31 мая в 6 часов вечера!

Чем больше нас будет, тем лучше.
If you happen to be around and care about the issue (I know many have given up on Russia and I do not blame them), do join us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Riskier and riskier

A very unhappy article in Der Spiegel points out,
While Europe is preoccupied with a possible restructuring of Greece's debt, huge risks lurk elsewhere -- in the balance sheet of the European Central Bank. The guardian of the single currency has taken on billions of euros worth of risky securities as collateral for loans to shore up the banks of struggling nations.
All a bit of a mess, really. The article is worth reading in full.

Oh and, by the way, 46 MPs voted for Mark Reckless's Amendment earlier today:
That this House notes with concern that UK taxpayers are potentially being made liable for bail-outs of Eurozone countries when the UK opted to remain outside the Euro and, despite agreement in May 2010 that the EU-wide European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM) of €60 billion would represent only 12 per cent. of the non-IMF contribution with the remaining €440 billion being borne by the Eurozone through the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), that the EFSM for which the UK may be held liable is in fact being drawn upon to the same or a greater extent than the EFSF; further notes that the European Scrutiny Committee has stated its view that the EFSM is legally unsound; and requires the Government to place the EFSM on the agenda of the next meeting of the Council of Ministers or the European Council and to vote against continued use of the EFSM unless a Eurozone-only arrangement which relieves the UK of liability under the EFSM has by then been agreed.
The link is the temporary one and will be replaced by the permanent Hansard link tomorrow. The vote was somewhat more complicated because another Amendment was put down by Chris Heaton-Harris, the well-known "eurosceptic" ex-MEP, which watered the original down and which is generally assumed to have been inspired by the government whips. So, the NO votes are the important ones as they are voting against Mr Heaton-Harris's Amendment to the Amendment. Here is the list. More on all this tomorrow when Hansard will be available.

Clearly I lack breadth of vision

For some time it has seemed to me inevitable that the two-state solution that may have been obvious back in 1948 (though not to the Arab states who refused it) is not going to work in the Palestine now. Given the normal relationship between Hamas who rule Gaza with ferocious control and Fatah who do much the same in the West Bank, there would have to be a three-state solution: Israel, Fatahland and Hamastan. Someone recently suggested to me a four-state solution as the Christians who are mostly thronging into Israel may not always want to be there. Well, maybe.

What we all lack is breadth of vision. Phyllis Chesler is advancing an idea, which is not hers originally but whose time has come, a ten-state solution.
But why is everyone thinking so “small?” My colleague and friend, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, has a far more realistic and creative suggestion. When I first heard his proposal, I laughed. I thought: “Surely, this is some kind of Jewish joke.”

His suggestion is no joke. In fact, it has some serious support from both Israelis and Palestinians. Of course, things being what they are, no one will go on record supporting this idea, which is based on a sociological and historical analysis of Arab tribes and the consequent concept of Arab tribal city-states.
When you think about it seriously, it does not seem such a bad idea.
Dr. Kedar proposes the creation of no less than eight or nine independent and separate Arab city-states within the West Bank, in addition to Gaza. Of course, Israel would comprise the ninth or tenth state. He writes:

“There is no reason to assume that a Palestinian state will not become another failing Arab state, due to the fragmented society in the West Bank and Gaza, tribalism and lack of awareness of nationhood as demonstrated by the failing performance of the Palestinian authority since its establishment in 1994…Social stability is the key for political stability…the only successful model for an Arab state is the one which is based on a single consolidated traditional group such as each of the individual Arab Gulf Emirates.”

This actually makes sense. The Arab Gulf Emirates have been relatively successful because their inhabitants are, with some exceptions, largely homogeneous in terms of tribe, ethnicity, and religion. True, the oil wealth has also provided an incentive for unity. But in general, the Arab Middle East has always been composed of many tribes, religions, sects, and ethnic groups, all at war with each other and with the government. The colonial imposition of a central, western-style nation-state has not served the interests of the indigenous people but rather the interests of dictators and large corporations.
If that would mean the eight or nine Arab city states actually concentrating on wealth creation and ordinary life, the Middle East might become considerably more stable. But which politician is likely to express this as a policy?

Tory to UKIP to Tory

Well if Churchill could defect back and forth, why not David Campbell Bannerman? Who, I hear you ask. Oh, errm, well, he is the chap who lost the UKIP leadership election to Nigel Farage (here, here and here) and .... errm .... he is an MEP and .... well, that's about it. That, in a way, is the problem that UKIP has and much of the blame can be laid on its Leader. Mr Farage has, over the years, ensured that nobody from his party is known outside that party. Not, in my opinion, a happy state of affairs but I am not in UKIP.

Meanwhile, Mr Campbell Bannerman has been welcomed back into the Conservative fold whence he started years ago, even serving a stint as Chairman of the Bow Group. According to William Hague, our fairly useless Foreign Secretary,
Mr Campbell Bannerman would make a "valuable" contribution to their work.

"The Conservative Party is bringing in people who want to work in the national interest to sort out Britain's problems," he said.
What that might mean is anybody's guess.

Mr Campbell Bannerman himself has
said he had been "impressed" by David Cameron's leadership while UKIP was beset by "internal fighting" and was not a "credible" political force.
Well, he is half right. Mind you, while his opinion on UKIP may be one many of us are in sympathy with, his view on the European Union remains the opposite of that held by the Conservative Party. They do not believe in withdrawal or, for that matter, in anything but agreeing to every deal proposed in Brussels.

Meanwhile, some readers might like to have a look at this article published in the Guardian less than a year ago:
Cameron has spent the last five years ditching Conservative policies on Europe. Even though his party urged people to "vote blue, go green", he rescinded Tory policy to unilaterally leave the common fisheries policy and stop the environmental disaster caused by nearly one million tonnes of dead fish being thrown back into the sea every year. The party leadership used the coalition talks to "bury the Tory right" and end the campaign to renegotiate British membership of the EU. Cleverly, these U-turns were done during the phony war over Tory membership of the trans-European group of MEPs in Brussels (the federalist European People's party).

Within its first month, the coalition abandoned the UK hedge fund industry by barely lifting a finger to block the EU hedge fund directive. In last week's budget, the Chancellor declared Britain was open for businesses. But if the EU gets its way in regulating alternative investment funds, then the Treasury will lose billions in revenue. Zurich, New York and the far east will benefit as hedge fund managers leave to places where they can do business without being told who to deal with and where to bank. The Conservatives didn't have plans for regulating hedge funds to this extent in their manifesto, so why are they so keen to let the EU do it for them?

