Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let's all mock Mark Thompson

For the man is ridiculous and has not understanding of what he is saying. The Christian Institute reports (and it has not been denied though nobody from the BBC is saying anything)
The head of the BBC, Mark Thompson, has admitted that the broadcaster would never mock Mohammed like it mocks Jesus.
He justified the astonishing admission of religious bias by suggesting that mocking Mohammed might have the “emotional force” of “grotesque child pornography”.
But Jesus is fair game because, he said, Christianity has broad shoulders and fewer ties to ethnicity.
What he really means, we must assume, is that you can mock Jesus all you like and while many people of differing ethnicity might feel upset and besmirched, they are unlikely to blow Mark Thompson up or cut his throat. Does he actually know anything about Islam? For his information it has no more specific ties with ethnicity than does Christianity and is mocking ethnicity really the worst thing one can do? Does he even realize how appallingly insulting and patronizing to Muslims that statement is?

More on the galloping major

My friend Derek Turner (as usual, full disclosure) has said everything that needs to be said about the egregious Eric Joyce (formerly major in the Education Corps, now MP for Falkirk).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An unexpected development

Jan Fleischhauer notes in Der Spiegel and interesting, unexpected and not entirely happy as far as the Germans are concerned political development.
The German parliament is set to approve a new multibillion euro bailout package for Greece on Monday, but instead of thanks, southern Europeans are expressing their dislike of us. Germans will have to get used to their new role: We have become the Americans of Europe.
Since then the German parliament has approved the most recent bail-out package but the abuse from southern Europe will, undoubtedly, continue. I suppose, there is a funny aspect to it all.

Well, now, how convenient

The news from Russia on Sunday was of the last anti-Putin demonstration before the election next Sunday. Russian laws forbid demonstrations and political meetings on the day of election or just before it. So, on Sunday 30,000 or so people encircled the centre of Moscow (as they are no longer allowed to hold meetings actually in the centre). People came from many other cities and joined in. Mostly, the day went peacefully with just a little bit of trouble and some arrests.

Here is a very entertaining description of events with some excellent pictures by the journalist Lucian Kim. He reminds us that
Last week Vladimir Putin recalled the heroic defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s invading army in an effort to rally supporters and cast his opponents as foreign agents. But it’s too late. Putin has already lost the Russian capital.
Of course Russia’s vast police force still physically controls Moscow. Yet as Putin positions himself for a third term as president, he no longer commands the hearts and minds of Muscovites.
The once and future President of Russia is given to comparing his opponents with foreign invaders and constantly accuses them of being in the West's pay, the implication being that Russians are not capable of political thinking or activity unless somebody from outside bribes them to do so. According to the various accounts, this is beginning to annoy people in Moscow (which any leader of Russia must hold or he might as well give up being leader) and in other places.

Meanwhile, the still-Prime Minister Putin has been lambasting the Baltic states as well on the subject of their minority rights policies. The countries in question do have some problems with their Russian population, many of whom are there because their grandparents and great-grandparents were encouraged to settle and take up the places left empty by Balts who had been deported to Siberia in 1940 and again in 1945.

The problems, however, are not quite as great as the still-Prime Minster tries to make out in order to sound really tough.
Both Estonia and Latvia have large ethnic Russian minorities among their populations, a legacy of Soviet-era migration policies. Most have taken Estonian, Latvian or Russian citizenship, however around 100,000 in Estonia and 290,000 in Latvia have still not opted to apply. Application for Estonian and Latvian citizenship in most cases requires passing a language examination.
 In the recent referendum in Latvia an attempt to make Russian the second state language was defeated.
Russian is the first language for about one-third of the Baltic country’s 2.1 million people, and many of them would like to accord official status to the language to reverse what they claim has been 20 years of discrimination.
But for ethnic Latvians, the referendum was a brazen attempt to encroach on Latvia’s independence, which was restored two decades ago after a half-century of occupation by the Soviet Union following World War II.
Many Latvians still consider Russian — the lingua franca of the Soviet Union — as the language of the former occupiers. They also harbor deep mistrust toward Russia and worry that Moscow attempts to wield influence in Latvia through the ethnic Russian minority.
There never was the slightest chance of that attempt succeeding.

