Saturday, June 04, 2005

Saturday reading 

At the start, a plug for a few new(er) blogs:

Anubis - "Reflections of life, politics, media bias and the Islamic threat - Because I have far more to complain about than Europe's slide into Islamism" - self-explanatory.

Michael Yon - a freelance journalist blogging and photo-blogging out of Iraq - and doing better job that the mainstream media. Can't somebody get him to report for their newspaper?

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a new baby - Conservative Grapevine: a link-fest to what some better as well as lesser known right-of-center blogs are saying about topics of the day.

And Patrick Ruffini launches his 2008 election wire, which links to news stories and blog posts about the 22 main contenders for Republican and Democrat nominations.

And now, onto the reading:

At Labour Friends of Iraq a great transcript to Chris Hitchens, William Shawcross and Germaine Greer debating Iraq.

Pundit Guy on Deep Throat: "follow the money".

Secular Blasphemy uncovers the bizarre case of Aryan sex dolls.

The Polish Immigrant has some thoughts on wine, Italy and the French vote.

Transatlantic Intelligencer visits the parallel universe: European media on the Koran desecration story.

Don Surber gets even with Garry Trudeau - very good.

Eric's Grumbles compares bloggers to pamphleteers of the olden days.

Decision 08 this time offers a group award for its Jackass of the Week.

The Word Unheard writes that sometimes "the New York Times can be a virtual treasure trove of data for those who would kill us."

Regime Change Iran notes that the recent soccer victory over North Korea resulted in public unrest, and that majority of Iranians are planning to boycott the presidential poll.

The Political Teen notes that Linda Foley is at it again.

Logical Meme sings the praise of Queen Rania of Jordan - the Islamo-babe.

The Conservative Intelligencia despairs at Wesley Clark's new foray into politics - at his sister's graduation ceremony.

And for something totally different - here's a petition for the release of the world's longest-held prisoners of war.


Benefits of embargo-breaking 

Put this one into "our hearts bleed" file (hat tip: Dan Foty):
Western companies welcomed in Cuba as heroes a decade ago for bucking the U.S. embargo are packing up and leaving as the Communist government rolls back market reforms and squeezes out intermediaries.

Embittered by the change in attitude, small and medium-sized foreign businesses complained this week that they no longer feel welcome and worried they would not recover money owed to them by Cuban partners.

President Fidel Castro's government, bolstered by growing economic ties to Venezuela and China, is cutting back the autonomy granted to state-run companies to do business in the 1990s and restoring central control over trade and finance.
Now, those who tried to trade with the devil are feeling used, abused, and hurt:
"I don't think they ever wanted us here," said the manager of a major European company that is pulling out after 10 years.

"They always tried to get the most money, machinery and knowledge they could out of us while giving little in return. They owe us millions, but we are leaving mainly because of their attitude, the way they treated us," he said.
I'm realistic enough to know that there will always be businesses keen to trade with dictators and despots - a drive for profit in exploring and exploiting opportunities that others haven't or can't is a powerful one, but it should be treated just like what it is, and not necessarily as courageous public service to open closed economies and liberate the oppressed through trade. Commerce simply ain't a Trojan Horse.


Food for Oil - food for thought 

Congratulations to Claudia Rosett for receiving the seventh annual Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Journalism. The award recognizes "the columnist, editorialist or reporter whose work best reflects the spirit of writings by Eric Breindel: Love of country and its democratic institutions as well as the act of bearing witness to the evils of totalitarianism" - and Claudia, no surprises, is this year's recipient thanks to her tireless work to expose and publicize the Food for Oil scandal.

As the commentariat and the journalistic world go ape this week over the self-unmasking of the Deep Throat, Oil for Food is one scandal that is still awaiting its own highly-placed whistleblower - or, for that matter, still awaiting the interest of the nation's investigative journalists. So far, Claudia Rosett has had little competition, which makes her work particularly stand out, just as it makes the mainstream media silence - and by silence I don't mean lack of reporting, but lack of independent effort to uncover the truth - particularly glaring.


