Friday, November 30, 2012

The Sod Off Party wins again

Let's face it, the Sod Off Party has won handsomely in all three by-elections yesterday. The turn-out was not the lowest ever but pretty low, the tendency, especially in Rotherham, to vote for small parties, regardless of their politics, the rejection of two main stream parties (especially the Lib-Dims) all point to a general feeling of fed-upness (oh yes, there is such an expression). What none of it points to is an acceptance of UKIP, though they did better than many expected, as the obvious opposition party. Nor do the results point to a widespread acceptance of their policies or of the eurosceptic point of view. In the end, we have what we had before, three Labour MPs from three Labour constituencies, elected on a tiny mandate but with no-one near enough to touch them.

The BBC has all the figures.

So where are we? - 2

2.09 am The Boss on EU Referendum takes a characteristically robust line. UKIP, he says, has lost a golden opportunity in Rotherham. He knows the area and  its problems better than I do but I beg leave to doubt that UKIP ever had the slightest chance of winning a seat, even with the "child snatching" scandal. He does, however, answer a question, at least partly, that I have been asking: who on earth are these children and why are they being fostered here?

2.01 am Labour holds Croydon North with 64.4 per cent of the vote cast (turn-out 26.4 per cent), with Conservatives getting 16.8 per cent and UKIP 5.6 per cent. That would be Winston McKenzie.

1.47 am Labour holds Middlesbrough with details still unknown. The BBC says that "Labour's Andy McDonald won with 10,201 votes to UKIP's 1,990". Nothing between those two? Apparently not.Well, well, we are getting some strange results tonight. Turn-out 26 per cent.

UPDATE: Labour holds Rotherham on a 33.8 per cent. UKIP is second, so it is their day and the BNP comes third so it is their day as well. The myth of the unstoppable UKIP will now continue.

Could this be UKIP's day? asked Harry Wallop in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, the day of three by-elections. Well, it might; then again in might not but that does not matter. UKIP and the media, whether they are on their side like Ed West (who really ought to find out that the party was not founded by Conservatives) or against them like Matthew d'Ancona, will repeat that the party is forging ahead, is unstoppable, is about to change British politics.

In fact, it did rather poorly in the last round of by-elections, except in Corby where it finally managed a third position on a decent turn-out of 44.8 per cent. In Manchester Central, on a turn-out of 18.2 per cent they came fourth, though very close behind the Tories, and losing their deposit. In Cardiff and South Penarth on a turn-out of 25.65 per cent they came fifth but saved their deposit. As far as the ridiculous PCC elections, where the turn-out across the country averaged at 15 per cent, UKIP did not manage to win a single one. Yet the story lives on: UKIP is on its way to forming a government. If not that, then, at least, on its way to changing the political scene in Britain. Well, all right, they might finally push the Lib-Dims into fourth place more permanently.

As the BBC says, UKIP is hoping to ride the tide of indignation over the outrageous decision by Rotherham council to take away three fostered children from a couple because they are members of that party, the argument being that as the party opposes mass immigration from the EU and as these children are from an East European immigrant background, the fostering was inappropriate as they might just have a bad time. Or not, as there is no evidence that they were treated with anything but great care and affection.

As so often it is the soi-disant Marxist Brendan O'Neill who gave the best analysis of the appalling situation in which the state and its minions have taken upon themselves to decide what kind of life-style, political attitude or religious feeling is acceptable in a foster parent despite the fact that fostering is badly needed. Next step will be when these people will extend the same attitude to birth parents.

Matthew d'Ancona, the soi-disant conservative on the other hand, is so appalled by what he perceives UKIP to be (a somewhat idiotic and outdated view based on no knowledge whatsoever) that he actually thinks the Rotherham social workers had a point. The world has gone mad.

Meanwhile there were stories of Michael Fabricant presenting a report that urged the Conservative leaders to do a deal with UKIP at the next election, which was angrily repudiated by both David Cameron and Nigel Farage and the completely ridiculous story of allegedly eight Tory MPs considering defection to UKIP. Though the headline went round the media like wildfire, the story amounted to very little. Stuart Wheeler, UKIP's treasurer had been courting eight possible defectors and taking them out to lunch. They (whoever they are) did not approach him - he approached them.

The funniest of all stories was that of Winston McKenzie, UKIP candidate in Croydon North and, apparently, the party's spokesman on culture pronouncing on same-sex adoption. It was akin to child abuse, he announced, blithely disregarding the kind of row that might create in the present over-heated political atmosphere. UKIP smartly distanced itself from this statement and, coincidentally, a number of party members who happen to be gay, have made statements on their feelings of comfortableness within its confines.

My own reaction, I am afraid, was hysterical laughter. I have known Winston for some years and he has never been anything but a source of entertainment or embarrassment, depending on whether he happened to be, theoretically, on the same side of the political divide as oneself.

To say that he has had a chequered political career is to make an understatement of stupendous proportions. As someone asked me today: do UKIP not check up on their candidates? In this case, checking up would be remarkably easy. I approached a "senior member" of UKIP though not by length of membership and asked him about the whole mess. What kind of an idiot, said I reasonably and tactfully, makes Winston McKenzie culture spokesman? Well, I was told, we thought he could speak on sport, having been a boxer (not a very successful one but let that pass) and we followed the government's divisions. They have culture in there with sport and media. But why, continued I in my measured and tactful way. It's not like you are about to form a government. For some reason that brought the conversation to an end.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

That should solve all their problems. Not!

As expected and predicted the UN Assembly has voted "overwhelmingly to recognize the Palestinian state". Or so says the headline, though it is not entirely accurate. What they now have is "non-member observer status", which is akin to what the Vatican has.

It is, indeed, a victory for Mahmoud Abbas, though whether Hamas will agree to him representing the "Palestinian state" is not clear, and a defeat for the nine countries that voted against: Israel, United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama. Well, well, and what of our own government and its representative? Abstained, that's what.