On Monday, however, we got the "real news" and one cannot help feeling that it came at a very convenient moment for the once and future President. It seems that the Ukrainian security services have ... ahem ... uncovered a plot to blow up President Putin as he will be by then immediately after the election next Sunday.
The murder plot was allegedly exposed after the blast in Odessa on January 4, which was initially thought to be a domestic gas explosion. However, it transpired to be an accident during the preparation of an explosive device.
Channel One showed Osmayev in detention saying: "The ultimate aim was to travel to Moscow and try to assassinate Premier Putin." One of the men, Ruslan Madayev, 26, died in the blast but Ukrainian special forces seized a second, Ilya Pyanzin, 28, two days later. Osmayev, who was shown with blotches of green antiseptic covering wounds on his face, was captured at the beginning of February. The men had a laptop with several videos of Mr Putin's cortege travelling through Moscow on it.
For some reason there is a great deal of scepticism being voiced about this highly convenient announcement that follows the news of another large-scale demonstration.
Dmitry Oreshkin, a political scientist, said the "timely" appearance of the assassination plot was "a sign that the real leaders of Vladimir Putin's political apparatus – people from the FSB – are trying an old trick to mobilise public opinion using the logic: 'Enemies are all around us. We have just one decisive, effective, clever national leader who they are trying to destroy.'" Oreshkin said the electorate was expected to react by consolidating around Putin against the external threat, giving "a considerable boost to his ratings".
Other stories confirm the scepticism and indicate that there are certain discrepancies between the various stories as they are and have been put out. It seems that the Putin assassination attempt has been a late addition to a story that started off as one of a possible gas leak caused explosion.

Let's face it, many of us wondered whether something of this kind might appear in the run-up to that election though this seems to be crude even by Putin's standards. However, let us look at the bright side: at least there have been no bombs in apartment blocks.

Monday, February 27, 2012

End of the Synonblog

I don't necessarily agree with everything Mary-Ellen Synon writes about the EU and its shenanigans and so it should be. People have different opinions. Hers are based on knowledge of facts, people and events, which she often interprets differently from the way I do. So be it.

It is, however, with some sadness that I record (as the Boss did earlier today) that she has just posted her last blog on the Daily Mail site, which is now infested by ra-ra Heffer clones. It is a goodie, though. She suggests that the Scots have a look at Ireland's experience as a small state member of the EU before they vote for "independence within the European Union", an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Ms Synon tells us that she will be concentrating more on journalism but does not specify the outlet(s). Let us hope that her well known attitudes to the project will not prevent her from acquiring those outlets.

Friday, February 24, 2012

It's show time

Deanna Durbin is one of my favourite singers on film. Yes, I know much of what she made was kitschy and sentimental but when she opens her mouth and that glorious voice comes out one can forgive her anything. Here she is in her first grown-up role in a film called First Love with the young and dashingly handsome Robert Stack.

This is rather sad

Yes, of course, one cannot regard the death of the great M. R. D. Foot, war-time SAS veteran, historian of the secret war and especially of the SOE, writer, lecturer and (to my astonishment) editor of Gladstone's letters, at the age of 92 as tragic but it is still sad. Somehow I assumed he would go on for ever. Whenever I heard him speak or read his latest articles I felt that death would not come for this spry, upright gentleman who assured people that the key to staying healthy was to walk several miles every day.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A protest I should like to have joined

It is not often that I say I wish I were in Washington DC but news of this protest about federal agents inspecting small children's lunch boxes and decreeing what they can and what they cannot eat makes me so wish.

These people should not be allowed out

The news this morning is of yet another fracas in Strangers' Bar in the Commons (popularly known as the Kremlin because of the preponderance of left-wing MPs who spend a goodly amount of time there).
Labour MP Eric Joyce has been suspended from the Labour Party after he was taken from the Strangers Bar in the Commons and arrested by police on Wednesday night.
Joyce allegedly headbutted a Tory MP and attacked several other Conservatives. Joyce, who represents Falkirk for Labour, is alleged to have headbutted the Tory MP for Pudsey Stuart Andrew in the bar, which is reserved for MPs and their guests.
Joyce is thought to have attacked three other Conservatives and one Labour MP during the incident, which happened at around 11pm, three hours after the Commons had risen for the evening.
Well, what do you expect when louts ensconce themselves in a bar with cheap booze and drink steadily for three or more hours?