France, then Holland, then Moqtada 

The shock-waves of the EU troubles reach the Tigris and the Euphrates:
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis to emulate the European Union and reject federalism, which he said would divide the country. Speaking on behalf of Sadr, Sheikh Salah al-Ubaidi told Muslim faithful in Kufa, south of Baghdad, that in Europe: "You can find a unified constitution under way, a unified currency and a united continental market despite the fact that they are different nations."
As an old Polish saying goes, he knows that a bell's tolling, but not in which church. Federalism in Europe and federalism in Iraq are two different things. In Europe, citizens of two nation-states, France and Holland, have rejected a process that would result in further erosion of sovereignty and greater integration with the rest of the continent. In Iraq, a unitary state, there is talk of introducing a federal system whereby Sunnis, Shia and Kurds would each enjoy considerable autonomy in their own areas, while still being bound together as one political unit under a central government. Europeans are rejecting a certain vision of the EU for the same reason that many in Iraq are increasingly finding federalism an attractive arrangement - out of the desire to devolve some power from the centre for the benefit of the regions.

One day Moqtada might understand these things and become a powerful and popular politician. So far, however, he still has to rely on a few thousand thugs with guns.


Horrible child abuse in Iraq 

REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen
An Iraqi youth reads a book with a Japanese Defense Force soldier during a ceremony to open a new primary school in the southern town of Samawa June 3, 2005. The Japanese Defense Force military contingent is supplying humanitarian assistance to Iraq, working on projects that include building new schools and repairing damaged infrastructure.
(hat tip: Tanker Schreiber) Japanese soldiers who are working on reconstruction of southern Iraq are protected by an international contingent including some 450 Australian infantrymen. Sixty years ago, Japan and Australia were bitter enemies. Even today, Australian WW2 veterans, particularly those who survived Japanese POW camps, find it very hard to forgive their former enemies. But Japan today is different to Japan in 1945 - much more so than Australia is different to what it was six decades ago - and I'm proud that our soldiers are now working together to bring freedom and assistance to people of Iraq.



After "The Lancet" guestimate of 100,000 dead following the liberation of Iraq - which has now become a fixed part of the left's anti-war creed - and the more recent UN estimate, based on a much larger sample, of 24,000 deaths, come the numbers from the Iraqi authorities:
The Iraqi government says insurgent violence has killed 12,000 civilians in the past 18 months. Iraq's Interior Ministry reported the first official toll on Thursday. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said the figures show more than 20 people per day died in bombings and other attacks.
I do not know whether the Ministry's figures are also an extrapolation, or whether they represent an actual physical count (although I would have thought it's the latter), but they serve as a useful reminder to the world of what's really happening in Iraq. The left, of course, would want you to forget that there is a terror campaign going on in Iraq against its people, because it spoils the satisfaction of being able to lay down every dead Iraqi at the feet of American troops.

And how's this for a misleading headline?
Sunni Group Calls for End to Iraq Attacks
A Sunni group call for the end of suicide bombing and terror campaigns? It wouldn't be the first time, but any reiteration would be welcome. But not so:
An influential Sunni association called for an end to a weeklong counterinsurgency offensive in Baghdad, saying it overwhemingly [sic] targets members of their religious minority and has led to the detention of hundreds of people.
Memo to "an influential Sunni association": that could be because both the neo-Baathist insurgency and Al Zarqawi's terror groups are composed almost exclusively of members of your religious minority. If you really want the end to counterinsurgency operations and to all the violence, why don't you call on the insurgents and the terrorists to lay down their guns and their bombs, so that all three major groups can finally sit down together and have a serious talk about meaningful ways of including Sunnis in the democratic life of the new Iraq.

Imagine that!


Friday, June 03, 2005

The silver lining 

One good thing about Amnesty International's Irene Khan calling Gunatanamo Bay facility a gulag: having mined the rich vein of Nazi analogies to tar the modern day's center-right (you know, America is a fascist state, Bush is Hitler, etc.), the international left is now adopting communist analogies to bash the Republicans, thus both expanding their moral vocabulary and implicitly acknowledging that, yes, communism was bad. In fact, as bad as conservatism. It's progress of sorts, but pity that the left can't now retrospectively start campaigning for human rights, freedom and democracy behind the Iron Curtain.

