Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just say no

What is it about organizations like the Taxpayers' Alliance that makes them incapable of making truly radical statements even when they clearly would like to? Well, I assume they would like to. I recall asking one of their high panjandrums (yes, I do converse with people of that calibre occasionally) about foreign aid and what their policy was. Well, he said proudly, we are calling for its freezing. Oh really, said I. How about calling for its abolition for a number of excellent economic, political and social reasons? At this point the high panjandrum realized that there was somebody at the other end of the room he absolutely had to talk to.

Here we are again. At the UN David Cameron (that was before he disgraced himself and his school on the Letterman programme) reaffirmed that" that 0.7 per cent of national income should be spent on overseas aid by 2013" . It won't be, of course, but that is not the point. He is still proclaiming the same mantra despite decades of evidence that foreign aid does not help countries to build up their economy, develop strong social structures or promote democratic and humane policies. On the contrary, it strengthens bloodthirsty kleptocrats, prevents the growth of a link between government and governed and allows governments to mis-allocate their income.

So, is the TPA saying this? Errm, no, not exactly. What they are saying is:
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long argued against increasing the budget of the Department for International Development (DfID). It should not be immune from having to find ways of delivering more for less like all other government departments (except Health), especially when serious concerns remain about whether value for money is being delivered out of its existing budget.
Those concerns have been voiced for many a long year and the sort of scandal Andrew Gilligan has once again uncovered is not new either. The only purpose foreign aid serves, apart from filling up the coffers of the people Mr Gilligan so aptly names "Poverty Barons" and of the aforementioned kleptocrats, is to make us all feel so virtuous with no effort of our own. The money goes, we feel virtuous and to hell with the recipient countries and their people.

Just a reminder

Things are happening out there in the big bad world. Bad things. And article in the Wall Street Journal about the Libya debacle says quite firmly: the more we learn about Benghazi the more it looks like a gross security failure. Indeed, it does. What with that and things looking nasty between China and Japan, it is hard to find our own party conferences in the slightest bit interesting.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Who is this "we" Mr Greenslade?

Roy Greenslade in today's Media Guardian is proposing a solution to a problem, according to him, "we" have all been pondering over:
We have been puzzling for years about how to subsidise journalism once it makes the final transition from print to net (see here and here and here). One obvious model is the funding of the BBC through its licence fee.
Well, speak for yourself, Mr Greenslade. I have not been puzzling about it at all.

I do know that various media and other outlets have been working out how to make the internet pay and have come to various, mostly unsatisfactory answers. One solution would be a pay wall on all newspapers and news sites but that is not a viable one as long as the tax-subsidized BBC can pump huge amounts of money into its own site without needing to charge consumers.

Mr Greenslade now proposes a similar arrangement for all or some newspapers on line (well, actually, he is repeating a solution proposed by one of his colleagues, David Leigh) and that is a levy on all broadband users to distribute in some unexplained fashion between various hacks on the net because the world cannot manage without them. There are, he acknowledges, some practical problems around but he is sure they can be overcome.

At a time when ever more people are beginning to realize that the BBC's fiscal model is unjust, ridiculous and out of date, it takes some doing to propose a similar one for all journalists. I am delighted to say that the comments make short work of Mr Greenslade's arguments.

What Medvedev does, Putin undoes

This seems to apply to big things and small. (I have not yet written about President Putin cheerfully or as cheerfully as he can with that eerily smooth face admitting that yes, of course, he had planned to have a war with Georgia for a while before it actually happened and yes, of course, the main strategic object was to discredit Medevedev but I shall. Let me just say that neither of those statements exactly astonished me.)

What did make me smile is this story about clocks and time zones. Those of us who have to deal with Russia or Russian news stories did note that not so long ago, the government decided to abolish daylight saving and kept the clocks unchanged, winter and summer. Apparently, President Medvedev had decided on this because he was not allowed to pass any other legislation he wanted to reduce stress in the population. Why it would be stressful to change clocks was not really explained. I have found many characteristics in Russians over the years I have known many of them and that is all my life but I have never found that many of them are easily stressed by having to change clocks twice a year.

In fact, it seems that they are rather unhappy with the situation as it is because they see even less daylight than they would have done otherwise. President Putin has already made it clear that there will be some rethinking on this as "something might not have been thought through".

