Friday, April 29, 2011

Well, I think the wedding is fun

I have not blogged about the Wedding because there was nothing much to say apart from wishing William and Kate luck in their extremely difficult future life. But having wandered round the centre of London today I did get caught up in the atmosphere. Plenty of people lining the Mall already, plenty of people going to parties tomorrow, everybody in the tube discussing their plans. I think it's fun and I don't care what anyone else says. Oh and I am doing a stint at the BBC Russian Service tomorrow morning. Not sure I can describe wedding dresses in any language. Hope at least some of this blog's readers will have fun.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Just try thinking

There is a story about Sir Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man. Apparently, one day Mr Hoffman turned looking considerably the worse for wear and when questioned, explained that in order to get into the part he actually did go without food and sleep for a couple of days. Olivier is supposed to have sighed and said wearily: "Try acting, dear boy. It's so much easier." I have never been sure whether the story is true but it rings true.

In the same way, I would like to say to some people who write books on subjects connected with Communism: "Try thinking. You will find your work much easier."

Almost accidentally I came across an interesting sounding book by Francis Beckett Stalin's British Victims. It turned out to be less interesting thanTim Tzouliadis's The Forsaken, which takes up the story of all the, mostly non-Communist, Americans who had gone to the USSR to work and who came to a very bad end. Mr Beckett, a man of the left, tells the story of four women who were one way or another involved with Communism, lived, worked and married in the Soviet Union, where they, eventually, suffered the fate of many though at least two of them managed to get back to the West and tell their tales.

What struck me about Mr Beckett, who tells the story of the four women with interest and compassion if not always with comprehension, is the extraordinary mental gymnastics he has to go through to justify the fact that he still cannot quite see what is wrong with Communism:

There are two views of Stalins's purges in 1936 - 8, in which millions were judicially murdered. One, articulated by Nikita Khrushschev in his expose of Stalin in 1956, was that these events were simply the result of Stalin himself, a pot of poison at the heart of an otherwise benevolent social system. The other is that they were an integral part of the Soviet system inaugurated by Lenin in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. This second view was most neatly summed up by Robert Conquest:

There was a grreat Marxist called Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That's a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

If pressed I incline to the Khrushchev view. Conquest is less than fair to Lenin. Communism did not have to be the murderous, viciously petty-minded, sectarian and vindictive thing my four principal characters found in the Soviet Union. In theory, communis is a generous and fair-minded creed, which rejects, for good reason, the poverty amid plenty which is the hallmark of capitalism. There's a case for saying that it was simply hijacked by a cold-blooded mass murderer. But for that to be possible, the fault line had to be there. And the fault line was there. The seeds for the Stalin terror were there; but they needed a mosnter like Stalin to nurture them. The fault line was the sectarian intolerance and the lack of feeling for individual human beings which Russian communists tookd to be virtues.
Or, in other words, Conquest was absolutely right, something that Mr Beckett would have understood even more clearly if he had bothered to look at the full history of the Soviet Union and not just the purges as directed against Communists. Try thinking, dear boy. It's so much easier.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chaotic ideology

If I say that yet again it has been proved to me that Russia is in chaos, readers of this blog will not be surprised. It is in chaos economically as its infrastructure disintegrates and the money earned from high oil and gas prices disappears; above all, it is in chaos politically with no parties worth their name emerging and the only two important politicians (Putin and his teddy bear) losing popularity.

This evening I went to a talk at the Pushkin House, a sort of a Russian cultural centre, given by Bill Bowring, professor of law, practising barrister and a man much involved with human rights and Russia. The talk was entitled Is 'Sovereign Democracy' Compatible with the Rule of Law in Russia? but was not really about that at all. Why, I ask in parenthesis, is it impossible for lawyers to stick to the subject they are supposed to be discussing or even to finish a sentence without darting off in another direction?

Professor Bowring, though extremely knowledgeable about the Russian legal system, its main players and the more recent important cases, spent the time attempting to define "sovereign democracy", the Putinist ideology. He was not very successful, largely because it is such a chaotic ideology, with bits and pieces from Russian Messianism of the Third Rome kind, old-fashioned autocratic nationalism and Soviet bullying. Nevertheless, he gave a reasonable summary of some of the most important writers who are often connected in various ways to Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev. A good many of the same points are made in this lecture Bowring gave in February.

Much to the good professor's horror some of the Russian theoreticians of "sovereign democracy" show themselves to have been influenced and to admire the legal theoreticians of fascism and Nazism, Carl Schmitt. It makes sense, given their obsession with strong national identity and the importance of the state. There seems to be no interest in the early nineteenth century ideas of rechtsstaat, that is an autocracy but regulated by law.

One relatively interesting writer of this group is Mikhail Vitalyevich Remizov, now President of the Institute of National Strategy founded by Stanislas Belkovskiy. Remizov is a self-described conservative and differentiates between three important ideologies: conservatism, Marxism and liberalism (in the English sense of the word). He acknowledges that there is little in common between fascism and conservatism and may, even, be smart enough to realize that fascism and Nazism are left-wing ideologies. As far as Russia is concerned, Remizov concludes, neither Marxism nor liberalism are viable ideologies; only conservatism can work and it must defeat both the others. In fact the main enemy for him and other Schmittians is parliamentary democracy.

None of this is particularly surprising but there is an extra ironic twist to it. Professor Bowring is committed to the idea of transnational organizations imposing their views on legality and human rights on sovereign states whether they be parliamentary democracies like Britain or autocracies like Russia. Several times he compared Russia's potential defiance of the European Court of Human Rights with Britain's apparently immediate withdrawal from the European Charter of Human Rights, the probability of which does not exist outside the excited imagination of international lawyers. It took a member of the audience, Alexander Goldfarb to be precise, to point out that even if Britain did withdraw from the ECHR law and legality would not collapse in this country. In Russia the situation is somewhat different. Reluctantly Professor Bowring agreed.

Given that British objection to the ECHR is judiciary activism that goes well beyond the intentions of the original charter and given that it is a vote in the House of Commons on the subject of prisoners' rights to vote which may lead to a clash between this country and the ECHR as well as the EU (Professor Bowring also labours under the misapprehension that the Conservative Party wants to pull out of the EU) the question has to be asked: does Professor Bowring not consider parliamentary democracy to be something of an enemy as well.

Fancy feeling sorry for the EU

That is what Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson, who has been mentioned on this blog a few times before (eg here) seems to feel in his article that appeared on the Brussels Journal site and among the Telegraph blogs.
There are naturally many things that the European Union should never have done and one of them was to accept Iceland’s application to join the bloc. But Brussels can be pitied up to a certain point as it was deceived to think that the Icelandic people desired membership. Nothing, however, could be further from the reality. The Icelandic people have never wished to become members of the EU and never as little as today. As much as two thirds oppose membership according to successive opinion polls by various polling companies. An eventual accession treaty, if it comes to that, will have to go through a referendum in Iceland.
Time to give up on that now, I'd say.

Friday, April 22, 2011

In a way this is funny

In other ways it is infuriating as this garbage is being done if not in our name (since when has the UN acted in our name?) then at our expense. As far as most of us are concerned, whether Christian or not, today is Good Friday, one of the most solemn days of the Church. Appropriately enough, for those who know their Bible, this week is also Passover, an equally solemn and important part of the Jewish faith. Of course, there are many people for whom none of this is of the slightest significance (or so they think) and Good Friday is merely a holiday when one can indulge in sun-bathing or shopping as the mood takes you. (Yes, indeed, London is very warm and sunny.)

Well, you will be glad to know that you are all wrong. Today is International Mother Earth Day. I kid you not. This ludicrous and, undoubtedly, expensive enterprise was established by the UN in 2009 at the behest of various socialist dictators though, it would appear that there was no objection raised.
Socialist despot Evo Morales and his buddies at the United Nations sure do. You see, in April 2009, they passed a unanimous resolution to celebrate this important event every year. In the accompanying speech, Morales explained to his colleagues that "Mother Earth was now having her rights recognized" and expressed his hope that the present century will be known as the "century of the rights of Mother Earth." He explained to the UN that its member states "now had the opportunity to begin laying out a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth."
Just what our lives were lacking. I am surprised the UN has not started enforcing International Workers' Day on May 1.