January's VAT hike would be mostly avoidable if we didn't have to pay the EU a net annual membership contribution of £6.6bn. Or is it that we need the hike to pay for the new contribution the UK will make in 2014 – a staggering £10.3bn? None of this was mentioned recently by Osborne.
Quite a cogent piece. The author? One David Campbell Bannerman. Oh what a difference 11 months can make.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama "clarifies" his position

As President Obama starts his hastily arranged state visit to Britain and Ireland (James Delingpole's take on the subject is completely accurate in my opinion), Hot Air reminds us that before leaving he had tried to clarify his position on the Middle East (well, on Israel and her relationship with Hamas and Fatah).

Basing his account on Philip Klein's report, Ed Morrissey comes to the conclusion that
So, we can’t expect Israel to try to negotiate with Hamas, but we can blame them for a failure to try to negotiate with Hamas? Is the US position that Israel has “no option” but to negotiate with terrorists that no one expects them to negotiate with?

Somewhere in these two statements is an explanation of smart power, I’m sure.
Uh-huh! This is, of course, what a number of "liberal" i.e. pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli analysts take when they try to explain why Israel is at fault for not wanting to be destroyed. Somehow one expects something better from the President of the United States, particularly one who was billed as being ultra-smart and ultra-knowledgeable. It's not like this was something difficult like the number of states in his country.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pictures from the rally

These are much better than anything I could manage. Pictures taken by someone from the TPA and a highly artistic collage of signs by Brian Micklethwait, the libertarian blogger. I shall post more links as I find them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Change? What change?

As President Obama comes up with another fatuous speech about the Middle East, showing that he seems not to have understood anything about recent events there or North Africa and promises lots more aid to countries with dubious governments, the question I asked on whether anything has changed in our media because of the "Arab spring" remains valid.

According to a report by JustJournalism the period before the various uprisings was characterized by serious under-reporting from Arab countries and over-concentration on Israel. As a consequence events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries sent journalists scrambling for information that they ought to have been collecting for some time and publishing. Of course, it is far easier to report from Israel than any other country in that area.

The question of whether anything will change remains. Clearly, President Obama has made up his mind that, despite everything that took place in the last few months, it is Israel that he needs to pressurize into surrender. Whether he will be successful is questionable.

Meanwhile, Phyllis Chesler reports that Facebook groups that call for mass invasion of Israel (anything to turn attention away from what is going on in Syria, Bahrain, Egypt etc etc) are proliferating.
The Third Palestinian Intifada on Facebook seems to have at least twenty different groups or pages, each with hundreds or thousands of fans. One group has 365,000 fans. According to Yedioth Ahronoth (YNet), these sites are now urging all Arabs to “rush the Israeli borders” after Friday prayers on May 20.

Look: This could be the work of one nerdy Palestinian in a basement in Ramallah. The fans could also be people who exist only in cyberspace.

But, these Third Palestinian Intifada websites could also be the work of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority, all of which have problems of their own and for whom a diversion would be mighty fine. In fact, I think they are. Thus, this promised new aggression must be taken seriously and stopped in its tracks.
Well, you can see the logic: we have no freedom, democracy, economic development, good education, rule of law, scientific and technological achievements, so let's destroy the one country in the area that has all those. That will solve our problems. Right!

What is a fiscal conservative?

Here is an entertaining answer to that question. I presume it will be used by some American politicians who will be running on that platform next year but I don't suppose anybody on this side of the Pond is interested. Not among politicians, that is.

Yet more on the Strauss-Kahn story

Yes, yes, I know. Stop it already. Get on to something else apart from the hilariously funny Strauss-Kahn story. I shall eventually - there are many other things to write about. All the same, I think this long article in Time magazine is worth reading.

Well, why was France silent about Strauss-Kahn's womanizing? And, if it comes to that, why is there a curious elision between seduction and violent assault that is close to rape. One explanation might be this:
Strauss-Kahn may have been abetted by the fact that most of his so-called conquests involved ideological fellow travelers — as was reflected by the Banon case. Says the French lawyer who asked not to be named: "My clients and other women I've been contacted by with reports of sexual aggression by Strauss-Kahn were all either Socialist Party members, supporters, or involved in wider leftist political activity that eventually brought them into contact with Strauss-Kahn. He has said he loves women, but it seems more accurate to say he loves Socialist women. I suppose he viewed that milieu as providing his supply of new women, and as one where women who caught his eye would either be compliant, or keep quiet about having to fight off his advances. Either way, there are a lot more women — and men — in Socialists circles who know about his activity than have ever said so."
This is an old story - the Left, who are supposedly feminist and supportive of women's rights, will silence women (sometimes with the women's full agreement) when a left-wing male is threatened. Bill Clinton is the most obvious example; his victims were abused racially and sexually by his left-wing supporters, which included feminist organizations. But, on a more disgusting level, think of Gerry Healy and the WRP, which numbered various Redgraves among its members.
The case in New York City reflects another dimension of the problem in France. "If I try transposing the situation in New York on Sunday to France, I just can't do it," says Diallo [Rokhaya Diallo, president of Les Indivisibles, an association that promotes diversity in France] "Not only because the woman is black and apparently an immigrant. But also because she's a housekeeper. Perhaps even more than her race, her station in society would probably prevent authorities [in France] from taking her accusations against a rich and powerful man seriously. Racism is on the rise here again, but class discrimination has never gone away."
Then again, the class aspect did crop up with Clinton as well with at least one of the women who complained described as "trailer trash" by somewhat unexpected people.

UPDATE: DSK has resigned from his job at the IMF, which shows that, having worked in the private sector, he understands reality a bit more than his enarque colleagues. Traditionally that job, as opposed to the one at the top of the World Bank, goes to a European. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air who seems to confuse Europe with the European Union is a little sniffy about that.
The issue for the EU is whether it can reclaim the top spot at IMF. For the moment, American John Lipsky is in charge, but the IMF won’t keep an American in that slot; the US gets the top spot at the World Bank by tradition, while Europe runs the IMF. This arrangement to balance the influence of the West on global markets was already under increased criticism as non-Western powers like China and others emerging from the developing world want a shot at running both organizations. Two years ago, the US and EU agreed to an “open, transparent, and merit-based process” for appointing leadership — but with the EU staggering through debt crises in several of its member states, it needs that spot perhaps more than it has in decades. Don’t be surprised if the “very, very strong, able candidates from the developing world” get rejection letters this go-around.
Uh-huh! I wonder whether Mr Morrissey will be just as anxious to have someone from the developing world when the top job at the World Bank comes up. European countries did need bailing out (regretfully) but they are not alone and where does most of the funding come from if not Western countries? Of course, we could put in an Australian or a Canadian but I suspect that is not what Mr Morrissey had in mind when he talked about those others who are lining up to run another tranzi organization.