President Medvedev's other innovation, the abolition of two time-zones, reducing their number to nine across Russia also seems unpopular and is about to be reversed.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It wasn't the film, after all

For days people who know about the Middle East, including the Libyan President have been saying it: those attacks on 9/11 and in the subsequent couple of days may have used that wretched film that nobody has seen but were actually co-ordinated terrorist attacks.

No, no, no, said the State Department and other spokespersons for the Administration. It was that terrible provocative film and we shall lean on Google to withdraw it.

Well, what do you know? Apparently these were terrorist attacks and the State Department has now admitted it. Let us be thankful for small mercies.

UPDATE: Ex-Gitmo detainee is reported to have been involved in the attack. Oh surely not.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Charlie Hebdo again

This time the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (about which I wrote here, here and here) has decided to go for equal opportunities insults with a cover that shows Mohammed in a wheel chair being push by a Hassidim rabbi. Inside there are, apparently, more cartoons of the Prophet, including some that show him naked. (No nonsense about toplessness.)
Yes, dear reader, you are quite right: those not particularly good cartoons have caused all sorts of problems with representatives of one of the "insulted" groups (funnily enough, not the other) demanding satisfaction and the French authorities running around, heightening security in all sorts of places, especially for the coming Friday. 
The French government, which had urged the weekly not to print the cartoons, said it was temporarily shutting down premises including embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers. 
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called the drawings provocative and outrageous but said those who were offended by them should “use peaceful means to express their firm rejection”.
Tunisia’s governing Islamist party, Ennahda, condemned the cartoons as an act of “aggression” against Mohammad. It urged Muslims, in responding to it, to avoid falling into a trap designed by “suspicious parties to derail the Arab Spring and turn it into a conflict with the West”.
In Lebanon, Salafist cleric Sheikh Nabil Rahim said the incident would raise tensions that were already dangerously high.
“We will try to keep things managed and peaceful, but these things easily get out of hand. I fear there could more targeting of foreigners, and this is why I wish they would not persist with these provocations,” he said.
In the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, one person was slightly hurt when two masked men threw a small explosive device through the window of a kosher Jewish supermarket, a police source said, adding it was too early to link the incident to the cartoons.
We shall just have to wait and see, I suppose. Would it be possible for some other publications across the world to show some solidarity with Charlie Hebdo on the basis of "I may not agree with your views but I shall defend to the death your right to express them"?

No-one can beat Stalin for bullet points

Aren't the media wonderful?

Kevin Myers has an excellent article in the Irish Independent that takes apart an interview with Robert Fisk. Mostly he takes apart Fisk himself but the interviewer, Pat Kenny gets it in the neck, too.

You could argue that taking Robert Fisk apart (or fisking as it is popularly known) is akin to shooting fish in a barrel but, for some incomprehensible reason, the man is still being taken seriously by large swathes of the media.

The whole article is worth reading as there are far too many goodies in it to quote but here is one that made me laugh out loud:
It was typical of the adolescent level of this self-loathing that Robert Fisk referred to Mitt Romney's recent address in Jerusalem, in which, said Fisk, the US republican candidate "made the extraordinary racist comment that the Israelis were ahead of the Palestinians, i.e, the Palestinians were an uncivilised people, presumably because they had brown eyes and weren't Christian".
Curiously enough I can think of a large number of Israelis who have brown eyes and are not Christian. (I can also think of some who are Christian and who are not subjected to the sort of horrors Palestinian Christians are, but let that pass.)

While we are on the subject of the media and its curious coverage of events, let us have a quick look at what is going on in the Presidential elections on the other side of the Pond where an extraordinary amount of attention has been paid to a tape of Romney speaking at a private fund-raising event and making some comments about people who live off the state probably not voting for him. To be fair, our media has been going dulalee over that story as well and ignoring various unappetizing matters to do with the sitting President.

Well, you know, it seems that the "unedited" tape has one or two minutes missing. Here is Legal Insurrection pursuing the story. An awful lot can be said in one or two minutes, as I know all too well, having been an interpreter at various times.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back to the Human Rights Council

Claudia Rosen has an excellent article about the egregious UN Human Rights Council on National Review Online. After a vigorous campaign led by UN Watch Western officials finally got away from whatever bars they were drinking in and put some pressure on Sudan to drop its candidacy for that body. That, says Ms Rosen is a victory of a kind.

