25 March 2007

A foundation of lies

To the very last, the European Union has maintained its reputation for being built on a foundation of lies, this time from the mouth of Angela Merkel, delivering her speech in Berlin yesterday, prior to her signing the so-called Berlin Declaration.

Her opportunity came when she made clear the rejection by French and Dutch voters of the planned constitution would not stop the EU project. "It is true that anyone who hoped that 50 years after the Treaties of Rome we would have a Constitutional Treaty will be disappointed," she said. But a newly-agreed "Berlin Declaration" would get the project back on track - because the political shape of Europe had to be constantly renewed. Failure was not an option, she added, then citing "the example of Britain's attitude to the original treaty" which, she averred, "showed there was no need to talk about failure."

Needing no further encouragement, The Guardian (and others) rushed to publish a piece by the Press Association headed, "Blair 'haunted' on EU anniversary", telling us that "Britain's legendary resistance" to the European Union (sic) came back to haunt Tony Blair at the 50th anniversary celebration in Berlin.

The Prime Minister, it claimed, "grinned wryly" and other EU leaders applauded as German Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled the UK's original reaction to plans for a common market, recounting how the British diplomat Russell Bretherton, "dispatched as an observer to the June 1955 Messina conference preparing the Treaty of Rome" told delegates of the six founding member states the project was doomed before it started. If the treaty was agreed it would not be ratified, and if ratified, it would have "no chance" of coming into force, Merkel had him say.

Perhaps someone more generous would balk at the term "lies", in preference to "myths" but any which way you cut it, this account is not true. Firstly, as a matter of absolute, verifiable historical record, Bretherton was not at Messina in 1955. In fact, there were no British observers at all at the conference - as the official "family photograph" shows. Merkel is confusing this with the later Spaak Committee meetings, held from July 1955 through to the December, the end result of which was the Spaak Report, on which the two treaties of Rome were based, Euratom and the Common Market treaty.

As to the conduct of those meetings, and Britain's part in it, this is indeed the stuff of legend.

When the talks began, Bretherton made it clear, under instructions from London, that Britain did not subscribe to the so-called "Messina goals" which had come out of the Messina conference. Instead, he pursued his government's traditional intergovernmental line, attempting to steer the Six towards a limited alternative of a trade agreement – an option which was rejected by Spaak as it "offered no prospect of a European political union".

Crucially though (and often ignored by contemporary commentators), in parallel with the common market talks, details of the proposals for an "Atomic Community" - to be known as Euratrom - were also being discussed, and it was here that any possibility of British participation foundered.

From the talks it emerged that the new organisation would require all fissile materials, including supplies of uranium, to be placed in a common "European pool" under Euratom's full control and ownership. A central intention was to prevent military programmes using them, which was wholly unacceptable to the British, as Europe's only nuclear power. It was clear that her interdependent civil and military programmes would not fit into this European mould. On 7 September 1955 therefore, Britain had no option but to withdraw from the Euratom talks.

Spaak was formally notified of the reasons for this in a letter from the British Ambassador in Brussels, George Labouchere. Informing Spaak that the UK government recognised "the strong impetus towards multilateral co-operation in Europe", he pointed out that Britain's civil nuclear operations were so closely integrated with her military programme that there would be "overriding difficulties in the defence field. These would prevent the UK from putting her resources, including supplies of nuclear material, into the European pool".

As discussions ground on, Bretherton was told how Spaak intended to organise the final stages of the committee’s activities. In late October, there would be a meeting of delegations to hear reports from the committees, restricted only to the Six. Spaak then intended to set up a small drafting group to write the final report, and to hold a meeting of heads of delegations in November, from which Britain would also be excluded. Between these meetings there would be a meeting of the full steering committee, to keep everyone informed of progress. To this Britain was invited.

Britain was to be excluded from the drafting group because it was felt it might thus be possible for the Six to go further than Britain would wish. Her presence "might in some way act as a brake on the others". In conclusion, Bretherton was told:

Monsieur Spaak felt that it was unrealistic to expect that the United Kingdom would become an equal member of the Common Market, which, with the Atomic Energy proposal, represented the most important elements of under consideration. He felt, however, that it was highly desirable that we should be associated with whatever Common Market arrangements emerged... we should not feel that we were being in any way excluded from the community. The fact that we were not expected to be present at the restricted meetings of heads of delegations was solely designed to ensure that the Six reached as great a measure of agreement among themselves as possible.
The steering committee meeting was held on 7 November 1955. It was at this meeting that Bretherton announced that Britain was to withdraw from the talks on the common market. The way in which he communicated this has become a legendary episode in the history of Britain's relations with "Europe", subject to the most bizarre historical disagreement. According to the account offered by Roy Denman, Bretherton asked for the floor and spoke "in the following terms":

The future treaty which you are discussing has no chance of being agreed; if it was agreed, it would have no chance of being ratified; and if it were ratified, it would have no chance of being applied. And if it was applied, it would be totally unacceptable to Britain. You speak of agriculture, which we don't like, of power over customs, which we take exception to, and institutions which frighten us. Monsieur le president, messieurs, au revoir et bonne chance.
Bretherton then apparently walked out. But to support his version of what happened, Denman, curiously, cites only a secondary source, a book by Charles Grant published in 1994, nearly forty years after the event. Grant, in turn, can only cite as his own source Jean François Déniau's L'Europe Interdite, quoted in Le Monde in October 1991.

Hugo Young also offers this version of the incident, giving a slightly different wording, citing Déniau as his source (referring to him as "J.-F. Denian"). Young claims that Bretherton's text was drafted in Anthony Eden's own hand. But Wolfram Kaiser, a respected German academic expert on European integration who writes in detail about Britain's role in the EU, believes the speech to have been "a Foreign Office statement", which Bretherton read out "word for word". As to the alleged "walk-out", Young concedes that "there is no documentary evidence that anything so exciting occurred".

Nevertheless, according to Young, after Bretherton delivered his speech, "Spaak just blew up", saying: "I am astonished and very hurt at this. You are just sticking to your guns. England has not moved at all, and I am not going to move either."

Kaiser gives a very different account:

The Six were not surprised. Spaak commented ironically that some governments could not understand the new context for European integration that had been created by the Messina conference, but separation was peaceful – as long a Britain refrained from torpedoing the Messina initiative.
While Denman has it that Bretherton walked out and did not return, Young had Bretherton denying that he made "the spectacular exit legend attributed to him". In any event, he could hardly have "returned", since this was the committee's final session and Britain had already been told that it was not invited to the final drafting session. Nor could the Six have had anything to be surprised about. Bretherton had made Britain's position abundantly clear from the outset.

Still more oddly, neither Young nor Denman refer to the account of Miriam Camps, a US State Department observer, although they both cite her as a source elsewhere and list her book in their bibliographies. Young calls her book "the most authoritative history of the time".

Yet, at the closing meeting of the committee, Camps describes Spaak as having decided to ask for comments only from those who had not accepted the principles of the Messina resolution: "that is the British representative...". Bretherton, "when asked for his comments" indicated, "on instructions from London", that his government "could not take a definite position on the common market until it knew all the details of the plan": an entirely reasonable point, since the committee had yet to produce its report.

This is echoed by a Treasury memorandum dated 17 November 1955, recording notes of a meeting with Spaak. This stated "we cannot join Euratom" and then observes viz-à-viz British membership of the common market that, until Spaak had produced his report, "it would be impolitic for us to take a formal position". It concludes: "It would indeed be a major reversal of UK policy to say that we should join a common market and the Europeans would be very surprised if we did".

Spaak himself, who does not mention the Bretherton incident in his memoirs, dates Britain’s withdrawal from the common market from a memorandum dated 19 December 1955, addressed to the German government. It declared that "…it is our view that Britain cannot join such a project".

Yet despite Camps's account and all the other evidence, Bretherton's departure is the point at which Denman insists that Britain "walked out of Europe", and which Young describes as her "self-exclusion".

However, Britain had already withdrawn from Euratom because she was being asked to accept terms to which she could not possibly agree. And when the proposed treaties on Euratom and the common market became linked, Britain would have found it impossible to proceed. By leaving the Euratom talks, as she had to, Britain had, in effect, been excluded from the common market because of the way the treaties were subsequently linked.


More than 50 years on, in the mouth now of Angela Merkel, the legend survives, the legend that the UK deliberately excluded herself from the founding treaties, from which all subsequent woes devolve. And upon this lie rests the whole foundation of Britain's relations with the EU.

COMMENT THREAD

24 March 2007

The success of the EU


Last year, I introduced the world to a major new discovery, the "dual international quasi-legislation/comitology mechanism".

Despite my considerable bravery in venturing so far up the hitherto unexplored reaches of bureaucracy, to bring back news of this species, my discovery was not exactly lauded and I have yet to be awarded life membership of the Royal Society. Yet, in this creature, which is far more common than most would even begin to imagine, lies the real reason for the success of the European Union – and yes, I do mean success.