I have a much better idea: why don't we investigate how useful the IMF and the World Bank are and, if the answer is not very much, then shut them down or, at least, limit their activity considerably.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We had expected you to be ....

Well, maybe not "the next prime minister but three" as Hilaire Belloc wrote so memorably about Lord Lundy who was far too freely moved to tears but, at least the next socialist candidate for the French presidency and, quite possibly, given Sarko's lack of popularity, the next French President. Alas for those hopes. It seems more than likely that Dominique Strauss Kahn's political hopes and career are over.

As the Economist put it:
EVERYTHING was in place to enable Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF head, to declare next month his candidacy for the Socialist primary, ahead of French presidential elections next year. Polls consistently showed that he was the most popular Socialist candidate, and the best placed to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off. But Mr Strauss-Kahn’s arrest on May 14th in New York, for an alleged sexual assault, has thrown all those plans in the air, and looks almost certain to wreck his political future.
This is rather a belated acknowledgement of the story that is of some interest and even greater amusement. After all, if the two stories about DSK as he is now known in the media are true then there may well have been others and, almost certainly, a good deal of gossip around him that was, presumably covered up by the various left-wing parties, media outlets and transnational organizations the man fetched up in.

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a leading French journalist who can write and broadcast equally well and entertainingly in French and English says on her blog and in the Daily Telegraph:
When the news broke in Paris early yesterday that France’s former finance minister had been arrested by the New York police for alleged sexual assault on a hotel housekeeper, reactions here were split between sheer disbelief, suspicions of entrapment and all-too-many knowing shrugs.

“Dominique Strauss-Kahn is well-known as a seducer,” his official biographer, Michel Taubmann, said. “I can’t believe he would force himself on an unwilling woman. That doesn’t make sense.”

Such a statement would come across as damning in most Western countries. In France, it is seen as a spirited defence. Until today, complicated sexual lives, multiple divorces and serial adultery never hampered political careers. François Mitterrand famously ran three parallel families while president. He appointed a former girlfriend of his, Edith Cresson (a married woman) as prime minister in 1991. His predecessor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, used to borrow a Ferrari from his friend Roger Vadim, the film director and Brigitte Bardot’s first husband, when he went on the pull. (He once crashed it into a milk float early one morning on his way back to the Elysée.) Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy were known for eyeing up comely reporters and female junior ministers.

In that context, DSK’s notorious penchant (and more) for a legion of pretty women did him no harm at all. “If anything,” Taubmann recalls, “he was the one harassed, not the reverse — I’ve seen time and again women MPs, party workers, etc brazenly passing on notes, hoping he would notice them.”
Poor chap - clearly the victim of predatory females. Or something. But, as Ms Moutet points out, alleged assault on two women (and more accusations might surface) is a different matter even in France, especially as the arrest was made in New York. Would he have been arrested had the first complaint been made in Paris? It is worth reading Ms Moutet's posting in full - she is very knowledgeable and gives some background to the story, pointing out that the immediate beneficiary of it all is Front National's Marine Le Pen, who is reported as not being surprised at all.

In the meantime here are a couple of articles from Der Spiegel, which support Anne-Elisabeth Moutet's points. Apparently, the appointment of a man who had been a banker or, in other words, actually understood about money, was something of a surprise among the cognocscenti, "but his stewardship of the institution during the global financial crisis drew praise". Must have been all that money he was giving away in bail-outs.

The same issue had an article about French political opinion being "aghast" at the charges.

In the end, it is, as ever, Dan Mitchell with whom I agree. He thinks that, while rapists should be tried and, if found guilty, punished, it is the IMF that we should really go after.

More on the IMF from Doug Bandow, also from Cato. I'd like to think he did not pick that ridiculous title, which is silly even as an attempt at a play on words. The article is very good.

Scrap it completely

James Delingpole weighs in on the Foreign Aid debate (I thought it was called International Aid these days as we don't want to talk about things and countries being "foreign). He is absolutely right not just on the particulars that he seems to have mentioned on the Jeremy Vine show but on the general points that he makes on his blog (and how glad I am that he has not given up blogging completely). Foreign or International Aid is, not to put too fine a point on it, an evil institution that helps to keep bloodthirsty kleptomaniacs in power and prevents economic development in many countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. It should be scrapped not just on economic grounds because we really are in no position to afford it but on moral ones.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We are not alone in having an ignorant media

It would appear that Britain is not the only country in which the media is so ignorant as to accept the self-designation of a group of pro-big-state, pro-high-taxation, anti-individual freedom campaigners such as UK Uncut as being "anarchist".

David Boaz on Cato@Liberty despairs of the descriptions of what constitutes anarchism in Greece - apparently it is people turning to violence in order to prevent cuts in social welfare and government control.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 5

The pointless EU Bill is in its Committee stage at the Lords. Day 5 is today - debate is likely to begin around 4 o'clock. Some people might like to watch it. I shall try to write up the various Amendments and their discussion over the next few days.

UPDATE: I was wrong. At 5 o'clock they were still debating the Report stage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Diverting attention

There is a scramble in the Middle East to divert attention from what matters - attempts by the oppressed people of various countries to protest against their governments and the latter's brutal suppression of those protests. It got to the point when even Western "liberals" and the media (but I repeat myself) have noted that there is a great deal of brutality in those countries and that Israel and the Palestinian issue are not what the protests and demonstrations are about. (I put liberals in quotation marks as I cannot see anything liberal about supporting Hamas or Fatah, both oppressive, authoritarian and bloodthirsty against the one Middle Eastern country that is, with all its faults, a democracy.)

Anyway, something had to be done and it is being done. Naqba Day is being prepared by Israel's neighbours.
Many residents of Arab countries in which anti-government protests abound have used social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to call for a third intifada on May 15, the Palestinian day of mourning over the establishment of Israel.