The Commentator reminds us of the following:
Israeli politician Abba Eban once noted of the United Nations that if Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the Earth was flat, and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.
And one of them will be the UK, which according to this article has now been reduced to a bit-player in the Middle East. I'd say it happened some time ago but it is certainly true now.


I fully intend to do a day's blogging, just as soon as I sorted out some aspects of that difficult concept called life (not all of it, just some). However, here are a couple of preliminary statements:

On UKIP and today's by-elections in Croydon North, Rotherham and Middlesborough (on which I shall write later):

As UKIP's co-founder and the first person to be purged from that party I would be delighted if UKIP could finally achieve the results it ought to achieve in the current political climate, no matter how low the turn-out might be. However, past experience tells one that results rarely live up to predictions and it might, on the whole, be better to wait for those results before celebrating or predicting (yet again) that the political scene is about to change. 

On the forthcoming report from Lord Leveson:

Who didn't know that the purpose of the exercise was to recommend legislation that would introduce state control of the media? Then again, such legislation will  have to pass through two Chambers in Parliament and is likely to get bogged down in both of them, thus ensuring that Parliamentary time is taken up by this preposterous bit of legislation. 

The assumption that this is going to be a spectacularly new departure for the British media, which is, allegedly free to publish what it likes at the moment ignores our still unreformed libel laws that control journalism to a far greater extent than most people realize. Suffice it to say that in the US they had to pass legislation to protect the right of American authors to publish certain information in their country and not be hassled by British courts.

Finally, as a blogger, I find it hard not to laugh at the travails of the MSM and not to hope that any legislation that comes out of the Leveson report might finally encourage the British public to turn to the genuinely free part of the media. 

More later, after I have given the benefit of my opinions to the listeners of the BBC Russian Service.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

So where are we? - 1

President Vaclav Klaus possesses many admirable qualities. The one I admire most is the continuous smoothness of his presentations that includes answers to difficult or, as is the case with many eurosceptic audiences, downright stupid questions.

This afternoon he gave a habitually clear and convincing explanation of all the many things that have gone wrong with the European Union - its centralizing and bureaucratizing tendencies - in the rush towards greater though ultimately unachievable integration. More specifically, he explained very clearly why the eurozone was not optimal either in its extent or its membership while asserting firmly (and, in my humble opinion, correctly) that the political investment in the project was so great that talk of its collapse was akin to a discussion of what kind of pie ought to be flying across the sky.

So where do we go from here, given that the European Union is going the wrong way, given that we know, roughly speaking, what the right way ought to be, and given that the leadership of Europe and to a great extent its people are persisting in following the wrong path? To that President Klaus apparently has no answer, no matter how often he repeats his cogent analysis. (It is, of course, possible that there is an answer in his latest book, Europe: The Shattering of Illusions, which he was launching, but I have not yet read it.)

At the same time, there is something admirable in President Klaus's refusal to pander to his audience, be they EU grandees or a collection of eurosceptics of varying degree, who usually want to hear their own views confirmed and their own prejudices reasserted.

Vaclav Klaus absolutely refused to discuss internal British politics, slyly turning every question to his own experiences with Czechoslovakia and its disintegration into the two component parts. He did, however, remind people with great firmness that the Conservative Party had expected him to hold out against all pressure and against his country's constitutional rules over the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in order to help them to win the 2010 election though they, themselves, had given up any semblance of a fight. (I wrote about that on this blog and, before that, on EU Referendum, my erstwhile blogging home.)

He also said that while he could see that the UK might, for its selfish reasons, want to be out of the EU, the Czech Republic's selfish reasons wanted the UK to stay in. He was challenged on this by Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

Briefly, the two arguments ran thus: President Klaus appears to think (and who knows what he really thinks on the subject) that the more countries there are in the EU, the less likely is it to integrate. That is our old friend, the widening versus deepening debate, which has been settled some time ago by the inevitability of every new widening being used as an excuse for further deepening. But, more importantly, said Klaus, we must have countries like Britain, countries that have genuine democratic traditions and notions, inside the EU as that will help to reverse the pernicious process of centralizing and bureaucratizing.

Lord Stoddart, on the other hand, thinks that Britain's exit from the EU would be of great benefit not only to this country  but also to others like the Czech Republic who could then follow the British example and find a way out. Maybe it could even join the Commonwealth, suggested the noble peer with a smile. (I can't quite imagine the Czech Republic wanting to be in an organization with such luminaries of democracy as Nigeria or Rwanda but the obsession with the Commonwealth is one that needs a separate set of arguments.)

Once again President Klaus refused to pander to his audience, reminding us all, instead, that Britain actually had the choice of a different kind of European "integration" through EFTA, which it abandoned, preferring to join the EEC. (Lord Stoddart loudly pointed out that he did not prefer it and how true that is. He has been an opponent of Britain's participation in the European project from the beginning.)

I find it hard to believe that President Klaus really believes that Britain's continued membership of the EU would have the desired effect of turning the process of ever greater integration back towards the creation of a low government intervention free market agreement. A swift look at the history of Britain's membership should disabuse him of such a notion. Nor is he under any illusion about the Party Formerly Known As Conservative or the present government. He knows full well that he can hope for nothing from that quarter. Then again, he also knows that his position is very lonely and there is no help anywhere at the moment. One can only admire him for his tenacity (as well as the smoothness of his presentation).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seventy years ago

One cannot let the date go by. On November 26, 1942 one of the greatest films premiered in New York City.


 The happiest of all possible endings to that film.

Friday, November 23, 2012

EU Referendum

Sharp eyed readers of this blog would have noticed that there were technical problems with the RSS feed from the revered EU Referendum blog. I have discussed matters with the Boss and have removed it from the list of Blogs, placing it among Websites for the time being.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's show time

Singin' in the Rain, what a glorious movie. We have all seen Gene Kelly splashing through the rain and being happy again but the best dancing sequence remains this one:


It is past midnight here and time to wish happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers of this blog wherever they happen to be.