Worse is to come. Evo Morales who, obviously, has nothing better to do in his country whose economy is not doing terribly well, "and the Bolivian government will table a draft UN treaty recognizing and enunciating the rights of the Earth — ahem, excuse me, the rights of Mother Earth. The issue will also be considered in an upcoming UN debate entitled "Nature Has Rights," where environmentalists from various activist groups will lend their support to the treaty and tell us why it's time we all recognize that Mother Earth has rights".

Of course, the whole concept of rights as applied to nature or "Mother Earth" is philosophical and ethical rubbish. But think of the number of committees, well-paid jobs, holidays conferences, taxes and regulations all this will entail. Never mind the EU, how soon can we get rid of the noxious UN?

ADDENDUM: One of the blog's readers posted this comment and I thought it deserved to be put on the main page:
Well, I've no problem with Mother Earth having 'Rights' (though I'm a little concerned by the inherent sexism there...'Person Earth', shurely...?). However, as everyone knows, with 'Rights' come responsibility, so perhaps the UN can persuade Person Earth to stop those ruinous tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, limit earthquakes to non-inhabited areas... just need to find a negotiating partner.
A great idea.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

We have been round this particular track

Part of this evening was spent at the Adam Smith Institute's annual blogger bash, which I have not attended for a couple of years. There have been a few changes in the meantime. Some people I had seen there have given up blogging, others decided not to show up. Possibly they felt that this was a case of déjà vu and, even, déjà entendu. Instead, there seemed to be a lot of people who do not blog but came along because they are quite interested in what is going on.

Then there were people from the Adam Smith Institute and the IEA so only about three independent bloggers took part in the open discussion, one of them being the American candidate for the US Senate in the State of Maine, Andrew Dodge who blogs on Dodgeblogium.

The panel consisted of Tim Montgomerie, Editor of Conservative Home, Douglas Carswell, MP and blogger and Harry Cole, formerly Tory Bear, now News Editor under Guido Fawkes. Astute readers will perceive a certain commonality there and that is a great part of the problem.

The discussion went round and round: lots of self- and mutual congratulations, assurances that politics has been changed by the blogosphere for the better (to be fair to Mr Carswell, he did admit that he hoped it would be changed), but, somehow and for some reason, no real popular movement or significant changes can be discerned. People in politics are still the same, maybe even a little worse; the big issues are still pushed out of the way; and there is no sign of anything even remotely resembling a tea-party movement. One can produce all sorts of reasons for the last of those but one of them would be that perhaps the blogosphere should stop concentrating on the Conservative Party.

I talked afterwards to The Englishman who had left his Castle to come to London and he mentioned his particular interest in the whole global warming scam, which is the one issue that has been righted by a number of bloggers that include the Boss on EURef. Yet not one of those highly important and influential bloggers was present, let alone on the panel. And no, since you ask, there was no suggestion that the European Union was an important enough subject to blog about.

One can never quite predict the future but my suspicion is that they I might forget about attending this bash next year.

Somewhat over the top

Police state, shrieks Stephen Glover in the Telegraph. Judges are making law, preventing the truth from coming out. Another article in the same rather unexciting newspaper emphasises that it is Mr Justice Eady who
made the injunction “against the world” rather than just against national newspapers and broadcasters.

His order seeks to prevent the publication of “intimate photographs” of a married public figure after a woman tried to sell them for a “large sum of money”.

The judge said the woman “owed” the claimant, identified only as OPQ, a “duty of confidence” and breaching his privacy would damage the health of the man and his family.

His order is intended to cover discussion of the case online as well as in traditional media, despite the difficulties in enforcing it.

The injunction contra mundum is intended to be never-ending and, as its Latin name suggests, applies to the entire world.
Well contra mundum sounds to me unenforceable and, it would appear, a number of people know the names of the celebs in question and are prepared to publish those names in the comments to Stephen Glover's piece. Mr Glover himself is not prepared to find out what happens if you go against a ruling he considers to be unjust. A dissident he is not.

As it happens, I have heard Mr Justice Eady's name before a few times, particularly in connection with the libel tourism case of Rachel Ehrenfeld.

Libel tourism is a serious problem that this government, just like the last one did, is promising to deal with and, indeed, legislation is going through Parliament. The information in Dr Ehrenfeld's book (yes, yes, she is a friend) is of huge importance as it deals with terror financing.

The private lives of TV celebs, be they never that household (actually, I have not heard of them) is of no public interest. The idea that Britain is close to a police state because journalists are being prevented from publishing salacious details about people's private lives is stuff and nonsense.

Now it's Finland's turn to haver

As Reuters reports, it will be hard "for the National Coalition party, which won the most votes on Sunday, to form a coalition with the True Finns and the opposition Social Democrats, who finished second", especially as Timo Soini (a name we had all better get used to), leader of the True Finns, is happily insisting that the Portuguese bail-out will have to be abandoned.

Negotiations are likely to be lengthy, too lengthy for the Finance Ministers who meet on May 16 to put the finishing touches on that bail-out and it will be the outgoing government that will be represented. However, Finland is in a unique position: its parliament will have to vote on the agreed deal.
Analysts say Katainen's [National Coalition leader and likely next Prime Minister] solution will likely be a mix of compromises and face-saving measures, such as offering cosmetic concessions on European finance and handing some key cabinet jobs to the True Finns in exchange for letting the Portugal vote pass in parliament.

Some say the new government is likely to take a slightly tougher stance against Brussels to heed voter discontent.

The True Finns' tough line against bailouts has resonated among many voters who feel their famously high taxes are helping to bail out irresponsible governments, while they struggle with high unemployment.
Let us not forget that Finland is the small country that could and did resist Stalin's mighty Soviet Union.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Russian writer speaks

Back from an event organized by the Foreign Policy Centre: Freedom and Russian Society. Had it been entitled Freedom and Russia it would have been an extremely short talk. As it is there was some meat but the event was so badly structured that it was easy to lose sight of that.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya is a very well known and highly regarded Russian writer who became involved in political activity at various times in her life because there really was nothing else to do. She was, nevertheless, an odd person for the Foreign Policy Centre to invite. When you add to that the fact that everything she said had to be interpreted, and the presence of Dr Rachel Polansky who seemed to have nothing of any significance to add to the discussion, it is clear that whoever planned the evening was having a rather difficult day though not as difficult as the evening the audience had trying to make sense of the various aspects.

I noted a few interesting points in Ulitskaya's talk (and none at all in Polonsky's contributions). Some of them were personal, some about Russia or, perhaps, her view on what is going on in that country.

First of all, let me explain that Ulitskaya started her working life as a biologist but was fired from her institute in 1979 because she had been helping to distribute Samizdat material, specifically, copies of banned books. As she said, she is not a political person but as so many in Russia, she has time and again found herself drawn into politics.

After some years of unemployment she found herself working in a theatre and her literary career began. It was, she explained, as if she had become a writer according to the Stanislavsky method of acting - she was placed into a writer's position so she became a writer. To this day, she added, she was not sure whether she really was a writer or merely acted a writer according to that famous method. How true that is about many of us who spend our lives scribbling. Are we really writers or merely actors in the Stanislavsky school? Or, indeed, nothing more than graphomaniacs, which is part of every writer's make-up as Ulitskaya cheerfully added.

Then there were a couple of points she made about Russia and its travails, which, she pointed out accurately enough, were not nearly as bad as the situation under Stalin was. Both her grandfathers had spent many years in labour camps for various reasons or none at all. There is no longer the all-pervasive sense of fear that was a constant in the Soviet period. However, it would appear that fear is beginning to surface again or, at least, bubble away somewhere just below the surface.

To the question as to why Russia was cursed by yet another appalling government (and it is truly appalling even if not as bad as the Soviet regime was) she produced the theory I first heard many years ago from a well-known historian of Russia and the Soviet Union: survival of the unfittest or negative selection. From the very start of the Soviet Union there was a concerted drive to rid the country either by exile, prison or death of all those who were in any way special, successful, full of ability and achievement. Whether it was officers of the White (and later the Red) army, intellectuals, successful peasants and businessmen, industrialists, trade unionists, politicians with ideas, even leading Bolsheviks, they were all destroyed or, at the very least, silenced in successive waves of oppression. Survival meant being grey, mediocre, unimaginative; if any signs of anything else appeared you were likely to find yourself behind bars or, in the later years, without a job and, thus, unable to survive. Towards the end of the Soviet period people once again started leaving the country. Four generations of negative selection take their toll on a society.