In Lebanon, 500 buses have been enlisted to shuttle Palestinians from refugee camps throughout the country to its southern border with the Jewish state. Al-Akhbar reported that protest organizers had increased their order by 200 buses due to the abundance of participants.
Well, that'll keep them out of mischief, that is protests against their own governments. Once again we have to ask why all these Palestinians are still in refugee camps in Lebanon but I think we all know the answer. Because their Arab brethren have no desire to help them or even let them help themselves; because they are needed as the diversion from the problems in Arab countries.

But what, I hear some of you say, is Naqba Day? Glad you asked that. It is a day of mourning for Palestinians because of the founding of Israel 63 years ago. Does anybody really believe that the problem about peace in that area has to do with Israeli settlements or Benjamin Netanyahu when Israel is surrounded by people who do not acknowledge its right to exist?

Here is Joel Leyden's take on it:
It's not about Palestine or the Palestinians. What the world is about to witness is event marketing at its very, oil funded best. Iran, Syria, Libya, Turkey and Qatar are now funding a PR diversion away from the hundreds of murders in Syria and Libya by government forces against pro democracy citizens and focusing on Israel.

Whenever Arab states are forced to confront poverty, disease and a total lack of basic human rights in their own countries they always use the Palestinians. They pour millions of rich oil dollars into PR campaigns to deflect from the suffering in their own totalitarian states to discredit the only free democracy in the Middle East - Israel.
The interesting question is whether the events of the so-called Arab spring, which is now turning to summer, will change attitudes in Arab countries or outside them.

Surprisingly successful

About 350 people turned up for Rally Against Debt, which is not bad, given the lack of money and resources behind the organization of it. It's not like we had taxpayer sponsored unions to provide transport to thousands of people from all over the country - all who came paid their own way. And, of course, it was largely organized through blogs, twitter, facebook and word of mouth with some help from the MSM.

Some nice home-made placards. I liked the chap who was wondering round with a large notice that supported the cuts "if there are any". Someone else pleaded for Britain not to have a Greek tragedy; one person encouraged people to read Ayn Rand (he likes the woman's novels whereas I advise everyone to stick to her essays as they are shorter and pithier); one person even informed the world that Che was a mass murderer and that t-shirt is not funny, on the grounds that Bob Crow has been known to wear one of those. Anyway, it was good humoured and Old Palace Yard was left spotless afterwards. We are, as a well-known blogger said to me, civilized people.

Some cars going by hooted in support but my favourite sight was that of a police officer explaining to somebody who was just there to take photographs why we should not be bailing out other countries. The rest of us stood back and let him get on with it.

Will anything come of it? Hard to tell. The Tea Parties over on the side of the Pond started with far smaller meetings but they were across the country in many different states, organized by local people who became activists out of frustration with their party politicians. This is still only London and two of the speakers were Tory MPs with one UKIP MEP. (One couldn't hear the speeches so it really is of little importance what they said but one can imagine.)

There has been a reasonable amount of coverage, which surprised us all: the Guardian, the BBC (with the Greek tragedy poster), the Telegraph and news on AOL.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Well, blogger is back

Apologies for interrupted service and for vanishing postings. Amazingly enough, blogger, having removed late postings in order to carry out what was clearly major reparation works, have put them all back. One would like to think that it was all about Chinese hackers but, sadly, the most likely explanation is things going badly wrong during a routine upgrade or maintenance work. Still, all is well that ends well and I shall be able to put up pictures and comments about tomorrow's Rally Against Debt.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

True Finns will not be in government

True Finns, who did extraordinarily well in the Finnish election, will not be in the new coalition government as they do not go along with the other parties on the question of the Portuguese bail-out, the issue on which they campaigned and were elected.

Meanwhile, here is an article by Timo Soini, the True Finns' leader in its "uncensored" version unlike that published in the Wall Street Journal though I suspect the editing was done mostly for reasons of space.

Another blow against Schengen

EurActiv reports that
Denmark's centre-right government yesterday (11 May) agreed to introduce border controls at its ports and airports, as well as along its only land border with Germany and its bridge to Sweden. The European Commission asked for additional information and said it would not accept any roll-back of the Schengen treaty.

The Danish government caved in to the demands of the Danish People's Party, a populist and anti-immigration party that has been holding up approval of its 2020 economic plan.
I love that expression "caved in". So if a government accepts the demands of a democratically elected party, it is called caving in. Well, of course, that is not how they do things in the European Union. What do the Danes think their country is, a democracy?
The new controls at all of Denmark's borders will be within the scope of the Schengen agreement, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

The Schengen treaty abolished border controls within Europe and currently consists of 25 nations. Denmark has signed the Schengen agreement, but has kept its freedom not to apply certain measures
For all of that, the Commission is right to be worried. (Hint to EurActiv: the Commission is not simply the Executive of the European Union, it is also the primary legislator, being the only body that is allowed by the treaties to initiate any legislation.)

The truth is, and the Commission is always the first to recognize it, that any restoration of border control, within the Schengen parameters or not, is a push back against the creation of the European state that will, naturally enough, not have any internal borders.

Plan of action?

What? I hear readers of this blog cry. She has a plan of action? Well, that's a turn-up for the books. And so on. Well, it depends on what you mean by "plan" and, indeed, by "action". Certainly, the cry "something must be done" is not a particularly sensible one unless one has some idea of what the something aims to achieve. Any action is better than none is one of the most dangerous concepts in the world and is much loved by politicians and their acolytes as they all assume that action, any action will bring in votes and support.

Anyway, first a short discussion. Recent conversations have convinced me of two things: one is that an in/out referendum would be as big a disaster as I had always assumed and the other is that there is still an enormous amount of rubbish being talked about the EU, Britain's role in it, how we are to extricate ourselves from it and what is to be done afterwards. The two items are not unconnected. It is because of the second one that the first remains true: the kind of rubbish that is produced by so many on what is over-generously described as "our" side will lose us an in/out referendum as sure as eggs is eggs. Our only hope is that David Cameron is not actually bright enough to realize this.

There has been a great deal of discussion after the victory of the NO side in the AV referendum about lessons to be learned from that campaign for the campaign for an in/out EU referendum and for the one during it. It is when we start discussing the actual referendum campaign that matters become complicated. For there is a reluctance on the part of people and organizations, supposedly on the "right" side of the debate to speak openly about what is involved. Instead, they hide behind expressions like "against the EU", "against Europe", "don't like what is happening", "want to change things".