Furthermore, it is the reason why the EU will continue to be successful, right up until the day when, for reasons entirely unrelated to is main activities – and anything the Eurosceptic community might do - it will collapse.

Now, for the one reader left, that hasn't walked away in disgust, let me explain six things.

Firstly, at the heart of modern government (in fact central to all levels of government, local to international) is a terrible secret. Government is boring. In fact, it is more than boring. It is mind-numbingly, crashingly tedious - the sort of tedium that, if it was instituted as a form of torture would even be banned by the Peoples' Republic of China as inhumane.

Secondly, most government is invisible. What you see on the television and read in the newspapers is only the tiniest fraction of what actually goes on. We get to know about less than one percent of one percent, and the politicians even less. And so boring is it that we don't even want to know.

Thirdly, most politicians have no aptitude for government and few even understand how it works. They are, therefore, in the main, entirely content to let their officials run the nuts and bolts, while they act as front men for the system, going on the jollies and working the media.

Fourth, the European Union has become part of a nexus of legislative bodies, linking international agencies of the United Nations with regional, national and local bodies, to form one continuous, seam-free administrative machine. So embedded is it in the administrative fabric of this and other nations, that the national systems could not function with it.

Fifth, this situation, far from being unwelcome, is highly convenient to the ruling and administrative classes. It saves them no end of work and relieves them of the obligation of having to pay lip-service to democratic procedures.

Sixth, the system acts as a useful lightning conductor, diverting dissent into the labyrinthine maw of international institutions, where activists can be contained, absorbed and then neutralised (or bought off), leaving national actors untroubled… you can always blame the EU.

Over and above that, the system is now so complex that no one (not even the players) really understand it, so no one will be brave enough to touch it in case they break something they don't know how to fix. And, since it defeats even the players' attempts, the critics do not have a chance. The likes of Eurosceptics can be left to blather uselessly round the edges, their criticism so unfocussed and wide of the mark that it has little effect.

Here, one can take a core objection of the sceptics – that sixty, seventy, or is it eighty percent of our laws are now "made in Brussels". Much of this, of course, is dry technical stuff, like the dimensions of rear view mirrors on busses, the composition of cheeses from various regions, or the level of permitted toxic emissions from crematoria.

Now, while this sort of law may come from "Brussels", it would be more accurate to say that it has a Brussels label. But the bulk are no more EU than they are national laws.

Behind that screen, there are hundreds – possibly thousands - of what are known as "quasi-legislative bodies", working on a global and regional scale. These act under the aegis of organisation such as the OIE, which deals with animal health issues, CODEX alimentarius, created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice, the IPCC which, of course, deals with climate change matters, and the World Health Organisation, which deals with public health and infectious diseases.

Another of these fascinating organisations is UNECE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – with not 27 countries but 56, including Turkey and Kazakhstan and also, for historical reasons, the United States.

One of its particular functions is to deal with transport, acting via a skein of agreements and conventions, such as the "Agreement Concerning the Adoption of Uniform Conditions of Approval and Reciprocal Recognition of Approval for Motor Vehicle Equipment and Parts, done at Geneva on 20 March 1958", copy here.

It is actually through this Agreement that international standards are worked out for things like the size of rear-view mirrors for busses, which are then handed down to the EU, which implements them as law in the Member States.

The standards themselves are not law, but become law in the EU once implemented, which is done through the comitology system, the twin-track process – through UNECE and the EU – which has acquired the rather cumbersome title of "dual international quasi-legislation/comitology mechanism".

Interestingly, the EU does not get a look in when it comes to formulating these standards, but countries like Norway do. The EU is then used to write the specific legislation for Norway as a member of the EEA. So much for "fax-machine" law. The commission is simply acting as a service provider, making laws for states which have already agreed at a higher international level to implement them.

That digression aside, so useful to the member states are the technical/legislative services provided by the EU – and so necessary are they to the functioning of modern economies – that it is unthinkable that any member state could or would even wish to dispense with them.

Therein lies the genius of the European Union. It has harnessed these essential administrative functions to its own ambitions, creating structures and institutions to deal with them in the hope, one day, they will be transformed into something more than a technical organisation. Then, they hope, the EU will be able to assume wider responsibilities in the "high" political areas which include foreign policy and defence.

As we observe, so far the Union has been successful. It is still in the game, its ambitions are intact and it is exercising power. How far it goes will depend on whether it over-reaches itself – or the Member States allow it to do so. Its potential nemesis lies in precisely its ambitions to take on board the "high" politics spectrum. The more it achieves, the more powers it acquires, the more visible it will be and the more vulnerable it becomes.

If it continues on this path, there will come a point where the number of people it upsets will outnumber those who appreciate its value. The balance of utility will have changed and the EU will go. Strangely, therefore, losing out on the Constitution was the best thing that could have happened to the EU. But the "colleagues" can never leave well enough alone – they will keep trying and, in the fullness of time, they will reach that critical tipping point in the balance of utility.

That is why the EU is not going to last another fifty years.

COMMENT THREAD

21 March 2007

Competing to recognize terrorists

In his latest book “Betrayal”, David Pryce-Jones, the eminent and much disliked by the FCO expert on the Middle East shows in some detail how the self-deluded French policy in that area and the Gulf has led to a completely intractable situation, not least because succeeding French politicians pressurized the EC (later EU) and other transnational organizations to recognize and give succour to the PLO (later PA) and, in particular, is monstrous leader, the late unlamented Chairman Yasser Arafat. This has led to a situation where peace in the area and freedom and prosperity for the Palestinian people have become well-nigh unattainable goals.

Describing President Chirac’s “idiosyncratic odyssey” through the Middle East, during which he snubbed his Israeli hosts, proclaimed the glories of “Palestinian democracy” and attacked Western sanctions on Saddam Hussein, Pryce-Jones adds:
Thanks to French pressure the European Union took it upon itself to become Arafat’s paymaster, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, much of which either sponsored anti-Israel terror or was siphoned off into secret accounts abroad in Arafat’s name.
It was, let us recall, French pressure that prevented a conclusion at the tense Middle Eastern summit of 2000 in Paris. No conclusion meant that the second intifada went on for another four years, hurting Israel but destroying what little economic activity the Palestinians had.

And it was French activity that led to an impasse at the UN just before the war in Iraq, allowed Saddam to assume that he would get away with everything and made that war inevitable.

A huge success, all round.

It seems the European countries have learnt their French lesson well. At present there seems to be some competition as to who is going to discard the pretence that money is not being handed over in large amounts to the Hamas-led Palestinian “unity” government. (There have only been two or three spots of trouble between Hamas and Fatah since the formation of the “unity” government but things are hardly quiet.)

As we have already pointed out, the notion that somehow the rest of the world was withholding money because Hamas refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist or to give up its terrorist activity is one of those smoke and mirror ones. The EU alone has sent the equivalent of £59.5 million to the government (whether it is in existence or not) and a good deal more has gone through NGOs in supposedly direct help to the people of Palestine. Though, as we have also pointed out, no auditing or accounting has been in evidence this time round either.

Yesterday, Open Europe referred to an article in El Mundo [general link in Spanish supplied by OE], which seems to say that Italy intends to “break ranks” with the rest of the European Union and resume political ties with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Political ties usually means financial ties, since the Palestinian government seems to be unable to envisage an economic structure that does not depend entirely on outside donations. However, given Italy’s own economic problems, it will be interesting to see whether any money will be spared to help Hamas (and Fatah, of course).

Meanwhile, Le Monde has reported that the European Union will prolong for another three months the temporary financial arrangement that is intended to bring help to the Palestinian people. Theoretically, the Europeans, (as EU Foreign Policy Supremo Solana puts it) and the Americans are intending to wait in order to see what the new “unity” government will do (and how long it will last, I shouldn’t wonder).

Nevertheless, the Palestinians cannot be left without aid, it is assumed, whether that aid ever reaches those who might need it or not and whether it does anything useful or not. Even if we assume that the aid reaches the Palestinians, the inevitable result will be that the Palestinian government will be relieved of its welfare responsibilities, leaving it with more money to spend on extensive military equipment and the payroll of militias. Is any of that helpful to the Palestinian people in this “delicate period”, as Foreign Affairs Commissar, Benita Ferrero-Waldner puts it?

Italy had better hurry up because it might have the glory of being the first European country to recognize Hamas snatched from it by Norway. According to the International Press Center, which is the Palestinian National Authority State Information Service,
Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in Gaza met Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen, who told reporters after the talks that 'Norway decided to resume aid to the Palestinian people.'

Dr. Ghazi Hamad, cabinet's spokesperson told Al Ayyam local newspaper " the Norwegian delegation expressed his support and backing of Palestinian government and stand by it."
Of course, the Norwegian delegation may not have put it quite like that but simply by negotiating it is expressing some support and by handing over money to the “Palestinian people” i.e. the Hamas-led government, it is aiding and abetting its activity and its fecklessness.

