Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to Belgium

It was not my intention to make the first post-Christmas posting about Belgium but needs must be. There is a new development in that country’s permanent political and constitutional crisis.

The Wall Street Journal reports that King Albert has named a successor to Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who has resigned amid a financial scandal. (Are we surprised? Not unbearably.)
After more than a week of negotiation with the country's fragmented political parties, King Albert asked Herman Van Rompuy, president of the lower house of Belgium's parliament, to form a government. While the person chosen for this role doesn't always get the top job, "in this case, it's absolutely clear Mr. Van Rompuy will become prime minister in a few days," said Olivier Alsteens, a government spokesman.

Mr. Van Rompuy, 61 years old, is a member of the Christian Democrats, the same party that Mr. Leterme belongs to. He earned plaudits as a finance and budget minister in the 1990s when he gradually reduced Belgium's national debt so that the country would meet the criteria to adopt the euro in 1999.
All but one of the ministers will be those of the existing (since March) coalition government.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

The BrugesGroupBlog has been a little thin recently for a number of reasons, one very important being that its role is now being questioned as the aim was to make it part of an integrated Bruges Group research programme. This may yet happen in the new year. I certainly hope so, as there is a certain dearth of well constructed research programmes among the numerous eurosceptic groups.

For the time being the blog will carry on with a little more attention than it has enjoyed recently. In the meantime, let me wish all our readers a very happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How very true

An excellent article by Matthew Kaminski on about the inevitable fading of the supposed love of America because Obama has been elected to be president.

There are various reasons why anti-Americanism exists. The most obvious one is that America is the strongest power and those are always disliked. As several people have told Mr Kaminski, that is something Americans will have to live with just as the British did for a while. Unlike previous empires, the American one is different as it is not based on direct rule, no matter what the anti-American crowd, both on the left and the right, scream. It is power projected through ideas and effects.
Yet America is different from those past empires, and I find our thin skin winning--to a point. The place attracts the hatred of assorted masses from London fine-dining table to the caves around Tora Bora because it is attractive at so many levels and isn't self-consciously a global Empire (which enrages some people even more). Our iPods, Harvards and Stanfords, Tiger Woodses and Michael Phelpses, Beyoncés and Philip Roths all constitute American power along with the dollar and the military.
America is different, an exceptional country, despite the efforts made by the politicians and the media to turn it into a class-ridden society like any other. The reason why Obama, with his unusual background, could be elected President, is that difference. Sooner or later those who are still dancing with joy will have to acknowledge this, as the fact that he was elected by the very same people who had elected Bush twice. How could they have become so smart in such a short space of time?

There will be the obvious reason for turning against Obama as soon as he starts behaving as an American President (as even he must on January 21 if the already raging scandals do not envelop him) and looking to his own country first. The idea that somehow under President Obama America will become the willing slave of other countries is fatuous. Just wait till he asks openly for more European troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the "just" war, sanctioned by the UN and still hated by the many America-bashers.

The most obvious reason for hating America is envy - not just for the material welfare but for the existence of a state in which the people (give or take a mendacious media and a certain number of corrupt politicians) can affect who is in government and what sort of legislation is passed. This is not true for most of the world. It is not true in Europe where elections have become a farce with the real power residing the untouchable and unaccountable eurocrats. No wonder we hate America.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Let's try again

With the world's leaders apparently going completely mad and competing with each other as to how much money they are going to spend supposedly to "stimulate" the economy and how far further they will expand government - where the roots of the many of our problems lie, a cool discussion of Keynesianism from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation is very welcome. Let's see if I can embed the video this time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Remember when ...

... Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer used to lecture his colleagues in the European Union about sensible and prudent economic policies. A great many people (few of them in the meida) realized at the time that his own would not stand up to much scrutiny and a crisis would hit Britain badly.

Well, it has and Prime Minister Brown is now, rather humiliatingly, being lectured on his crass and irresponsible Keynesianism. German finance minister, Peer Steinbruck went for the jugular in an interview for Newsweek.

This bodes ill for the European Council (not Summit as the news story erroneously describes it) opening today. More on that, as it progresses and as I finish day jobbing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tax havens are a good idea

An e-mail from Dan Mitchell, Senior Fellow at Cato Institute and a co-founder of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, tells me that there are now numerous videos on YouTube that deal with such subjects as the Laffer Curve and tax reform.

There are three recently completed and posted videos on tax havens and why they are quite a good idea though, presumably, one would not need them if other countries had more sensible tax regimes.

They are called respectively The Economic Case for Tax Havens, The Moral Case for Tax Havens and Tax Havens: Myths v. Facts.

I haven't quite worked out how to embed videos in blog postings as the one piece of advice I was given did not seem to work out in practice. So, in the meantime, there are links to YouTube. Enjoy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

We have a problem

The Wall Street Journal carries an interesting article, translated from the German, about the activity of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin. The Center's introductory paragraph is entirely praiseworthy:
The Center for Research on Antisemitism, founded in 1982, is the only scholarly institution conducting interdisciplinary researches and teachings focussing on prejudices and their consequences like antisemitism, Antiziganism, xenophobia and racism.