Khan, meanwhile, keeps digging:
"The administration's response has been that our report is absurd, that our allegations have no basis, and our answer is very simple: if that is so, open up these detention centers, allow us and others to visit them... Transparency is the best antidote to misinformation and incorrect facts."
This is what lawyers call a fishing expedition and journalists the "so when did you stop beating your wife?" tactic, and is tantamount to saying: we don't have to prove anything -– you have to prove us wrong. One could also add that some other good antidotes to misinformation and incorrect fact are decent research, judgment, objectivity, and sense of perspective and proportion; qualities still in short supply at AI, if Khan's other statement is anything to go by:
"What we wanted to do was to send a strong message that ... this sort of network of detention centers that has been created as part of this war on terrorism is actually undermining human rights in a dramatic way which can only evoke some of the worst features of human rights scandals of the past."
Which ones? Name them. Gas chambers? Crematoria? Sub-Arctic labor camps where millions were worked to death? Mass graves in the forests? Executions in prison basements?


Mystery of the day 

Writes BBC's Tom Geoghegan:
Mark Felt's admission that he was Watergate's Deep Throat has solved one of the world's great mysteries, hitherto known only to a handful of people. But there are plenty of other secrets out there.
And he offers a list of "10 things we still don't know." Some of them are genuine whodunits, like "what happened to Jimmy Hoffa" or "was Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone", others have so far failed to catch the imagination of many people outside Great Britain - and even there probably not many (what sort of deal Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made in 1994, what happened to Lord Lucan, who is the Minstead rapist, what happened to a body of a famous racehorse Shergar). "Is there God?" or "What's the meaning of life?" don't figure on the list, having missed out to the secret of the formula for Coca-Cola or the question of which major character dies in the next Harry Potter book.

As I've written before, personally I would like to find out the whole truth behind the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. But there are many other mysteries, like:

Are aliens really visiting the Earth, and if so, should we amnesty them and give them vote?

If Mary Magdalene married Dan Brown instead, would we have been spared "Da Vinci Code"?

Who actually runs the world: the rich, the Jews, Freemasons, Illuminati, the CIA, or the Jesuits?

Are the Democrats capable of nominating a candidate who's credible on national security?

Will there ever be a time again when 8 out of 10 songs on the Top 10 are not rap, R&B or soul?

Feel free to drop a line in the comments what other great mysteries of life and universe you would like to see revealed.


Europe - for richer but not for poorer 

Some interesting research is now coming out on why the Dutch rejected the EU constitution (bearing in mind that the referendum was non-binding and that the ultimate decision still lies with the parliament):
Slow economic growth in the Netherlands is seen as a key reason for the massive rejection of the European Union constitution, with "no" voters listing gripes such as the high value of the euro, the cost of EU membership and possible job losses to immigrant labour.

Last year the Dutch centre-right government, led by the Christian Democrat prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, announced extremely unpopular austerity measures to raise tax revenues and cut spending to improve public finances. At a time when the Dutch are asked to tighten their belts, the fact that the country has gone from being a net receiver from its membership in the EU to becoming the biggest net contributor is not sitting well with many voters...

Some 62 per cent of "no" voters named the high Dutch contribution to the EU budget as a reason to reject the treaty, according to a poll conducted Wednesday.
The European Union (or the European Community as it was then known) was never quite an equal affair and particularly throughout the 1970s and 1980s the richer states were routinely subsidizing the newer members such as Spain and Greece. Such wealth transfers from the rich, heavily industrialized north to the poor, developing south were never popular with the electorate, but three things have changed since then, making the political climate today far less friendly to trans-continental egalitarianism.

Firstly, the Euro voters now have some avenues to voice their dissent, such as the constitution referenda. Secondly, increasingly disenchanted and emboldened, the mood of the electorate is far more restive than it ever was, which lead us to the third, and perhaps most important point: good times aren't around anymore. When the European economy was experiencing high rates of seemingly unending growth it was much easier to share some of the bounty with the less fortunate European brothers and sisters -– the pie was growing so fast that it seemed no one would mind too much if the southerners helped themselves to a few slices.