Allowing for some linguistic problems, however, this seems clear enough, unless the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will deny any of it:
Following the meeting, Johansen told the reporters that Norway decided to normalize its political and fund aids to the Palestinian people that would be presented through independent Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

He also called on Israel to release frozen tax revenues to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), while Haniya thanked Oslo for its support.

Mr. Hohanson said that his country sees the political platform of unity government live up with the triple conditions of the international community and called it to deal with the unity gov't.
Well, that should make Salam Fayyad’s job slightly easier. As he himself has pointed out the Palestinian budget, in so far as it exists, is a considerable mess with no money left in the kitty and no evidence as to where it has all gone.

Mr Johansen (here described as Hohanson) might also like to explain to those of us less enlightened than himself and his government how are those triple conditions being met. After all, Hamas has not changed its article of faith that Israel must be destroyed. When Hamas (and, to a great extent, Fatah) refer to occupied territory they mean the whole of Israel.

It might be useful if both the Italian and the Norwegian foreign ministries read an article that was published in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. It author, Khaled Abu Toameh, himself as his name implies, a Palestinian, is the Palestinian Affairs Editor of the Jerusalem Post and a very knowledgeable commentator on matters Middle Eastern.

He seems to think that five European countries are prepared to do business (rather a one-way business that would be) with the new “unity” government. He, further, points out that the statements made by both Hamas and Fatah are far too equivocal to amount to show any intention of living up to the “triple conditions of the international community”.
Neither the president nor the prime minister openly called for an end to terrorism or for recognizing Israel's right to exist. And to add to the confusion, the two men came up with a political program that contains many contradictions and ambiguities.
Mr Toameh analyzes the responses to the three conditions:
On the issue of terrorism, the program states that the new government "stresses that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people . . . and our people have the right to defend themselves against any Israeli aggression." But the program also says that the new government will "work toward consolidating the tahdiya [period of calm] and extending it [to the West Bank] so that it becomes a comprehensive and mutual truce."

The program sets a number of conditions for halting the "resistance"--ending the "occupation" and achieving independence and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as well as an end to Israeli security measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including the construction of the security fence). In other words, Fatah and Hamas are saying that the violence will continue as long as Israel does not meet these demands.

Regarding Israel's right to exist, the program does not even mention the name Israel. Instead, it refers to Israel as "The Occupation." It also makes no mention of the two-state solution. Rather, it reiterates the Palestinians' opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.
That leaves condition number three:
Referring to the third demand of the Quartet--abiding by agreements between the PLO and Israel--the political program states that the new government will only "respect" agreements signed by the PLO.
It is on the basis of this that European countries are prepared to do shoddy deals, spend a great deal of tax money and, undoubtedly, start pressurizing the United States and Israel to recognize the new government (assuming it lasts long enough). Should Israel decline to do so, arguing the points Mr Toameh raises, it will be branded once again as the evil one, the one that refuses to abide by the peace road map (whatever that might be).

18 March 2007

The biter bit

It is rather illustrative that certain journalists – no strangers to dishing it out when the mood takes them – seem highly sensitive to criticism of their own work.

One such is The Sun's defence editor, Tom Newton Dunn. On 5 March he wrote a tolerably good piece on the mortar and rocket attacks on British bases in Iraq, spoilt in my view by his comment that "Most of the firing is from gardens or trucks in built-up areas so troops can't fire back."

This was, I suggested, Dunn repeating the Army's defeatist mantra. There was no sense, I wrote, that there were other countermeasures available or that the lack of resources represented serial incompetence on the part of successive governments, and their military advisors.

These criticisms, Mr Dunn thought, were "naïve", to which he added a further comment, declaring, "It's a little sad that you prefer your own opinions of what's happening in Basra now, rather than the actual facts gathered by someone who's actually been there."

So, Mr Dunn has been to Basra, but I then pointed out the The Sunday Telegraph story yesterday. That reported that a battery of 105mm light guns had been sent to Basra, indicating that the troops could indeed fire back, and were doing so – albeit that my point remained that there were alternatives to counter-battery fire.

Dunn's response was interesting. He did not disagree at all with the fact that the MoD's procurement record in recent years had been terrible – not that I had actually raised this with him - but he did not see why this necessarily meant he was falling for Army propaganda. "What a stupid and insulting hypothesis," he declared.

As to the issue itself – I had my "facts and figures about IDF (indirect fire) in Basra and military tactics used to counteract it so arse over tit" that he "really wouldn't know where to start," in correcting it. He continued:

By your very excitable zeal, I fear it wouldn't be really be worth me giving you a considered response either, as I seriously doubt you'd really listen to a word I say. I'm happy to leave you with the fiction that it is you after all who knows better, since luckily I'm sure almost nobody reads your blog anyway.
Ignoring the jibe, I pointed out some of the alternative measures that could be C-RAM, UAV surveillance and the use of quick reaction heli-borne assault teams, also observing that I felt it was the reluctance of the Army to use this kit was "defeatist". Again, the reply was interesting, starting with this:

How do you know that C-RAM isn't already in operation in Basra? Or UAVs and helicopter overwatch equipped with Broadsword are too? Might it be possible that we might know that, but just didn't report it to maintain operational security? Might you also consider that we knew about the 105s too, but didn't report that too for the same reasons - unlike the inaccurate and irresponsible Sunday Tel?
One warms to the comments about the Sunday Telegraph I have no doubt that, when C-RAM is finally installed in Basra Air Station, we will be told about it, and we already know that the UK operates two Predator UAVs in Iraq, and has Predator Bs on order. However, references to UAV/helicopter "overwatch" and "Broadsword" would hardly breach operational security – and the Services have been quite open about their equipment capabilities - although they would need some explaining.

What we are actually talking about (and one wonders whether Dunn actually fully understands this) are two linked systems, the first being the L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical turret . This was fitted to six Nimrod MR2s (including the machine that crashed last year), to some of the Merlin helicopter fleet and to the Iraqi Air Force Sama 2000 fleet. It will also be fitted to the Future Lynx helicopter, which means, in effect, that the £360,000 Sama 2000 will be performing the same role as the £14 million Lynx.

The second part of the system is the "Broadsword" element, which is simply the capability to transmit real-time video imagery from the MX-15 to ground stations and commanders – a capability that already exists with equipment like UAVs.

As regards the surveillance capability, the manufacturers give a good indication of the performance, as indeed does the Royal Navy. Referring to recent trials of the MX-15 on the Merlin, it tells us:

In favourable conditions the MX-15 routinely enables the rear crew operator to identify surface vessels to type/class at ranges in excess of 40 nautical miles. On one occasion a small fishing vessel was identified at a range of over 70 nautical miles.
Interestingly, on the Daily Mail website is the news of another successful raid by British troops. They seized a substantial cache of bomb-making equipment and weapons after searching a house in the Al Hyyaniyah district "following information about a number of people suspected of involvement in attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces".

This follows two others executed recently here and here. When we learnt of the first of the two, we wrote that it was a "significant action",

…not least because it suggests that the British Army is not entirely without friends in the area. While, on this blog, we have tended to emphasise the hardware aspect of fighting an insurgency, the acquisition of local intelligence is just as important as having well-equipped troops. However, it could just be that the "local intelligence" came from "UAVs and helicopter overwatch equipped with Broadsword".
Nevertheless, as is typical of so many people who are far too grand to read the blog, which "almost nobody reads … anyway", we also get this from Dunn:

Can you also accept that you cannot shell built up areas such as houses and back gardens because of the likelihood of collateral damage? And if the 105s are already being used (which they are), it is only on open areas such as parks? This is what I mean by facts Richard - and I'm afraid you've just proved again that you don't know them. The way to prevent IDF is not by technology alone (a lot of which UK forces actually already have) but predominantly by intelligence-led strike operations and arrests. To say this is not at all defeatist - and it is that utterly flawed presumption that is offensive. Recognise this please.
Had Dunn written about how to deal with indirect fire in his original article, I might have written a different piece, but he did not. And anyone who has followed this blog will certainly not come away with the view that I have at any time suggested we shell built-up areas such as houses and gardens and we readily acknowledge the way to prevent indirect fire is "not by technology alone"

However, to assert that the problem will be overcome "predominantly by intelligence-led strike operations and arrests" is simply to express an opinion, notwithstanding that the intelligence may be obtained through the use of technology. However, the experience of others is different and this account of successful counter-mortar operations in the Sunni Triangle, by an American author, is well worth the study.

What Dunn could be doing, of course, is asking why the government is not doing more, why more technology is not being used and why it has not been employed earlier. He could also ask why we are spending so much on things like Future Lynx when we could field a similar capability, much quicker, at a fraction of the price. But, it seems it is much easier to rant at anyone who might question his one and only story on the issue.

COMMENT THREAD

Another eurosceptic campaign

There has been a certain amount of growling on the blogosphere (well, England Expects and the Toryboy blog) about there not being any need for another eurosceptic organization. Both had read the article in the Sun by Ruth Lea, director of CPS and now director of Global Vision, and came out huffing and puffing about there being too many eurosceptic think-tanks already.