The interdisciplinary research on antisemitism is supplemented by research on related areas such as German-Jewish history and the Holocaust.
As it happens, there have been numerous reports in various European countries that showed that Anti-Semitism was growing again, its sources are Islamic countries like Iran, the more extremist Islamist organizations around the world and certain left-wing groups who have decided to become Anti-Semitic in their sympathy with the "oppressed" Muslims of the world. They rarely talk about the Muslims that are oppressed by Muslim governments (such as Iran).

It seems that the Center has decided not to concentrate on these matters but to produce a report on growing Islamophobia in which, according to Matthias Küntzel, no difference is drawn between Muslims in general and political Islam or, as we refer to it, Islamism. It would appear that criticizing Islamists who want to destroy Israel, call for the murder of various opposing people and groups, frequently carry out those murders and generally want to destroy Western countries and their culture is the same as being Islamophobic, which is no different from being Anti-Semitic.
In taking up the fashionable vocabulary of Islamophobia and equating hostility to Muslims with hostility to Jews, the center also risks undermining the most important current task in dealing with anti-Semitism: studying and fighting hostility to Jews in the Islamic world, where anti-Semitism has reached an unprecedented level.

For example, one of the authors in the latest Yearbook, Jochen Müller, proposes a "revision of politics and history teaching" in German schools. Because the Holocaust has no "central meaning for migrants from the Arabic-Muslim world," one should consider whether "the colonial period and its consequences" would not be a better subject for "appropriate 'Holocaust education'" among Muslim students in Germany. This is a remarkable idea given the degree of Holocaust denial among many young Muslims.

Another article in the Yearbook, "Hostility to Islam on the World Wide Web," goes even further. Instead of criticizing anti-Semitism among Muslims, the author criticizes those who accuse Muslims of anti-Semitism. That's because such accusations provide "an apparently rationally based argument for rejecting an entire collective," writes Yasemin Shooman, a staff member at the center. Here, attempts to fight "hostility to Islam" threaten to turn into tolerance of anti-Semitic attitudes.

While the Berlin center concentrates on world-wide "anti-Islamic resentments," its Yearbook says not a word about the anti-Semitism of the Iranian mullahs. Thus, it hardly does justice to the demands for contemporary research on anti-Semitism. Never before has the elimination of the Jewish state been so loudly propagated. Never before has an influential power made Holocaust denial the center of its foreign policy, as Iran has today. Never before has a U.N. forum been misused for an anti-Semitic speech, as it was on Sept. 23 by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the speech as "blatantly anti-Semitic."
Presumably, one must not talk about Islamism in connection with the recent atrocities in Bombay, either. Or is that allowed?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's Bombay and India is still an ally ... just

Still on the subject of the atrocities in India, an ally and a country that is or ought to be part of the Anglosphere, here is a very good article by Christopher Hitchens on Slate. Among other things, Hitch reminds us all that Bombay, which is still called that by many Indians, was renamed by Hindu extremists after a Hindu goddess. By calling it Mumbai, we collude with their desire to keep India away from the rest of the world, to destroy Bombay, one of the country’s greatest cities. So let us not give in to that and continue calling the place Bombay.
This may seem like a detail, but it isn't, because what's at stake is the whole concept of a cosmopolitan city open to its own citizens and to the world—a city on the model of Sarajevo or London or Beirut or Manhattan. There is, of course, a reason they attract the ire and loathing of the religious fanatics. To the pure and godly, the very existence of such places is a profanity. In a smaller way, the same is true of the Islamabad Marriott hotel, where I also used to stay. It was a meeting point and crossroads for foreigners. It had a bar where the Pakistani prohibition rules did not apply. Its dining rooms and public spaces featured stylish Asian women who showed their faces. And so it had to be immolated, like any other Sodom or Gomorrah.
The main point of the article, though, is an assertion of the importance of India in our world and in our fight against terrorists and the importance of the West, whose leaders have been making rather mealy-mouthed statements, to make it clear that we believe this to be so, despite the many problems India faces.

While we are on the subject of the events in Bombay, here is Neo-neocon writing about some people’s outrageously stupid reactions. Personally, I think she is being too kind to the morons who can see no difference between victims and murderers but she also links to a posting by Yaacov Ben Moshe, who is less kind. [Warning: some of the descriptions of what the terrorists did may well make you queasy.] I just wish they would all call the city Bombay.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Imprisoning the messenger

This news was passed on to me by one of the readers of both this and the EUReferendum blog. He sent me some links to a Russian-language newspaper in Latvia, Telegraf. The first article appeared on November 21, in which the newspaper reported that Dmitry Smirnov (or Dmitrijs Smirnovs in Latvian, though I suspect the man a Russian) a teacher of economics in the Ventspils University College was arrested by the Security Police and accused of undermining the Latvian financial system by taking part in a discussion about the ongoing crisis.

