Friday, March 6, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Ban said during a wide-ranging interview this week with The Associated Press that he was encouraged by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's response to his request for additional cash for peacekeepers and other badly stretched U.N. priorities.Words, as the SecGen knows, are cheap and there is still Congress to contend with on the subject of finances. Given the sorry record of those peace-keeping troops - useless at best and a bunch of rapists and exploiters at worst - more money is unlikely to solve the problems. In fact, nothing will solve the basic problem of the UN, its complete unaccountability that allows all sorts of bloodthirsty, kleptocratic dictators to call the tune.
They spoke on the sidelines of an international conference in Egypt on Monday that raised $5.2 billion in pledges for rebuilding Gaza, at the conclusion of the U.N. secretary-general's nine-day, six-nation African tour.
"She is quite supportive, and she told me that she will, her administration, the Obama administration is committed to working very closely politically and also (with) these financial contributions," Ban told the AP.
The thawing relations between the United Nations and President Barack Obama's month-old administration represents a remarkable turnabout from just three years ago, when the Bush administration's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, thrived on exposing U.N. corruption and failures but also furthered U.S.isolation.Yes, indeed. Those UN corruptions and failures are still with us and the new Administration will do exactly what the other ones did - try to explain them away as long as they can and then turn against the organization. If it lasts that long. Three years ago was a year into Bush's second term. So far, Obama has had one month of his first term.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
A Dutch poll taken February 7 showed his party in third place behind the Christian Democrats and Labour. Three days later, the Brits banned him from the UK. The latest Dutch poll, taken February 28: Wilders’s party 27, Christian Democrats 26, Labour 21.The chances are Geert Wilders's party would have gained in popularity anyway but the Home Office deciding that an elected politician from a free and democratic country should not be allowed into Britain because the people he is accusing of violent attacks on all opposition might .... turn violent undoubtedly brought the man a good deal of support.
What is a little odd is the phrasing of the article, the first I saw this morning on the subject. It starts off by saying without quotation marks:
The ruling party in Russia has won handily in regional elections, the Central Election Commission said Monday, the first electoral test for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin since the economy began to turn dire.Electoral test, eh? Just how difficult were those conditions? Harder or easier than those on University Challenge?
The party, United Russia, won the majority of seats in all nine regions where local parliamentary elections were held Sunday, and nearly swept smaller municipal elections.
Further down we are told:
But many independent analysts said that elections have become little more than technical exercises since Putin came to power as president in 2000, and offer only a haphazard indication of voter preference.Unexplained murders of critics, lack of legal prosecution and other attempts to bully may have something to do with that lack of public interest.
Television and many other media outlets are largely tilted in favor of United Russia, and, out of four parties present in the federal Parliament, only one, the Communist Party, offers real, if pliable, opposition to Putin's party.
"This was just a small, uninteresting show," said Anton Orekh, a political commentator on Echo Moskvy radio. Public interest in elections, he said during an interview, had become "slightly less than low."
The IHT holds firmly to the view that Putin remains the most popular politician in Russia, a view that has little to say for it, given the overwhelming publicity he gets and the complete lack of information about anyone else. Being more popular that supposed President Medvedev is hardly a great achievement. Mind you, there are rumours that the latter may be trying to form links with the dissatisfied military but we have to wait and see how true those are.
Given that there are already discontents across the country, particularly the Far East, and given that these discontents cannot be expressed through electoral means, we can but wonder what the spring, the traditional time for trouble in Russia will bring. And if there are serious disorders, will those journalists who think
Monday, March 2, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Here are the killer paragraphs (though I wonder why Dr Mitchell left Britain out of his excoriation):
The only good news, at least relatively speaking, is that other nations are in even worse shape. With the exception of Switzerland and a handful of other examples, nations in Europe are burdened by public sectors that consume up to 50 percent of economic output. In places such as Sweden and France, government spending actually consumes more than half of GDP (though Sweden somewhat compensates by having very market-oriented policies in other areas).Sadly, it looks like the Obama Administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress, which appears to be ever more insane, chaotic and dishonest with every day, seem to be determined to drive the last hope of economic recovery - the American economy down the same path. Here is Claudia Rossett's take. I am not sure I can say "enjoy" about such a grim subject.