As before I am linking to the perennial articles in the Wall Street Journal, Nathaniel Morton's account of The Desolate Wilderness and the article that has appeared every year since 1961 to remind America what the festival is about: And the Fair Land.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The last Stalinist show trial

Sixty years ago this week, on November 20, 1952, the last of the Stalinist show trials, that against the "Trotskyit, Titoist, Zionist" agents Rudolf Slansky and cohorts, opened in Prague. It lasted several days and at the end eleven of the fourteen accused were condemned to death. They were executed on December 3 and their ashes thrown out of a car onto an icy road because the people in charge could not be bothered to carry them to the appointed destination. Three months later Stalin died and much of the Communist world changed.

On another blog I have written a long piece about the Stalinist purges and trials of post-Second World War Eastern Europe. I can't say enjoy it but I hope people will read it and find it interesting. It is not possible to understand developments in Eastern Europe without knowing something about those events.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Don't hear much about this

Yes, yes, yes, I am still avoiding the subject of Thursday's resounding victory won by the Sod Off Party. Even the sight of Lord Prescott (that well known socialist and egalitarian) drooping with fury and discontent as the victorious Conservative candidate speaks cannot inspire me enough to analyze it. Maybe tomorrow, if the dinner that celebrates 20 years of the Maastricht rebellion offers sufficient cheer.

Now then. Back to the House of Lords (where there was a Maastricht rebellion of its own). Lord Stoddart of Swindon (a good egg, as readers of this blog know) asked the following Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Statement by Lord McNally on 1 November regarding the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Council, what are the implications for the United Kingdom of the opt-ins to the Dublin (III) Regulations and the new EURODAC Package.
Before we look at the response we need to work out exactly what this is about and the best way of doing so is to have a look at the Written Statement made by Theresa May on November 1, about the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Luxembourg on October 25 and 26. (In parenthesis, I may note that at least the Minister did attend. They don't always.)

The EURODAC Package is there to facilitate the provisions of the Dublin (III) Regulations, which as both the Statement and the reply to Lord Stoddart's question explain have to do with asylum seekers who make multiple applications in different EU member states.

Originally the UK had an opt-out but that has now been given up and we have opted in.
On the common European asylum system (CEAS), the presidency said that the reception conditions directive was due to be approved under the Council’s legislative items; only technical questions remained on the Dublin (III) regulation; negotiations with the European Parliament continued on asylum procedures, and COREPER had agreed the EURODAC package. The UK has opted in to the Dublin (III) regulation and the new EURODAC proposal. The UK has not opted in to the three other directives on reception conditions, asylum procedures and qualifications.
That was part of Mrs May's Statement. Lord Taylor of Holbeach's minions responded to Lord Stoddart:
The Dublin (III) and EURODAC (II) Regulations will between them govern the continued operation of the Dublin system by which member states determine who is responsible for dealing with an asylum claim. The Government are committed to the Dublin system, as it helps tackle the problem of people abusing asylum systems across Europe by making multiple claims in different EU member states. Since 2004 the Dublin system has enabled the UK to remove over 10,000 asylum applicants. This has resulted in significant financial savings and has also sent a powerful message that the UK can and will act against those who try to abuse our asylum system.
The Government will continue to consider the application of the UK's right to opt in to forthcoming EU legislation in the area of justice and home affairs on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country's security, protecting Britain's civil liberties and enhancing our ability to control immigration.
The point I should like to make here is that far from challenging various "European" bodies and authorities, far from seeking to repatriate power, far from giving Parliament more control, HMG continues to opt into various agreements to do with Justice and Home Affairs without bothering to make much of a song and dance about it. All in the name of " maximising our country's security, protecting Britain's civil liberties and enhancing our ability to control immigration". Of course.

Things seem a little different this time round

I mean PR-wise in Gaza. Yes, of course, the BBC refers to retaliation when Hamas sends rockets towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in response to the killing of top level terrorists that, in itself, was in response to many thousands of rockets fired into Israel over the last few months and even years. Yes, of course, the usual so-called anti-Zionists or anti-Israelis appear from nowhere weeping over the plight of the Palestinians, something they never do when the said Palestinians are murdered by Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah or other Arab militias.

Nevertheless, the media seems remarkably ready to acknowledge that maybe Israel has a point and leading politicians in the West are not pretending to be balanced in their judgements. Hamas is being blamed.

I can't help wondering whether this has anything to do with the sudden realization that the Gazans, poor benighted people that they are who cannot manage without huge amounts of aid, have acquired long-distance rockets. Hmm, where could those have come from? Who is playing desperate politics in that part of the world and are Hamas, Hezbollah and the others equally desperately scrambling to retain their position both with their own people (a tough call in the circumstances) and with their patrons?

Stratfor has kept up a supply of very rational analytical pieces. I was particularly taken with this picture that shows FAJR-5 impact locations.

A piece about Iran's agenda (so who did you think I was talking about?) goes through the various ramifications with special emphasis on those long-range rockets and the possibility that Hamas had not realized that Israel has known about them for some time.
On Nov. 14, Jabari was assassinated, and Hamas had to work under the assumption that Israel would do whatever it took to launch a comprehensive military campaign to eliminate the Fajr threat. It is at this point that Hamas likely resigned to a "use it or lose it" strategy and launched Fajr rockets toward Tel Aviv, knowing that they would be targeted anyway and potentially using the threat as leverage in an eventual attempt at another truce with Israel. A strong Hamas response would also boost Hamas' credibility among Palestinians. Hamas essentially tried to make the most out of an already difficult situation and will now likely work through Egypt to try to reach a truce to avoid an Israeli ground campaign in Gaza that could further undermine its authority in the territory.
And talking of Egypt, whose new government is presiding over an unstable country, which expects some of what was demanded in that Spring, that is better life and a stronger economy, to be delivered at some point, here is an analysis of the relationship between it and Israel with some reference to Sinai where the Egyptians, too, have had problems with militants.