Ulitskaya's career has proved that in Russia, once again as in the days of the Tsars, it is the writers who fill the vacuum left by all others though when those writers are journalists they suffer for it. Russia, as this blog has noted several times, has had more journalists murdered than any other country that is not at war. Beyond that there are the innumerable journalists who have been beaten up, threatened, had their offices and homes thrashed and so on.

She has been drawn into politics again and again as, indeed, writers in Russia are and have been throughout history (if only by Stalin and his henchmen threatening and punishing them for being writers). Her most recent activity has been a correspondence with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which she has published; the letters in which the imprisoned former businessman explains various aspects of his life and career, she maintains, have helped to change public opinion towards him.
"I'm not afraid," Ulitskaya insists, speaking through a translator. "Compared to the Stalinist era, our government now is a pussycat with soft paws … Having said that, I believe that Khodorkovsky is in jail because the whole society was so scared that no one stood up for his defence. There were threats: the court was afraid, the witnesses, the judge, because no one had the courage to speak up and that saddens me. That loss of dignity frustrates me because our society had only just started overcoming its fear after so many years of oppressive rule. The Russian people have once again started to be gripped by fear."
Afraid she may not be but optimistic she is not either. Her view of where Russia is going remains sad and depressed as that quotations shows. One could argue that no country is completely lost while there are people like Lyudmila Ulitskaya around but it is a slender hope.

Groundhog day

The 2012 draft EU budget has been announced and ... well, let's see if you can guess ... yes it is going up by 4.9 per cent. Well, well, well.
The draft budget for 2012 represents € 132.7 bn in payments amounting to a 4.9 % increase on 2011. Commitments amount to €147.4bn (+3.7%). The key objective of the 2012 Draft Budget is to fully support the European economy and EU citizens.

For austerity

The draft budget 2012 endeavours to be in tune with the current austerity climate at national level. The Commission has made a particular effort and opted for a freeze of its administrative expenditure for 2012 i.e. a 0.0% increase compared to the 2011 budget. This has been achieved by significantly reducing expenditure linked to buildings, information and communication technology, studies, publications, missions, conferences and meetings. Furthermore, for the third year in a row, the Commission does not request any additional new post.

Also, in drawing up next year's draft budget, the Commission endeavoured to identify programmes or initiatives that are not performing. The Development Cooperation Instrument has been reduced by €70.7 million as a result of its performance assessment. The Industrialised Countries Instrument has seen a reduction of €14.5 million due to high level of de-commitments in 2007 and low performance and delay in adoption of the new legal base. GALILEO funding has been reduced by €24.9 million (N.B. figures in commitments appropriations). "We owe it to the European taxpayer, says Commissioner Lewandowski: savings must include looking seriously at what we are doing and asking ourselves whether everything we do brings genuine benefit to the whole of Europe!"
A British government spokesman has announced that this would not be acceptable. Dutch and French comments were along similar lines.

As it happens all that gobbledy-gook about it being "a declaration of war against Downing Street" as Bruno Waterfield puts it in the Telegraph is just that, gobbledy-gook: Cameron went along with what Germany and France wanted. He did not lead any sort of an opposition except in the feverish imagination of British hacks.

What will the British taxpayer be faced with if the draft is accepted? Another £682 million on top of what we are paying already. And, it is all so well spent. (Not that I am particularly surprised that aid money is wasted. Possibly whatever does not get to the poor countries can be said not to do any actual harm by funding bloodthirsty kleptocrats.)

What will the Boy-King do this time?

Bail-out or default?

The Adam Smith Institute comes down on the side of default as is to be expected.
Greece was bailed out, then Ireland was bailed out, and now Portugal has been bailed out. All of these countries were made to agree fairly stringent deficit and debt reduction packages. All three face years of fiscal tightness, reduced services and living standards, and low economic growth. It is by no means certain that the populations of these democracies will tolerate this for the length of time it will require to put their affairs to rights.

There is an alternative. It is to let these countries default, offering a percentage of the debts' face value as settlement. There would be turmoil. Some bondholders, including European banks, would lose substantial sums. But at the end of it confidence would return and economies start to grow again without that burden of debt.

The decision was made to protect small depositors, bondholders and to some extent bank shareholders, at the expense of taxpayers. It was an unwise decision, both morally and from the point of view of efficiency. One could argue that small depositors were not a party to the causes of the crisis, and should not be made to bear its burdens. Bondholders and shareholders, however, should have known better.

The main argument in favour of default is that it will be effective in putting a line under the crisis. Instead of limping along for years with lacklustre economies struggling to meet debt repayments, the over-indebted countries can get it over with and turn the page.

It looks very much as if the bailout option has been taken to protect the euro and European banks, but it would not be the end of the world if a few countries that should never have been in the single currency have to leave it. And if a few European banks had to restructure, recapitalize or be taken over, this, too, could be survived. Allowing the euro to lose momentum might be a setback to European political union, but this would be no bad thing.
Makes sense to me. The euro is a political project, which was, as some French newspapers wrote at the time, supposed to demonstrate the triumph of politics over economics. Some hope!

That, I suspect, was the aim

For some time now I have been saying that this government is rivalling the previous one in the creation of new peers. Today we are told by the Guardian that Cameron has overtaken Blair in this particular aspect of constitutional vandalism. The House is now seriously bloated and there is little room though, as before, few of the new peers do any actual work on committees (you don't get any payment for that).

However, I disagree with Hélène Mulholland and the report she cites: the wrecking of the House of Lords is not an unintended consequence. For some time now the Upper Chamber has been the only part of the British Constitution (oh yes, we do have one) that was still functioning. It has been undermined comprehensively by successive governments and their lackeys in the House but the final destruction is being carried out by the Cleggerons. And before anyone tells me that they should all be elected, anyway, let me remind my readers of the "hugely successful" elected Lower Chamber. There is more to constitutional democracy than elections.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Food labelling is EU competence

A casual look at my erstwhile blogging home showed me that the Boss had picked up those idiotic comments about the Cleggeron Coalition doing away with certain food labelling regulations, in particular the one to do with "best before".

We have a thoroughly ignorant story by Patrick Hennessy, which fails to mention a crucial fact: food labelling is EU competence and the "best before" labels cannot be dropped or seriously altered by HMG or Parliament or, even, that mighty organization the Food Standards Agency, which is not being abolished. (Though, to be fair, food labelling rules will now be implemented by DEFRA rather than the FSA.)

The legislation for food labelling, however, comes from that fountain of modern British legislation, the European Union, specifically,

1. In accordance with Articles 4 to 17 and subject to the exceptions contained therein, indication of the following particulars alone shall be compulsory on the labelling of foodstuffs: ... (5) the date of minimum durability or, in the case of foodstuffs which, from the microbiological point of view, are highly perishable, the ‘use by’ date;
So far as anyone knows that has not been changed, altered or abolished. This paper by DEFRA gives an efficient summary of the subject, emphasises the fact that food labelling is controlled and regulated by the EU and talks of the ongoing negotiations (ongoing for some years) for reform of the system at the European level, there not being any other alternative.

As a matter of fact, we have been here before. Periodically, the subject of food labelling comes up, hacks and politicians get excited and make promises, then everything dies down as everybody realizes that this is not something our own Parliament can legislate on.

What do we see here? The same ridiculous story, this time by Louise Gray, on June 10, 2009. It looks like the Telegraph believes in recycling stories as well as everything else. That time Lord Willoughby de Broke asked a Written Question about it in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their proposals to clarify the "best before", "sell by" and "use by" recommendations on food products in retail outlets require the permission of the European Commission.
The answer was short and to the point:
Permission of the European Commission is not required as we are working within existing European Union law.
So, that's that. Can we now leave this subject alone or start saying something sensible about it? UPDATE: There is more on the subject over on EURef.

Results of the Finnish election

According to this article,
Finnish voters dealt a blow Sunday to Europe's plans to rescue Portugal and other debt-ridden economies, ousting the pro-bailout government and giving a major boost to a euroskeptic nationalist party.
This, one must admit, is only partly true.
With all ballots counted, the biggest vote-winner was the conservative National Coalition Party, part of the outgoing center-right government and a strong advocate for European integration.

But its main ally, the Center Party led by Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi, said it would drop out of the government after falling behind two opposition parties that have challenged eurozone bailouts.
According to the preliminary results, which will have to be confirmed by the electoral committees:
The conservatives won 20 percent of the vote for 44 seats in the 200-member Parliament, two more than the Social Democrats. The True Finns, led by the plain-talking Timo Soini, soared from six to 39 seats.
It would appear, that the bail-out was more of an issue than immigration with the entire establishment pleading with the Finnish voters to cast their vote for the parties that supported it. The pleas do not seem to have worked well enough.