Europe’s sclerotic economies should serve as a warning for American policy makers. If government continues to grow, it will be just a matter of time before the United States also is plagued by low growth, higher unemployment, and stagnant living standards. Government spending is not the only policy that matters (see here for additional information), but making America more like France is a big step in the wrong direction.
It is almost inevitable that with a political class, in Britain, in America and on the Continent, that has become almost completely detached from the rest of the country and its wealth creation, should like economic legislation that gives more money, more power, more employment to them and their clients. What is good for Washington or, for that matter, Whitehall, is almost certainly bad for the rest of the country.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
You do not have to book ahead. Just turn up and pay at the door. I shall not be there for once, though Martin Howe is always worth hearing and I should like to know how he envisages Britain renegotiating a different relationship with the rest of the EU. The last time I asked him, his response was disappointingly silly. Drawing parallels between the British and the Swiss positions is pointless. There are no parallels.
As for me, I shall be at the National Theatre, watching the revival of Tom Stoppard's play about Soviet dissidents, "Every Good Boy Deserves A Favour".
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Claudia Rossett says it for the United States: no, we are not all socialists now. In fact, many of us believe that what socialism has "achieved" at the expense of liberty and well-being, to give power to the state and its minions, must be rolled back.
How much more true is that for us on this side of the Pond, both Britain and the Continent. Time to start rolling and if that leaves Tory Socialists behind, well, that's just too bad.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
As one can see from his biography he is a fairly typical Labour MP who is, at present, rather worried about losing his position as Hammersmith is something of a marginal. To be perfectly honest, I was not really aware of my MP’s identity because the long-standing one, Clive Soley, had been kicked upstairs given a peerage and the new one was too busy sucking up to the leadership.
Then, about a year ago, Andy Slaughter appeared on my radar screen. He it was, who was particularly riled by the IWantAReferendum campaign and became incoherent with venom in his debate with Derek Scott, who chaired it. Here is a more detailed account of this man’s imbecility and dishonesty (oh yes, one can display both).
Mr Slaughter subsequently started making all sorts of appearances around the area, clearly worried about the forthcoming election. For example, he wanted to stop the speedy reconstruction of Shepherds Bush Central Line station, arguing that it should not be closed completely for several months but that the building should be done around the passengers.
Inconvenient thought that closure was, the alternative, as proposed by Mr Slaughter, would have been a complete nightmare and would have prolonged the reconstruction (it was much more than a refurbishment) by many months, if not years.
He has been vocal in his opposition to the hugely successful Westfield Centre (much disliked by Guardian writers, I am glad to say), even calling a protest meeting well after it had opened. I almost went just to find out whether Mr Slaughter was suggesting the closure of the whole place with hundreds of people being made redundant and the whole area being turned into a derelict site. Since that meeting we have not heard a great deal about Westfield from our esteemed MP.
Now he is kind of in the news again, having resigned as PPS to the egregious Lord Malloch-Brown, former bag-carrier to UN SecGen Kofi Annan and George Soros, over the proposed third runway for Heathrow. To be honest, I did not even know Mr Slaughter had achieved such heights in his political career.
How did I find out? Well, a letter arrived on House of Commons paper, inside a House of Commons envelope with the House of Commons stamp on it. It informed me, as a voter, of Mr Slaugher’s amazingly honourable stance. Presumably, this went to all voters in the new Hammersmith constituency. Or did it go to his existing constituency, who are of little interest to Mr Slaugher now? In any case, I doubt if any of them knew that he had been in the government or cared much. We do not elect MPs in order that they should be in government.