The author of England Expects (I believe he wanders onto the EUReferendum forum) pronounced that the existing ones were all very similar and no more is needed. Unfortunately, not all he called think-tanks are that and Global Vision calls itself a campaign.

What’s in a word, you might say. Quite a lot in politics but, in any case, there are serious differences between the various groups, mostly revolving round the question of what is to be done. (No, I am not going through the history of that question again.)

Toryboy blog started off by saying that the new organization was a think-tank, then changed it to pressure group, produced faint praise for all the existing organizations and informed its readers (some of whom did not seem to agree) that the best one was Open Europe, which had produced wonderful research and immensely successful campaigns.

We take leave to differ. Some of Open Europe’s research is very useful but its day to day activity seems to consist of collecting media information and sending them out weekly. Inevitably, this puts them behind daily blogs.

Over and above that its director and staff spend a great deal of time taking part in discussions and debates and giving interviews, which would be useful, if they did not keep telling us that the way forward is to reform the European Union, an impossibility with its structure. This indicates that Open Europe’s research has not produced a clear understanding of the EU’s structure and legislatory process.

I participated in a discussion with Neil O’Brien on 18 Doughty Street a couple of months ago. The chairman was Matthew Elliot of Taxpayers’ Alliance (now there is an immensely useful organization) and the third discussant was Lee Rotherham.

At the end of the programme Matthew asked us all how we would vote if there were a referendum on staying in or getting out of the EU. Lee and I said unequivocally that we would vote no without any doubt. Neil, on the other hand, huffed and puffed, deciding that he could not vote no as he did not quite see what the alternatives might be. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the voice of Open Europe, which just happens to be close to most Conservative thinking (if that is the right word), so it is not altogether surprising that Toryboy blog thinks they are the best.

Several comments on those two (and, for all I know, other) blogs produced the usual refrain: why can’t all these eurosceptic groups unite and be a strong organized campaign. It is now some years since I first wrote a paper on the subject of unification among eurosceptic groups, pointing out that it was neither possible nor necessary. In fact, it would be counterproductive.

The fact that the eurosceptic cause has moved a great deal forward (though not among main stream political parties) without that famed unification would support my thesis.

I have no wish to rehearse all the arguments here but let me produce the most important one, in my opinion. Unite on what platform? Just to tell the world that the EU is not a particularly nice place and the way it is structured is not particularly useful to anyone? Well, yes, we could unite on that. It would mean that people like Commission President Barroso, Tony Blair and David Cameron would be members, but hey, at least we would be united.

It would also mean that we would get nowhere. Criticisms of that kind have been advanced for about 15 years and nothing much has been changed in that organization.

So, unite on what platform? Open Europe found when it proclaimed itself to be the leader among eurosceptic organizations that most of them were deeply unimpressed with their “let’s campaign for a reform of the European Union” stance. They might not like the idea that they have become “another eurosceptic think-tank” but that is the truth, though, as I said above, they are not all the same.

Global Vision is a new organization, launched on March 15, which may or may not be an auspicious date. It has grown out of the Centre for Policy Studies and shares premises with it as well as Chairman – Lord Blackwell – and Director – Ruth Lea.

Its purpose is to persuade politicians and opinion formers of the wrongness of Britain’s involvement in further European integration, of the rightness of Britain looking outwards to the rest of the world, and the need for Britain to renegotiate a completely new, looser alliance with the European Union.

The basic argument is that Britain, Europe and the world have changed since the seventies when entering the Common Market seemed like the right way forward for a country that was falling steadily behind those on the other side of the Channel.
The world has changed since Britain first joined the European Communities (“Common Market”) in 1973. At that time Britain’s economic performance compared unfavourably with more dynamic economies in Europe. With high trade barriers
across the world, participation in Europe offered a larger domestic market to
help stimulate the UK’s growth and competitiveness.

The situation is now very different. While the British economy has been transformed, the other major EU economies have been weighed down by high social costs and inflexible labour markets. With the rapid development of new growth economies, the EU’s share of the global economy is inexorably shrinking. Britain’s future prosperity increasingly depends on capturing our share of the new opportunities outside Europe.

At the same time the EU has changed, with successive treaties continuing the momentum towards more political and economic integration across Europe. One consequence has been increasing regulations and costs for British business, which are now an impediment to creating the dynamic, flexible economy we need to succeed in the 21st century.

There is little sign that the EU is prepared to reform by reducing the regulatory burden. If Britain is not to be held back, our only option now is to negotiate a new, looser arrangement with the EU. That relationship should preserve the benefits of free trade and cooperation between governments in areas which are mutually beneficial, while allowing Britain to opt out of political and economic integration and the mandatory EU-wide legislation that goes with it.
Obviously, I cannot disagree with any of that. My only reservation is that none of this is new and none of it requires a new think-tank or pressure group or campaigning organization. I have seen speeches by Tony Blair that said more or less that.

Global Vision’s plan of action is to persuade enough politicians and opinion formers on all sides of the political picture (this is a cross-party organization) of the rightness of their world-view. Then, at the next constitutional treaty negotiations Britain will withhold her veto and insist at not agreeing to anything unless a new treaty is created that would give the country the sort of relationship with the rest of the European Union it wants.

At the launch Ruth Lea pointed out that Global Vision’s opinion poll indicated that while around 23 per cent wanted to stay in with no change and around the same percentage wanted to come out of the EU, 51 per cent agreed with the idea of staying in and renegotiating the new deal.

This does not surprise me. Considerably more than 51 per cent of this country’s population has not the slightest understanding of how the European Union is structured and how the negotiations within it are conducted. The media is of no help, referring continuously, for example, to the European Parliament as the EU’s legislators and the Commission as its Executive.

Not so long ago I took part in a discussion at the CPS about food production in Britain, during which it became obvious that only about three of us in the room realized that everything to do with it is subject to EU competence in one way or another. The presenters who tried to lead the discussion, all one way or another involved with commercial agriculture, seemed convinced that we were now “out of the CAP”.

I am happy to say that I managed to reduce the couple of Conservative MPs who were present to absolute apoplexy. They were convinced that there had been huge changes in the CAP and we had enormous powers to change things and were not happy with being told that things were not so but far otherwise.

Having found, not for the first time, this sort of ignorance among people who are supposed to know what is going on, I am, as I said, not surprised that 51 per cent went along with the rather warm and friendly notion of staying in the European Union and trying to renegotiate Britain’s relationship from within.

To give Global Vision its due, it has discarded the idea of “reforming the Union”; having understood that it cannot be done.

But can their own plan be put into action? The launch had its share of Tory MPs, all of whom congratulated Global Vision on its brilliant new approach and, sadly, its share of friendly skeptics. “Devil’s Kitchen” asked how they were going to persuade the political elite of this country. Lord Pearson pointed out that there was not going to be another major constitutional treaty negotiation, as a good deal is coming in through the back door and the remaining treaty will be too small to make an impact. Anyway, he added, what can we do with our veto while the "enhanced co-operation" is in place?

Representing the Bruges Group and EUReferendum I decided to take part in the discussion as well, asking Lord Blackwell how they were going to persuade 26 other member states to agree to Britain acquiring that different relationship. It seems from his lordship’s reply (supported, I am sad to say, by Martin Howe QC) that this would not present too many difficulties as they would understand that a new relationship was in everybody’s interest.

After all, I was told in a kindly fashion, when the EU negotiated with Switzerland, the various treaties were signed with everybody’s interest in mind. Our readers will be glad to know that I was too well-behaved to point out that Switzerland was negotiating from a different position, i.e. one of strength and, in any case, the EU is not very happy about that country’s tax laws but can do nothing to change them. Britain is in a very different position.

One can only wish well Global Vision and offer help and support. There is nothing wrong with their analysis of the situation but nothing particularly right, either.

As I listened to the presentations I recalled that almost ten years ago a group of us tried to set up a think-tank called Global Britain. For reasons too complicated to explain this later downsized to an economic research unit, led by Ian Milne (consultant with Global Vision) that produced excellent research papers.

The original plan, however, was much grander and we produced a trial magazine in which we aired some of the ideas at the heart of the initiative. As this was before the days of the ubiquitous internet, I shall have to quote a passage from the editorial article. Please, bear with me. This is what we wrote at the end of “Why Global Britain?”
Our main aim in setting Global Britain as that unlovely-sounding thing, a ‘think-tank’ is, therefore, to work to create a clearer understanding of all these issues, and to change people’s perspectives. Our primary purposes are:

1. to explain the implications of political union in Europe, and to explore what responses to this process are possible and desirable;

2. to highlight the way Britain’s politicians are failing us by their intellectual ambivalence over the EU, and their reluctance to face up to the realities of what it stands for;

3. to reorient perspectives on Britain’s position in the world, particularly in terms of our relations with that world beyond Europe where we earn more than half our living, so that we are not always preoccupied with the backyard of the EU;

4. to highlight the yawning gap in the operations of the EU between theory and practice, showing how far these so often achieve the opposite of their declared purposes;

5. more widely, to explain the scale and true nature of the revolution currently taking place right through our system of government.