That comfortable and optimistic Europe is gone now. Stalled economic growth, overgenerous welfare system which can't cope with people's expectations, and the social fabric frayed in part by concerns over immigration and multiculturalism all make for a volatile electorate. It would be overdramatic to speak about "shadows of the 1930s" with their economic dislocation and the rise of ugly, xenophobic politics, but then again, as Karl Marx said, history repeats itself, first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce.

The first thing to go out of the window in times of unexpected uncertainty is solidarity. "Europe" sounds like a nice enough concept, but only if it's a club of prosperous equals, not a 25-state behemoth which now includes poor eastern cousins like Poland or Latvia. If you're an average Pierre or Pieter worried about your own economic position, the last thing you need is Piotr on the other side of the continent getting your hard earned tax euros, if not actually coming over and taking your job. This fear and resentment is reflected in the Dutch polling as well as the French hysteria about "Polish plumbers" (not to mention the fear that possible future EU membership for Turkey will bring even more Muslim migrants into Europe). The post-enlargement reality, however, is far less colorful, both in terms of wealth transfers to the east (significantly less than expected) and the flood of cheap labor west (despite labor mobility provisions, still much restricted by Old Europe governments).

In this context it is difficult not to think of the vote in France and Holland not so much as the referendum on the new constitution as a retrospective referendum on the EU expansion which took place just over a year ago.

Quite simply, the Old Europe electorates want to turn back the clock and go back to the good old days of secure jobs-for-life, generous welfare, and prosperity for all. In the new EU, the pie has stopped growing, while at the same time there are now more mouths to feed. Any attempts, however feeble and half-hearted, by the national governments to reform the economy and roll-back some of the unsustainably generous safety net (or rather the safety hammock) elicit frenzy of protest from the electorates fearful about further erosion of the lifestyle they have become so accustomed to.

Of course, not many understand -– or want to understand -– that the choice faced is not so much one between the gentle and generous European model and the wild, rapacious Anglo-Saxon laissez-faire capitalism, but between pain now or even more pain later.

While the European Commission president Barroso took a view that the new EU constitution has become a "scapegoat for everyone'’s problems", it's more accurate to say that the more power you hold, the more you will be blamed for everything, whether rightly or wrongly. So while the constitution might have indeed become a convenient lightning rod of popular discontent, the discontent itself owes much to what the EU has become and what it had done -– and that includes both the geographic expansion and some faltering steps towards economic reform -– issues that in many ways are actually linked. As James Kirkup writes in "The Scotsman":
Will countries like Poland - who have already gone through the pain of opening up their economies and are now reaping the benefit - side with Old Europe when Tony Blair uses the British presidency of the EU starting next month to urge some serious and long-overdue economic reform?
Unlikely, thinks Kirkup. Ironically, while the EUlites tend to see the latest additions from New Europe more as Atlanticist Trojan horses, the people themselves see them as free market Trojan horses. On this point, at least, the rulers and the ruled, are both right.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

New media coming of age 

Two pieces caught my eye today, both showing how the new media is starting to slowly infiltrate the old bastions of business and news. Firstly, from "The Wall Street Journal":

In its short lifespan, blogging has largely been a freewheeling exercise in online self-expression. Now it is also becoming a corporate job.

A small but growing number of businesses are hiring people to write blogs, otherwise known as Web logs, or frequently updated online journals. Companies are looking for candidates who can write in a conversational style about timely topics that would appeal to customers, clients and potential recruits.

Last year, Christine Halvorson was hired as chief blogger at Stonyfield Farm Inc., a Londonderry, N.H., organic yogurt company owned by Groupe Danone. She applied for the job after responding to an ad posted at Monster.com. A former freelance writer and Web content editor, Ms. Halvorson now writes four blogs for Stonyfield, including a blog about the company, the Daily Scoop, and Creating Healthy Kids, about healthy foods in schools. Her job entails researching, linking to news and providing personal insight.