The question one has to ask, in view of recent discussions, is this a justified way of spending House of Commons postage and stationery allowance? Is Mr Slaughter not using or abusing his office in order to electioneer ahead of the allowed time?
My colleague on EUReferendum has already written about the Conservative Party’s ridiculous reaction but there have been some developments there as chronicled by ToryBoyBlog, a.k.a. Conservative Home.
At first the Conservatives, laughably known as Her Majesty’s Opposition, kept quiet on the matter of a Dutch parliamentarian being stopped from taking up an invitation by two members of the House of Lords to explain his political views because another member of the House of Lords, who is waiting to be sentenced for dangerous driving that resulted in a death, was threatening violence. The threats were unlikely to have turned into reality but that is a separate issue. They were made.
Then, just as the questions of where were the Tories started to reach a noisy crescendo, a very quiet and understated statement was made by Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary (I think).
We have consistently called on the Government to tackle extremists. If Geert Wilders has expressed views that represent a threat to public security, then we support the ban. But people like Ibrahim Moussawi, a spokesman for the terrorist organisation Hizbollah, have not been banned. The Government must apply the criteria governing entry into the UK consistently.In other words, the whole issue was made into a discussion of equivalence. Before making the statement Mr Grayling or one of his gifted researchers ought to have found out what exactly it is that Mr Wilders has said and what views he has expressed. They might have found that, though some of the views are debatable, many of his policies are free-market ones (and that maybe what our political class dislikes en masse) while others make a good deal of sense.
For instance, the idea of a five-year moratorium on immigration in a small, heavily populated country, which is finding it hard to “digest” a large group of people who are not prepared to become part of its society is not actually stupid or particularly offensive. The fact that they are not prepared to become part of that society is evidenced by the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the constant protection under which Geert Wilders has to live.
As for his call to ban the Koran in the Netherlands, just as “Mein Kampf” is banned, clearly that is one of the debatable points. In my opinion, neither should be banned and, in any case, how difficult is it to buy a copy of Hitler’s intolerably boring magnum opus and taking it to Amsterdam?
The point that Mr Grayling seems to be missing is that political views that might be controversial (and God forbid that any Conservative politician should have those) are not quite the same as calls for violence and terrorism. Nobody has produced a single example of Mr Wilders doing that. The person who has threatened violence is Lord Ahmed.
A little while later the Tory leadership woke up to the fact that their stand on the issue, which consisted of fence-sitting of the first order, was not particularly popular. Even on ConHome most of the comments were angry.
So up popped little Georgie-Porgy Osborne, who clearly does not have enough to do as Shadow Chancellor in the midst of a financial crisis, and told the Manchester Evening News, which has not, so far as I know, been bought by a Russian oligarch:
My personal view is by banning him [Wilders] in such a public way, he has beenStill somewhat feeble and giving the further impression that the Conservative Front Bench is incapable of agreeing on anything of any importance. Furthermore, what Mr Osborne seems to object to is the backfiring of the stupid ban rather than its existence.
given far more publicity than would havebeen the case. I am not sure how thought-through this really was.
Some of the comments (most of which were still negative) suggested that the Conservatives are trying hard to win the Muslim vote or some of it and that is why they are not speaking out in favour of free speech. I can’t help thinking that this is a ridiculous calculation.
There is a greater tendency in the Muslim community than in others to vote en bloc, often at the instructions of the local imam or some other “community leader”. This tendency has been exacerbated by the loosening of rules on postal voting, about which the Electoral Commission refuses to do anything. This may or may not help the Labour Party but it is not going to give the Conservatives anything.
The only Muslim votes they are likely to get are from people who are trying to break away from the unhealthy stifling of political opinion that exists in those circumstances. Those Muslims are very unlikely to be impressed by this cravenness that supports a trampling of their rights as well as anybody else’s.
The second point I want to make is rather more serious than the well-being or otherwise of the Conservative Party. We are witnessing yet another example of a deliberate erosion of moral responsibility in public discourse.