The Telegraph really needs better headline writers

The day after Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency of the United States I stopped buying the Daily Telegraph (having given up on its Sunday sister long before). I had found its coverage of the American presidential elections so tedious and tendentious, so full of adulation of Obama and of venom towards Sarah Palin, so reluctant even to mention the Republican campaign that I saw no reason why I should give that newspaper any more of my money.

Since then its content has not improved though there are a few journalists who are readable and quite interesting; while their sub-editing and headline writing has definitely deteriorated. Bruno Waterfield's piece about True Finns the "Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant party" expecting to do well in the Finnish election is perfectly reasonable and factual. The headline says: "Finland elections: far right expected to make big gains". This is above a particularly unpleasant photograph of Timo Soini, the leader of True Finns.

How is being eurosceptic, wanting to control immigration and, above all, wishing to renegotiate the Portuguese bail-out that will cost Finland dearly "far right"?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It is all a matter of freedom of choice

Except when it is not. I am now talking once again about the debate on whether the burqua should or should not be banned and the soi-disant liberals and libertarians who swell up with indignation and demand that we do not impose our views on what people should or should not wear. The niquab is just a piece of clothing and women should be able to wear it if they so desire.

Ah, but do they so desire? And does anyone even bother to find out whether they so desire? What are we to make of this little item in the Daily Telegraph:
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that not covering the face is a "shortcoming" and suggested that any Muslims who advocate being uncovered could be guilty of rejecting Islam.

In a statement published on its website the MCB, warns: "We advise all Muslims to exercise extreme caution on this issue, since denying any part of Islam may lead to disbelief.

"Not practising something enjoined by Allah and his Messenger… is a shortcoming. Denying it is much more serious."

The statement quotes from the Koran: "It is not for a believer, man or woman, that they should have any option in their decision when Allah and his Messenger have decreed a matter."
What they don't say is that there is that the Koran does not, in fact, require full veiling of women. And before anybody points out to me the date of that statement let me add that it is, as far as anybody knows, still the accepted policy of the MCB.

Was he telling the truth?

The usual method of finding out whether a politician is lying is to watch his or her lips. If these are moving with speech, lies are issuing. In this case, the question is was George Osborne lying to the Commons. Well, of course, he was, I hear you cry, without knowing what it is I am talking about and I tend to agree. However, this is of some importance.

The matter under discussion is the "deal agreed by European finance ministers in May last year on the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), making all EU nations liable to contribute to potential euro bailouts". Alistair Darling, then Chancellor of the Exchequer represented this country and on our behalf though without bothering to ask our opinion, agreed to the deal and signed us up to an open-ended bail-out sum. The question is not whether Georgie-Porgie knew about it - nobody is denying that he did as Mr Darling, quite properly, consulted him - but whether he agreed to it. This is what Douglas Carswell MP has been trying to find out, as different people give different versions.
The controversy for Carswell surrounds what Osborne did or didn't agree with Darling.

The Clacton MP has seized on a Treasury document signed by Treasury Minister Justine Greening from July last year (highlighted by Paul Waugh on his blog at the end of last month) which suggests that there was a "cross-party consensus" over the EFSM.

Yet there has been a series of strenuous denials to the Commons that Osborne agreed with the decision made at the meeting in Brussels on May 9th.
Some say this and some say that and what I say is that Lord Willoughby de Broke is right: one Parliament cannot bind its successor. As this government seems reluctant to act upon that principle, one cannot help feeling just a teensy-weensy bit suspicious.

Displacement activity

Have these buffoons nothing better to do, asked a friend in a rhetorical mood. No, I said, they don't. They have no political ideas and if one comes their way they run and hide in terror. We were discussing (on line) this idiotic announcement.
The British government has accepted that laws surrounding succession to the throne could be "discriminatory" and that "discussions have started" to change them, CNN has learned.
Whatever CNN may have learnt, it is not the government that change legislation but Parliament.

Furthermore, there is hardly a huge demand for those changes or, even, any interest in them. If William and Kate have a daughter to start with, we can think about it all. It is not of any great importance at the moment. But I can just see some idiot in the Commons (the oleaginous Keith Vaz springs go mind) deciding to tie up parliamentary time with this rubbish.

While we are on the subject of displacement activity let me make a quick comment about the row that is going on about Cameron's immigration speech. I rarely comment on the subject because it is too complicated to discuss and rouses the sort of passions I find despicable.

While I am delighted to see the Prime Minister and his Deputy, the noted skier Clegg, falling out with each other yet again, I cannot help thinking that this scatter shot attack on all those who were not born in this country is immensely helpful to the political establishment. People hare off in all directions, swoon in horror because allegedly one in eight was born abroad (unspecified) and once again we leave the real subjects alone.

What are they? Well how about these for starters: the real problems with the European Union;our bloated, centralized, inefficient and corrupt welfare and social security system; above all, our education system. Too difficult, I suppose. So much easier to scream abuse about foreigners of all description.

Friday, April 15, 2011

More from Phyllis Chesler

This piece is well worth reading though as it describes the non-sensational struggle of somebody who tries to speak the truth about the position of women in Islam. Of course, she also has to fight genuinely misguided and unimaginative "liberals" and "libertarians".
True, as I suspected, I had to share the time with a burqa-wearing woman (who remained unnamed) and with a pro-hijab ex-parliamentarian from Turkey. She kept insisting on the right to wear hijab (the headscarf) and I kept repeating that the French ban on the burqa (the face-veil) in public concerns only the face veil not the headscarf and that I do not oppose the headscarf. Nevertheless, the Turk turned out to be something of a closet Islamist and a believer in the false concept of “Orientalism,” which concept she wielded as a club meant to shame me into silence. It did not work. I referred her to the work of Ibn Warraq which has utterly demolished Said’s claims, and I talked about Islam’s long history of racism, imperialism, colonialism, white slavery, black slavery, and apartheid. Reasonably, I pointed out that the West is not the only culture which has engaged in extremely bad behavior and that Muslim-majority countries may have actually surpassed us.

“Why don’t you busy yourself in criticizing how badly the West treats women before you start criticizing a culture you know nothing about.”

Ah, dear lady: For more than 40 years, I have specialized in criticizing discrimination against women worldwide and have challenged much else under the sun. What I refuse to do is to limit myself to Western culture only. In fact, I said, “the new colonialism consists of westerners abandoning the concept of universal human rights. It’s a way of saying: ‘Let them (Muslim women, Muslim homosexuals, Muslim free thinkers and Muslim truth-tellers) eat their barbarian cake.’ They are not worthy of any universal human rights.”

She then proceeded to lecture me about how women are treated as sex objects in the West. I pointed out that face-veiling women in Muslim-majority countries does not prevent those very same women from being routinely battered, raped, force-married, and honor murdered; that sexual slavery and prostitution are very much alive and flourishing in Muslim-majority countries; and that the “good girl bad girl” dichotomy that veiling creates justifies an even more open aggression against naked-faced women. I conceded:

“Half-naked Western women, unwed teenage pregnancies in the West (a point she raised) are far from ideal—but is the solution to throw a garbage bag over a woman’s head or to keep her entirely hidden at home?”
As I said, read the whole piece.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This explains the whole Icesave story

Hjortur J. Gudmundsson, and Icelandic free-marketeer, journalist, blogger, academic and opponent of the EU, gives a very cogent account of what has been going on in connection with Icesave and the two referendums the Icelanders have had imposed on them by their government.

We should note a couple of things (though the whole piece is worth reading and is not long). The turn-out was 75 per cent, something most of us can only dream of. The result was: No: 58.9 percent, Yes: 39.7 per cent, Empty or flawed votes: 1.3 per cent. Decisive is the word I would use. Let us hope that the Icelandic government will not do any more faux renegotiating.

Mr Gudmundsson adds, in connection with the proposed legal action:
The Icelandic people have always wanted the Icesave dispute to be dealt with in the courts and now after two unsuccessful attempts to find a fair solution through political negotiations, it will probably at last have the legal handling it should have had right from the start.

Many legal experts have claimed that Iceland would most likely win using the legal route, which is probably one of the reasons why the British and Dutch governments have repeatedly dismissed the idea of taking the matter to the courts.