All of that is meaningless in terms of a simple message that we can send to the electorate were we to have a referendum.

At least one of those organizations that bleat about being against the EU and critical of so many things will, according to its present Director, "campaign for big changes", should there be a referendum on our membership. Ahem, is that IN or OUT?

Then there is the media. The BBC will, of course, make sure that the IN message predominates and the OUT message is presented by the most ridiculously ignorant people they can find. But what of the other outlets? (I am talking about the MSM.) Will those who are calling for a referendum to "give people a say" necessarily campaign for Britain to come out of the EU? Will newspapers, say in the News International group, who produce criticisms of the EU, of the bail-outs, of the CFP, of many other things, necessarily say that the only way is to come out and rebuild our own system or will they wring their collective hands and moan about the need to reform things, explaining plaintively that we can do so only by remaining in the "club"? And that's just people, media and organizations that are supposed to be on "our side". The other side has not even started their well-funded, well-organized, well-rehearsed campaign. At present we have pitchforks and rusty shotguns against their artillery and machine guns.

That brings me to my second point: the unspeakable nonsense one hears about the EU and Britain's position in it. That extends to the complete ignorance of such matters as to how the situation can be changed and what is to happen afterwards.

So, sadly, there is nothing for it: the subject of the EU cannot be abandoned by this blog, much as I would like to, and, indeed, it has to be re-positioned as one of far bigger importance than I would like it to be. Not that I propose to abandon all other subjects because I have no desire to become one of those people who think there is nothing in the world than that poxy organization but the new(ish) cry must be: the people must be educated. Let's face it, by the time even a reasonable level of that education will be achieved, the EU will probably have fallen apart and we shall be left with a huge mess as we are not preparing ourselves for that contingency.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rally Against Debt

All the information, including place, time and list of (to me highly uninspiring) speakers is here. Naturally, I shall go along, take some pictures and blog about it all afterwards. I might even listen to the speakers but I do not think they are the important part of the event. What is important is that the event is taking place at all. It might, just might be the start of something.

Monday, May 9, 2011

They are not taking any chances

A few days ago the BBC reported that the Chinese authorities, ever mindful of the people's welfare, have taken an important step towards ensuring its intellectual aspect.
China has ordered TV stations across the country not to air any detective shows, spy thrillers or dramas about time-travel for the next three months.

All have been ordered off-air with immediate effect.

An official at China's state TV regulator confirmed to the BBC that the verbal order had been made.

China's Communist Party is preparing to mark 90 years since its founding and the authorities want TV stations to air programmes praising the party instead.
One must admit it is an odd choice of programmes to be taken off air unless, of course, those were the only ones shown regularly on Chinese TV, which does not seem to be the case entirely:
Wang Weiping, the deputy chief of the drama department at China's state TV regulator, called this a "propaganda period".

There are "dozens of good TV dramas related to the founding of the party" that stations can broadcast, he told the Beijing News.

Oriental TV in Shanghai told the BBC it was postponing its spy drama Qing Mang, due to air in 10 days time. It will be replaced by a comedy about mothers and their daughters-in-law.
Somehow the notion of "dozens of good TV dramas related to the founding of the party" does not fill me with any excitement. What, I cannot help wondering, are they afraid of? Wrong ideas or simply people not paying attention to the anniversary?

Questions asked in the Lords

It is time to catch up with some of what has been going on in the Lords. On Thursday, April 28 there were two Starred Questions that are of some relevance to the subjects this blog discusses.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked:
Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the contribution by the European Union and its predecessors to peace in Europe compared with that of NATO.
A fair question, given the number of times we have been told that the EU and its various predecessors have been crucial to the keeping of the peace in "Europe". Of course, even that is disingenuous: in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Europe peace was conspicuously absent in the decades after the Second World War. But let that pass.

Lord Howell's reply was also disingenous:
My Lords, both the European Union and NATO have made invaluable and complementary contributions to peace in Europe. We do not consider it appropriate to compare the two as they serve different functions. While NATO has ensured, and continues to ensure, our security, there is more to peace than just security. It requires stability, shared values, economic development and political co-operation. The European Union has contributed that. We firmly intend to remain an active and committed member of both.
The subsequent debate covered all the usual points, including role of NATO troops, specifically of American ones, the EU's helplessness when it comes to military matters and its lack of that democracy it is supposed to support in member states.

One has to feel some admiration for Lord Howell who is rather knowledgeable but has to navigate all those shoals, be courteous to everyone (this is not the Lower House, after all) and not step beyond government policy. In fact, the only speaker he seems to have been annoyed by was Lord Dykes, who has appeared on this blog a few times in the past. One cannot really blame Lord Howell.

A few minutes afterwards Lord Campbell of Alloway asked
Her Majesty's Government what proportion of the United Kingdom contribution to the European Union Budget has been signed off by the Court of Auditors over the last 16 years.
Indeed, we all know the answer to that and it is a round number. Lord Campbell asks questions about this periodically, hoping, one assumes, to get some kind of a sensible answer out of whichever governmen happens to be around. He has failed again. This was Lord Sassoon's reply:
My Lords, the UK contributes to the EU budget as a whole, not to individual spending programmes. Therefore, data on UK contributions to the EU budget not signed off by the Court of Auditors are unavailable. However, the recurrent failure to achieve a positive audit opinion from the court on EU's accounts is unacceptable. The Government set out recommendations to improve EU financial management and transparency at ECOFIN in February this year.
Well now, isn't that exciting news? More recommendations. One wonders whether they will be taken up and what will happen with the next EU budget.

To be fair to noble peers, this is a subject they can get quite angry about, presumbly because many of them are businessmen and well aware of the anomaly of a budget that is routinely, year after year, is thrown out by the auditors. What would be the fate of a business of any size to whom this happened?

The most interesting question came from the Countess of Mar, who rarely gets involved in debates on matters European:
My Lords, I recall some 20 years ago the late Lord Bruce of Donington asking very much the same questions repeatedly. Can the Minister say why it is taking so long to resolve this problem?
How very true. We all recall Lord Bruce of Donington, who always had more information in his hands than whichever Minister was replying, asking those questions and, no, nothing much has been done about it since.

According to Lord Sassoon, this is all because of the previous government giving "away a substantial part of the UK's abatement and signed on to a financial perspective that set a course of significantly increasing EU expenditure". That's as may be but the debate was about the Court of Auditors and the EU budget not being signed off, which has been going on for a slightly longer period than the previous government had been in office. Indeed, Lord Bruce's questions go back, to my certain knowledge to John Major's government and, quite possibly, beyond.