She then goes through all the other countries that would not recognize human rights if they met them on the street that sit on that body or about to be elected to it.
All of which brings us to the question: What, exactly, are the real qualifications for membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council? 
On paper, the terms are neatly spelled out. In a resolution dated April 3, 2006, the General Assembly stipulated that even though seats on the Human Rights Council are open to all U.N. member states, the countries electing representatives should take into account, along with countries’ pledges of good behavior, “the contribution of the candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” Further, the General Assembly may, by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, suspend any member of the council “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.” 
That’s great, but it translates into almost nothing in practice. Cuba, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Mauritania have all sat comfortably and entirely unsuspended on the council for years. Venezuela and Pakistan look like shoo-ins in the upcoming election. Evidently, there is no particular bar at the Human Rights Council to such repressive policies, in various combinations, as authoritarian or downright despotic rule, gags on free speech, religious intolerance, torture, jailing of democratic dissidents, or de facto tolerance of slavery.
There actually is no solution to the conundrum for two reasons: the countries are chosen by geographic blocs and when you get to those parts of the world where there are no free countries that respect human rights, you will not be able to find such countries for the Human Rights Council; but an even bigger problem is that among the members of the UN the majority are oppressive, illiberal and have only a nodding acquaintance with the concept of human rights. How can anyone believe that any of its organizations would be capable of promoting that concept?

Meanwhile, UN Watch once again confronts the UN Human Rights Council, this time over one of its new officials, voted in unanimously by the 47 member states, Alfred de Zayas, a man who is much loved by Holocaust deniers for his somewhat controversial opinions.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Compare and contrast

The US Constitution, signed on this day 225 years ago by the Constitutional Convention that consisted of representatives of each state, elected by that state for that purpose, and the Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, signed at various times by various Ministers without any reference to the electorate back home. (Or hardly any reference.) Americans often carry a copy of the Constitution and the Amendments in their pocket or briefcase. Imagine carrying the Consolidated Treaties around!!!!

Friday, September 14, 2012


Across the Middle East where yet more people have been killed and even to London where, astonishingly enough, two people have been arrested. Amazing, how many people across the world have seen a film that nobody has even heard of until a few days ago.

Michelle Malking calls President Obama "the Hip-Hop President". One can't help feeling she has a point. She quotes various sources (so the links are there) that say the same thing - there were warnings, this was a prepared operation for 9/11 and ... the President has been skipping intel briefings. The country and, indeed, the West is in the very best of hands.


Suddenly there are mobs hurt and upset people in various countries who are just so angered by that film in the United States (the one that is being blamed by the President, the Secretary of State and the main-stream media) that they have decided to attack the German and British embassies in Khartoum as well as a KFC in Tripoli in Lebanon.

Well, what is democracy?

A blog by Dr Eamonn Butler on the Adam Smith Institute site raises some very pertinent questions. Is democracy really just mob rule by a majority, however acquired, against any minority it happens to dislike? I seem to recall the question coming up when the Labour government gleefully announced in effect that it had a majority and therefore could go after a minority it disliked, that is people who hunted.

There are other cases, as Dr Butler points out and these tend to be less likely to inspire indignation:
it is possible for quite small majorities to dominate the agenda. That is why we have such absurdly high tax on businesses and on people who earn a lot by creating jobs and prosperity. There are simply fewer of them than the majority, who enjoy the benefits of the taxation.
When it comes to taxation we do have only one chamber and no other control on their activity. The idea of being governed by petitions or referendums (let us not spend any time discussing the Swiss system, which is applicable to one country only, Switzerland) or, in other words, vested interests and very small majorities that are easily swayed by the news of the day is equally difficult. It is representative government we need to mend and a balance of powers we need to introduce.

It goes without saying that none of that can be done while we are inside the European Union and are governed very largely from Brussels through are so-called legislators.

Taranto puts it better than anyone

Once again, James Taranto puts the arguments more coherently than anyone else. The idea that the President of the United States, the Secretary of State and many other official bodies as well as newspapers (if one may still use that term) like the New York Times should repeatedly criticize that wretched film instead of looking a little more closely at what is going on in the Middle East is nothing short of moral and political insanity.

As he points out, the rioting, even assuming it was caused directly by a little known film that has been available for a couple of months, the point is not that the mobs consider it to be "insensitive, inflammatory, intolerant and insulting" but that they consider it to be blasphemous and want any material of that kind banned across the world. Or else.