Then there is Hezbollah, who appear to be taking a cautious approach at the moment.
With Hezbollah uncertain how the Israeli-Hamas battle will play out, the group appears to be taking a cautious approach. Stratfor has received indication that Hezbollah has prevented radical Palestinian groups in southern Lebanese refugee camps from firing rockets into northern Israel. In addition to an increase in the number of patrols by the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Hezbollah has been deploying numerous operatives in plainclothes along the border to monitor the situation. Hezbollah has also installed cameras around the Ain al Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon to monitor traffic from the camp to its outside environs. Whereas Hezbollah completely controls movement into and out of Palestinian refugee camps in the deep south, Ain al Hilweh lies completely within a Sunni neighborhood. For this reason, Hezbollah has rented a number of apartments around the camp, especially in al Ta'mir area, to keep a close watch there.
Much will depend on whether there is a ground war in Gaza and how that works out as well as on developments in Syria.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some things do not change

Before I blog about Thursday's victory for the Sod Off Party I want to turn to an interesting continuity in English history and that is the relationship between the government (the King and the Royal Household in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) and the wealth creators (the City of London then and now).

Here are two related news items.

John Cridland, Director General of the CBI, has warned a so-called Conservative Chancellor, to wit Georgie-Porgy Osborne, not to follow the example of his Labour predecessor and raid pension funds again. Or, in other words, stop punishing those who earn money by creating wealth for the country and who use that money to provide pensions for themselves; stop regarding all money that is made in this country as something that rightfully belongs to the government.

At the same time, the ever more ridiculous Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons, grilled and prepared to chastise executives from various large international companies for using perfectly legitimate ways of avoiding (not evading) taxes, mostly by positioning their headquarters in countries with more favourable tax jurisdiction.

The idea of MPs lecturing the rest of us on fiscal rectitude is too funny for words. How many of them are still there only because they have not been caught out in some light-fingering of what they term expenses but is really part of their salary? How many of them will be caught out in the future, much to our amusement? How many of the self-righteous who lambast those executives ensure through ISAs, pension funds and every possible loophole available that they pay only as much tax as they can get away with? I do not think that is wrong. In fact, tax avoidance is a civic duty, in my opinion, but hypocrisy on that scale begins to make one feel very ill, indeed.

As we know, the answer is very simple: make this country into one of those favourable tax jurisdictions and the companies will place their headquarters here. In the meantime, they  run businesses, sell goods, employ people, pay other taxes, make and spread wealth. How many MPs can say the same for themselves? Certainly, not our lamentable Chancellor, whose family undoubtedly has excellent tax accountants and who, himself, has worked outside the Conservative party very briefly as Wikipedia says accurately:
After graduating in 1992, Osborne did a few part-time jobs including as a data entry clerk, typing the details of recently deceased into a NHS computer database. He also briefly worked for a week at Selfridges, mainly re-folding towels.
Nothing wrong with folding towels or typing details into an NHS database but a few weeks in either job is not what one might call being in the big bad world and knowing about economic realities.

As I mentioned before, I am reading, inter alia, Thomas Penn's account of Henry VII's reign. The emphasis of Winter King is on the last years when Henry's carefully and bloodily built up regime seemed to be tottering once again but, necessarily, there are detailed descriptions of earlier events, particularly the marriage of Prince Arthur, the Prince of Wales, to the Infanta Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The marriage was supposed to signify that Henry had finally full control over his country and the various troublesome nobles (he didn't, as it turned out), could place his dynasty among the older ones of Europe (he was, after all, the grandson of a Welsh adventurer) and could mount a display that rivalled those of his Yorkist predecessors and Continental contemporaries.

The preparations, needless to say, took several years and, contrary to practice, Henry and his tightly knit Royal Household took full control, not letting the City of London do the planning but demanding that the City paid for it. In fact, that characterized Henry's relationship with the City even more than was the case with previous monarchs: distrust of their independence, envy of their wealth, need to control them tampered by the desire to get as much of their money as one could. Not much has changed there, as I said at the beginning of this post.

Matters came to a head in the late summer of 1501 when Edmund de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, a Plantagenet with a better claim to the throne than Henry himself (at least in his and other nobles' opinion) fled the country again. Henry had intended to place him at the centre of the various celebrations though he was to be kept under tight administrative and financial control. His presence was supposed to show that he had submitted but, at the same time, he was not allowed to have the title and lands he considered to be his own. A muddled and unhappy situation that resulted in yet another widespread conspiracy and Suffolk's flight from London to the Low Countries.

Thomas Penn writes:
Henry and his counsellors decided that something more was needed in the wake of Suffolk's flight. Sir Reynold Bray, one of the king's inner circle and a familiar and unwelcome face in London's corridors of power, strode into the Guildhall to demand a major change to the plans. The customary wine fountain, positioned outside St Paul's on the wedding day to keep the crowds in good voice, should be transformed into another pageant, the most spectacular of them all. An artificial mountain studded with jewels and covered with red roses, wine gushing forth ceaselessly from its depths, this 'Rich Mount', a play on Henry's family name of Richmond, would be an emphatic statement - and the city, Bray stated, would foot the bill. Outraged, the city leaders pointed out that they had paid for all the other pageants and a lavish present of gold plate for the Spanish infanta, and refused point-blank, unmoved even by Bray's uncompromising bluntness. The king's household grudgingly covered the cost.
 Apologies for the slightly lame prose. Not mine, obviously. But the tale it tells is instructive. Perhaps our own government will finally realize that you can push these people only so far.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A website recommended to all

A day or so ago I attended a talk given by David Hart of Liberty Fund about the great French liberal (in the real sense of the word) economic thinker, Frédéric Bastiat, who remains less well known in the land of his birth than in the United States or even in Britain. In France there is a widespread assumption that more or less liberal and free-market ideas come from the despised Anglo-Saxes and no understanding that throughout the nineteenth century French thinking on the subject was probably wider and more profound than its British equivalent.