More on the story here. I hear tell that the Thurrock MP, Jackie Doyle-Price, not a large lady by any manner of means, stepped in to protect members of her staff who were being attacked by that yob, Eric Joyce.

ADDENDUM: The Boss, who kindly linked to this blog on EURef, is appalled that I should have linked to HuffPo. He is right but it was the first news item on the subject I saw. Ashes and sackcloth, methinks, though I am not sure the Daily Wail would have been better.

On Taki's Magazine

I was asked to write something about Boris Johnson, who, I sincerely hope, will win the forthcoming Mayoral elections. So I did.

Jack Straw does not go far enough

A little late in the day but some Labour politicians have been making noises about the democratic deficit at the heart of the European project. Jack Straw, speaking at Labour's favourite think-tank, the IPPR, said that had the peoples of Europe been consulted about the euro, many of the stresses could have been foreseen.

Actually, had the peoples been consulted, there would have been no eurozone. Greece might have voted for it but not Germany or such countries as the Netherlands.

Furthermore, added Mr Straw, former Foreign Secretary, the European Parliament needs to be overhauled and the farce of direct elections abolished. Of course, that does not go far enough, in my opinion. The European Parliament needs to be closed down for good. Enough of this expensive toy parliament whose dual role is to provide some kind of a democratic mask to the whole project and to tighten up the Commission's proposed regulations.

The European Parliament was not always directly elected. It started off as a Parliamentary Assembly and its members were chosen by the member states' parliaments, that is elected indirectly. This did not change till 1979 and I recall Lord Stoddart of Swindon telling me that he had opposed that change, not wishing to give the European Parliament or any European institution the semblance of a democratic institution. He and his cohorts were absolutely right.

Since 1979 the European Parliament has acquired more power with every new treaty, though the Commission remains the sole proposer of legislation in the EU (that includes every form of it, directives, regulations and all others) and the Parliament is neither a debating chamber or a legislating body in the way we understand it. It does tend to be more extreme in its demands for regulation of whatever is on the table than the Commission or the Council. Some dim understanding of this has filtered through to the various countries' electorates and with every new acquisition of power the European Parliament has lost voters. The turn-outs have been sinking over the years.

Here is a somewhat misleading account of what the European Parliament can and cannot do.

It is idiotic even to suppose that one can have European democracy or accountability when there is no European demos, no European understanding even of what such a beast might look like. And let us not forget that candidates are chosen by the various parties in closed lists. Time to stop pretending that the European Parliament is in any way a parliament. We can go back to the old system of deputies being chosen by the various legislative bodies across the EU. Or we could just simply scrap it as a first step towards scrapping the whole project. This one will be easy as the Toy Parliament's disappearance will affect no-one except its members and employees.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

At present it is impossible to tell ...

... how good a journalist Marie Colvin really was (and we really don't care about the French photographer, Remi Ochlik or the other 58 people who were killed at Homs). At the moment she is proclaimed by one and all to have been the greatest reporter since newspapers have existed, the woman who told the truth and went wherever the story was, regardless of danger. All of that is true, though there are other reporters of that kind and fortunately they do not get killed. Also, before her beatification by President Assad's forces I heard various accounts of her. As I don't read the Sunday Times, I have to rely on other people's accounts.

One thing, however, is clear to me: Britain is no longer in the position of being able to "avenge" the death of a journalist (not that she ever was and in the old days did not even try - journalists took their chances) and the Americans are unlikely to provide the necessary fire power. We have no real idea who is fighting Assad and whether we want to support them, wonderful though it would be to get rid of that particular mass murderer. Until we know what we want to see in Syria and, on the whole, the experience of Libya and the Arab Spring does not fill one with feelings of hopefulness, until we know that the people we support are the ones we want to support, until we can explain that this is in Britain's interests, we must not get involved in Syria militarily even after the (possibly targeted) killing of a Sunday Times reporter.