This, Mr Taranto points out, sets up an irreconcilable conflict between those advocating Islamic, that is Sharia law to be applied to all countries on certain issues, and the US Constitution, which affirms freedom of speech and which cannot tolerate anti-blasphemy laws. The President of the United States, at his inauguration, swears to uphold the Constitution.

Shock: I agree with the OSCE

This does not happen very often but I actually agree with the OSCE. Its Representative on Media Freedom (OK, they have just lost me) has criticized certain developments in Hungary, where, in the wake of recent media legislation the blogosphere has become even more important, being the only place where free comments can be made. Well, up to a point, as we shall see.

The official Hungarian News Agency (MTI) is taking the journalist and blogger György Balavány to court because he has, allegedly, libelled them. Even in the UK, which, I have assumed hitherto, the world's worst libel laws, an organization cannot sue an individual or another organization. You cannot libel an organization.
Balavány, a journalist with the political weekly HVG and a blogger, posted two blogs on his personal website on 23 July and 14 August, claiming that public service media use taxpayers’ money to misinform the public. The Hungarian News Agency (MTI) says its reputation and commercial interests were damaged by the blogs, and demands from the journalist ten million Hungarian Forints (approximately 36,000 euro) in damages, a public apology and the removal of the blogs.
The curious thing is that the claim sounds to me like little more than statement of fact and would be in any country in the world.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The EU is easily pleased

The things that please the EU are numerous: decisions to buy up worthless bonds, complicated pronouncements by the German Constitutional Court and, now, the somewhat doubtful (from their point of view) result in the Dutch election.

Whoppee, whooppee, they are saying: the pro-EU parties have triumphed.
The outcome of elections in the Netherlands was greeted with relief elsewhere in Europe as an unexpected vote of confidence in the EU, with voters shunning eurosceptic candidates on the far right and far left and turning towards mainstream parties that have backed eurozone rescue measures.
Rather than punishing Mark Rutte, the Liberal party prime minister, for approving bailout packages for Greece and Spain, the Dutch re-elected him and awarded his conservative party with its largest-ever share of the vote.
The centre-left Labour party did almost as well, after a summer in which leftwing voters appeared to have rejected it for the eurosceptic Socialists.
Meanwhile, the anti-European campaign run by far-right populist Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) was a failure, as his vote share dropped to 10 per cent from 16 per cent in 2010.
Brussels must be so happy, someone commented without, apparently, any irony. But not everything in the garden is rosy.

It seems that, in order to get the vote, the two top parties borrowed more of their "more extreme" rivals' ideas. Specifically, the Liberals campaigned on a far more eurosceptic platform than they have ever done and it will be difficult to row back from that.

The problem of how those two parties, now further apart than ever before, might manage to form a coalition remains. I predict some fun and games in the weeks to come.

Well, you pays your money and you takes your choice

The Dutch election results can be described as pro-euro parties sweep Dutch poll, according to Reuters and the Guardian or fragile coalition is expected according to the Daily Telegraph with "major gains for hard-line Euro-sceptics". So far these are all projections but these tend to be reasonably accurate.
In the poll, which has been watched closely across Europe because of its potential impact on the euro crisis, Rutte's VVD took 41 seat to Labour's 40 in the 150-seat chamber, with both parties gaining 10 seats on the 2010 election. The big losers were the Freedom party, headed by maverick far-right populist Geert Wilders, which slumped from 24 to 13 seats, according to projections, and the Christian Democrats, the traditional powerbrokers of Dutch politics, who collapsed from 21 to 13 seats.
Final results tomorrow but the chances are there will now be months of wrangling over the formation of the government with everyone trying to freeze the Freedom Party out of the negotiations.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Circumstances remain unclear

Here is the Guardian article that brings the story of the American ambassador's murder in Libya up to date, in so far as it is possible. The circumstances, they rightly say, remain unclear.
One witness told the Guardian on Wednesday that a mob fired at least one rocket at the US consulate building in Benghazi and then stormed it, setting everything ablaze. "I was there about an hour ago. The place (US consulate) is totally destroyed, the whole building is on fire," said Mohammed El Kish, a former press officer with the National Transitional Council, which handed power to an elected parliament last month. He added: "They stole a lot of things."
Kish, who is from Benghazi, blamed the attack on hardline jihadists. He said locals in Benghazi were upset by the activities of Islamist groups and would revolt against them. He also said the US consulate was not well protected, unlike the fortified US embassy in the capital, Tripoli. "It wasn't that much heavily guarded. In Tripoli the embassy is heavily guarded."
Will they revolt against the Islamist groups? Perhaps. Let us hope, this time round we stay out it all.