“Violence”, according to this attitude, is a purely passive phenomenon. It is bad but it just happens. Nobody is responsible and everybody involved, the perpetrator and the threatener as well as the putative victim is equally guilty. Therefore, it does not matter who is punished, the one who threatens violence or the one who wants to have an open discussion. Since it is clearly easier to punish the latter, that is what we do.
We can see similar attitudes in various rather knotty international problems, whose solution remains unreachable because of this muddle in thinking and moral judgement, a muddle that has now completely overtaken our entire political class.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
To some extent these people are right: Gaza remains a humanitarian disaster area and will be that while Hamas remains in charge. After the story of Hamas stealing at gunpoint the aid brought in by UNWRA, we now hear that even Amnesty has had enough.
Rick Moran on American Thinker links to Ynetnews. Reuters reports it, too, as do many others.
Amnesty International said on Tuesday Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip had carried out killings, torture and abductions of people accused of helping Israel, during and after the recent Israeli offensive. At least two dozen men have been shot dead by Hamas gunmen and scores of others have been shot in the legs, knee-capped or injured in other ways intended to cause permanent disability, the human rights group said.Yes, well, a good deal of this was reported during the last Gaza conflict but, somehow or other, ignored by the weeping NGOs and much of the big media. But better late than never, I suppose.
Others have been severely beaten, tortured or ill-treated, it said in a report.
Most were abducted from their homes and later dumped, dead or injured, in isolated areas, or found in the morgue of one of Gaza's hospitals. Some were shot dead in hospitals where they were receiving treatment for injuries, Amnesty said.
Rick Moran is less charitable. Why is Amnesty not interested, he wonders, when Hamas attacks Israelis? Could there be a double standard here? Certainly. There could and there is but, at least, we are told about Hamas's murder and torture of other Palestinians. We rarely hear about that. It's a start.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
So, let me begin by sorting out the various blogs and how they fit together as there seems to be some confusion. EUReferendum is a joint blog, run by Richard North and me, though largely by Richard North. There are no restrictions on how much I can write on it, in response to one comment, but it has so happened that for various reasons I have not posted as much as Richard has. Indeed, for a while I was not posting on it at all. But I am back on it now. For the present.
There are several spin-offs. Defence of the Realm was set up by Richard because there was a threat that his defence posts would take over EURef. He usually cross-links to the main blog. EUReferendum2 exists solely for long posts that would take up too much space on the main site. There is always a cross-link. The Umbrella enterprise has not quite worked out as it was meant to, not least because of lack of resources. Umbrella3 is for long postings that are very loosely related to the main themes of EURef. Of course, those main themes have multiplies as well.
The forum was set up as a separate entity in order to make archiving easier and to create a feeling of a network community. On the whole it has probably succeeded but it is not a major interest of mine. People can post on it now without registering though I wish they would put some name at the top of their posting – nothing is so frustrating than dealing with somebody known as Guest.
The BrugesGroupBlog lies somewhere alongside that structure, not, at present, attached to anything. As I explained in my original posting, it was going to be part of something bigger but that has fallen through.
Let me just assure everyone that plans for a proper research structure are being worked out but they will be under EUReferendum rather than Bruges Group auspices. We shall certainly be looking for IT knowledge and experience but there is the enormous problem of finances. That kind of work needs to be paid for.
For the rest, there were as many people suggesting that I should abandon this blog and contribute more to EUReferendum as there those who saw some value in a separate outlet. On reflection, I think I shall stick with the second group of advice (which means that those who never look at the BrugesGroupBlog for whatever reason will not read my scribblings on that but we have to take some risks in life) and continue with the BrugesGroupBlog with cross-links. The aim is to change it into some kind of a more personal blog that will cover various subjects that I cannot really put up on EUReferendum. But that remains work in progress.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Meanwhile, there is this bit of fatuous reporting from EurActiv:
In a perfectly harmonious chorus, European leaders stressed Russia does not pose any military threat to Europe or NATO. But mutual trust between Moscow and Brussels is "urgently" needed, especially after the natural gas supply crisis earlier this year, said French President Nicholas Sarkozy.On the whole, it is probably true that Russia does not pose a military threat to Europe simply because it is not in a position to do so. Even the invasion of little Georgia took more out of the Russian military than had been expected. But that mutual trust seems a long way away, especially if one takes into account the consistent bullying of former colonies and satellites.