Unless as a nation we make a much more serious effort to understand these issues, we shall have abdicated our responsibility to all those who come after us. Future generations will be amazed to see how far we sleepwalked our way into a totally different type of society and political system, without any real grasp of the immensity of what was at stake. The aim of Global Britain is to stop this process of sleepwalking into the future. It is time for the eyes of the British people to be opened.
This was published at the beginning of 1998. Another failed endeavour but we like to think on this blog (both of us were involved in that ill-fated enterprise) that we have moved on and built on those ideas. It is, therefore, somewhat upsetting to see that in other sections of the eurosceptic front movement is circular rather than linear. Not for one moment do I suggest that the linear movement will be completely straight but one would like to see some progress.

17 March 2007

Lustration in Poland, riots in Hungary

A new legislation has been passed in Poland, aimed at dealing with the Communist legacy, a cause dear to the heart of the Kaczynski brothers, President and Prime Minister of the Republic.

The purpose is to weed out former collaborators with the secret police, who have since lied about their activity. As Al-Jazeera puts it:
Former Polish spies who attempt to falsify their past will be punished for commiting a crime and could risk not working in their field for up to 10 years under Thursday's new law - said to involve about 300,000 Poles.

The law requires hundreds of thousands of Poles in positions of authority born before 1972, including academics, journalists and state company executives, to state in writing whether they co-operated with the spy network of the Soviet-backed government before Poland overthrew communism in 1989.
The BBC suggests that it might involve 700,000 people. Whichever way one looks at it, many will be caught up.

It sounds like a very good idea. After all, Poland like other post-Communist countries has to face up to the facts of 40 years of Communism and what it did to individuals and society as a whole.

The question is whether this is quite the right way of going about it or whether this is just an obsession of the present rulers whose idea of what is right for Poland appears to be somewhat strange.

In the first place, it seems that the ultimate arbiter of what is true will be the files of the secret police, not precisely the most truthful documents in the world.

In the second place, this will create new layers of bureaucracy, something Poland can ill afford at the moment.
A national fact-finding and prosecuting authority, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), will collect all the statements, investigate each case individually and prosecute anyone who spied or is found to be lying.

Employers will need to verify staff have been vetted and millions of documents from the communist state security apparatus that ran Poland for four decades after world war two will be available for scrutiny by the press.

Making a false statement will be a crime punishable with a ban from public life of up to 10 years - a term that would mean many Poles could never work again in their chosen profession.
Presumably, making a true statement to the effect that you did work for the security services will also be punishable with loss of job, which would not matter so much if there were other jobs, preferably in the private sector, available. But there are not. Every year tens of thousands of economically active Poles leave the country to find work somewhere else.

In the third place, Communism quite deliberately involved as many people as possible in its network. Differentiating between those who had been forced to report what their colleagues were up to because they were afraid of losing their jobs and those who actively worked for the security services by choice (having defined what choice is in those circumstances) is not going to be easy, especially, as I pointed out above, those documents were designed to confuse and muddy waters as much as possible.

What the system will bring back is that jolly old Communist tradition, the denunciation. Is this quite what people fought for when they tried to climb out from under the rubble of the Communist system?

At least this will be one difficult subject that Chancellor Merkel will not have to discuss in her visit to the Polish President. There will be plenty of others: the question of the European constitution, which, it is assumed for no very good reasons, the Poles will oppose; the question of Polish meat exports to Russia (though it is not clear what Merkel can do about that); and the question of American anti-missile system, which will involve bases in Poland and other East European countries, as well as Britain. Germany and France do not approve as this, once again, cuts across their beloved European defence identity.

The latest news is that President Kaczynski has agreed to sign “a key declaration allowing for more negotiation on a European Constitution”, whatever that may mean in practical terms. At any rate, that fiftieth birthday will not be spoilt by the recalcitrant Poles.

Another thorny question is the various German demands for reparation for what we would now call “ethnic cleansing” at the end of World War II from parts of Poland but especially Silesia, Prussia, Brandenburg and Pomerania. These areas had been given to Poland as a kind of compensation for the loss of lands in the east to the Soviet Union. These are now in Ukraine. Poland became somewhat bigger but was almost bodily transposed to the west.

There is no question that the ethnic cleansing was carried out under horrendous conditions, which were justified in everybody’s minds by the conditions imposed by the Germans on Poland and those parts of the Soviet Union they had occupied. But now, there are stirrings among those who were children at the time and their descendants.

The post-war settlements of 1919 and 1945 will bother us all for some time to come and now that all or almost all the countries in question are in the European Union, the problems have become internal ones.

Meanwhile, another troublesome new member, Hungary, has decided to do a spot of rioting again. This was considerably smaller than what happened in October of last year and the police appears to have refrained from using steel batons and rubber bullets, staying with tear gas and water cannons.

Nevertheless, eight people were injured, mostly police officers and 56 were arrested. The rioting came at the end of the national holiday, March 15, though there had been a certain amount of trouble before.

March 15 is the anniversary of the the start of Hungary’s war of independence from the Austrian empire in 1848 – 49 and, as such, is celebrated by all groups. It is a national holiday but its symbols are the familiar tricolour and the Kossuth emblem.

In many ways, this ought to be the celebration of the more liberal nationalism of Hungary, a country, which is justly proud of the fact that it has had a Diet for more centuries (except when it was suppressed by the Austrians) than most Continental countries and, as it happens, produced a document that was very similar to Magna Carta in 1222, the Golden Bull. (Sadly, the subsequent destruction of the country by the Mongols prevented the supposedly inevitable development of democracy.)

This year, like all years, there were celebrations for March 15, though there had been warnings that trouble might ensue. In the first place, trouble consisted of hundreds of people whistling, booing and jeering the Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, he, who, as our readers will recall, actually admitted to lying all day and every day to the electorate in order to win the last election.

There was also trouble when the Mayor of Budapest, Gábor Demszky, an ally of Gyurcsány’s tried to address a meeting on March 15 Square by the statue of the great Hungarian poet Sándor Petöfi.

The opposition party FIDESZ held a peaceful and extremely large rally of about 200,000 people. At all these events, the Prime Minister’s resignation was loudly and forcefully called for. Caboodle.hu gives an hour by hour and even more frequent analysis of what happened.

It seems that late in the afternoon news spread that the police had arrested György Budaházy who had been accused of being one of the organizers of the riotous demonstrations of last October and who has been supposedly in hiding ever since was arrested. One cannot help wondering about the timing of the police finding him and arresting him. On March 15? Well, it may be true.

Between 800 and 1,000 young and not so young people then fought battles with the police near to where they thought Budaházy was being held, though eventually, they seem to have gone home on the last metro. There were some reports of journalists being beaten up by the demonstrators but it is not clear how accurate that is.

All in all, something of a muddle, though, this time Viktor Orbán, the leader of FIDESZ has come out quite well.

The investigation into police behaviour last October is still going on.

COMMENT THREAD

14 March 2007

Well, of course, it is Bush's fault

This blog has been writing about the situation in Darfur for a couple of years now. There have been so many postings that all I can suggest is that our readers find them through the search machine. The tenor of our comments was to point out that the UN, that body that claims the moral high ground has managed to achieve nothing at all; that the EU has sent millions of euros in aid that, undoubtedly, was spent on arming the janjaweed militias; that the African Union forces went in there and did nothing at great expense to the international community; and that the Archbishop of Canterbury should have spoken out on the subject during his visit to Sudan, instead of wittering on about the war in Iraq.

Of course, the real problem with Darfur has always been the obvious one of what can the international community do? There is only one thing: stop all aid to Sudan (and I mean all aid, including any money that might go through NGOs to alleged humanitarian purposes) and refuse to renew it until the militias are fully and demonstrably disarmed.

Since Sudan and Darfur, in particular, are seriously impoverished, some help might have to be given when the militias are disarmed but this will have to be done under strict supervision with clearly defined rules of audit and accountability.

This might or might not help. Anything else will not. The notion that the Chinese will simply pick up the tab is erroneous. The Chinese do not give aid. They will go on buying oil from Sudan thus providing money and arms but they will not simply hand over lard wodges of dosh the way we do in the West.

All of which is far too hard-headed to appeal to the new breed of “Darfurians” as Professor Edward Bernard Glick calls them. These are people, mostly on the Left, who have suddenly realized that nasty things are going on in Darfur and have become all agitated about it (having ignored the subject for several years). They are demanding instant action. From everyone. The US Government. The European Union. But, especially, the US Government. Because it is probably President Bush’s fault.

I imagine most of our readers recall the sudden vogue in demonstrations, led by Hollywood fruitcake George Clooney (and others) with placards that said: “Out of Iraq and Into Darfur”.

Why? Who knows? Does this mean that George Clooney, who seems to have forgotten this particular cause, and other Darfurians actually want US troops to move into Darfur and sort the mess out? What if they do so and do not succeed in doing it in a couple of weeks? Will the same people demand that the same US troops pull out immediately because they are a greater danger to world peace than everybody else in the world put together?