The talk was a lot of fun, delivered with great verve by a man whose knowledge of the subject is exhaustive but who remains excited about all its aspects. He also reminded us that Liberty Fund publishes on line and for free a large number of classical texts of liberal thought. I am hereby linking to that and shall put it on my website list.

Another war looming

Just as the United States re-elected the man who must rank among the most incompetent Presidents in its entire history, the Middle East is set to explode into war yet again. Post hoc is not necessarily propter hoc, I know, but one cannot help wondering in this case.

Of course, the Gazans have been using their independent status and the umpteen million pounds that they receive in aid and is not stolen by the Hamas leadership to send hundreds of rockets into Israel for many months and, even, years. The presidential election has not made any difference to them. But has it to Israel? Did they decide that with Obama back in the White House, they have little to lose and much to gain by striking back rather neatly and killing the leader of the Hamas terrorist wing in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari, as well as eight other known terrorists? Hard to tell.

Naturally enough, there have been "reprisals" and Hamas has killed three Israeli civilians as well as fired rockets into the vicinity of Tel Aviv. At least, we think it was Hamas as "both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility for the attack". The BBC reported it, too. And the reprisal for that may well be Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza. Let us hope this time they will think a little more carefully about public relations than they have done in the past. At least they have taken with gusto to the twitter war that is raging between the two sides.

They have not started badly. For the first time in I don't know how long we are getting news stories that start with the fact of those Hamas rockets that have been raining on Israel. The Foreign Secretary's statement blamed Hamas for the situation that is rapidly spinning out of control though it called on Israel to preserve stability. Fair enough.

There seems no point in this blog trying to outdo the news agencies on the subject, so let me link to one or two interesting stories, instead. Firstly, a posting by Stephen Hoffman (yes, yes, I know the lad) that tries to explain to the readers of the Young Britons' Foundation site that Israel, like other countries, has the right to defend herself. Personally, I find it odd that anyone should need to argue that. Every country has the right to defend itself and Israel has been remarkably patient with those rocket-firing Gazans. Would any other country put up with it or, more to the point, expect to put up with it? (In parenthesis, let me add that I also supported Bosnia's right to defend herself back in the nineties.)

Phyllis Chesler has an interesting round-up of reactions from various tranzis and NGOs. They are what you would expect but it is still fun to read them:
So far, the governments of the United States, Britain,Germany, and Canada have asserted that Israel has a right to defend itself. The liberal democracies in the West are speaking out.
But, Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations stated that“Israeli reactions need to be measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed.” International groups are urging "restraint."
Amnesty is calling on "all sides must step back from the brink to protect civilians;" Physicians for Human RIghts say: "Israel's decision makers (should) refrain from an attack on Gaza which may cause many victims in Gaza and Israel;" Oxfam International calls for "immediate restraint as Gaza-Israel violence escalates."
These groups did not call for restraint when Hamas launched their 700 rockets into heavily populated Israeli cities such as Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ber Sheva.
Do Ban Ki-Moon and Amnesty and the allegedly medical groups know that Israeli civilians have been murdered and wounded in these current rockets attacks—including a pregnant Chabad representative who was visiting Israel for a memorial service for the Chabad rabbi and rebbitzen z”l who were murdered in an Islamist terrorist attack in India? Do they care?
The answer to that last question is "of course not" but neither do they care about the Palestinians or they would speak up a little more loudly about the oppression imposed on them by Hamas.

The Prime Minister of Egypt is off to Gaza to support Hamas though not so long ago the Egyptian security forces had their own problems in the area. This is a particularly good time for the Egyptian government to show support for warmongering terrorists as the EU has just approved an aid package for the country's "battered economy" (though that description implies that it ever functioned satisfactorily) worth 5 billion euros ($6.4 billion or £4.02 billion). Presumably, there is just too much money floating around in the EU and we can all spare it to shore up the rickety and hostile structure called the Egyptian government.

Finally, something to make us all chuckle. Pallywood is back and the BBC happily fell for it. Do watch this interview and news story if you have not seen it yet, paying particular attention to the writhing in pain wounded man who is being carried away around 2:10 or just after and his miraculous recover around 2:42.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Time to start worrying about the London - Brighton run

Rather than try to work out all the details, known and unknown, of the growing Petraeus scandal, this blog will turn to matters nearer home. (No, not the BBC's travails though I have no sympathy whatsoever with broadcasters who appear to have no understanding of the concept of law.)

Lord Willoughby de Broke put down the following Written Question in the House of Lords;
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the proposals by the European Commission to harmonise European Union roadworthiness regulations; and what effect these proposals will have on the ownership of classic and vintage cars in the United Kingdom.
Earl Attlee, replying on behalf of HMG, as ever produced a mealy-mouthed explanation (as if Ministers could ever do otherwise).
An initial assessment has been made on the proposal which suggests potential significant costs to the UK. At the recent Transport Council the Government intervened and expressed serious concerns about the proposal, which will remove the requirement to have an annual roadworthiness test for vehicles over 30 years old and of historic interest, while limiting allowable modifications. The Government will continue to challenge those provisions that imply unmerited costs.
What, may one ask, are unmerited costs and, more importantly, is the London - Brighton Veteran Car Run safe from the regulators who, undoubtedly, have our best interests at heart?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An interesting analysis

John O'Sullivan in the Spectator discusses Obama's narrow and rather bitter victory and muses about the future. Nothing specific but not as depressed and hopeless as some analyses.