More on that referendum

I shall try not to write too much about the referendum campaign that has just gone but this is an interesting summary from someone who supported AV on why the YES campaign was so terribly bad. As it happens I don't agree that Nigel Farage's presence is necessarily a vote winner though he does energize activists. Nevertheless, it would have been sensible to have him on board simply to show that the campaign cut across all parties and political opinions and was not simply a nice little trendy attempt to tell us all how we should vote. This sort of thing, for instance, is laughable and infuriating in about equal measure.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

VE Day

I am afraid the Daily Mail was inaccurate as ever. It was not "all over" as fighting in the Pacific went on till August. But the collapse of Nazi Germany was something to celebrate.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

OK, let's discuss

There have been so many comments and analyses of those election and referendum results that I see no point in doing more than adding a few thoughts that might be interesting to discuss. I was going to post a link to UKIP results but as of Saturday afternoon, the website had not been updated and the news items were still about what had been said during the campaign.

By Saturday evening there was a piece about Young UKIP's results but still no proper tabulation of all candidates, votes and positions. For the time being, therefore, we shall abandon that subject, mayhap to return to it when whoever runs UKIP's website gets his (or her) act together.

It is always difficult to write about local elections and draw any conclusions from them because the results tend to depend on .... well, local conditions and circumstances. Of course, by now we all know that the party that suffered the biggest defeat was the Liberal-Democrat and it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people. The supposed anger with the Cleggeron Coalition policies did not really direct itself at the Conservatives who lost very few seats and actually gained some councils. Possibly the reason is that those who support the Conservative party in local elections, that is the absolute bedrock are unlikely to be annoyed about the supposed (but never actually happening) cuts while the Lib-Dim supporters are truly angry with what they see as a betrayal of their principles even if no-one can really understand what they are.

Labour did well but, as we have been reminded, not as well as they did in 1981 under Michael Foot, easily the most disastrous of their leaders.

In other words, this election leaves the same feeling as last year's GE but on a smaller scale: nobody is that enthused by any party.

Which leaves us the unwanted and unneeded AV referendum that was won by a 69 per cent to 31 per cent on a higher than expected turn-out by the NO side. While their campaign was nothing much, the YES side had an even worse one. The real entertainment came with the Prime Minister and his Deputy pitching into each other, rather like Tweedledum and Tweedledee when they decided to have a battle.

Of course, there is an argument to be made for ignoring the whole thing as it really does not matter how we vote for the puppets in the House of Commons, given how much of our legislation comes from the European Union and cannot be rejected even if it actually goes through Parliament, which is not always the case.

All true, but there are still certain aspects of our politics that are domestic and they are often the most intractable ones - education, health and welfare spring to mind. Furthermore, we need to look forward to the day the EU collapses (I am beginning to be cautiously optimistic that it will happen on my watch) and we shall be left with an appalling mess but, at least, we shall still have a workable parliamentary system. Unless, the Boy-King decides to do away with it in some other fashion.

So it is not just because one cannot help rejoicing at the discomfiture of what must be the most hypocritical party in British politics and of all those rent-a-celebs that makes one feel pleased with the outcome. No matter what system is proposed, the one that says people vote for their MP directly and not through a party list is the best one.

Furthermore, the proposed AV system was not exactly going to be helpful to smaller parties, no matter what the Leader of UKIP said (and I suspect it did not help the party much). Some sort of a top-up system would be better for that. What we voted on had one aim only: to make the third party politically stronger than its support warranted, something the Lib-Dims have achieved already, thanks to Cameron's pusillanimity.

What of democracy? This was a question we discussed on a programme I took part in earlier today at ... yes, you guessed it .... the BBC Russian Service. (I suspect my opinions are better known in Russia than in Britain but I am not sure what I can do about that.) Unfortunately, there was no time to go into the subject in any depth but my answer to that is straightforward.

Democracy is not simply a question of votes and government by the majority though, clearly, without that it cannot exist, which, again, makes the AV system suspect. Beyond that there are rights of the minority and individual liberties, both sadly forgotten nowadays by successive governments in this country. After all, what was the attack on the hunting community and, beyond that, on the people who take field sports seriously by the Labour government but an affirmation of the principle that if you are elected you can do anything you like?

It was pointed out to me by a supporter of AV that the only way minority rights can be protected is by them all being separately represented in the Commons. Or, I think, that is what he meant. Certainly he tried to argue that those electoral districts that voted predominantly YES, such as Camden, Islington and Hackney in London, parts of Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge had a bohemian population as well as areas of diversity and poverty. Therefore, he argued tentatively, they may be more concerned with minority representation.

Ahem, I responded, my own borough, Hammersmith and Fulham, is very mixed in population. Are you suggesting the people of Islington are really more concerned with minority rights and representation than the people of Hammersmith?

Democracy can exist seriously only if all of us, those who vote and those who are voted in, accept certain principles that go beyond elections while also knowing that legislatures and governments have to be accountable to the people, often in the light of those principles.

I have just finished reading Peter Whittle's new book Monarchy Matters, which deals, just as the title suggests, with the role of the Monarchy in Britain's present and future. One of his themes is the Monarchy's importance as the symbol of something far bigger than transient political or cultural ideas, one that links past, present and future. I am glad to say that Peter (yes, yes, he is a friend and a colleague) writes exactly what I have always said and did even during the broadcast of the Royal Wedding: the whole fuss over Diana showed how important the Royal Family was to so many people in this country.

Writing about the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of VE Day (appropriate as we are commemorating the 66th tomorrow), Peter says:

Those who turned up that day could cheer and clap if they wanted, in the sure and certain knowledge that cheering and clapping would not be seen by some central political figure as signifying approval for a policy or a particular course of action. They could be there in the knowledge that their reaction was not about to be manipulated. On occasions such as this, the monarch is the personification of the state and of the country; by virtue of the monarchy's hereditary nature, the Queen is also the living, breathing emblem of the full sweep of Britain's history. Can the French president, riding in the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées, truly occupy such a position and have the same resonance in the eyes of his compatriots, half (if not more) of whom probably voted against him?

