Monday, April 29, 2013

Some news items of interest

First off, Greece. These last couple of years have been quite dizzying for those who follow affairs in that country - never has it been so high up in the news so often before. Well, not since the Battle of Navarino and Lord Byron's demise.

The Greek Parliament has passed a Bill which is supposed to cut the civil service by 15,000 by the end of next year. It seems that this Bill has gone against the constitution, which had guaranteed public sector jobs for life. That, I have to say, is the most bizarre constitutional practice I have ever heard of. In fact, I am rather surprised that the infamous Constitution for Europe a. k. a. the Lisbon Treaty did not have an Article of that kind in it.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Continent and the spectrum, Iceland has just taken another step away from EU membership.
Centre-right opposition parties in Iceland are set for a return to power with all the votes counted after Saturday's parliamentary election.

The Independence party polled 26.7% and the Progressive party 24.4%, putting them on track to win 38 of the 63 seats.

The ruling Social Democrats' share of the vote dropped to below 13%.
Not only are the two parties that will now negotiate likely to try to concentrate on economic growth, they are also, much more importantly, eurosceptic.
Two new parties performed particularly well: Bright Future, which won six seats, and the Pirate party, with three.

The Social Democrats saw their share of the vote fall dramatically to 12.9% (nine seats) while the Left-Greens' vote fell to 10.9% (seven seats).

Social Democrat leader Arni Pall Arnason, while disappointed, refused to acknowledge that the two centre-right parties had been given a major vote of confidence. "Their democratic mandate to change society is absolutely zero," he said.
Of course, one needs to talk one's own party up in politics but this is overdoing things somewhat.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We have a new Italian Prime Minister

Some readers of this blog may have missed the earth-shakingly important news from Italy: President Giorgio Napolitano has asked Enrico Letta to form a new government that would be a broad coalition (as opposed to a narrow one, I suppose).

Mr Letta is forty-six, which makes him rather young by Italian political standards and he is currently the Deputy-Leader of the centre-Left Democratic Party; his aim is to change the course in Europe on austerity though it is unclear to what. Economic growth, perchance? Just kidding.
Mr Letta must now form a cabinet that can win cross-party support and a vote of confidence in parliament, possibly this weekend.

Factions from across the political spectrum, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing People of Freedom Party, have indicated that they are now ready to form a coalition under a figure like Mr Letta.

However, Mr Berlusconi's party and the Democratic Party differ on a number of issues.

Party National Secretary Angelino Alfano warned that his group would not take part in a government unconditionally.

Mr Letta's uncle has been Mr Berlusconi's chief-of-staff for 10 years. A broad political alliance would again make Mr Berlusconi a major influence.
The Wall Street Journal says:
Mr. Letta—who at 46 would be one of Europe's youngest leaders—stressed that Italy's new government needed to focus on the country's economic woes. The country has been enduring its most prolonged recession since World War II, and the unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 11.7% in January of this year.

He also said that Italy quickly needed a new electoral law that would avoid a repeat of the political stalemate that has left the country without a government since elections on Feb. 24 and 25.

"I feel a huge sense of responsibility upon me," Mr. Letta said. "The situation is very difficult."

If the new government is voted in, as expected, it is nonetheless unclear how long it can last. Italy's political scene is as fractured as ever, and the country isn't used to grand right-left coalition governments like elsewhere in Europe.
One can but wish him luck and point out yet again that none of this would be more than of passing interest if it were not true that whoever heads the Italian government is also a member of our own real government.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Business for Britain

I first heard about plans to set up this organization a couple of weeks ago. It will be, if all goes according to plan, the first of three: one for business, one for general campaigning and one for turning the Labour Party towards supporting a referendum. Or so I understood at the time. I also understood that the plan was to have a business organization that would try to persuade the various businesses, large and small, but mostly large as that is where the money is, to start thinking about withdrawing and then negotiating new links.

Clearly, I misunderstood or was given the wrong information. The new organization, Business for Britain, turns out to be same old, same old.
Hundreds of business leaders have formed a new lobby group Business for Britain to press the government to renegotiate the UK's deal with the EU.
Well, that should be quite easy. Just call up the Porcine Air Force and they will sort it for you. The Boss on EURef has covered the story in somewhat more pungent terms. I may not go as far as he does (I rarely do) but I would like to ask a question: given that renegotiation of terms is, so far as we know, still the Conservative Party's policy, what is the point of having a lobbying group to push it?

Sovereign as sovereign does

This posting by Zero Hedge tells us little new about the push for further fiscal integration but there are a couple of points that need to be raised. First of all, the author and many of the comments once again show their misunderstanding of the European Union and its unique structure; instead they reach for inappropriate historic parallels and bleat about the Fourth Reich, which it is not and is not likely to be.