Managed to miss this

This is good news, as well. The Synoblog has been back for some time and nobody told me. Boo-hoo! Anyway, I am delighted that the best reporter from Brussels can be read again with ease.

Even I'm depressed

Usually I am angry or amused in a bitter sort of fashion or coldly sarcastic. But there is no way of getting past it: I am truly depressed and keep thinking about the terrible days of the seventies the repeat of which I had hoped never to see again.

Having written that paragraph about twelve hours ago I have had some time to think about things. I am a little less depressed but that may be a.) because I am sick of hysteria on both sides of the fence or b.) because, as an American Anglospherist friend said, I am 3,000 miles away from it. Mind you, he added, however bad things were  on his side of the Pond, he was not ready to swap them for the joys of the Coalition and the EU. Wise man.

All I can say in my own defence is that I remained doubtful about Romney's victory but was becoming mildly optimistic. No, he was not ideal but a good deal better than what is and stays in the White House. The final figures, together with the turn-out are still to come but the Electoral College vote is 303 to 206. Not a landslide but a comfortable victory for the man who has been in charge of some of the most disastrous policies of the last few years and his second in command, who habitually forgets where he is or who he is speaking to. The popular vote is close, something like 51 per cent to 49 per cent but, again, final figures will come. Obama got 9 million fewer votes than last time, which is a figure to bear in mind. Then again, it would appear that Romney got fewer votes than McCain did. We shall see.

What astonishes me is not that people voted for Obama - people vote different ways for different reasons -  but the hysterical joy being displayed by so many supporters and the equally hysterical cries of "Obama will fix it". You, ladies and gentlemen, have just re-elected the Administration that has presided over a completely dysfunctional and ever more debt-ridden economy with an ever lower rate of employment, a dysfunctional foreign policy that has resulted in the murder of an American ambassador, an ever more disunited country and you are hysterical with joy. Is that because so many Hollywood celebrities are happy?

On the other hand, I do not think America is or is about to become Communist or even Socialist. Big state cronyism is a bad thing, economically, socially and ethically but it is not Soviet Communism. Get a grip, people. Nor is it possible for a big, strong and basically rich country to be destroyed and annihilated by one bad Administration though it is very bad. No country gets annihilated just like that. Heck, even Belgium cannot destroy itself.

My prediction for what it is worth is that President Obama will do very little in the second term, partly because few president do anything much in the second term and partly because he just doesn't do much, which is a problem in itself, particularly in foreign affairs where things will go from bad to worse. To be fair to Obama, he promised nothing in his campaign and did not refer to Obamacare, still not in place and being challenged in various states or the porculus stimulus, which has proved to be a disaster. The economy is going to get worse, the entitlement mentality will grow until there will be no money to pay for it and the debt will continue to spiral.

Just for starters, here are a few items of news:

Boeing has announced large restructuring and lay-offs on the day after the election, having one assumes been asked to hold the news back. Suddenly, we are being reminded that the Treasury "expects the federal government to hit its legal debt limit before the end of this year--which means before the new Congress is seated--and that "extraordinary measures" will be needed before then to keep the government fully funded into the early part of 2013". Should be interesting. Then there is the usual flurry of falling stock and shares at the thought of a Democrat President and a Republican House but we shall know more from the pattern as it emerges in the next few days. Dow's immediate reaction was to plummet so, perhaps, it was a more serious worry. It didn't get any better though I am not sure we can blame the woes of European stock markets on the US election alone.

Meanwhile, serious conservatives, many of whom supported Romney with gritted teeth and because of the possibilities Paul Ryan presented are beginning to pick themselves up. Ryan, incidentally, is back in the House of Representatives.

First off, I received this e-mail from Jim Geraghty of the National Review (no, it is not a private e-mail but his daily update):
Looking back, we could justify 2008 to ourselves: the economic meltdown, fatigue of eight years of George W. Bush. The McCain campaign had a slew of problems, and the opposition promised America a chance to make history with the first African-American president. They had hope and change; we had an elderly vet who was never an economics-focused guy at a time when the economy was collapsing.
In 2010, we saw epic Republican gains in that smaller turnout traditional to a midterm election, and we persuaded ourselves -- I certainly persuaded myself -- that 2008 was a historical anomaly, a confluence of factors that created a perfect storm for Obama and the Democrats. Things would be set right.
In 2008, Obama had been elected on the promise of things to come. In 2012, he would be judged on his record.
The American people looked at that record and said, "Eh, looks pretty good, four more years of that."
After Fast and Furious. And Benghazi. And the stimulus. And Solyndra. And Obamacare.
All very true and inexplicable. Even less explicable is the fact that the opinion polls, which proved to be surprisingly accurate as to the  vote, said over and over again that the majority of people disliked Obama's policies, did not think that the country was going the right way and did not think they were better off than they had been four years previously. Then they went ahead and voted for the status quo: Democrats in the White House, a Republican House of Representatives and a Democrat Senate though that was due largely to a couple of idiots who talked utter rubbish about women, rape and abortion and should have been booted out immediately.

Ed Morissey spends a little time figuring it all out and coming to no conclusion. On the whole different parties in different parts of the political structure is no bad thing and I have no problems with legislative gridlock but President Obama who has shown dislike, ignorance and contempt for the US Constitution is rather given to Executive Orders and he may well proceed to have a few in the next couple of years, which is all he has at his disposal, realistically speaking. Those, as I was reminded by another knowledgeable American friend, can be easily revoked by a Republican President.

Stratfor's George Friedman thinks gridlock will be disastrous for foreign policy. Not as disastrous as ill-thought out intervention in Libya into which Obama was suckered by former President Sarkozy and the Boy-King.

Then there are all the various analyses of what went wrong, why it happened, and so on, and so on. I did not read all of them (there is a limit to my geekery, though readers of this blog must wonder some times) and I shall link to a few, only.