But no matter how such court cases should go, it is highly doubtful that the results would serve the interests of London and the Hague or the EU. If Iceland wins, the two governments would not win a penny or a cent from Icelandic taxpayers.

They would, however, still be paid from the foreign assets of the failed Landsbanki Íslands when they are sold in the coming years (the first payment is scheduled this summer) - and probably more than they are entitled to according to the EU directive on deposits guarantee schemes.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event of an Icelandic legal defeat, it would mean that not only Iceland but every single country in the European Economic Area (EEA) – which includes all the EU member states – would be responsible for all deposits in their private banks, both domestically and in foreign branches within the EEA, and would have a clear obligation to step in with their taxpayers' money if necessary.
He also thinks that a lengthy court case will do nothing to increase trust in banks, would force the UK and Dutch governments to open up sensitive documents and would " shine a spotlight on how badly funded and insufficient deposits guarantee schemes in most European states really are as a result of EU legislation".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Back to Iceland and Portugal

The Letters section of today's Daily Telegraph is led by Lord Willoughby de Broke, who has appeared once or twice on this blog and over on EURef. Despite the ridiculously bad sub-editing of the heading (sadly to be expected from the Telegraph these days) one can quickly grasp what the noble lord is saying.
No Parliament may bind its successors, and it is essential for Mr Osborne to review the commitment made by Mr Darling.

Members of the eurozone must solve its problems. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, at the Davos economic forum, underlined that: "We are fully determined to defend the euro... Mrs Merkel and I will never – do you hear me, never – let the euro fall." With that promise Mr Osborne is surely free to allow France and Germany to back their mouth with their money.
Well, pigs might fly, I suppose, and Georgie-Porgie might acquire some sense and a backbone.

There are other letters, less coherent in what they are trying to say but I do like Colin Bullen's point about not letting Iceland into the EU being the equivalent of throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.

ADDENDUM: I have been reliably informed (by Lord Willoughby de Broke) that his original letter was "castrated". Here is the last paragraph as he wrote it:
Indeed the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, in full hubristic flow at the Davos World Economic Forum, underlined that “ We are fully determined to defend the euro… Mrs. Merkel and I will never – do you hear me, never – let the euro fall”. With that ringing promise from the two leading members of the eurozone George Osborne is surely now free to allow France and Germany to back their mouth with their money.
It would appear that the Telegraph prefers not to pass sarcastic or unfriendly comments about Le P'tit Sarko.

Phyllis Chesler on the irony of those protests

Women are fighting in the streets of Paris. Alas, they are not fighting against Islamic gender apartheid—they are not protesting arranged marriage or honor killings. Instead, they are fighting for the right to veil their faces. On April 11th, two veiled women were arrested for participating in an illegal demonstration about this issue. Sixty-one people were arrested for the same reason this past weekend. It is the 21st century, and people are protesting the French government’s ban against the niqab and burqa (full-face veil) which just went into effect.
Vive La France!

It is important to note that France has not banned the headscarf (hijab) and that the French ban is not specific to Islam. The French law is ethnicity- and religion-neutral and refers only to a generic “face-covering.” In 2004, France became the first European country to legally restrict all religious clothing in public schools: veils, visible Christian crosses, Jewish skullcaps, and hijab were forbidden in public schools.

What does this ban mean for the West?

The burqa is not a friendly garment. Surely, wearing a headscarf and dressing modestly would constitute a far friendlier face of Islam in the West. And, a more egalitarian face as well. Muslim men, both religious and secular, wear modern, Western clothing. Why do Muslim women alone have to bear the burden of representing 7th century Islam? Why is Paris, of all places, looking more and more like Mecca, Teheran, or Kabul? Hasn’t just such “multi-culturalism” been pronounced a failure by many European leaders?
Read the whole piece. Well worth it.

To ban or not to ban

The French ban on burqua in public places and the protests against it by women who may or may not be North African, Arab or, indeed, Muslim have caused a huge rash of liberal and libertarian agonizing. It is a long time since I have seen such an incredible amount of piffle written on any subject by people who like to define themselves in certain terms but do not like to find out what the truth is.

Let's start at the beginning. Full veiling is not a religious requirement. This has been made clear by a number of knowledgeable Muslims and non-Muslims (too numerous to link to). Veiling is not even a social requirement in many Muslim countries. Because most Muslims in France are from North Africa, particularly Algeria and Tunisia, very few women are veiled and the problems is not as big as it is in Britain.

Is it a problem in Britain? In many ways, yes, and because it affects more women, a ban would not be a practical solution. I have no idea what would be a practical solution though I see no reason why work places or educational establishments should not make it a rule that people cannot cover their faces. After all, lads are not allowed (or should not be allowed) to sit around with hoods or baseball caps pulled down over their eyes to hide their faces. Motorcyclists are required to raise their visors when they go inside shops or pubs. It is simply not true that everybody is allowed to wear whatever they like wherever they like.

Let us not forget that there is still a ban on demonstrators wearing paramilitary uniforms. The reason is partly one of security but largely political. It so happens that the wearing of the burqua is political. The growth of that habit in Britain and, to a lesser extent, in France is a defiant statement: we do not want to integrate into the society we live in (and often claim benefits from) and we do not want to accept that society's view of women's equality.

In one of the discussions I have had recently on the subject I noted a comment that Muslims are slowly integrating into British society. Considering that most of them have lived here for two or three generations that is not particularly reassuring and I fully accept that the imposed multiculturalism by successive governments, local councils, civil service and well-paid quangos is very largely at fault in this as it is at fault in the sad state of the educational levels of Afro-Caribbean youngsters.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that far from integrating, far too many younger Muslims are, for whatever reason, moving away from that into some kind of fantasy world of Islam. Part of that is the growth of the veil-wearing habit. The creation of cultural ghettoes is not a good idea for any society.

Ah yes, but if the women want to wear veils, who are we to interfere with that, I am told by various liberals and libertarians, many of whom undermine their arguments by making it clear that they don't know that the veil is not religious or the difference between hijjab (headscarf) and niquab (full veil).

Here is an interesting debate on the subject between Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who is unconditionally in favour of the ban and Kenan Malik who thinks there is no place for the burqua in our society but it ought not to be banned as that, in itself, is an illiberal attitude.

Ms Brown's view is
The burqa is not a battle between anti-racists and racists, or liberty and oppression. It is between open and egalitarian Islam and obscurantism; human rights values and inhumane exceptionalism; integration and apartheid. Wahabis are spreading a singular, joyless version of Islam, wiping out diversity and our various histories. They use choice and freedom as weapons to destroy both. Muslim defenders of the burqa never support a woman’s right not to cover up. Instead women like me are branded “Western whores” who will burn in hell. Is the veil a declaration of girl power? No. Ardent veilers are proxy Taliban agents and have no conscience about their sisters in Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere – women who long to show their faces and wear whatever they want. We have them here too, those forcibly shrouded females, negated further in the narrative of choice. Some – victims of domestic violence whose scars can never be seen – turn up at my door. Even children too are cast as sexual temptresses, dressed in headscarves and long gowns, unable to play. What appalling freedom is this?
Mr Malik, on the other hand, would like to see a slower development that would eventually integrate the groups in question and bring women out from behind the veil into our society:
But is a ban not necessary to protect women from being forced to wear the burqa? In countries such as Saudi Arabia or Yemen women have little choice but to cover up their face. That in itself is a good reason for liberal societies not to impose coercive dress codes. In democratic countries, the law already protects citizens from being harmed or coerced by others. It should go no further, especially as evidence suggests that in Europe most women wear the burqa of their own volition. As a recent French government report observed, the majority of women who veil themselves in France do so largely as an “expression of identity”, a “badge of militancy” or to “provoke society”.

The burqa is a symbol of the oppression of women, not its cause. If legislators truly want to help Muslim women, they could begin, not by banning the burqa, but by challenging the policies and processes that marginalise minority communities: on the one hand, the racism that all too often disfigures migrant lives, and, on the other, the multicultural policies that bolster conservative “community leaders” hostile to women’s rights.
He is right to say that the burqua is a very visible symbol of the refusal to integrate and of the oppression of women and not the cause but symbols matter. If that were not so, why would the wearing of the burqua have grown instead of diminishing in Western societies. Incidentally, I disagree with Mr Malik when he asserts that the Catholic Church refusing to have women priests is the same as women not having the right to divorce their husbands or to see their children when their husbands divorce them or women's evidence being worth fifty per cent that of a man in a sharia court. There are many other aspects of oppression of women in Muslim communities that cannot be compared with the odd problem here and there.