It has come. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian makes it quite clear that if only Bush had not sent those troops into Iraq, the world would have done something about Darfur long ago. It is all Bush’s fault, I tell ya.

Fourteen UN humanitarian agencies signed a “collective statement on behalf of the people of western Sudan” in January and it has been “roundly ignored”. That may have something to do with the fact that it is not clear what all these humanitarian agencies, who have been thronging western Sudan, actually want done.

Jonathan Freedland is no help. He starts the article by referring back to the war in Bosnia and the heartbreak of journalists who did not manage to get anyone to take interest in their stories (actually, they weren’t very good). What he does not say is that the situation was more or less sorted out by NATO troops led by the United States and Britain. Is that what is needed in Sudan? Um, well, wouldn’t go as far as that.

The agencies in question merely wailed about the undeniable horrors that have been going on, which some of us tried to write about while the agencies assured us that they will go in and sort matters out.

Who is to blame? (That, too, is a title of an influential novel, this one by Alexander Herzen.) Firstly, says Mr Freedland fairly, it is
the government of Sudan, which UN human rights investigators this week accused of "gross and systematic" abuses, orchestrating and participating in a campaign of violence that has seen, at a conservative estimate, 200,000 people killed and 2 million displaced. Officially, this has been done in the course of a civil war against rebels in Darfur, who are guilty of their own atrocities. But the UN human rights council was quite clear: the "principal pattern" was of violence committed by the Sudanese government and its allies in the Arab Janjaweed militias.
Why can it not be stopped, asks Mr Freedland? What has happened to liberal interventionism, articulated by Mr Blair at the time of the Yugoslav war (not that he uses that expression) has moved to Kosovo? It lies in shreds, apparently.
It's not as if the international community has done nothing. In August last year the UN passed resolution 1706, agreeing to upgrade the small African Union force of 7,000 troops that was attempting to police Darfur - a territory nearly the size of France - with a UN deployment of 22,500. Such "heavy support", in both personnel and hardware, would have made a vital difference, standing between the Khartoum-backed predators and their Darfuri prey.

Of course, the Sudan government refused to have even that rather miniscule force, given the size of the territory in question and the complexity of the situation. Ah but it could have been so different if … well, if we did not have President Bush, the fount of all evil:
Back in the prelapsarian days of 1999, when Tony Blair went to Chicago to evangelise for liberal interventionism, the response to this closed door would have been to suggest that the rest of the world, led by the west, should bust its way in. But that was before the calamity of Iraq, which has tainted for a generation the Blairite doctrine of muscular humanitarianism. So no one talks seriously about military action against Khartoum now, not least because Bashir's government is an Islamist one - and a western war against such a regime would look uncomfortably like confirmation of the clash of civilisations that both Blair and President Bush insist does not exist.
Well, there are many other reasons why no one talks seriously about military action against Khartoum now but let that pass. Has Mr Freedland seriously thought about it?

Meanwhile, back on the SaveDarfur website they are demanding that people sign petitions so that the UN and the EU will do something about Darfur. President Bush should unveil his Plan B, they scream. Fair enough but if Plan B will involve military action? Who is going to carry it out?

The demands for action are the same, whether they are directed at Ban Ki-moon or President Bush, who is somehow tasked with doing something about the mess, which is probably his fault.
President George Bush:

Every day, the 2.5 million people chased from their homes in Darfur face the threat of starvation, disease, and rape, while the few lucky enough to remain in their homes risk displacement, torture and murder. Therefore, we call on you to do the following:

Strengthen the understaffed and overwhelmed African Union peackeeping force already in Darfur.

Push for the deployment of a strong UN peacekeeping force.

Increase humanitarian aid and ensure access for aid delivery.

Establish a no-fly zone.
Cutting off aid would be much cheaper and, probably, more effective. But that would deprive all those UN humanitarians of the high moral ground.

Nothing daunted, the German Green Party has also launched an on-line petition that calls “on Chancellor Merkel to use Germany´s EU presidency to take strong political action to help end the violence in Darfur”. Back to the same problem. What is Chancellor Merkel of, indeed, the EU going to do that would appeal to die Grüne?

After all, they disapprove of military action, though, presumably, if it comes in blue helmets it is all right. But those blue helmets have not been particularly efficient anywhere else and their own behaviour in Sudan and other countries has been distinctly off-colour.

Besides, the UN cannot even begin to finance the sort of army that is needed to deal with Sudan. Right, who then? And what are they to do when they get there?

The United States, of course, though this time under the auspices of the “international community” that has signally failed to deal with this or any other problem. Obviously, what the American troops must not do is to try to impose any American ideas as to how the country should be run and their commander will have to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury for advice on what matters and what does not.

Equally obviously, their main effort will be to protect all those humanitarian agencies, though, naturally, they will reserve the right to scream abuse and to “distance themselves” from the militarism of the United States and its allies.

Or there is our suggestion of Plan B: cut off that aid until the militias are disarmed. Then we can talk. I don’t suppose those humanitarian agencies are going to listen to this.

12 March 2007

Reporting from the West Bank

No matter what one’s views are on the Middle Eastern problems (and there are many, not just one) one cannot help feeling sorry for the Palestinian people. Whichever way one looks, they are the victims – victims of other Arab states, who encourage them to fight Israel and refuse to help them or allow them to settle anywhere; victims of their leaders, who have stolen all the money that have been donated to the Palestine either to feather their own nests or to create more terrorist militias; victims, often, of their own poor ability to make choices.

And yes, they are often victims of Israeli violence, though this could be solved relatively easily: an acceptance of that country’s right to exist, an end to terrorist activity, meaningful peace negotiations would do it.

There is another body of people that victimizes the Palestinians: the journalists of the MSM, who refuses to write the truth about the situation, thus making it impossible for the people there to face up to it. We witnessed this in the extraordinary infantilization of the Palestinians after the election that brought Hamas to power. Many in the media cried out against the notion that western aid should cease until Hamas agrees to the three conditions that can lead to peace in the area.

On the one hand, we were told, the West must accept the results of a (reasonably) democratic elections (give or take the presence of a few militias and other armed groups), which is not unreasonable. But accepting the results does not mean handing over large amounts of money.

On the other hand, we were also told, the Palestinian people must not be punished for … well … as it happens for their electoral choice, as if they were all two-year old children who know no better. The trouble with that argument is that if they really do not know any better then how can they run a state. If, on the other hand, they can run a state, then they can take the consequences of their electoral behaviour.

Not much has changed.

Today’s International Herald Tribune carries a long and interesting article about the “Children of the Palestinian intifada – the lost generation”. It is worth reading the piece in full, as there are many interesting points there.

Somehow, even this article finds it hard to acknowledge exactly how the second intifada came about, putting together words that would mean that it just simply happened. It did not simply happen but was the chose course of action taken by the late unlamented Chairman Yasser Arafat, who broke off negotiations in 2000.

The outcome of the intifada has been considerably tougher for the Palestinians than for the Israelis.
Israeli checkpoints, barriers and closures, installed by Israelis trying to protect their own citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers, have lowered their horizons, shrunk their Palestine and taken away virtually any informal interaction with outsiders, let alone with ordinary Israelis. The security measures have become even tighter since the election to power a year ago of the Islamist group Hamas, which preaches eternal "resistance" to Israeli occupation and rejects Israel's right to permanent existence on this land.

During most of the 1980's and 90's, as many as 150,000 Palestinians came into Israel daily to work, study and shop. And while they were not treated as equals, many learned Hebrew and established relationships. Now, the only Israelis Palestinians see are armed soldiers and settlers. The West Bank is cut into three parts by checkpoints and permits; Gazan men under 30 are virtually unable to leave their tiny, poor and overcrowded territory. Few talk of peace, only of a lifetime of "resistance."
What is so terrifying about the reasonably objective report is the feeling one gets that nobody in the West Bank considers that there might be another possible solution to anything, but, then it might be hard to think of one when generations have been schooled in the thought that they are eternal victims, whose only weapon is terrorism or cosmic despair that induces guilt.

Curiously enough, another story from the West Bank caught my eye. “Misery tempts Palestinian Christians to flee”, says Reuters, originally headlined as “Palestinian Christians flee Israel”. Well, actually, no, they do not flee Israel, where the Christian population has been growing.

They are leaving the West Bank in some numbers, according to the Reuters journalist, despairing of getting anywhere under Israeli occupation. Not only that:
A towering concrete wall is closing in on Bethlehem as part of a barrier, which Israel is erecting, which it calls a defense against suicide bombers from the occupied West Bank. Much of it is built on Palestinian land.
Calls a defence against suicide bombers? Calls? Really, I had thought we have managed to get over that one.

It is a defence against suicide bombers, whose number has gone down dramatically since the barrier has been erected. Apart from anything else, this preserves the lives of terrified Palestinian children who are persuaded or bullied into blowing themselves and Israeli children up.