Secondly, it talks about countries having to be prepared to cede sovereignty whether to the EU or to Germany. What sovereignty? Since the existence of the EEC, its laws have been superior to national laws; any part of national legislation and taxation (such as VAT) that the EEC/EC/EU has chosen to control it controls with no possibility of the national legislature throwing anything out. This has been made clear over and over again. Which part of it is so hard to understand?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Back to reality

What with one thing and another, this blog has been neglected. (Stop cheering at the back.) Time to get back to reality. There is little more I can say at the moment about the developments in Boston except to be somewhat surprised at the national identity of the suspect. I am not one of those who thinks that Moslem means by definition a terrorist and the problems of North Caucasus are very different from the problems of the Middle East. There is a strong suspicion at the back of my mind that this story will have hitherto unknown ramifications.

Furthermore, I wonder how Americans, who are more sensitive to liberty and natural rights as well as the need to oppose overweening government action will feel when the initial celebration is over, at the thought that one of their cities (and not just any one but Boston) was put under curfew by what looked like an occupying force but was, in fact, their own police, SWAT and so on, in heavy armour, riding heavy armoured cars. Is this really what America has come to? Not even our over-reacting police have done that. And in Israel, a country that is more used to terrorism than Britain, let alone the US, attitudes tend to be very different as this article explains.

In the end, as we know, the younger Tsarnayev was caught after the forces of law and order had almost given up, lifted the curfew and one home owner decided to inspect her boat that was under a tarpaulin in the back garden. Or so it seems at the moment. All too many of the stories through that night and day have turned out to be untrue, either accidentally or deliberately misleading. Incidentally, I was amused by this, a salutary warning to all of us who think that the internet, blogosphere, social media and twitterdom are superior to old-fashioned methods of communication and enquiry. Internet detectives got it very wrong, misled the investigators and caused trouble to innocent people. Almost like real journalists, in fact.

As soon as I raised the subject with some American friends I was told that there is a growing discussion about that shut-down or lock-down or, as I prefer to call it, curfew. Here, for instance. it's not so much Megan McArdle's discussion that is of interest but the comments, many of whom show real unhappiness with what had happened.

This is priceless. First it puts what happened into some perspective, then it points out who actually found the hiding fugitive while the police managed to miss fairly obvious clues, and, finally, there is the interesting piece of information that not all of Boston or, even, Watertown was locked down.
But the Boston police didn't shut down an entire city. They shut down an entire city except for the donut shops.
Here is the story on
On block after block of the Boston’s Financial District and Downtown Crossing, Starbucks shops went dark as the city locked down, spurred by a manhunt for the second marathon bombing suspect. Dunkin’ Donuts stayed open. Law enforcement asked the chain to keep some restaurants open in locked-down communities to provide hot coffee and food to police and other emergency workers, including in Watertown, the focus of the search for the bombing suspect. Dunkin’ is providing its products to them for free.
One would not want the police and others to go without hot coffee and their favourite sugary snack but does this mean that the danger was not quite as bad as they made out or that the lives of the Dunkin Donut shops were expendable?

The comments and debate that follow Clark's posting on Popehat are of great interest.

That having not been solved (discussions will go on for a while, especially when the cost of the whole operation, including lost business will be published) we can move on to another problem. It seems that Dzhokhar Tsanayev will not be given the usual Miranda warning (analogous to the warning the police are supposed to give here when arresting a suspect) before being questioned by the FBI, whenever that may happen as we do not know what state he is in. This is in line with changes that were made a couple of years ago in the investigation of terror suspects, as analyzed in this article at the time.

A good many people are unhappy. Miranda warnings, they think, are essential if the US is to preserve its own legal and constitutional system. Otherwise, the terrorists might be said to have won at least up to a point. Emily Bazelon's piece on sums up the problems.
There is one specific circumstance in which it makes sense to hold off on Miranda. It’s exactly what the name of the exception suggests. The police can interrogate a suspect without offering him the benefit of Miranda if he could have information that’s of urgent concern for public safety. That may or may not be the case with Tsarnaev. The problem is that Attorney General Eric Holder has stretched the law beyond that scenario. And that should trouble anyone who worries about the police railroading suspects, which can end in false confessions. No matter how unsympathetic accused terrorists are, the precedents the government sets for them matter outside the easy context of questioning them. When the law gets bent out of shape for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.
Again, the discussion is of some interest. Astonishingly so, for someone who is used to the inanities of people who comment on newspaper columns.

Errm, I was going to write about the latest adventure of the EU Foreign Policy Supremo but seem to have spent too much time on the aftermath of the Boston affair. Tomorrow then.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Horrific news from Boston

Everything is still unclear. It was the Boston marathon and it is Patriot's Day. Not sure whether any of that gives indication of who might be responsible. In the meantime, National Review Online and Hot Air give good running  updates.

East Europeans are just so thrilled at being in the EU

Or not. It has been one of the persistent arguments for the European project since the fall of the Soviet Union that East Europeans were lining up to join it and were overjoyed when they could do so. This might apply to their political elite (in fact, it does apply to their political elite) and to their own forms of eurotrash, many of whom were Communist apparatchiks, youth leaders and others of that ilk.