The problem with so many soi-disant liberals and libertarians is lack of imagination. They seem unable to grasp that there are societies and communities where their own ideas are not even known let alone prevail. Families that put their womenfolk behind the veil do not consider it necessary to consult said womenfolk. It simply does not occur to anybody in such a family or such a community that the women can have a say in the matter. Therefore, to talk about free choice is meaningless. Sadly, such soi-disant liberals and libertarians have fallen for the same myth that the multiculturalists have accepted without any nay-saying. As a result they have abandoned the notion of genuine individual freedom for Muslim women.

So to ban or not to ban? And will a ban work? For once I am inclined to agree with Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP for London who says a ban is a good idea but the French have gone about it the wrong way:
Good for the French in banning the burka but they have made a mistake in making it illegal in the street and imposing fines. This will prove unenforceable and even the French police have said they will be reluctant to prosecute people.
Well, OK, I wouldn't phrase it like that but I am not a politician. (I am also not sure the link will work but readers will get the general idea from that paragraph.) There are practical problems about banning burquas in the street, particularly in Britain where it would affect far more women. Would these women be even allowed out of the house if there were such a ban? Would the police, given recent stories of reluctance to interfere with "community politics", bother to enforce such a ban? I suspect the answers are "yes" and "no" respectively.

Nevertheless, the oppression of women in Muslim communities is not only a real problem, it is a growing one and the increased wearing of the burqua is a symbol of that. Therefore, something must be done if we do not want to live in a country where some people, namely Muslim women, are less equal in every respect than everybody else and cultural ghettoes grow and multiply.

As it happens, the French have shown the way in one respect. A few years ago they banned head scarves in educational establishments. Apparently, it caused no trouble and Muslim girls go to school and college bare-headed without any trouble. I would be reluctant to see something like that brought in, as girls and women can wear scarves for all sorts of reasons, not least medical. But a gradual ban on veils in work places and educational establishments could be a starting point. After all, we have to assume that Muslim women who work or study are, at least, thinking of integrating into Western societies.

I am sorry if this seems to be an irresolute posting. I am unconditionally against the burqua. It is not simply an article of clothing but a symbol of women's oppression, cultural and gender apartheid and, not unimportantly, a possible security threat. But whether an outright ban is the answer is a more difficult problem.

To be discussed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Well, stone the crows!

It seems that after all that Greece will have to restructure its debt. Well, well, well. Who could ever have predicted that those bail-outs would not work. I mean they so much sense. According to Der Spiegel Germany is opposed to give any more money to Greece and that debt restructuring will be the inevitable consequence.
After a year full of financial woes, cash shortages and near-bankruptcies, the situation has become anything but reassuring. In fact, in recent weeks, the euro crisis has gotten even worse.

Following months of insisting it would not need a bailout, debt-stricken Portugal has now asked for help from the European Union's euro rescue fund. In a television address last Wednesday, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced that his caretaker government could no longer deal with the pressure from the financial markets by itself. Before making the announcement, yields on the country's sovereign bonds had climbed to almost 10 percent, a new record.

Indeed, on the whole, those in charge of rescuing the euro in Brussels and Europe's capitals have done a poor job. So far, almost all of their expectations have been disappointed. And things have continuously gotten only worse.

At first, people thought that the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) -- the temporary rescue fund that will be replaced by the permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in 2013 -- had been equipped with enough resources to calm the markets, and that no one would actually draw on its help in any case. But, now, two countries, in the form of Ireland and Portugal, have asked for support, and no one can say for sure that they will be the last.
And yet we are told by many that it is in Britain's interest to go on propping up this inherently unstable structure.

A different bail-out

This, one can't help thinking will have tougher conditions.
With an economy teetering on the brink of collapse and a nervous population standing in hours-long lines to buy foreign currency or gold, Minsk is going hat in hand to Moscow seeking relief.

The open question is: What price will Russia demand for bailing out Belarus and its authoritarian leader, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka?

Russia has long been pushing Minsk to sell off key state assets including oil refineries, chemical plants, oil and gas pipelines, and machinery plants. In addition, Moscow has been calling for Belarus to open its markets to Russian goods, tearing down barriers that exist despite the fact that the two countries are members of a unified customs zone.
By "selling off" Russia will not mean open privatization. After all, the equivalent of those industries are hardly private in Russia itself.

Two big questions here: can Russia afford to bail out Belarus for some nebulous benefits in the future and, secondly, does the Kremlin really want to tie the unpredictable Lukashenka to Russia?

Fifty years ago

On April 11, 1961 the trial of Adolf Eichmann opened in Jerusalem. What was discussed in the succeeding days was real evil, though, as Hannah Arendt put it, there was a strong element of banality in it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Democracy is very "disappointing"

Or at any rate, our and the Dutch government are terribly disappointed as is Joe Lynam of the BBC, not to mention Iceland's Prime Minister. For the second time the people of Iceland have voted in a referendum against paying out their money for what was a monumental cock-up on the part of the EEA, EFTA, the banks, people who put their money in those banks (often our local councils) and the UK and Dutch governments.

The Dutch and the British governments are now contemplating court action in the European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority. This may not be such a good idea as the whole process will take at least a year and a half, probably more and all sorts of interesting things might come out about the lack of proper stringency in the financial processes that allowed the Icesave fiasco to happen.

Joe Lynam thinks Iceland might be the loser:
The consequences of this referendum vote is that Iceland's years in the financial wilderness could be extended much further.

Moody's and other ratings agencies look set to downgrade the country even further, making it prohibitively more expensive to borrow on the open markets.

Iceland's bid to join the EU will be paused or even vetoed by Britain and the Netherlands. And the tiny Atlantic economy is facing legal action in the EFTA court which might force it to pay up sooner than planned and at a punitive interest rate.

Democracy doesn't pay if you're an Icelander.
That is not quite the way it looks at present. Icelanders have voted against their tax money being used in this exercise and they are not going to be joining the EU. Sounds to me like they might be winners. As for Moody's and other rating agencies, they are not quite as predictable or reliable as Mr Lynam seems to think.

The Governor of Iceland's Central Bank thinks that this could impede foreign borrowing. Whereas, of course, what is happening within the EU, apparently the now unattainable goal for Icelanders, is a fiscal paradise.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sauve qui peut

The Centre for European Reform, which used to be a perestroika europhiliac think-tank but has dropped the perestroika bit or passed it on to Open Europe has published a short paper about the forthcoming European Council in June.

Time was there were only two European Councils a year, one at the end of each six-monthly presidency. Then, in the late nineties, they started having the odd emergency Council half-way between the regular ones. It did not take a genius to work out that those emergency Councils would become regular ones and we shall end up with four jollies a year instead of two. It's not their money, after all.

According to Hugo Brady author of the paper that predicts what will happen in June, the biggest, most overwhelming problem will be immigration, with thousands, though not that many thousands apparently pouring into Italy from Tunisia and Libya (and who knows from where else by then.
This could easily become a bad tempered, inconclusive affair. First, the summit is supposed to take a broad strategic view of EU immigration and asylum policies. But instability in North Africa will inevitably skew discussion towards the present. Italy is adamant that it needs help to manage what it calls a "human tsunami" from Tunisia and Libya. Demands for greater "solidarity" from fellow EU countries essentially mean their agreement to take in some of the 20,000 or so migrants currently housed in tent camps on the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily and in the mainland region of Puglia. The EU has committed money, a humanitarian mission and border guards from Frontex, its border agency. Nonetheless, the Italians feel entitled to more. The EU-supported rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi's regime and the Tunisian uprising against President Ben Ali have left its realist immigration policy, heavily reliant on the two dictators, in tatters.
More in tatters than Mr Brody appears to realize. In response to the crisis shaping up around refugees in Italy, France has abandoned Schengen and resurrected its border with that country.
The crackdown is sowing tensions between the two neighboring countries. "There's a hostile attitude coming from Paris," Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told the Italian Senate on Thursday.

French Interior Minister Claude Guéant lashed back, saying France "is completely within its rights to send these people back to Italy."

The dispute ultimately stems from the European Union's failure to forge a common policy for dealing with migrants, ranging from political refugees to undocumented job seekers who enter the EU from countries along its periphery but are determined to settle in richer economies to the north.
Another day, another crisis and another crack in that famous European solidarity.