Dixi. I have spoken. Will anyone listen?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Verdict first, sentence later

Or, in the modern world, which is so topsy-turvy that Lewis Carroll would find it far too confusing, apology first, inquiry later. Apparently there were reports, so far unconfirmed, that some Korans might have been burnt by NATO troops after "books were taken from prisoners after the US uncovered a secret Taliban message system".

As soon as those unconfirmed reports went out crowds gathered outside Bagram, with people getting hysterical and one person being hurt when NATO troops fired rubber bullets.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the reports that the Koran had been burnt, as did the Taliban who said the incident would hurt the feelings "of one billion Muslims around the world".
To be fair, this is excellent propaganda for the Taliban whose care for the feelings of Muslims (particularly those they murder and torture) is well known and not much else can be expected these days from President Karzai who is looking forward to a very uncertain future. However, when it comes to NATO commanders one would prefer to expect something more rational:
The Nato commander in Afghanistan has apologised over reports foreign troops may have burnt copies of the Koran. Announcing an inquiry, US Gen John R Allen said any "improper disposal" of religious materials was inadvertent.
Would it not be a good idea to have that inquiry first and try to establish what happened and only then apologize, if necessary, rather than give propaganda points to the other side?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stupid, tedious and counterproductive

That is all I can say about the recent upsurge of Germanophobia as part of the Greek crisis. The Greeks are spending all the time they can spare from rioting and burning fine buildings producing pictures of German leaders in Nazi uniform because, forsooth, they have dared to say that it is time the country started cutting back on its insane spending  that use other people's money.

Furthermore, it would seem that Angela Merkel shows herself to be an heir to Hitler when she begins to suggest through policy if not words that, perhaps, Greece would be better off outside the eurozone. Well, wouldn't Greece be better off with her own currency? Of course, she would and almost everyone has now acknowledged it. Yet the same people who proclaim that this, indeed, is the only solution, painful though it might be in the short term also scream abuse at Germans because that is what they are, in all probability trying to achieve.

The Boss on EURef is fed up and so am I. Let me count the ways in which this dumb.

The Greeks are going to get nowhere by screaming that it is not their fault, guv, not even their venal and incompetent politicians' fault but that of the nasty Jerries.

The newspapers that are producing improbably and misleading stories implying that democratic Germany not wishing to pour more money into Greece is exactly the same as Nazi Germany invading it are merely turning everybody's attention away from the real problems that have to do with the eurozone and the European project in general. But then, that is exactly what the Daily Wail wants to do.

Last but not least, this is playing into the colleagues' hands. As this blog has argued, the best way for the EU to cease to exist is for Germany to accept that it is an ordinary democratic state (as it has been despite all problems ever since the late forties in part and the early nineties in whole). Screaming that they are all Nazis, whipping up hatred and fear of Germany is exactly what the europhiliacs want for it is the best, indeed the only argument they have to promote the EU as the answer to a non-existent problem. Just how stupid are those eurosceptics (not least UKIP) who are playing this game?

Face up? Oh come ...

Raedwald has a coldly furious and entirely admirable posting about the nasty little sins in the past of the Labour Party and the socialists in general. Not just the wholesale approval of the Communists gulags and execution chambers but
the shared ideology between the British left and the Nazi party, an ideology based on racial purity, Eugenics, State control over breeding and marriage and the horror of 'involuntary euthanasia', or State murder, an ideology that persisted in Polly Toynbee's beloved left wing Scandinavian countries into the 1970s with compulsory sterilisation.
George Bernard Shaw not only approved of Stalinist wiping out of the peasantry and made mocking comments of the starving men, women and children he encountered but also wrote to Beatrice Webb, another worshipper of Stalin:
We ought to tackle the Jewish question by admitting the right of States to make eugenic experiments by weeding out any strains they think undesirable, but insisting they do it as humanely as they can afford to.
One wonders what was it he exactly envisaged.

He links to an article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian's Comment is Free section, which says, inter alia, that it is time the Left faced up to some of its nasty little secrets, in this case past support for eugenics. Of course, this argument has been voiced before, not least by Jonah Goldberg in his book Liberal Fascism. However, if anyone thinks the Left will ever face up to any of it, then a reading of the vicious and self-righteous responses to Mr Freedland's article should disabuse them.