Not everyone is happy as this article in the Wall Street Journal shows. The recent launch of the Iranian missile, whether it is quite as technically sophisticated as the Mad Mullahs would like us to believe or not, ought to remind some people what the missile defence shield is opposing. This is no time to start accepting Russian leaders' hysterics, aimed mostly at their own population whom they want to cower by endless references to the enemy inside and outside (has a familiar ring to it).
Suspending the program would have serious consequences. It would send a signal of American weakness to Iran, which the Obama Administration says it wishes to engage. If the mullahs watch the U.S. back down on confronting its missile threat, who could blame them for assuming it will also back down over its nuclear aspirations?I don't know which is worse: ignorance of history or ignorance of economics. We have a surfeit of both among Western leaders.
A suspension would also send a message of American irresolution to Russia, which opposes deploying the antimissile system in countries it considers part of its sphere of influence. This kind of Cold War thinking was on display again last week with the news that Moscow had bribed Kyrygyzstan to close a key U.S. air base for supplying Afghanistan. Backing down on missile defense would only encourage more such Russian behavior.
Friday, February 6, 2009
In the meantime, I am preparing for a short interview with the BBC Russian Service – the one part of that noisome organization that one can approve of and, needless to say, a part that is under constant threat of cut-backs and closures. They wish to discuss the latest House of Lords Constitution Committee Report on Surveillance: The Citizen and the State. So I am reading the conclusions with which I broadly agree – the balance in government thinking has long ago moved away from individual liberty and privacy to the notion that we exist for the state.
It is somewhat ironic that the BBC, which seems to have introduced its own methods of surveillance of private speech, otherwise known as snitching, should even begin to be interested in the subject. Then again, this is the Russian Service, where they know about such things.
What shocked me more than the behaviour of the BBC and its unpleasant denizens, Jo Brand and Adrian Chiles (of whom I had never heard before), has been the number of people who have commented on various forums and in letters to newspapers that the BBC was actually completely right and this is a real blow for …. well what exactly? That, of course, is what people can never explain.
On the whole opinion has been against the BBC, who seems to find no problems in having the most offensive comments (Jonathan Ross), examples of anti-semitism (Tom Paulin and others) or anti-Americanism (just about everybody from Justin Webb onwards) broadcast but runs in horror from the g word in private.
I prefer not to use the word Orwellian in ordinary political discourse because like so many of those convenient expressions it is frequently abused. In this case, however, it is entirely apt. Those who recall “1984” will know that when Winston Smith is first arrested he finds, among others, his erstwhile colleague Parsons in gaol with him. Parsons tells him with great delight that he had been denounced by his own daughter because he had said something bad about Big Brother in his sleep. The BBC and its denizens would probably approve of that, too. During World War II Orwell worked in Broadcasting House for a while and it is well known that he based his description of the Ministry of Truth, where Winston Smith works until his arrest, on that institution. He knew whereof he spoke.
Back to the House of Lords Report and its Recommendations. They are very detailed and I would recommend all to read them in full.
On the whole, I agree with them in that the ever expanding but highly inefficiently used technology of surveillance needs a great deal of control than the government seems to think.
They do not mention the fact that all too often these surveillance technique may flush out the parents who send their children to a school that is not in their catchment area but shows itself to be completely useless in the prevention of mugging and high-street robbery or, even, the apprehension of the perpetrator.
Their lordships say:
453. Before introducing any new surveillance measure, the Government should endeavour to establish its likely effect on public trust and the consequences for public compliance. This task could be undertaken by an independent review body or non-governmental organisation, possibly in conjunction with the Information Commissioner's Office.I’d say we need to add another point: the Government should produce some likely calculation based on past experience of how effective the particular measure is in accomplishing its stated aims.