The real CFP

The post has just been delivered and among the various circulars and offers of things I do not want there is a book from my friend Michel Gurfinkiel, one of about six right-wing journalists in France. (Wiki page in French) and The Fishermen's Association Ltd's Newsletter. On the first page there is an account of their representatives' meeting with Richard Benyon, the somewhat gormless Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries
Sandy Patience, FAL’s Chairman, acknowledged the effort that Mr Benyon and his officials had made at the 2010 December Fish Council given all that was stacked against the UK in having to meet the maximum sustainable yield commitments of the Johannesburg Agreement.

However he reminded the Minister that it was the Tory administration in 1972 which had surrendered our national fish stocks to the EU to be managed under a Common Fisheries Policy, which to date, as far as British fishermen are concerned has been nothing short of a disaster.

He urged the Minister to persuade the Prime Minster to visit fishing constituencies and hear from the grass roots of the hard working people who make up the industry and then give the same commitment as Mrs Thatcher did to defend British fishing rights when she was Prime Minister.

However Mr Patience reminded Mr Benyon that the real Common Fisheries Policy – the principle of equal access to the common resource cannot be reformed and with 2012 rapidly approaching and therefore the end of the present derogation, the Commission must necessarily introduce measures upon our fishermen, in readiness for the implementation of the full thrust of that principle as demanded by the Treaties.
Are you paying attention? The real Common Fisheries Policy, as defined by the various Regulations pushed through illegally under the wrong Articles and not put into the treaty until that little affair at Maastricht, is equal access right up to the shore. That will kick in in 2012 and precious little can our fishermen do about that. Do all those let's-jump-on-the-bandwagon campaigners who have suddenly realized there are problems with the way fishing is conducted know this? Mr Benyon does now, because he has been told by Mr Patience. Will he remember it long enough to try and think his way round the problem?

Actually, he does not have to think about it at all. There is that policy, discarded by the Boy-King when he became leader of the Conservative Party, all ready to hand.

The battle is hotting up

And we have not even started yet. News of the Rally Against Debt is spreading through various blogs and articles. As was entirely predictable, so is the fury and hysteria on the other side.

Harry Cole on Total Politics writes that he will be joining and explains a few things much to the discontent of some of his readers:
Whether it was the more likely figure of 100,000, or the more ambitious quote of half a million that marched through London two weeks ago with the TUC, there is no denying it was good turnout. But how did they do it? The TUC spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on transport, advertising, staffing, promotional material etc. Most of this money came from the taxpayer, channelled through public-sector jobs and back into the union coffers through membership subs.

You can understand why they did it. The trade union movement is a lobbying firm as powerful and dangerous to democracy as big pharmaceutical protection agents and the infamous smoking and arms lobby. They are just as self-interested in protecting the financial interests and wallets of those who have a stake in them and will go out of their way to manipulate the media and the law to that means.

The March for an Alternative wasn’t an organic outpouring of anger that spilled on to the streets, but the end product of seven months’ work by a professional events company. And still they only managed to get less than 0.2% of the country to turn up. The spin and lines to come out of the event was that it was the true face and opinion of the British public, but this is complete rot. It was an assortment of public sector workers and students and those related to them. All dependent on seeing the status quo, and thus their interests, protected, even when it is a direct threat to the best interests of the rest of the population and the nation.
Indeed, let us not forget who paid for all that organization: that patient milch-cow, the taxpayer, and there is a good deal of unhappiness at the news that the patience is wearing very thin.

Toby Young writes about his intention to join the demo for a short time as he has family commitments on that day and describes a growing phenomenon: the nasty personal attacks aimed at anyone and everyone who has expressed support for the demonstration or intention to join. Apparently, all who do that, especially Toby Young, are worse than Nazis. (This is an argument I have experienced myself, being called a fascist for expressing the non-controversial opinion that there is nothing wrong in people buying or renting homes where they can afford it. After all, those of us who do not get housing benefits have to make decisions like that all the time.)

Mr Young, I am glad to say is unfazed by the insults and threats (exactly what have his looks to do with the whole issue?) or with the hysterical arguments about Britain entering a new dark age of poverty:
I can only assume that [Richard] Godwin doesn’t have the first clue about the scale of the cuts, which he describes as “reckless”, any more than he does about free schools. In 2010, the UK recorded general government net borrowing of £148.9 billion, which was equivalent to an unsustainable 10.2 per cent of GDP. The cuts began yesterday, on so-called “worse off Wednesday”, but in the past year public spending actually increased by several billion. In 2014-15, when the programme of cuts reaches its zenith, public spending is projected to be £648 billion in real terms compared to £669 billion in 2009-10. That’s a total cut of three per cent. (Cuts to spending on public services, if you compare 2014-15 to 2009-10, will be 12 per cent according to the IFS.) Fairly modest? Absolutely not.

According to Cath Elliott in today’s Guardian, these “ideological” cuts will mean “our valued public services being decimated beyond recognition”. So pegging public spending back to above the level it was at in 2008-09 (£640 billion), some 12 years after Labour was first elected and more than 50 per cent higher than it was in 1999-00, is going to decimate public services beyond recognition? What planet is she on? Elliott goes on to say that the Coalition is intent on “destroying the NHS”, apparently unaware that the Chancellor has committed the government to spending more on the NHS each year for the lifetime of this Parliament. In Elliott’s topsy turvy world, increasing government expenditure on a public service is tantamount to “destroying” it.
There is a good deal to be said for the argument that if something is not done about the debt, Britain will have to beg for a bail-out in the wake of the PIIGS. My argument with the way the government is going about the business is that there is no strategic or ideological thinking behind it.

The Richard Godwin Mr Young mentions is a man I described as an airhead hack but is, apparently, the Deputy Arts Editor of the Evening Standard. There's glory for you, as Humpty-Dumpty said.

I did see Mr Godwin's nauseating article in one of the Standard's frothy personal columns about everyone who intends to go on the Rally Against Debt being a creep: nasty journalists, supporters of the Taxpayers' Alliance and disgruntled UKIP types. So unlike the trustafarians who head up UK Uncut. I don't know for certain but I suspect that their mummies and daddies managed to tie up a good deal of their incomes in trusts to avoid taxes as much as possible. Nor does their care for the poor extend to the not particularly well paid cleaners who had to toil through the night to clear up the mess the spoilt brats left behind.

It is not just insults that are being thrown around but actual threats of violence against individual organizers of the demo and possibly against it as well, though my own suspicion is that those who issue threats in comments on articles and on Facebook are unlikely to budge out of their basements on the day. If these twerps knew anything about history they might find it slightly ironic that they are threatening violence on the streets against a peaceful demonstration with whose ideas they disagree and whom they call fascists. Ahem, who actually proclaimed and practised violence on the streets to suppress dissent?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How exciting (not!)

Portugal has admitted that it needs an EU bail-out and Britain's share of it may well come to £4.4 billion. (Covered everywhere but here is the Telegraph story.) Well, there's a surprise. We really believed that nonsense about them not needing a bail-out and the rot stopping with Greece and Ireland. Spain, anyone? The Boss has a short posting about it on EURef.

Every time I hear comments about the need to save the euro because it is in Britain's interests to have a stable eurozone I recall a conversation between Harold Nicolson and his wife Vita Sackville West at the time of the Sudetan crisis that led up to Munich. Nicolson had been one of the Foreign Office officials at the Versailles negotiations and felt that all of its outcome in Europe was his responsibility. The idea of anything collapsing filled him with pain.

When Vita asked him why it was such a problem for the Germans to have Sudetenland he almost wailed. If Germany takes a chunk then Poland will want a part, the Slovaks might announce that they want to be independent and Hungary will demand those areas that had been taken away from her at the Treaty of Trianon, one of a series of treaties signed in 1918 -1920. Czechoslovakia would simply cease to exist. Well, said Vita very rationally, if it is that easy for the country to fall apart what is the point of propping it up. (I am quoting from memory as my copy of the Nicolson Diaries is upstairs.) That is more or less how I feel about the euro. What is the point of propping up a currency that is quite so unstable and so badly structured? It would have been much better not to create it in the first place as a number of us said at the time and were shouted down. Now we are stuck with it. That does not mean that we, and I mean all of us across Europe, need to be stuck with it for ever.

Oh and by the way, I refuse to write about Jemima Khan's interview with Nick Clegg. (Here is Ruth Dudley Edwards's take on it. The two deserve each other but I don't see why the rest of us should suffer.