The news from Iceland is good

Unlike the news from Greece, Italy and a host of other countries. In Iceland, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says, things are looking up, which probably means that they are even less likely to want to get on this sinking ship:
Fitch has upgraded the country to investment grade BBB – with stable outlook, expecting government debt to peak at 100pc of GDP.
The OECD's latest forecast said growth will be 2.4pc this year, after 2.9pc in 2011. Unemployment will fall from 7pc last year to 6.1pc this year and then 5.3pc in 2013.
The current account deficit was 11.2pc in 2010. It will shrink to 3.4pc this year, and will be almost disappear next year.
The strategy of devaluation behind capital controls has rescued the economy. (Yes, I know there is a dispute about exchange controls, but that is a detail.) The country has held its Nordic welfare together and preserved social cohesion. It is slowly prospering again, though private debt weighs heavy.
Nobody is forcing the elected government out of office or appointing technocrats as prime minister. The Althingi sits untrammeled in its island glory, the oldest parliament in the world (930 AD).
Of course, there is the minor detail that the Althingi did not voluntarily give up its right to sit untrammelled in its island glory.

How convenient

The Greek economic crisis is being blamed for all sorts of things, including poor security at their museums though reading the story of the break-in at the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity one can't help wondering whether the story would have been different at any other time. Still, this gives politicians a chance to pontificate and try to make everyone feel guilty:
The mayor of Olympia has told me there is a direct link between today's burglary and the policy of cuts and Greece's economic crisis.
He said he was very angry at the situation and the international community needed to realise how important these treasures were for Greece.
But not, obviously for some Greeks who do not mind stealing the treasures and smashing others in their eagerness to get to them.

At least the Elgin Marbles are safe.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A federal agent was inspecting lunch boxes?

Well, you know this terrorism business has gone too far. Those weirdos are going for pre-schoolers' lunch boxes and making them eat ... well, actually, quite healthy stuff. But fear not. The brave federal officers know how to deal with it. They take away those lunches and make small children eat chicken nuggets in the name of nutrition.

Here is the story as reported by Carolina Journal and spread further afield by Mark Steyn in the National Review, where he put in the George III wouldn't have done this to you file.
A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.
The girl's turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day.
The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs - including in-home day care centers - to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.
When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.
Firstly, let me point out that the home-provided lunch was extremely well balanced and nourishing, unlike those chicken nuggets, which the child didn't like anyway. In fact, she ended up eating next to no lunch. Secondly, the idea that a parent who provides a carefully selected and packed lunch should then be forced to pay for cafeteria-provided rubbish is outrageous. Finally, and most outrageously, the idea of federal agents checking children's lunch boxes and demanding that they eat what the government prescribes is so outrageous that I have actually run out of outraged comments and that does not happen to me often as readers of this blog will know.

And what is the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services? I have no doubt someone will tell me that we have something of that kind here as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Well, I'm on Merkel's side

I am getting a little tired of the over-the-top hype about democracy dying where it was born (a very questionable historical analysis) and sovereignty being destroyed in Greece. Let's get this straight. All countries that join the EEC/EC/EU lose their sovereignty, those that accept the position of being the recipient of largesse more than others. The Greek economy has functioned as the EU dictated it ever since that country joined the project and there were no riots, demos, burnings or lootings. Not even the odd protest. That is not what brought the mobs out - it was the thought that maybe now things will have to be paid for.

There seems no immediate answer to Greece. It cannot pay off the debts; it cannot turn its economy round inside the euro; it cannot function outside it (and, to be fair, no Greek seems to be suggesting that). And it is all somebody else's fault. Probably the Germans' who are behaving just like the Nazis by handing over large dollops of money. Or whatever.

Anyway, enough of that. Why am I on Merkel's side? Well, first and foremost, because George Soros thinks she is wrong and should be doing something else completely.
Global investor George Soros considers the German government's policies in the euro crisis to be disastrous. In a SPIEGEL interview, he warns of a vicious circle triggered by Chancellor Angela Merkel's strict austerity measures and pleads for more money to be pumped into the countries most plagued by the debt crisis.
An idiotic suggestion unless the man has found some way of snaffling that money. Let's face it, anyone Soros attacks must be doing something right.