President Obama's Statement is exactly what one would expect in the circumstances. It is hard to know what else he could have said. The big question is, what will he do now, bearing in mind that there is this pesky election coming up.

UPDATE: Hotair quotes CBS news which tells us the unsurprising fact that it is more than likely that the Libyan security forces indicated to the extremely well armed militants (of course, none of the groups were disarmed after Gaddafi's capture and murder) where they were evacuating the American ambassador and other staff.
Wanis al-Sharef, a Libyan Interior Ministry official in Benghazi, said the four Americans were killed when the angry mob, which gathered to protest a U.S.-made film that ridicules Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, fired guns and burned down the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
He said Stevens, 52, and other officials were moved to a second building, deemed safer, after the initial wave of protests at the consulate. According to al-Sharef, members of the Libyan security team seem to have indicated to the protesters the building to which the American officials had been relocated, and that building then came under attack.
More marines have been sent to the shores of Tripoli to protect American personnel. How many were there in the first place, one would like to know.

And in other (less surprising) news

The Karlsruhe Court has refused to block the ESM treaty and, as the Washington Post reports, inevitably the markets "breathed a sigh of relief" and "rallied". The article does not add the words "for the time being" but that is understood.

The Financial Times also reports the result, adding:
The conditions imposed by the court appeared less onerous than some of the fund’s supporters had feared.
It ruled that the ceiling of €190bn in German financial guarantees imposed when parliament approved the rescue fund could only be increased with the assent of lawmakers. There must be no unlimited liability for Germany, the ESM’s biggest backer, the justices decided.
The judgment was greeted with immediate relief by members of the German parliament. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, expressed satisfaction that the Bundestag decisions had been confirmed.
“The ESM can finally start work,” he said.
What happens when that money runs out and the German economy suffers some more?

Reuters adds that "the euro rose to a four-month high against the dollar" because of the Court decision. The train wreck continues.

Even worse than we thought last night

I opened my e-mails and saw the following report from the Washington Times
Libyan officials say the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans have been killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The officials say Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed Tuesday night when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff. The protesters were firing gunshots and rocket-propelled grenades.
All of the officials — three in all — hold senior security positions in Benghazi.
They are deputy interior minister for eastern Libya Wanis al-Sharaf; Benghazi security chief Abdel-Basit Haroun; and Benghazi city council and security official Ahmed Bousinia.
This is not good news for President Obama. He ought to think about President Carter and Iran.

News from around the world - 2

Meanwhile we also have news from the United States where 9/11 is a day of solemn memory and many remember what they and others were doing on that day. Candidates in the forthcoming election have pledged not to campaign on this day. To be quite precise, they seem to have pledged not to put up negative ads on the day but most people took it as a pledge not to campaign.

Well, they may have pledged but at least one broke that pledge. President Obama decided that the day was of no real importance and sent his best weapon, Bill Clinton, to campaign in Florida.

No negative ads, so that's OK. Well, not really negative. Or maybe a little negative but nothing serious.

However, this may well annoy a lot of people though not, it would appear, those who can see nothing wrong with their great hero.

It seems that both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama tweeted just once each yesterday. Romney's said:
On this most somber day, America is united under God in its quest for peace and freedom at home and across the world.
Unexciting but also unexceptionable and suitably solemn. President Obama's tweet (the only one on 9/11) was somewhat different:
The election is in 8 weeks. Sign up to volunteer: OFA.BO/s3tXFz
Well, tweeting is there to say what is on your mind without a second thought.

Another action President Obama thought essential to carry out on 9/11 was to release a special message to the Arab Forum
Obama offers thanks to the Emir of Qatar--showboating some rather halting Arabic skills in addressing "His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani"--and praising the inspiring democratic example of the Arab Spring, which happened to leave the absolute monarchy of Qatar untouched.
He also offers support for his envoys, including Attorney General Eric Holder, who is attending the Arab Forum conference as the chief U.S. representative. The Arab Forum's goal is to recover assets stolen by formerly autocratic regimes, including Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. (But not Qatar.)
Still, one has to be fair to President Obama. He may spend every waking moment on thinking about his campaign (and has done so since the day he was inaugurated) but he does not care whether he gets the Jewish vote, until now solidly Democrat, or not.