Ron Radosh is always worth reading, especially as he says much of what I thought of as well. He puts it better and goes into many other points. A good deal of interesting stuff in his analysis of the voting pattern but I don't think it was the sight of President Obama in a bomber jacket (copying Bush much?) that made people vote for him though that probably put an end to Governor Christie's presidential ambitions. The GOP does not forgive any more than any political party does.

Then there is the Latino or Hispanic vote that is becoming an issue. It seems that GWB got 41 per cent of the Hispanic vote, McCain 31 per cent and Romney 27 per cent. The movement is in the wrong direction and, given the demographic factor, that needs to be addressed. Radosh cites the Judis and Teixeira theory of the "emerging Democratic majority" that is really based on an alliance of the various minorities. This theory gets bandied about but is addressed comprehensively by Megan McArdle who makes the obvious point with some interesting details that nothing ever stays the same in politics and those alliances have a way of dissolving. The Republicans could think of addressing some of the individual groups' problems and encourage ambition in them.

Incidentally, while I don't think Romney was a particularly good candidate (though somewhat better than feared) I don't think he was "uniquely bad" and he was the best of a very weak field. His weakest point, I suspect, was that he was Governor of Massachussetts and a New Englander. They are not popular in the rest of the country as GWB, for one, understood very clearly and worked hard to reinvent himself as a Texan, which was despised by Europeans but remained fairly popular in his own country.

The point about the immense tax hike that is coming is probably accurate and will be a nasty shock to all who will wail in the time-honoured fashion of the electorate that this was not what they had voted for.

Another, less well argued piece on the Hispanic vote is by Heather MacDonald in the National Review and she links to her own longer article in the City Journal. I am not sure what she advocates the Republicans should do as it all seems a bit hopeless both politically for them and socially for the Hispanics. Her argument that Hispanic idea of family values is different from the Republican one is sound enough but the whole article  really argues that those family values have long ago broken down and when Hispanics say they think the government should be involved, they really mean that the government should take over where their own structures have collapsed.

Finally, we have an article on why the GOP has failed with American Indians, that is immigrants from the Indian Sub-Continent, despite politicians like Nikki Hailey and Bobby Jindal. Even more hopeless - unless the GOP ceases to be the GOP, according to this article, it will never attract the Indian vote. But, one might respond, if it ceases to be the GOP, it will not attract any other vote.

And there was plenty of other vote. The Republicans were not annihilated and did not lose as badly as some would have us believe. (That's quite apart from the problems President Obama has inherited from his predecessor, President Obama.)

Michelle Malkin gives twenty reasons why the election went better than some say and they have to do with Governors and other electoral matters in the states. In the US other things matter apart from the federal government.

In a slightly different vein, Dan Mitchell gives seven silver linings and three reasons to be unhappy.

And that's really it for the time being, except for a couple of articles. Brendan O'Neill comes up trumps in explaining that Obama's victory is that of an elite because there are now two elites around and Obama tapped into the second one that is the government, the media and academe. Of course, this is rarely mentioned by the media who prefer to present themselves as the opposition but it is true, nonentheless.

Let me end this blog with a link to a typically fighting posting by my friend Lexington Green on Chicago Boyz, entitled It Is NEVER Over. Nor is it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Last few comments

I promise not to write about the American elections throughout Tuesday. No point, really, Over here we shall have no results before Wednesday, in any case, and if predictions are correct, we might carry on chewing our fingernails till well into Thursday or, God forbid, even after.

However, let me leave you with a few thoughts about the way news have been handled on this side of the Pond, which includes Britain and Europe. Der Spiegel is tying itself into knots, which is very pleasant to watch. No matter who wins, America will lose, they cry, as it has been destroyed by "total capitalism". One could say that even in its bleak hours, America is doing better than Europe that does not have "total capitalism" but I suspect Der Spiegel knows that.

American power had declined, they add in another article though why it should have done so under the great and wonderful President Obama is hard to tell. But, never fear, their coverage is even-handed. Why they even have an article about what Romney's foreign policy might be. Of course, it is really an interview with President Clinton's less than successful Secretary of State, Madeleine Allbright, but one can't have everything. Specifically, one can't have an interview with Condi Rice about Obama's existing foreign policy.

Interestingly enough, my friend Michel Gurfinkiel writes about exactly that, though with reference to the French media.
“Yesterday, we followed Barack Obama’s campaign,” a young woman [on RTL, one of France's main radio channels] said. “Today we turn to Mitt Romney’s campaign.” All right. Except that “following Romney’s campaign” amounted, incredibly, to an interview with a certain Dr. Gordon, who explained that most Americans were grateful to President Obama for having introduced Obamacare. Especially those women who otherwise would have been deprived of any access to birth control. Some journalist at RTL then explained that Romney would abolish Obamacare. And the report was over.
They don't even notice, he adds and neither does the public. (I may say the same thing about the British media and the British public who are astonished that anyone could be so mad, insane and evil as to support a challenger to Obama.) Gurfinkiel gives an interesting and accurate analysis for this ridiculous adoration of a highly incompetent incumbent:
Sympathy for Obama is rooted in the deepest layers of the French collective psyche, right and left. He is supposed to stand for a tame, less dominant, less assertive America; and France, like many other former great powers — from Russia to China, from the Hispanic realms to the Islamic Umma — is driven by resentment against Anglo-Saxon dominance at large, and American great power in particular. That was, after all, Charles de Gaulle’s core political legacy (much more than the need to tame Germany) and the not-so-secret rationale for his Faustian alliance with both communism (Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese) and Islam. In the 1960s, when de Gaulle actually presided over France, a sizable part of the French opinion understood that a powerful America had in fact helped France to be reborn, to remain free in the face of communism, and even to become a great power again (just like Germany or Japan). That current never materialized into a sustaining political force, however, and it gradually ebbed away.
He then explains what exactly motivates this French psyche, how journalists abide by it and why it has become so all-encompassing. Read the whole piece.