Meanwhile, I have finished my short interview with the Russian Service. My main point was that there is a serious division of opinion here between those who consider that the state exists for the citizen and those, who consider the opposite. While none of us have too many objections to the police using DNA to pursue people they suspect of committing a crime, we do object to them storing the DNA of innocent people just in case they turn up again.
One does not like the idea of children’s DNA being routinely collected and stored, in order to provide them with “a better life” and to ensure that they exist where and how the state thinks appropriate.
Interestingly enough, The Anchoress, one of my favourite American bloggers has a posting that is relevant to the topic. Of all the quotations she cites, I like this one, by C. S. Lewis best:
Of all the tyrannies, the one exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their conscience.The real problem comes when those robber barons become omnipotent moral busybodies without changing their original spots much.
This posting is probably longer than one wants on this blog. I shall try not to do that too often. The picture I simply could not resist.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
In this case, the question is about the BrugesGroupBlog and its role in the eurosceptic and related political struggle.
I started it some months ago as a parallel outlet to EUReferendum, where I can post short (and not so short sometimes) pieces that would link to news stories to do with the EU, Britain's role in the world and the never-ending villainy of tranzis. The idea behind it was that the blog would, at some point, become part of a structured research programme for the Bruges Group. Alas, the latter is not going to happen as the powers that be at the Group have decided otherwise. Eventually, some decision will be taken but it will not be in favour of the research programme I proposed.
So, now I am faced with the problem of what is to be done with the BrugesGroupBlog. Solutions?
Monday, January 26, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Friday, January 9, 2009
The key priorities are the three 'E's: Economy, Energy and Europe in the world. The motto is a 'Europe without barriers'.Can't wait to see how that turns out.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Two years ago, the Dutch could quietly congratulate themselves on having brought what seemed to be a fair measure of consensus and reason to the meanest intersection in their national political life: the one where integration of Muslim immigrants crossed Dutch identity.Suddenly, there is criticism of the failed policy from the Left.
In the run-up to choosing a new government in 2006, just 24 percent of the voters considered the issue important, and only 4 percent regarded it as the election's central theme.
What a turnabout, it seemed - and whatever the reason (spent passions, optimism, resignation?), it was a soothing respite for a country whose history of tolerance was the first in 21st-century Europe to clash with the on-street realities of its growing Muslim population.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Netherlands had lived through something akin to a populist revolt against accommodating Islamic immigrants led by Pim Fortuyn, who was later murdered; the assassination of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, accused of blasphemy by a homegrown Muslim killer; and the bitter departure from the Netherlands of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who became a member of Parliament before being marked for death for her criticism of radical Islam.
Two weeks ago, the country's biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch "tolerance."And so it goes. The paper insists that immigrants must engage with Dutch life and Dutch values; their best way out of their ghetto is through working; and criminality or anti-social behaviour has to be prevented or punished.
The paper said: "The mistake we can never repeat is stifling criticism of cultures and religions for reasons of tolerance."
Government and politicians had too long failed to acknowledge the feelings of "loss and estrangement" felt by Dutch society facing parallel communities that disregard its language, laws and customs.
Newcomers, according to Ploumen, must avoid "self-designated victimization."
She asserted, "the grip of the homeland has to disappear" for these immigrants who, news reports indicate, also retain their original nationality at a rate of about 80 percent once becoming Dutch citizens.
Instead of reflexively offering tolerance with the expectation that things would work out in the long run, she said, the government strategy should be "bringing our values into confrontation with people who think otherwise."
What is so depressing is that we all, including John Vinocur, the author of the article, should find it surprising that self-defined members of the Left should actually speak up against those who try to undermine the liberal values that they are supposed to hold dear: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, equality before the law, protection for the law-abiding, equality between the sexes and so on.