A sentimental interlude

This does not happen very often so I crave my readers' indulgence while I spend a little time in sentimental memories of my childhood and the books that were at the heart of it. What triggered this off was a lecture given at Pushkin House by an extraordinary man.

Leonid Gamberg, a former Colonel in the Soviet Air Force and aeronautical engineer, found another career on his retirement: he became an important link between Ukraine and Britain once there was a Ukraine and a writer whose theme has been consistently his love for Britain, her literature and culture.

His latest books is called Британия – Сотворение Спорта (Britain - the Creation of Sport) and it relates the story of all the many sports that Britain invented but more importantly regulated and turned into organized activity that spread across the world often to the British teams' detriment. There was a lively discussion about cricket, which, as Mr Gamberg rightly describes in his book, has spread very effectively across most of the British Empire (Canada being the sole exception) but has made no impact outside it.

Sport, however, is not a big deal for me. What made me smile with memories is Mr Gamberg's description of his early teens after the war when his father, having returned safely, spent time inculcating love of English literature into the boy. They lived in Kiev and went to see a production of Пигмалион (Pygmalion), read translations of Диккенс and Конан Дойл (Dickens and Conan Doyle) and acquired a copy of the newly published Сага о Форсайтах (The Forsyte Saga) a book that is much loved by Russians of that generation, possibly because of its translation in 1947. He was taken to see such films as Леди Гамильтон and Мост Ватерло (Lady Hamilton and Waterloo Bridge). The first of these were given to Stalin by Churchill whose favourite film it was and was, presumably, copied and released; the second was, most likely, acquired illegally by the Soviet forces in Germany or some other liberated country. Certainly I heard about those trophy films that were shown in film clubs (where entry was remarkably liberal) without their proper beginnings.

Let me add a story here: twenty odd years ago I was acting as personal interpreter to the Russian writer Anatoly Rybakov and his wife. At one point when the somewhat elderly Mr Rybakov was resting between the many interviews he had to give, I took his wife Tanya for a walk in London. She asked me if we could go and see Waterloo Bridge. Slightly surprised I told her that it was not a particularly attractive or interesting bridge. Then I remembered why she wanted to see it and had to explain that it was not the same bridge but a new, post-war one. She lost interest in it and was content to be taken to the Sherlock Holmes pub where we went upstairs to have a look at the reproduction of the famous sitting room. I may add that the pub and the room upstairs has been a huge success with every Russian I have ever had to take round London.

Anyway, it was not the films that made me feel sentimental but the memory of my own childhood and all those English language books in translation that dominated my reading. Mr Gamberg's first book was a short history of English children's literature and his second one was about English detective stories. All of them are immensely popular with Russians even now. Sadly his own books are not just out of print but are antiquarian rarities whose price is far beyond anything I could afford. In fact he only had his own copies with him and, in all honesty, I could not try to buy them, much as I salivated over the two little paperbacks. But I did look through them and they brought back the times of my reading English nursery rhymes and A. A. Milne's poems in Russian (excellent translations by the poet Marshak). Indeed, I can still recite the Russian versions of Humpty-Dumpty or Milne's verse about the King who wanted "a little bit of butter on his bread".

I smiled as he talked about reading his first account of cricket in Pickwick Papers, all in Russian, with completely incomprehensible descriptions and remembered the equally incomprehensible description of croquet in a first-rate translation of Alice in Wonderland. Oh here is a little gem from the latter: the Cheshire Cat is called Чеширский Кот and when Alice asks him why he explains that it comes from чешиться that is scratching himself. Clever, eh?

Then there was my first reading of Шерлок Холмс (Sherlock Holmes) stories in a volume borrowed from my Russian grandmother with whom we were staying at the time. The first story I ever read was Лига Красноволосых (The Red-Headed League).

One can draw some interesting conclusions from this. My own family was particularly Anglophile for all sorts of reasons and both my parents but especially my father knew English very well. Yet that was not the only reason I was brought up on English and American literature. After all, Mr Gamberg's family were not particularly knowledgeable about England but, nevertheless, loved English literature and English culture. And while I was reading all those books in Russian many of my school friends in Budapest were reading them in Hungarian translation.

The curious aspect of this reading of foreign literature then and now in Russia and Eastern and Central Europe is that it did not feel foreign. In other words, for us and, I have noticed, for succeeding generations the characters of Dickens, Conan Doyle or Jonathan Swift (another author I first read in English) were not strange or different. They were of our imaginary world, as close and understandable as characters from literature nearer to home. It does not surprise me in the slightest that one of the most popular TV series in Russia was about Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, with Russians maintaining that the actor Vasili Livanov was the best Holmes ever. I wouldn't go as far as that, though he was very good; not as good as Jeremy Brett or Peter Cushing, though. The film of The Hound of Baskervilles that I saw (and the story was also in that long-ago-read Russian volume of my grandmother's) was very poor, indeed. Disappointingly so. Nevertheless, the characters and the tales as well as the England the stories depict remain part of Russian as well as English culture. What can one make of it all?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another one

The Wall Street Journal highlights the case of yet another of the "disappeared" in China, the artist, Ai Weiwei.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei posed an important question about the one-party state in this newspaper's Asian op-ed pages last year: "The question . . . is how a state based on limiting information flows and freedom of speech can remain powerful." And if that's possible, "what kind of monster" will it become?

Mr. Ai's detention Sunday at Beijing's airport as he attempted to travel to Hong Kong brings this juggernaut into sharp relief. The police have provided no information about the 53-year-old's whereabouts or explained why he was arrested. The same day, Mr. Ai's wife, nephew and a clutch of his employees were arrested and questioned. Authorities raided his Beijing studio and carted away computers and other items.

Mr. Ai has thus joined the growing ranks of China's new "disappeared." In February amid the popular Arab revolt, an online petition urged a similar Jasmine Revolution in China. The government has reacted by criminally detaining dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of the country's most prominent human rights lawyers, bloggers, democracy activists and others.
This, dear readers, is what real oppression looks like.

Van Rompuy lives in a parallel universe

That is news in the way dog bites man, gardener digs soil and supermodel takes drugs is news. Not at all, in other words. I do think, however, that Rumpy-Pumpy, as he is know not so affectionately, has surpassed himself this time.

According to a report on EUObserver the misguided Council President announced to the assembled members of the Toy Parliament (well, those who were no away on some jolly or other) that the Libyan enterprise was entirely the doing of the EU.

Apparently, it was all a huge success, a massive bloodbath has been avoided and the action taken by "British, French and UK strikes", which must be a misprint for British, French and US strikes, most of which were US, would not have been possible "without the "clear position" taken on Libya at an EU summit one week earlier". Indeed. I mean what could be more important than a clear position that affects nobody but two member states and the Big Guy over the Pond?

Others, of course, have taken a slightly different position and either stated or bemoaned the fact that the Common Foreign Policy has once again gone AWOL. He doesn't seem to have answered the question of what is going to happen after the Americans have gone home. The EU will rush in there and help somebody or other?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not so good news

This blog has mentioned the case of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, the Austrian lady who was being accused of hate speech in Austria because she dared to say uncomplimentary things about Mohammed and Islam (here and here). I apologize for missing the latest development: Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff has been found guilty of all those terrible crimes and fined "480 Euros for the "denigration of religious teachings of a legally recognized religion in Austria." In a three-part seminar Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff had referred to Islam's prophet Mohammed's marriage to Aisha. According to generally-accepted Islamic textual tradition, Aisha was six at the time of the marriage, which was consummated when she was nine. Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff asked rhetorically "if this does not constitute pedophilia, what does?".

It seems that the court is not denying the facts of what she said, nor that Mohammed has been dead for some centuries, merely saying that the word paedophile must not be used about him.

Here is Mark Steyn's take on the case and Nina Shea's report on the sentence. Sadly, I don't seem to be able to find any British media reports. Do let me know if you have seen any mention at all.

Some relatively good news

On March 25 the United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its Sixteenth Session with all sorts of agreements, statements, adoption of texts, extension of mandates and, indeed, all the paraphernalia of transnational activity. But there was one item missing: no global blasphemy code.

This has been the perennial demand from Islamic countries, led by Pakistan but, apparently, Western opposition to it has been growing since 2006 when the Bush Administration announced its adherence to world-wide democratic principles (something the UN and its various organizations know nothing about).

Nina Shea goes through the history of this infamous measure and the reasons for its (probably temporary) demise.