When the monarch lays a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Day, the politicians (prime minister included) are well off to the side, awaiting their turn. They are there representing the government, the opposition, and so on. As such, the Queen barely acknowledges them. She is there on behalf of nobody but the people. We might vote for David Cameron, or be supporters of Ed Miliband, but we do not want either of them ot be laying wreaths in memory of the dead on our behalf.
As it happens, we do not vote for David Cameron or Ed Miliband but for our MP and that is the system that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

It is interesting to watch the efforts politicians make to usurp the Queen's position: all that talk of Blair being the head of state, of Cherie Blair being the first lady, Blair trying to take a leading role in the Queen Mother's funeral and, more recently, David Cameron appearing in the Mall to talk to the people who were lining up for Prince William's wedding. On a slightly different level it, too, is an assertion of the principle that if you have been elected you can do anything, which is not the principle of true democracy.

Michelle Malkin takes us through the Fog of Fog

This is truly inspired. Michelle Malkin points out that what we have here is not the Fog of War but the Fog of Fog.
Errors happen. Miscommunications happen. Confusing the name of which of bin Laden's myriad sons died (Hamza, not Khalid), for example, is no biggie.

But the hourly revamping of key details of Sunday's raid suggests something far beyond the usual realm of situational uncertainty that accompanies any military operation. The Navy SEALs did their job spectacularly. The civilians tasked with letting the world know about the mission, however, have performed like amateur dinner theater actors in a tragi-comic production of "Rashomon-meets-The Blind Men and the Elephant-meets-Keystone Kops."
Mind you, with material like that anyone can be a comic writer. Read the whole piece. Very well worth it.

No sooner do I ask ...

... than I get a reply from a reader. I knew someone would know the answer to the puzzle of the banker who was the best Homeric scholar. It was, apparently, Walter Leaf (1852 - 1927). Wikipedia tells us about his banking career, which was spectacular:
In 1877 he entered the family firm, becoming in 1888 chairman of Leaf & Company Ltd. Later he became chairman of the Westminster Bank. He was one of the founders of the International Chamber of Commerce, of which he was elected president in 1925. From 1919 to 1921 he was president of the Institute of Bankers. He was president of the Hellenic Society and the Classical Association. He married Charlotte Symonds, daughter of John Addington Symonds.
From another source we find that he was a pioneer of psychical research:
Leaf was also an active member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), London, and served a tenure on the council (1889-1902). He took part in the SPR sittings with the medium Leonora Piper in 1889-90 and frequently contributed to the Journal and the Proceedings of the SPR.
The really important aspect of his career was sent to me by the aforementioned reader of this blog and it is taken from the current Cambridge University Press edition of The Iliad, which was edited by Walter Leaf:
Walter Leaf (1852-1927) was a banker and classicist, whose various positions as chairman of the Westminster Bank, founder of the London Chamber of Commerce and president of the Hellenic Society reflected his wide-ranging professional and scholarly interests. Leaf was educated at Harrow School and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1870. He became senior classic in 1874 and was elected to a fellowship the following year. As a scholar Leaf was concerned with uncovering the physical reality of the classical world, a stance which set him apart from Jane Harrison and the Cambridge Ritual School. Leaf ’s The Iliad, with introduction and notes, first appeared in two volumes (1886–8), and was regarded for several decades as the best English edition of Homer’s epic poem. Volume 2 of the second (1902) edition comprises Leaf ’s preface, an introduction to books 13–24 of the poem, and the annotated text.
I feel more than usually inadequate.

Seen this afternoon in the Strand

It's not a great photo as it was taken by phone. The group of Zimbabwean exiles are outside Zimbabwe House in the Strand every Saturday, collecting signatures for a petition, displaying pictures and slogans and, most of all, singing and dancing. You might be able to see the group of men dancing behind the front line of women with the petitions. Every time I go past I wonder.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Could this be what people mean?

One of the things I find particularly puzzling is the widespread if somewhat fuzzy opinion that politicians should not be professionals but, somehow, be just "ordinary people". Of course, when they do behave like ordinary people opinion turns against them and they are berated for not showing a better example.

What exactly is the problem with "professional" politicians? Is it the fact that they are paid? Well, I go along with that. The idea of paying them was to allow people who are not rich to enter politics and to keep them honest. May have worked in the first case though there were plenty of people in politics who were not rich before but, obviously, not the second. Honesty, thy name is not politician.

So, do we mean that we actually do not want people whose only job is politics? I go along with that as well, but to achieve that state of affairs, we need to have two very big changes. We need to allow people to speak in the Commons on subjects they know about, that is those they actually work in, and, above all, we need to reduce government drastically. As things stand, no politician can even think of earning money for anything honest and honourable and do his or her work in the House. Things are different in the Lords but they do not get a salary. That could be the model for the Commons.

Perhaps, we want people in politics who have first done or achieved other things. Well, maybe. There is, as it happens no evidence that successful businessmen or officers make good politicians. And, as we look back to what we may consider to be the hey-day of British politics we find people who had dedicated their lives to a political career.

What we come to is a vague acknowledgement that politicians in the past may have dedicated their lives to their political careers but managed to have some other interests in life and, often, some other business or profession.

I have been reading a book of essays by that (failed) liberal politician, short-term barrister, historian and man of letters, Philip Guedalla, which I picked up in one of the few remaining second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road. Incidentally, he, too, represents a breed that is well-nigh extinct.

The essays are about writers, politicians, places and personalities; they give a wonderful view of what educated opinion was like in the early 1920s and, as usual, a great deal of amusement about the analyses and predictions. Still, Mr Guedalla is not often wrong in his judgements.

In his essay about Stanley Baldwin, then newly become Prime Minister, Mr Guedalla writes about the man's much publicized love of pigs their breeding, comparing it with Disraeli's peacocks and Joseph Chamberlain's orchids. All these men's politics seemed to be tied in with their choice of hobbies.

Then he adds an interesting point, one that applies to the discussions of our own times:
One has rarely known a statesman in these islands who was not racked by a distinguished craving to be something else. Sometimes our Premier is a manqué golf professional. Once (and a Peer, too) he had scientific leanings. But mostly he sits among the red boxes at Westminster and sighs for the English countryside. These thwarted longings are an invariable indication of political aptitude: perhaps it has some unpleasant explanation in psycho-analysis.

Mr Disraeli, who died in politics at seventy-six, craved only for the conversation of his fellow-farmers in Buckinghamshire. Lord Palmerston, who died in office at eighty, was believed to know no pleasure except in Hampshire. And Mr. Gladstone, who only retired at eighty-five in deference to the failure of eyes and ears and the successful persuasion of his united colleagues, found his sole happiness in the crash of falling trees at Hawarden.