Having, in the past insulted Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel in a way one does not insult the leader of any foreign government, and certainly not His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, this time President Obama has simply refused to meet him, pleading some diary clash.

News from around the world - 1

Most of us probably spent some of the day remembering that fateful one in 2001. I can recall with extreme clarity what I did all day in what order. However, some people took a slightly unorthodox way of remembering.

In Cairo the anniversary was remembered by a group of, one assumes Islamist extremists and quite possibly Muslim Brotherhood supporters, storming the US embassy, tearing down the flag and burning it. It seems that they were protesting about a film that has been produced by a group of US-based Coptic Christians who, one assumes, escaped from the growing anti-Coptic violence in Egypt. It is said that the film "demeans Islam and the Prophet Mohammed". Whereas completely insane behaviour supposedly in Islam's name does not demean it, I suppose.
Many of the more Islamist-leaning protesters had answered calls by Salafist leader Wesam Abdel-Wareth – who is also the president of Egypt's ultra-conservative Al-Hekma television channel – to protest the film 'Mohammed's trial' at 5pm outside the US embassy in Cairo's Garden City district. 
Abdel-Wareth, for his part, denied that protesters had managed to breach embassy premises, claiming that the American flag had been torched in front – rather than inside – embassy grounds. 
The Al-Hekma channel's official Facebook page, meanwhile, has posted a photo of a group of young men removing the flag outside the embassy with a comment that reads: "Ultras Zamalek tear the American flag in front of the embassy." 
US embassy spokesman David Linfield, for his part, confirmed that protesters had been able to enter the embassy and remove the flag. He went on to deny rumours, however, that shots had been fired at demonstrators or that anyone had been injured or killed. 
According to one Ahram Online reporter at the scene, no one had been injured in the ongoing demonstration. Despite the tense atmosphere, security forces deployed at the scene appeared relatively relaxed, with many of them sitting on the sidewalk.
Right, that's Egypt. Then there is the other great example of the Arab Spring, Libya. Remember Libya? The country that would probably be still under Gaddafi's rule if it weren't for NATO forces, specifically American, British and French ones?

Well they had an anti-American riot as well. This one seems to have been a little more serious.
Militiamen in Libya have stormed the US consulate in Benghazi, the country's second largest city. 
Reports say they were protesting against a US-made film that is allegedly insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, and set fire to the building. 
The building is said to have burnt down. It is thought nobody was in the consulate at the time.
Reuters says that
Gunmen attacked U.S. consulate offices in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday, and fought with security forces in protest against a U.S. film they say is blasphemous, a security official said.
He said a fire was burning inside the consulate and that staff had been evacuated.
A Reuters reporter saw three injured members of the Libyan security forces taken away in an ambulance. A Libyan security official who declined to be named said one U.S. security guard was injured in the clashes.
AFP reports that one American was killed and one injured. The latest Reuters report confirms this adding that several staff in the Consulate have been injured.
Reuters reporters on the scene could see looters raiding the empty Benghazi compound, walking off with desks, chairs and washing machines.
Unknown gunmen were shooting at the buildings while others threw handmade bombs into the compound, setting off small explosions.
Small fires were burning around the compound.
Passersby entered the unsecured compound to take pictures with their mobile phones and watch the looting.
Never let a good riot go to waste, say I, but use it to furnish your home. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Some logic in this

Hungary has decided to display a certain amount of logic in its prosecution of past war criminals. I am not saying that Hungarians do not display logic at other times (it is, after all, a country that has produced more first-class mathematicians per head of population than any other) but when it comes to matters of this kind, burying of heads in the sand is the order of the day.

Having detained and put under house arrest "97-year-old Laszlo Csatary, the former police chief of the Jewish ghetto in Kosice, who oversaw both the ghetto and the deportations to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944" the Hungarian authorities have finally got round to arresting former Interior Minister Bela Biszku, who
is accused of responsibility for ordering the security forces to open fire on crowds in Budapest and Salgotarjan in November and December 1956. About 50 people were killed in those two incidents alone.

Further charges, relating to his role in allegedly interfering with the courts to ensure heavy sentences, including the death sentence for the revolutionaries, may be added. At least 226 people were executed.
There is more on the story here and on Xinhuan.

It is, of course, logical to deal with Communist criminals as harshly as with Nazi ones but one does wonder why it took the Hungarian authorities quite so long to do so.
One of the mysteries of the case is exactly why it has taken so long. It is 22 years since the fall of communism, and 44 years since Hungary signed the 1968 New York Convention on bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice.