Finally, we come to our own BBC. Well, OK, not all our media is quite as bad as the BBC but this one really takes the biscuit. In all solemnity they published an article by the old-style Marxist Martin Jacques, erstwhile editor of Marxism Today and at present "a visiting senior research fellow at the London School of Economics, IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy. He is also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and a fellow of the Transatlantic Academy, Washington DC". Oddly enough, the BBC does not see fit to mention this, especially not the position in Beijing.

His "point of view" is that China is more democratic than America but it is framed as a question, which is described even by John Rentoul (not someone on the right of the political spectrum) as being the best QTWTAIN he has come across for a long time.

It would appear that Mr Jacques has been giving a whole series of talks published on the BBC websites in which he has proved to his own and his masters' satisfaction that the Chinese government enjoys greater legitimacy than any Western elected one and there is greater satisfaction with its performance as described by people who are not allowed to criticize the party. (The last phrase is my own.)

I would expect nothing else from and old-time Marxist propagandist. Sadly, I probably expect nothing else from the BBC either.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A rap on Polish knuckles

The EU has made its unhappiness known to Poland, who are usually very good little Europeans, about a suggestion that a heavy metal group called Behemoth (great name) might prosecuted on the basis of article 196 of Poland's penal code on "the crime of offending religious sensibilities".

It seems that, as part of their performance in 2007, the group's lead singer ripped pages out of the Bible and called the Polish Catholic Church a "murderous cult". It is not clear from the story why it has taken this long for anyone even to threaten a court case but I do like the notion that prosecution for "blasphemy" is against those famous "European values". While I do not think rock musicians should be prosecuted for blasphemy I do wonder where these people get their knowledge of European values, which bear no relation to European history that saw many a prosecution, persecution and execution for blasphemy and other related crimes.

No, Obama is not a shoe-in

Actually, I am even more optimistic though still cautious. It seems that Wayne Rooney has endorsed Obama. That ought to mean that Romney will walk it except for the sad truth that very few Americans will know who this person is. I note that my own team. QPR is playing at home this week-end. Could there be any mileage out of constructing a questionnaire and asking the players to tell me what they think about the Presidential election as well as whom they might endorse?

The Economist has endorsed Obama but that was to be expected. Really, have they ever endorsed a Republican?

What interested me is the fact that Der Spiegel has woken up to the fact that there might well be a President Romney as of the third week of January. They were not over-impressed by Obama's performance in the debates, especially the first one and have made the odd regretful noise about all that hope changing into something very different, but, somehow it obviously did not occur to them that it might lead to Romney winning.
Germans have long since made up their minds about Mitt Romney. Only 5 percent would give him their vote if they had one, they say.
The result of the most recent poll by Forsa is far from surprising. When America votes, the German heart traditionally beats for the Democratic candidate. To many, the Republicans are suspect: cocky, Christian-conservative, narrow-minded and often hawkish -- at least according to the widespread cliché. Some 92 percent of Germans, the poll found, would vote to return incumbent Barack Obama to the White House.
They are worried about Romney's foreign policy ideas, which, they say are opaque. Apparently, they are not worried about Obama's proven foreign policy failures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is that a for or against?

I am aware that this blog has not pronounced on yesterday's debate and vote in the Lower House but that will have to wait until I get hold of a copy of Hansard that I can scribble nasty comments on. In the meantime, let us turn our attention to the Upper House.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked a written question.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the plan outlined by the German Finance Minister on 16 October to create a European Union commissioner for economic and currency affairs with the power to regulate national budgets.
The answer, given by Lord Sassoon's minions is worth pondering over:
There have been no formal proposals for a European Union (EU) commissioner for economic and currency affairs with the power to regulate national budgets. Were a proposal to create a EU commissioner put forward, the Government would need to make a careful assessment, taking into account the national interest of the UK.
Is that HMG being in favour of such a position or against?

Discussing Hungary on Russia Today

Finally I got there - that ideal media outlet of the British eurosceptic community, Russia Today, a Kremlin mouthpiece. Actually, I probably would not mind that but I do object to the fact that the people who work for it do not even pretend to have any journalistic professionalism. Any old rubbish, as long as it is anti-Western, anti-American and anti-British will do. At least, pretend that you have done some research on that story about the absconding Somalian, allegedly driven out of the country by MI5 who were carrying out racial profiling who then disappeared from Somalia, yadda-yadda-yadda. At least, I thought, pretend that you have found out who the people who are making libellous statements about the security services are. I mean who were the campaigners for the absconding Somali? Who said that he was in a prison in Djibouti? No name, no pack drill.

My story was about Hungary or rather an entertaining piece of proposed legislation: it seems that some FIDESZ deputies of Parliament are proposing a law that would offer new benefits to foreigners who buy government bonds.
Proposed legislation listed on parliament's website would grant permanent residency and ultimately Hungarian citizenship to outsiders who buy at least 250,000 euros ($322,600) worth of special government bonds.
RT made the same mistake as Reuters does in its headline.Nobody is proposing to make these people Hungarian. You can forget about revolving doors I told the RT interviewer. Permanent residency and possible Hungarian citizenship, which may not be real citizenship is all that is being discussed. It is not unknown for other countries to speed up the citizenship application of people who bring a good deal of money into the country.

What about the French and the Italians, asked the interviewer. Well, what about them? They don't want foreigners, do they? They keep saying they don't want foreigners. Look, said I patiently, when they say they don't want foreigners they don't mean a dozen Chinese billionaires who do not need to be Hungarian citizens to be welcome in most parts of the EU.

Would these people be allowed to be elected into Parliament? Which Parliament, I asked. The British? No. The Hungarian? Yes, I expect so, if they are citizens. The European? The interviewer lost interest.