The truth is that the EU made sure that those East European countries had no real choice; huge amount of money was spent in propaganda and the EU was helped by the fact that almost all the opponents of EU membership were either unreconstructed Communists or unpleasant nationalists. Nevertheless, when referendums came around on the membership, turn-outs tended to be extremely low.

Croatia, the next one to join, is no exception. Last January it had a referendum at which those who advocated membership secured an easy victory, not least because only 43.5 per cent bothered to turn out to vote.

Yesterday, the Croatian electorate excelled itself. The first election for members of the Toy Parliament were held and only 21 per cent bothered to turn out. Mind you, that is not quite as low as Slovakia's in the 2009 election when it was under 20 per cent or in the 2004 election when less than 17 per cent chose to participate. But it is not exactly a ringing endorsement or a sign of spectacular excitement at the thought of participating in this charade great political project.
Croatia's opposition centre-right HDZ party won six seats, narrowly beating the ruling centre-left SDP faction with five deputies. The nationalist and left-wing Labour party got one MEP.

The winners will act as observers with no voting rights in the EU assembly until Croatia joins the Union on 1 July.

They will then serve for one year, before Croatia chooses a new set of euro-deputies in the general EU elections next May.
I wonder what the turn-out will be then.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Absolutely hilarious

And now for the true socialist view of Margaret Thatcher's career: no, not Glenda Jackson or the ridiculous UK Uncut or some idiotic drama teacher from south-west London but the real McCoy, the Chinese view though it is not clear how official this is.

Here is a sample:
Thatcher grew up in a classical English petty-bourgeois family. Her father owned two grocery shops in Grantham. He preached the word of God, was staunchly patriotic, and became the town’s Mayor from 1945-6. His self-confidence derived from selecting food that commanded a good price and turned a good profit. His daughter, Margaret, also formed her intellectual outlook around the petty proprietor’s fetish for the magical qualities of prices.
Read the whole piece. It will cheer you up.

And in other news

Estimates for attendance of yesterday's Thatcher hate party in Trafalgar Square vary from "as many as 1,700" from a photographer who was there to "about 3,000" in the Grauniad, whose hack may or may not have been there. Either way, these are not numbers that deserve any kind of consideration though the flying of the Argentinian flag shows a crassness and stupidity beyond the usual left-wingery.

It seems various other groups have decided to protest against ... well, what exactly? They can't be protesting against Thatcher's death, surely. Apparently, they are protesting against her legacy, which they seem unable to define. Then they are surprised that nobody takes them seriously.

According to Sky News there were former miners from various parts of the country (or, given the time that has gone, presumably off-springs of former miners), UK Uncut, Liverpool fans who think she personally murdered all the people at Hillsborough and many people who, as has been pointed out before, were not even born when she was Prime Minister. One can't help wondering whether these political geniuses have even noticed that she has not been that for over twenty years and that much of her supposed legacy has actually been overturned by her successors.

Just to give one an inkling of what passes for thought among these people we get this straight-faced reporting on Sky:
Among the crowds in Trafalgar Square was four-year-old Jack, who was stomping around shouting "Thatcher's dead, Thatcher's dead."

His father Howard Garrick, from Islington, north London, said he was determined his son should come to the party.

"This is about his future as well, not just the past," he said.

"He needs a grounding in life and to understand how we are not going to be made into wage slaves."
Well, how nice. So the future, according to this moron (the father not the unfortunate little boy) is to consist of his son growing up to be a lay-about. He must be the little boy spotted by Robert Hardman of the Daily Mail. His account is hilarious. Read it here.

Enough of this obsession with events of several decades ago (and yes, I am going to write about the late great Prime Minister any minute now). Let us turn to the future.

The anti-euro Alternative for Germany party (here is the official website in German)  is being launched officially today, as reported by Der Spiegel and on their site.
The Alternative for Germany party wants to shake up the traditional party landscape in the country during federal elections this September with its message of "putting an end to the euro." The party is calling for the "orderly dissolution of the euro currency zone." So what do they want to do, return to the deutsche mark? Lucke describes that path as "one option." The party still hasn't defined much in terms of its party platform, but its founders have argued for the right to hold national referenda as well as streamlining tax laws. More than anything, they aim to attract voters with their "no" to the common currency.
The accepted wisdom is that the party is not likely to win any seats in the federal parliament but there is some uncertainty behind Der Spiegel's somewhat dismissive coverage. What if they do attract support, is the clear message behind this and other articles. Well, what, indeed. It has always been my conviction that no other country can destroy the European Union. The whole box of tricks requires endless feelings of guilt from Germans, none of whom can be said any longer to be responsible for the horrors of Nazism and the war. The people of Germany have, on all evidence, understood that but not the political class. Not yet.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Iron Lady is no more

The news this lunchtime is that Baroness Thatcher has died.