The English always prefer someone, who is something, to be really something else: this is called the amateur tradition, and is a sure safeguard against the grave menace of professionalism. Their statesmen are recruited from the crowded ranks of successful competitors at local flower-shows; their favourite critic of the drama is a Civil Servant; and their one Homeric scholar is a banker. it is a grand tradition of inconsequence.
Let me add a couple of things. First of all the Premier with scientific ambitions was Lord Salisbury and those ambitions did not do him much harm when it came to understanding politics.

Secondly, the description of a barely capable Mr Gladstone being finally eased out of office reminds me of the time the same thing was done to a barely capable Churchill in 1955.

I am not exactly clear as to whom he means when he talks of the Homeric scholar who is really a banker. Perhaps, some readers will know.

But having read Mr Guedalla's gentle mockery of amateurism and inconsequence I can only say that if he were to see the Britain of today he might change his mind and long for the good old days.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yet another last word

I fear I have to return to the big story briefly as I had an interesting exchange on the subject with a journalist friend. Let's get the news out of the way: President Obama has decided not to release pictures of Osama dead or being made dead though there are, apparently, some genuine pictures of the compound after the raid around. His argument is that those nasty pictures will simply heighten hatred of America. A spurious argument, I would say. Those that hate America will go on doing so and those who think there is a conspiracy around the whole episode will go on doing so. Others might accept what happened and many on the famous Arab street might actually admire a decisive action on the part of the Great Satan. Besides, back in 2009 Obama had no problems about releasing pictures of maltreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, if there is one thing that intensifies hatred of America it is the sight of American servicemen dealing with their prisoners with less than total gentleness and civility.

Talking of conspiracy theories, I have now distinguished three but shall be glad to hear of any I have missed.

Theory number one is that bin Laden is still alive and the American government, the CIA, the US Navy SEALS and the entire world media has taken an enormous gamble in publicizing the story while the man can pop up at any moment and announce that reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. (I am sure he reads Mark Twain.) On the other hand, bin Laden has, for some reason best known to himself, seems to have gone along with the hoax. Perhaps, he has, in reality asked for asylum and entered one of those special programmes for people who turn state evidence.

Theory number two is that bin Laden was killed some time ago but for some reason (unspecified) this was not made known and for some other reason (also unspecified) has now been released.

Theory number three, much favoured by some Russian bloggers and a few nutters in the West, is that the man never existed at all.

The beauty of all this is that they are all mutually exclusive and we can argue about them for ever. But to go back to the exchange I had with the journalist friend: we both disliked the sight of Obama and his immediate circle (or some of it) watching the raid in live-time, as if it were a film in the cinema as my friend said. It reminded him of being in the audience for public hanging, a gruesome thought. On the other hand, public hangings were immensely popular and I am not at all sure they would not be that again if they were, so to speak, resurrected.

I think there is something more here and that is the strange personality of President Obama. Whatever the issue - fall of the Berlin Wall, end of World War II - he, notoriously, always brings his statements and discussions back to himself. All narratives are about him. It seems to me that he truly believed that what people wanted to see was him watching the raid; that, he assumed, was the only important part of the whole event. This is going beyond the usual politician's habit of using everything for self-promotion. Obama does that, too, but his apparent inability to understand that not all narratives are about him is truly bemusing.

UPDATE: It seems that what President Obama et al were watching with the world watching them was not live footage. So, what were they watching? What scared Hillary so?

Backtracking again

As promised yesterday, I am abandoning the bin Laden story for the time being and going back to other matters. So, when I say backtracking I do not mean the White House and its various unco-ordinated accounts or yet another sob-story from bin Laden's family who, if one were to believe some people, resemble George Washington in their inability to tell a lie.

No, it is the Cleggeron Coalition that appears to be backtracking again, this time on the subject of whether the private sector should take on some of what is known as "public services".

The BBC tells us:
Leaked documents suggest ministers have decided the "wholesale outsourcing" of public services to the private sector would be politically "unpalatable".

Ministers instead want to use more charities, social enterprises and employee-owned "mutual" organisations.

Outsourcing was meant to be a key part of the government's drive to cut costs and reduce the UK's budget deficit.

The shift in policy will raise questions about whether the government can make the savings it has promised - or deliver the services it is committed to - just by using charities and mutuals.

The change will also raise questions about whether the Conservatives are bowing to Liberal Democrat pressure to focus more on delivering public services locally rather than privately.

The government's plans will be unveiled in the long-delayed Open Public Services White Paper which is expected to be published later this month.
The Guardian is cautiously hopeful that its main source of revenue - advertisements of public sector jobs - will not be affected.
A leaked memo of a meeting between business chiefs and the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, says there will be "no return to the 1990s" and wholesale outsourcing. Maude is preparing a white paper on public services – delayed since February – setting out the future direction of public services, which is expected to contain plans to match private sector companies to charities and volunteer groups to run public services.

Labour accused the government of being in retreat after the fierce opposition to plans to bring in private providers to the NHS and forestry. But Downing Street played down the reports. "We were never planning wholesale privatisation. It was perhaps interpreted as such but that was never the plan," a spokesperson said.
Well, goodness me, we can't have competition within the NHS. Why that would mean patients having a choice and, perhaps, not choosing the pharmaceutical companies that the government and the extensive NHS bureaucracy has set up various deals with. You know how contrary some people can be.

Well, another day, another U-turn. Nothing to wonder about. Nevertheless, the news and its reporting shows up what is so deeply wrong with the Cleggeron Coalition's attitude to the whole problem of the public sector. They see it entirely as a matter of cuts to save money. No possible question that in all ways - economic, social, moral - much of what the public sector does would be better in private hands. Of course, the thousands of people employed to push bits of paper round whenever their computers crash and click on various computer programmes in the odd intervals between those crashes might find that they have get real jobs and work a good deal harder than they do now, and that would never do.

The very language used gives it away: "outsourcing". In other words, the norm is services run by the state and in the interests of saving money they might have to be "outsourced" to private companies who would probably be better at it. This, to the Cleggerons, is a shocking thought. No, no, no. We shall deal with charities, which are really quangos as they live off money handed out to them by the state, and the bloated and inefficient local government that has shown itself incapable of running anything. After all, that is precisely what happened in the nineties (and the late eighties).