In 2011 the so-called Biszku Law was drawn up, allowing for the 1968 New York Convention to be incorporated into Hungarian law.

In February this year, the Budapest Prosecution Service began an investigation, in reaction to an individual complaint against him.

Asked by the BBC to explain the timing of Mr Biszku's arrest, the chief prosecutor mentioned the change in the law.
That merely rephrases the problem. Why did it take so long for the New York Convention to be incorporated into law? By now, Mr Biszku is practically the only man alive who could be held responsible and he, like the arrested former Nazis is very old.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How very true

This is a phenomenon we are all acquainted with but I was interested to read a pithy summary in R. C. Woodthorpe's The Public School Murder, which was published in 1932. (It was apparently dramatized for the BBC in 1969 as part of the Detective series.)
Mr. Smith thought it strange that Fleet Street should not know the difference between an O.T.C. and a mere cadet corps. But then Mr. Smithy often wondered whether the papers got anything right at all: they were so often wrong on subjects with which he happened to be acquainted. And friends of his who were expert in other subjects, had remarked on the same phenomenon. 
Time has passed and we have many more media outlets than they did in 1932 though, probably fewer newspapers and definitely fewer magazines. But the same interesting phenomenon remains.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Shocking news: party leaders listen to members

Yes, I know. You must all be shocked. Because the media is shocked. I hasten to add that this is not a story about any British or European party leaders but the peculiar way the media on this side of the Pond reports the American presidential election.

There is a definite suggestion that the Republicans are going beyond the pale by challenging Obama for the presidency. The American Constitution may have proscribed presidential elections every four years but surely that was just because the Founding Fathers could not envisage a true embodiment of perfection taking that position. That, actually, is true: they could not envisage any human being, let alone a politician as an embodiment of true perfection and understood the need for a constitution that would or should control all of them. That is something President Obama and his supporters find hard to understand.

At this stage the outcome is unclear. The two candidates seem close and much depends on a few swing states as well as what the economic news might be in the next couple of months.

However, it seems certain that Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan is someone the GOP can be very pleased with, not least because he is a genuinely inspiring speaker, apparently without the constant aid of the teleprompter. His speech to the Republican National Convention  caused ructions on both the right and the left, the first pleasurable, the second somewhat annoyed.

The reaction to it on this side of the Pond was muted, possibly because it was not clearly understood or because our hacks are embarrassed by a politician of apparent conviction. Gregor Peter Schmits of Der Spiegel had no doubts: he hated Ryan's speech and everything about Ryan. The man is more dangerous than Sarah Palin, still a highly influential lady, ever was. Really? Why?
Four years ago, Sarah Palin energized the Republicans with her convention speech. This year, it is Paul Ryan who has found a common cause with the party's grassroots. His stark brand of conservatism is bad news for the socially weak.
Well, Heavens to Murgatroyd, as the great Snagglepuss used to say. Imagine that: a party leader or second to him who makes common cause with the party's grassroots. I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. As for the Romney-Ryan policy being bad for the socially weak, it comes as news to me that an economy in which unemployment is growing while the number of businesses is decreasing would be good for the socially weak.

I have been told by people who actually read the Times that Ryan's speech was reported as wanting to slash government spending and to leave people without a safety net to the vagaries of the free market, which is not exactly true. It is true that Ryan talked about cutting government spending and encouraging people to build their own businesses and make their own money without government intervention. Whether that is what will happen if Romney wins in November is irrelevant. The point is that a supposedly conservative paper like the Times that even the very suggestion of self-reliance as opposed to reliance on the government is a bad thing and Ryan by articulating such thoughts of those who are likely to support the Republicans is clearly no better than King Herod.

Meanwhile, the Evening Standard, the freebie paper handed out at tube stations and street corners in London, has added its own little screed of hatred for the Republican nominees. It seems that not only Paul Ryan but Mitt Romney himself is also pandering to his party, which has become completely unelectable. It's not clear whether that is because Romney is pandering to it or the other way round. Then again, I recall the then American correspondent of the Standard, James Fenton assuring all and sundry that the Republicans were a joke and Obama had regained whatever popularity he may have lost about a week before the mid-term elections that gave the GOP the biggest landslide in history.

One thing we must be grateful for: there is no chance of any party leader in Britain or on the Continent of falling into the heinous error of listening to the members. .