Friday, February 27, 2009

We should be paying attention ...

... to the tea-parties a.k.a. taxpayers' revolts across the Pond. So far they are mild-mannered though we shall see what the day brings. But remember what happened after the one in Boston.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let us hope they listen

Dan Mitchell of Cato Institute warns the United States not to follow the European path. He points out, inter alia, that Keynes himself would have been horrified by the proportion of GDP that is consumed by the state nowadays.

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).

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.
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.

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

Next meeting

The Bruges Group will hold a meeting on February 24 at the Foreign Press Association, 11 Carlton House Terrace (W. E. Gladstone's old house) at 7 pm. The speakers will be Peter Lilley MP and Martin Howe QC and they will be speaking on the destruction of parliamentary democracy, a subject Mr Lilley, at least, ought to know a great deal about.

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

You gotta accentuate the positive

Another video from those guys Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation. This one goes for the positive. Having been through all the policies that do not work to increase a country's and its people's wealth (oddly enough all the ones usually proposed and implemented by politicians), they are now explaining what will work. Yes, you are right: small government and free markets. Enjoy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

We must never forget those words spoken by Todd Beamer as he and his fellow-passengers tackled the terrorists on Flight 93 during that fateful day. The battle against all our enemies (who, rather satisfactorily, tend to unite periodically) goes on.

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

This is not campaigning, honest

The part of West London I live in is on the move again, politically speaking. In the next General Election we shall be part of the new (or renewed) constituency of Hammersmith, though our Labour candidate will be the present MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush, Andy Slaughter.

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?

For the time being the last word

Given the number of words both my colleague and I have expended on the Geert Wilders case, it would probably be seemly to call a halt on it. And so I shall, at least temporarily because the story is not about to go away, after this posting in which I should like to raise one or two issues.

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 been
given far more publicity than would havebeen the case. I am not sure how thought-through this really was.
Still 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.

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

Gaza remains a humanitarian disaster

As the Israeli election is drawing to a close with Tzipi Livni and the Kadima slightly ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud though the final coalition government remaining uncertain, we are getting a good deal of weeping from the brigade of sentimentalists who have managed to convince themselves that they are thinking about the unfortunate Palestinian people, who, one may add, do not have the rights and privileges that Arabs in Israel enjoy. Hint: they, too, have been taking part in a free election.

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.

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.
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.

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

Allow me to respond

It seems easier to do another posting as a response to the comments on “What is to be done?”. As promised, I shall ignore the silly personal attacks as being of little interest. On the other hand, I am grateful to people who have taken the trouble to reply with various points, ideas and suggestions.

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

One has to worry ...

... when the Russian Foreign Minister, the EU's Foreign Affairs Chief Panjandrum and the Chinese are praising the "new tone" of the new American Administration. Of course, a new tone might not mean anything much and the new Administration may well learn quickly that those who are on the other side need to be stared down. After all, the Secretary of State must recall how "useful" that new tone was in the time of her husband's presidency. It is a little worrying that nobody seems to remember or be capable of finding out the disaster in foreign and domestic policy that was Jimmah Carter's administration.

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?

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.
I don't know which is worse: ignorance of history or ignorance of economics. We have a surfeit of both among Western leaders.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Does all this surveillance work?

At the back of my mind there sits the uncomfortable thought that, having promised to reply to the comments on what is to be done with the BrugesGroupBlog, I have not yet done so. All I can say is that I have been thinking them over and shall respond, maybe later today.

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

What is to be done?

It is curious, but having hated Chernyshevsky's seminal and unbelievably bad novel of that name and having struggled through Lenin's seminal and unbelievably badly written study that is at least shorter than the novel, also of that name, I find myself quoting that question over and over again.

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?