One must remember that Soros considers the nation state, particularly in its democratic form, to be the enemy, while Merkel is beginning to emerge as the champion of the nation state, though she does not say so openly.

Mary Ellen Synon thinks that Germany is playing "a nasty, little game" by wanting to get rid of Greece and, possibly, the other high-spending losers and she may be right though I see nothing nasty about the German Chancellor looking to Germany's advantage. And the Boss over on EURef has described Merkel as a eurosceptic with only a smidgeon of irony.

It has always been my contention that the EU's days become numbered when Germany accepts its role as a nation state as a good deal of the project was based on German guilt about twelve terrible years of her history.

Some things have helped the process of overcoming that guilt. Time is the obvious one cause. The generations born after the war do not consider that they can be held guilty for something their grandparents or great-grandparents created. Secondly, Germany's history as a democratic country is now considerably longer than her history as a Nazi country and even the traumatic reunification did not destroy that. Thirdly, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Communist system in Europe raised the question of why should the guilt not be spread a little more evenly between the two monstrous systems of the twentieth century.

Angela Merkel unites all those factors in her person, having been born far too late to be blamed for the Nazi horrors and having grown up in East Germany even if she was born on the Western side. From her emergence as a political leader it seemed to me that she may well be the right person to initiate the process of Germany accepting its nationhood and, consequently, the EU disintegrating. I have been somewhat disappointed with her so far but now it looks like I may have been right in the first place. We shall see. Of course, she is a politician.

Monday, February 13, 2012

No such thing as failure in politics

So Nick Clegg thinks that failure must not be rewarded by high bonuses? How about failure being rewarded with the position of Deputy Prime Minister?

After all the talk of Cleggomania in last spring's electoral campaign and after all those pointless TV debates between the three main party leaders the results achieved by the Lib-Dims were lamentable. Their share of the vote went up by about 1 per cent, when turn-out went up by just under 4 per cent; they lost 5 seats and failed to gain a number of those they had been certain of. One would call this a failure for the party and, more specifically, for its supposedly glamorous leader.

This is the kind of failure that ought not to be rewarded, according to Mr Clegg. But it was. Because the Boy-King would rather go into a coalition with the Lib-Dims than with his own MPs, the failing party found itself in government with a number of ministerial positions (that keep being filled by their people whenever one of the Ministers is forced to resign) and the failing leader became the Deputy Prime Minister with the apparent remit of producing the stupidest of all political ideas in order to take the heat off the Prime Minister himself.

Inevitable ...

... for the time being.
The Greek parliament has approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund and avoid a messy default.
Ahead of the evening parliamentary vote, serious violence broke out on the streets of Athens and spread to other Greek towns and cities, including on the holiday islands of Corfu and Crete.
With eurozone leaders declaring it was time for Greece to put up or shut up and that Athens' promises could no longer be believed, Greece's two main political parties and the caretaker prime minister had invoked apocalyptic scenarios for the country if the €3.3bn (£2.76bn) of cuts ordained by the eurozone were not supported.
The bill was passed with 199 votes in favour, but 74 against.
How long can this go on?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Analysis on Eurogeddon

Assuming that Greece is still in the eurozone tomorrow evening, readers might like to listen to the Analysis programme on Radio 4 at 8.30 pm.
Chris Bowbly investigates the contingency plans being devised by policymakers in preparation for the possible split in the Eurozone. He considers what would happen to the banking sector and the euro in such an event, and how a new currency would be put in place.
If you can't listen to it tomorrow, it will be repeated next Sunday at 9.30 pm on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Long Wave. Also, I believe it will be on the BBC iPod.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Does Baroness Wilcox know the answer to anything?

Judging by the brief exchange in the House of Lords yesterday, the answer to that question has to be "no, not really". Should the noble Lady not have a little clear-out among her officials? Their job is to provide her with answers, vague or specific but mostly the former, when she is on duty on behalf of HMG. She is, incidentally, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and used to chair the National Consumer Council.