Reuters assures us that there is no pressure on the Palestinian Christians either from the majority Muslims or from the Israelis. Really? This is not the way one hears the story from other sources. Here is an interesting article from Khaled Abu Toameh, himself a Palestinian Muslim who writes in the Jerusalem Post about Christians in Bethlehem:
A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city.

The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of "intimidation" for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded "collaborators" with Israel.

But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.
Read the rest of the article. It is of some interest and it tells a tale that is sadly missing from all the normal accounts of the horrors of life in the West Bank.

Incidentally, I do not recall seeing too much in the British media about the fact that the Egyptian government has this year forbidden the country’s Christians to make a pilgrimage to East Jerusalem during this year’s Easter celebrations. No, it has nothing to do with the Palestinians but with the arrest of Mohamed Essam Ghoneim El Attar, an Egyptian currently standing trial for allegedly spying for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.

09 March 2007

A cautionary tale

It came as something as a shock to me to find that respected government scientists can lie, that they can falsify evidence and break all the rules of science – and that government officials will quite deliberately seek to cover-up the misdeeds.

If that is something of a naïve statement, so be it. But my background as a technician rather than a front-line scientist puts me closer in touch with the bulk of ordinary people, and my own personal experience of scientific fraud has important lessons for the current global warming controversy.

The fraud of which I write arose in the context of a then famous outbreak of salmonella food poisoning in 1998, claimed to be "caused" by infected eggs.

And while, at first sight, there would appear to be little in common between this case – and what became the famous Salmonella-in-eggs scare of 1988 (which is now a distant memory on the minds of most people)- and global warming, the dynamics are exactly the same. We are dealing with examples of what sociologists call the "moral panic" but which, actually, is a very specific phenomenon called the "scare".

Booker and I are writing a book on this subject (actually he is doing the writing), due out later this year. It is called Scared to death, and it charts the rise of the phenomenon in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Amongst our findings are that "scares" are man-made constructs and part of the thesis we explore in the book is that, for a scare to succeed, it must have a very rigid and predictable structure, and follow very specific rules.

In that respect, the 1988 salmonella in eggs scare and the current global warming scare are identical, not least in being triggered by flawed science promulgated by dishonest scientists.

That brings me neatly back to my own experience where I was called upon to re-investigate an outbreak investigation in an East Yorkshire farm – oddly enough at a fund-raising event for the Conservative Party, with the food made by the farmer’s wife and other Party members. And, at the centre of the outbreak has been home-made vanilla ice-cream, for which fresh eggs had been used.

The investigation had been carried out by a respected consultant epidemiologist who, at the time, had worked for an organisation within the (then) Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) called the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre. So hugely respected was it that its findings were generally accepted without question, especially by people like myself, who were working in the field on preventative hygiene.

In fact, I recall in November 1988, before the scare broke, being asked by a chef whether there was a problem with eggs. I did not know, personally, but the fact that the PHLS was saying there was one was enough for me. That was the information I conveyed back.

Anyhow, the outbreak in question, which occurred in April 1988, was one of the key events which sustained that claim that we were being confronted with a new and deadly form of salmonella, which had managed to invade eggs and was causing a massive upsurge in poisoning cases.

When he arrived at the farm to conduct a field investigation, however, the epidemiologist had told the farmer's wife that, "I'm almost a hundred percent sure it was caused by eggs". He then proceeded to "prove" just that.

But there was a slight problem with his thesis. The event had actually been styled as a "paté party" and several home-made patés have been made by villagers for the event, one of which was made with chicken livers from a broiler flock. This, subsequently, had been found to be contaminated with exactly the same type of salmonella as had infected the guests.

Thus, when the epidemiologist carried out a statistical analysis of the data, using a technique called a "cohort study", three of seventeen people who had been ill had not eaten the ice-cream but had eaten a paté. In a private letter to the farmer, he was forced to conclude that the source of the infection "was impossible to prove epidemiologically".

The trouble was that it did not end there. Some months later, an outline of the investigation appeared in the authoritative Communicable Disease Report, attributing the source of infection to eggs, details of which were subsequently published in the equally authoritative Epidemiology and Infection and the British Medical Journal, later forming part of the official government evidence.

In the published account, however, there were important changes to the data. The epidemiologist had removed any reference to the sufferers who had not eaten the ice-cream and had re-worked the calculations, which now demonstrated a very strong statistical association between the consumption of a product made with raw shell-eggs and the illness.

On that basis, the outbreak was submitted as official government evidence to the House of Commons select committee investigating the affair and became subsumed, unchallenged, as part of the core evidence "proving" the link between salmonella and eggs.

It was some time later that I was able to assemble the evidence of the fraud and, thus armed, was invited to deliver my evidence to a major conference in London.

I was the last speaker of the day and my session chairman was a senior official from the Department of Health. He let the penultimate speaker run grossly over time so that, when my turn came to speak, I was told to speak to the timetable so that the conference finished on time. Thus, just as I was coming to the critical details, the chairman stood up and attempted to close the conference, precipitating a blazing row. But he prevailed, and the evidence was never heard from a public platform.

The epidemiologist went on to head the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, where he remains a respected scientist, on the back of whose work an estimated 9,000 poultry keepers went out of business and inestimable lives were ruined, at a cost to the economy of hundreds of millions of pounds.

An important part of the scare mechanism at the time, however, was the media, which accepted uncritically what amounted to scientific fraud. Equally, politicians of all sides were only too keen to accept a body of evidence which, even when it was first produced, never stood up (with another outbreak, for instance, attributed to "eggs", where the illness had started three days before the implicated eggs had been consumed).

Thus it is with global warming, where – as the Channel 4 documentary yesterday shows – the evidence simply does not stack up. More to the point, the failure of the global warming advocates to provide any good evidence of their claims is so transparent that, if it was not so serious, the whole affair would be laughable.

The problem though is not scientific. When apparently authoritative scientists stand up and make claims, supported by a rent-seeking media, people tend to believe them. Moreover, because such claims invariably support the interventionalist tendencies of governments and politicians, there is a natural bias towards accepting that which legitimises the intervention. This is the "beneficial crisis" to which we have referred so often.

With no countervailing force, we get the build-up of the scare dynamic which then dominates public policy, even (or especially) where the scientific foundation is hopelessly flawed.

In the fullness of time, the scare will dissipate – scares always do – leaving a trail of wreckage behind it. Looking back, we will view the claims of pending Armageddon with amused puzzlement, wondering how people could have been so stupid as to have accepted such crazy alarums.

By then, of course, we will all have moved on to yet another scare, and another, each of which will have seemed every bit as plausible and rational as did global warming at the time. And each time we will have forgotten how easily we were gulled by that which we now deride.

COMMENT THREAD

01 March 2007

Carbon credits - the new indulgences

As every schoolchild ought to know, on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther wrote to Albert, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting against the sale of indulgences in the bishopric. What has caught the imagination of posterity is Luther also nailing the 95 Theses to the great door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Briefly, indulgences were among the most obvious of the many corruptions the Church was suffering from: documents produced by the Papal Curia that, if bought, supposedly allowed people not to suffer for their sins in Purgatory. You could buy them for yourself or others.

They had been sneered at for some time. Chaucer talks of the Pardoner and
His walet, biforn him in his lappe,
Bretful of pardoun, comen from Rome al hoot
A lovely image of pardons and indulgences being baked in Rome and carried round like hot cakes.

There were many other complaints but it was not till Martin Luther’s stand that they developed into a strong movement, the reason being the printing press. Luther’s Theses, other sermons and pamphlets, as well as the Church’s responses could be printed and distributed relatively fast and could be read by far more people than ever before.

In the twenty-first century we find ourselves in a situation not dissimilar from that of the late Middle Ages. Actually, they were probably a little more advanced, scientifically speaking, in the sixteenth century, if popular hysteria is anything to go by. (Not much, just a little, when one thinks of the fact that far more witches were burnt in the seventeenth than in the thirteenth century.)

As we have said before, there seems to be a tendency among various spokespersonalities to shriek that doom has come upon us at the slightest perceived change in weather patterns. Curiously enough, all their shrieking always seems to lead to demands for higher taxation and more legislation.

Climate change has become the new religion with carbon emission taking the place of sin, original or otherwise, and carbon credits are the indulgences of that religion. I appreciate that this is not a particularly new idea, though I did think of it independently of all the other people who have now said it. The overall aim is not personal salvation (though that obviously comes into it, hence the need for those credits) but the saving of the planet.

On a lower scale come saving of thousands of species and, possibly, the human race itself. Though, if the human race is so wicked and incapable of looking after the planet, perhaps it ought not to be saved. I wonder if Sir Richard Branson thought of that when he came up with his offer of $25 million for the best idea to deal with climate change. (It would appear that some scientists with a good sense of humour are taking him up on it.)

Celebrities flying in private jets in order to lecture mere mortals on the need to cut back on energy use? No problem. They have bought carbon credits or given money to a charity that is working (unsuccessfully) to produce alternative energy sources.