The story was confirmed three days later in which Mr Smirnov explained that he had been kept in solitary for two days but otherwise treated well. He had been arrested under Article 194 of the Criminal Code. Mr Smirnov added that it is clear from the conditions of his imprisonment that Latvia is now in the European Union though he does not actually want to return to the cell. I suspect Mr Smirnov does not know much about prisons in certain parts of France or Italy.

The Baltic Times, an English language newspaper had more on the story.
University College Rector Janis Vucans told the Baltic News Service that he did not know the exact reasons for the detention of lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs, but that he expected to receive a written explanation.

The rector said that the discussion that led to the lecturers detention was an ordinary talk in which each participant voiced his own opinion and vision.

Asked whether Smirnovs' detention should be taken as interference with a person's freedom of speech, Vucans said that Smirnovs is a lecturer at the Ventspils University College, delivering lectures on banks and monetary systems. "On what basis should we lecture? Not on examples of some Switzerland or the US, the situation in Latviais more important to us," he said.

"The question is whether we are teaching something abstract, what does not refer to us, or we are trying to educate our students on issues that are topical," said the rector. "As far as I understand, his statements are not populist, but based on analysis," said the rector.
It seems that Mr Smirnov argued that the lat may well be devalued very soon. It followed, according to the Baltic Times, a string of detentions connected with this rumour. One of those detained, according to the Telegraf, had been Valters Frïdenbergs, a singer with the group Putnu balle. And to think that the only thing our various singers and performers get arrested for is drunkenness, drug abuse and general bad behaviour. Something wrong here.

My informer wondered why the EU was not making any noises about Mr Smirnov’s rights to freedom of speech. I think I have the answer here:
Smirnovs said in the discussion: "The only thing I can advise: first, not to keep money in banks, second, not to accumulate savings in lats as it is very dangerous now. Convert them to the US dollars. The euro is an artificial currency, and what is achieved by the euro in a year, can be lost in a month. These are real threats to the value of the euro. Maybe some people do not understand it, but the main oppositionist and competitor to the US is the European Union (EU). The main goal of the US is to destroy the EU as it does not benefit from a strong and united Europe, strong currency -- the euro."
The man is not going to get support if he goes around saying that the euro is an artificial currency and is, therefore, very vulnerable. Then again, if he really believes that tosh about America’s main goal being the destruction of the EU then his opinions are hardly worth listening to, let alone paying him the compliment of arresting him.

Upon further enquiry I established this about Article 194:
According to the criminal code, it is against the law to disseminate “untrue data or information orally, written or in other ways regarding the condition of the finance system of the Republic of Latvia.” A person convicted under Section 194 could face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 80 times the minimal monthly wage.
When it comes to disseminating information about the country’s currency true or untrue becomes hard to judge. According to Andris Straumanis in Latvians Online the arrest is likely to be in contravention of the Latvian constitution, which guarantees free speech.

The Wall Street Journal, still the best newspaper around for news as opposed to discussion of rock music, fashion and obscure health problems, has caught up with the story. Apart from explaining why the Latvian authorities are so worried about unfounded rumours (though, perhaps, they should not assume that all economic discussions are that) Andrew Higgins makes an interesting point about the whole saga:
Virtually no one here worries that Latvia is reverting to the ways of the Soviet Union, when the KGB hunted down dissidents and kept the population in cowed silence. Unlike Russia, where state-controlled media largely ignore bad news, Latvia has a vibrant free press. Mr. Smirnovs's detention was front-page news and created an uproar. This, says the economist, "shows that we are still living in a democracy."
Indeed, a quick check on the internet confirms that the story is being vigorously discussed in various languages, though, for some reason it does not seem to have been picked up by the British media.

Change we can all believe in

President-Elect Obama has announced a "new dawn" in American foreign policy and appointed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his Secretary of State, leaving Robert Gates in Defence. As I said in an interview for the BBC Russian Service this afternoon about future Anglo-American relations, I cannot see any reason to expect many changes.

Here is the list of the latest appointments.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Does the media endanger people's lives?

From Gateway Pundit we get this story, which comes from Wales Online via Free Republic of a British couple describing their lives being endangered by CNN actually pinpointing their whereabouts for the terrorists that had taken over the Taj hotel to see. Power without responsibility, you see.

And more on the torture story. It would appear that the Jewish prisoners in the Chabad House were tortured before they were murdered.

Andrew Breitbart describes the opening of a new film in Mumbai and everybody's favourite cricketer (not!) and political hero Imran Khan, wearing a t-shirt that shows Bush as an international terrorist just about the time the real terrorist were rampaging through buildings a few streets from the event. Mr Khan is a Muslim and it would not hurt him to condemn those who justify their crimes by the religion they share with him. What will he and his colleagues do after January 20, 2009?

UPDATE: Mea culpa. I had not appreciated that American writers will care next to nothing about the Imran Khan we all know and are seriously bored with. The idiot in Andrew Breibart's story is a different Imran Khan, younger, not so good looking, not a cricketer but a Bollywood star. For the time being, anyway. Mind you, the rest of my comments apply.