I realize that quite a few of this blog's readers might not have known that. I did not know it myself until I read yesterday's Hansard. The Starred Question posed by Lord Vinson was not unreasonable, given that we have had some talk in the past about repatriation of various powers from the EU and been assured by a number of Conservatives that not only was this possible but would actually happen in the not too distant future.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to seek the devolution to the United Kingdom of regional spending under the European Union structural and cohesion funds so that the £9 billion the United Kingdom currently receives from its £30 billion budget contribution to those funds can be self-administered and effectively targeted.
This, it seems, Baroness Wilcox had been briefed on.
My Lords, the Government will seek significant cuts to the EU structural fund's budget from 2014, aiming at reducing it to zero in richer countries after 2020. The United Kingdom will achieve substantial savings from the EU budget only by not contributing to the structural fund budgets of all wealthier member states, but that would require unanimous agreement by all 27. No other countries want to go down this road and we cannot unilaterally opt out of our treaty obligation to contribute to the EU budget.
What that means in ordinary political terms is that the UK can do nothing to stop handing money over to the EU to be used as it sees fit while we are members of this noxious organization but the government (whichever government happens to be around) will continue to make misleading noises about aiming to cut back the EU budget some time in the future.

Thereafter Baroness Wilcox managed to misunderstand Lord Wigley's question, did not know the answer to Baroness Royall's question, refused to reply to Lord Pearson's, did not know the answer to Lord Swinfen's enquiry about the amount of money wasted in administrative toing and froing, and agreed with Lord Harrison who came up with the usual meaningless europhile pap. Not bad for six minutes of the House's time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Magnitsky case is not dead

Sergei Magnitsky himself is. He died in prison after extreme maltreatment more than two years ago. But, it seems that he is about to be prosecuted posthumously together with his employers, Hermitage Capital, for tax evasion, that useful catch-all.

It used to be said that in the Soviet Union you were not only entitled to a trial and a sentence but also to a posthumous rehabilitation. Presumably, that remains true though, officially, Russia does not carry out executions. On the other hand, you can now be entitled to a posthumous trial since the authorities did not quite get round to charging Magnitsky with anything in the year that he spent in prison.
The death of Mr. Magnitsky, a lawyer, in November 2009 drew international criticism over Russia’s human rights record, especially after accusations arose that he had been denied proper medical care. The State Department has barred officials linked to Mr. Magnitsky’s prosecutions from entering the United States. Parliaments in nine European countries are considering similar bans. 
 Police officials reopened the case against Mr. Magnitsky last summer, saying it would provide a chance for relatives and supporters to clear his name. 
 Relatives, though, said they had not asked for that, and executives at Hermitage said the motive was something else entirely: to vindicate the officials Mr. Magnitsky had accused of corruption.
I shall write more about this case because there is a good deal to say but, for the moment, let me just add that, despite the fact that Mr Magnitsky was murdered because he loyally tried to do his work for a British firm, the UK is not one of the countries that has barred the officials in question or their families.

Barely noted, Romanian PM resigns

Romanian politics has been more than usually fractious in the last few weeks, as noted on this blog. Now the Prime Minister, Emil Boc, has resigned, carefully timing his going
so as not to coincide with the IMF mission to Bucharest, which ended on Sunday with praise for the government's actions and only a slight cut in the fund's growth forecast for the country, due to the persisting euro-zone troubles.
The next general election is scheduled for November but may well come sooner:
The president has appointed Catalin Predoiu, the outgoing justice minister, to take over for Mr Boc on an interim basis, and he has nominated Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, the head of the country's foreign-intelligence service, as the new prime minister. Mr Ungureanu and his ministers are likely to be approved, as the ruling coalition still holds a majority in the lower house. But the opposition has promised to continue a boycott of parliament started last week. "We are not going anywhere with this new government," said Crin Antonescu, head of the Liberal Party. For him and his like-minded colleagues, the only way forward is an early vote.
Politics always seem to be more exciting in other countries. I really do not think that having your fingers prized off a ministerial portfolio because you blatantly broke the law can compare with the way they arrange matters in those far-off lands.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's an ill wind

The cold spell across Europe (both northern and southern) is wreaking some chaos though none seems to be quite as bad as that in Britain where the transport system keeps collapsing regardless of the fact that the conditions are far worse in other countries.