Driving real gas guzzlers in order to fly on a private jet to weep over a receding glacier? No problem. Money given in carbon offsets to a charity which will plant trees somewhere or other.

Overheating your enormous mansion and swimming pool and flying a private jet to lecture the world on global warming as a greater threat to us than terrorism? Flying your private jet and driving up in a stretch limo to collect your Oscar for a hysterical film that shows global warming, created entirely by humans and their carbon emissions, is a greater threat to humanity than terrorism? No problem.

Well, actually there is a problem and the reason for that is similar to the reason why the 95 Theses caused mayhem in the sixteenth century. Then it was the printing press, now it is the internet.

It took no time at all for the story of Al Gore’s energy consumption to spread round the internet and, particularly, the blogosphere. The information came from an independent institute, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which issued a press release having seen and analyzed the Gores’ publicly available energy bills:

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

We are not even counting his other homes, the use of his various cars (all environmentally friendly, of course) and that private jet.

But, as the Tennessean pointed out, Gore was buying his indulgences:
Gore purchased 108 blocks of "green power" for each of the past three months, according to a summary of the bills.

That's a total of $432 a month Gore paid extra for solar or other renewable energy sources. . . .

"They, of course, also do the carbon emissions offset," she said.

That means figuring out how much carbon is emitted from home power use, and vehicle and plane travel, then paying for projects that will offset that with use of renewable energy, such as solar power.
Well that’s all right then. The Gores can pollute the atmosphere all they like, causing untold harm and warming the globe but their sins will be forgiven because they have spent all that money on projects that use renewable energy, whether successfully or otherwise.

Except that it is not all right, it seems. Once people get the bit between their teeth, there is no stopping them. Maybe Gore will never again boast about inventing the internet.

According to a Tennessean blogger, Bill Hobbs, Gore buys his carbon offsets through something called Generation Investment Management, which he had helped to found and of which he is the chairman. Could that be called clash of interests? Not for Al Gore, it would seem.
Gore is chairman of the firm and, presumably, draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he "buys" his "carbon offsets" from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn't buy "carbon offsets" through Generation Investment Management - he buys stocks.

And it is not clear at all that Gore's stock purchases - excuse me, "carbon offsets" purchases - actually help reduce the use of carbon-based energy at all, while the gas lanterns and other carbon-based energy burners at his house continue to burn carbon-based fuels and pump carbon emissions - a/k/a/ "greenhouse gases" - into the atmosphere.
Eat your heart out Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg.

Jack Kemp on American Thinker enumerates a few more of Al Gore’s hypocrisies and calls the man “tone deaf”. Let’s face it, anyone who started his career as a kind of gopher for Armand Hammer is going to be less than totally sensitive to how his bs sounds to other people.

Another posting on American Thinker compares carbon credits not so much to indulgences but to the commutation fees that wealthy draftees in the Civil War could pay to escape fighting. In other words they paid for someone else to do that fighting instead. This practice undoubtedly was at the root of the infamous draft riots in New York City in 1863 with the accompanying lynching of African Americans, on the grounds that the unpopular war (among those who could not buy their way out) was fought on their behalf.

The resentment of the “rich man’s war” was widespread.

I rather think the resentment of this particular “rich man’s war” is beginning to spread as well. It is not just Gore who is hypocritical, after all, but most of the luvvies, Hollywood fruitcakes, globetrotting politicians and officials. They all cry the same thing: more taxes, more regulations, lower economic growth, a hairshirt for all (except them).

The truth is that economic growth brings environmental benefits for all. Even according to the UN’s official figures, as Björn Lomborg worked out a couple of years ago, the environment has become cleaner in all the developed and most of the developing countries. China may well be an exception but the reason there is plain to see: the political system. After all, the Communist countries have been among the world’s most polluted ones.

What has triggered off a good deal of the resentment is the news that at the Oscars this year, to which, one must assume all the stars arrived in stretch limos, having, if necessary, flown in on private jets, there were some very special goody bags for all the guests:
This year's Oscar goodie bag contained gift certificates representing 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gas reductions from TerraPass, which describes itself as a "carbon offset retailer." The 100,000 pounds "are enough to balance out an average year in the life of an Academy Award presenter," a press release from TerraPass asserts. "For example, 100,000 pounds is the total amount of carbon dioxide created by 20,000 miles of driving, 40,000 miles on commercial airlines, 20 hours in a private jet and a large house in Los Angeles. The greenhouse gas reductions will be accomplished through TerraPass' [program] of verified wind energy, cow power [collecting methane from manure] and efficiency projects." Voila, guilt-free consumption!
My goodness, talk about “comen from Rome al hoot”. They really are turning those indulgences out like hotcakes.

Naturally enough, the Church of Green Salvation has fought back. The Gore-supporting MSM and bloggers have been busy. First, the accused the Tennessee Center for Policy Research of stealing the Gore energy bills, only to find that these were publicly available. Why precisely has the MSM neglected to examine them?

Then, the accused the Center of taking money from Exxon. Sadly, the spokesman had to deny this, pointing out that they would be a lot better off if they had been given funds by Exxon. In fact, whether they have or have not been paid by any “evil” organization like Mobil or Exxon, the truth remains that the Gores squander energy like there is no tomorrow. They do not even deny it, babbling merely of carbon offsets [see above].

Then came the worst accusation of all: the right-wing journalists (there are a few) and bloggers are “smearing” Al Gore. I can dimly remember a time when smearing in politics meant telling lies about your opponent. These days it means telling an inconvenient truth about a leftie or “liberal”.

Thus, accusing a respectable think-tank of theft or bribery is OK, as long as the accusations come from the left. Telling the truth about one of the left’s idols is a smear.

And, of course, there is the self-righteous attack on the right for "not understanding" what carbon offsets are.

The point is that it does not take a Wittgenstein to work out the logical non-sequitur in the defence that involves carbon offsets, even if we set aside (so to speak) Gore’s financial shenanigans. If you believe in these charities and organizations and want them to work on alternative technology, you can give them money while, at the same time, not wasting energy resources yourself. That is, if you believe in any of that hot air you keep spouting.

There are examples of rich people building modest dwellings and being careful about the environment. Here is one:

According to TreeHugger (a blog that is new to me but I am always willing to learn), there is a house built by a rich man for his family which
has 25,000 gallons of rainwater storage, gray water collection from sinks and showers for irrigation, passive solar, geothermal heating and cooling. “By marketplace standards, the house is startlingly small,” says David Heymann, the architect of the 4,000-square-foot home. “Clients of similar ilk are building 16-to-20,000-square-foot houses.” Furthermore for thermal mass the walls are clad in "discards of a local stone called Leuders limestone, which is quarried in the area. The 12-to-18-inch-thick stone has a mix of colors on the top and bottom, with a cream- colored center that most people want. “They cut the top and bottom of it off because nobody really wants it,” Heymann says. “So we bought all this throwaway stone. It’s fabulous. It’s got great color and it is relatively inexpensive.”
Some of our readers may have picked up on this story already. If not, I defy them to guess who this is about.

George W. Bush, that’s who and the house in question is his Crawford Winter White House. Read the comments to the piece. Hysterically funny in their twisting and turning.

Meanwhile Clarice Feldman has come up with a modest proposal to the eco-celebs (there’s a lady who knows her Swift). First she explains what it is the eco-celebs are after:
I think I've figured it out what this naked hypocrisy is really about. It's not just scientific and economic illiteracy on their part: It is a narcissistic desire to widen even further the gulf between themselves and those beneath them on the economic and social ladder, while clothing their desires in some moral purpose. This is nothing new of course. At various times and places throughout the world, what one wore-including colors, fabrics, length of swords, how much the tips of your shoes could curl -were set by law to make sure no one mistook the milkmaid and yeoman for the lord and lady.
They were called Sumptuary Laws and caused a great deal of dissent, not to mention the odd spot of rioting in Renaissance Europe and Elizabethan England.

Anyway, here is her modest proposal:
So, I have a modest proposal for the eco-celebs. We'll give you the exclusive right to wear certain colors, shoes, swords and clothing and you can pick what these are. Only those of you who have won OscarsTM, married ketchup queens or created hit TV shows, inherited substantial wealth or whose earned income exceeds by some substantial degree that of the upper middle class-say $10 million a year --will be in this class. In exchange, you have to promise to confine yourself to staying out of politics, pretending you know beans about energy or the environment and leave the rest of us alone.
Nice idea Clarice, but there is one problem. These people do influence public opinion, as expressed by the MSM, and through that policies.

Not so long ago we had a row over Ruth Kelly, a Labour Minister quondam at the Department of Education, sending her son to a private school. Clearly neither she nor many of her colleagues believe in the qualities of the state-controlled education in Britain and, equally clearly, she and her colleagues believe that they can be exempt from that. In itself that would not matter. The problem is that she and her like control education for the rest of us.

In the same way, all those eco-celebs are intent on controlling everybody else's life. Unless, we can stop them with the help of the new printing press, the internet.

COMMENT THREAD