Still, as Der Spiegel reports, there may be compensations:
Holland, meanwhile, hopes the cold continues long enough to hold the mythical ice-skating race called Elfstedentocht.
Britain, I fear, has a long way to go before we can have fairs on the Thames.

Twenty years ago

A somewhat less happy anniversary today: twenty years ago the Treaty on European Union, otherwise known as the Maastricht Treaty was signed. That, of course, was not the end of the story even of the treaty and its implementation but the date does need to be remembered. Members of the Conservative Party (if there be any left) might like to remind themselves as to which party was in government at the time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A double anniversary

Today is Ronald Reagan's birthday but, much more importantly, it is the 60th Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the throne. I thought a couple of pictures would do for both.

Another rant

This time about stupid, prejudiced, left-wing academics (a worthy target, you must agree) on the New Culture Forum.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

That's that then

Not that UN Resolutions achieve anything much but in this case it was not even passed. Russian and China have vetoed "a Western and Arab-sponsored U.N. resolution condemning Syria’s violent repression of anti-government demonstrators". And that, dear readers, is a real veto.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mihir Bose on India, aid and the need for links

An excellent article by Mihir Bose about the modern India, British aid (which is unnecessary) and the need for sensible links between the two countries.
Britain would be much better advised to forget the nonsense that aid helps to build ties. What is needed is to develop links with the new India based on a shared history, which the Indians are now ready to acknowledge.
It is, in fact, time to forget that outdated concept, the Commonwealth, whose members are not waiting for Britain to take its position at the head, and start thinking in terms of the new idea, the Anglosphere.

Useful arguments

What am I to say to people who tell me that we need to be in the EU for our economic welfare or, at least, in a greatly reformed EU? This question keeps coming up and it is important. We have not managed to get our message across as successfully as we ought to have done so arguments that we can use against the other side are important.

Here are some in a letter to the Grauniad, signed by many of the usual suspects (though they are not, thankfully, calling for that referendum).
1. We have 3m jobs exporting to the EU but it has 4.5m jobs exporting to us. We are its largest client. 2. The EU has free-trade agreements with 63 countries worldwide and another 63 on the way, so why not with us, on satisfactory terms? 3. Switzerland, not in the EU, exports three times more per capita to the EU than we do. 4. Only 9% of our GDP goes in trade with the EU (in deficit), 11% goes to the rest of the world (in surplus), and 80% stays in our domestic market. Yet Brussels overregulation strangles all 100% of our economy, and handicaps our exports to the countries of the future. Leaving the EU would create jobs, and restore our democracy.
While I have some reservations about the last sentence (leaving the EU will not automatically do either of those things), the four cardinal points made in the letter are not only true but are also useful arguments. Mind you, when one produces them, one still has to deal with the dubious facial expression and a muttered "yes, of course, but even so" from a lot of people.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Last minute information

I do apologize for the shortness of this notice but I knew nothing about the event until an hour or so ago. As it happens I have to be at the Bruges Group meeting this evening but anyone who is more interested in Russian affairs than in Robin Harris and Simon Heffer talking, might like to know that there will be a demonstration outside Pushkin House starting at 18.45 (actually, people might be able to get to both events) as the fourth part of the BBC programme about Putin and the West is being previewed there.

From what I can gather even from sympathetic reviewers (no TV in my house, you see) the programmes have not gone out of their way to show various aspects of the Putin regime but then they did have to get various officials to give interviews. The fact that their main consultant Angus Roxburgh has spent some years working on PR for the Kremlin helped them to get to these people. (In parenthesis, let me add that Mr Roxburgh was a failure. The Kremlin's PR is rubbish.)

The BBC Russian Service interviewed the makers of the four-part programme and here is the text of that interview in Russian and in English. Worth a quick read if you want to see examples of true disingenuousness.

A rant about the forthcoming Olympics

Readers of this blog and of EUReferendum in the past (not to mention the One London blog back when there was a One London group in the Great Glass Egg) know that I am not and have never been a fan of the London Olympics. All our dire predictions are coming true but that does not mean anyone will listen next time either.

Here is my rant on Taki's Magazine.