"It's wonderful to write every day," Ms. Halvorson says. "The only challenge is keeping up with this rapidly changing blogging technology, like audio and video blogging," she adds. She earns an annual salary in the mid-$40,000s, she says.
The article lists several other example of new corporate opportunities for bloggers. Salaries range from mid-$40,000 to around $70,000, which I guess is not a bad money for this sort of work. Only time will tell if blogs will become an integral part of modern communications strategy within the business world, or whether this is merely a brief and inconsequential fad among corporate innovators who are always interested in trying out new technologies and techniques in their never-ending quest to gain the edge.

Then this from

Are you a witness to major, or lesser known, news events? Have you seen an incident, or an event we missed, that you would like to tell us about?

If so, here is your opportunity. The BBC News website would like to receive your stories and perspectives from around the world.

If you have any pictures or video to accompany your text we would also like to receive them. Consider this your chance to report on events in your area that you think the world should know about.
This is what blogosphere is partly about – citizen media, including where possible, ordinary people reporting on extraordinary things directly to a world-wide audience. Military bloggers are perhaps the best example, coming to us from the deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan, but you don't necessarily have to be directly in the line of fire - you can "merely" be present at an international gathering and report on a CNN personality accusing American soldiers of killing journalists. Either way, it's a useful democratization of news, and while it won't in a foreseeable future replace mainstream outlets, it will be an increasingly important supplement to the traditional news business.


It’s not what you think 

One misleading headline is not difficult to find - but two in one day?

Al Jazeera.com (not the news channel):

Iraqi FM concerned over U.S. presence in Iraq
One of the prominent, democratically elected Iraqi political figures wants an end to occupation? Well, not quite:

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he is concerned the United States may withdraw its forces from Iraq before local army and police are ready to secure their country.
So the FM is actually concerned that the presence won't be long enough.

And from
"The Washington Times":

Officials see terror threat from Iraq vets
Say what?

Two former senior Bush administration counter-terrorism officials say the danger posed to the U.S. homeland by graduates of the Islamic insurgency in Iraq is so severe that the measures needed to counter it will affect Americans' quality of life.
So no, National Guardsmen from Minnesota won't be blowing themselves up at a local diner. But stay vigilant anyway. And remember: read beyond the headlines.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Live 8 not so gr8 

Sir Bob Geldof is reviving the good old formula once again:

Twenty years after the original Live Aid concert, Bob Geldof yesterday unveiled a lineup of classic acts and recent chart stars to perform in five global follow-up concerts that threaten to dwarf the original.

He said that in less than four weeks he had persuaded a host of big names, from the old guard who appeared at the original concert, such as Paul McCartney, U2 and Madonna, to the likes of Coldplay, 50 Cent and Robbie Williams, who were still at school in 1985, to participate in Live 8.

Unveiling the lineup of artists who will play a series of five huge free concerts in London, Paris, Rome, Philadelphia and Berlin on July 2, a week before the G8 summit begins in Gleneagles, Geldof said: "It's not going to be gloomy and doomy. We don't want people's money. We want them."

Geldof said he hoped that the involvement of the biggest artists on the world stage, also including Sting, REM, Stevie Wonder and Jay Z, would "create domestic political heat" in each of the G8 countries, aimed at forcing world leaders to drop third-world debt, reform trade laws and double aid to the region.
Not wanting people's money is a nice step forward. The original Live Aid/Band Aid enterprise two decades ago started off with the best and noblest intentions, raised some $100 million from private sources for the starving of Ethiopia, and made whole lot of people feel better about themselves - but in practical terms proved to be a band aid solution (sorry for the pun) and not a very successful one at that. As Daniel Wolf writes:

When Michael Buerk's first report on the Ethiopian famine was transmitted on BBC News on 23 October 1984, the idea immediately took hold that this was a natural disaster - 'a biblical famine', in Buerk's words - which would be alleviated by massive food aid. There was a severe drought in the region, but the creation of famine was a military tactic of the Dergue government of Colonel Haile Mariam Mengistu. For journalists like Buerk and activists like Geldof, the wars in Ethiopia were an inconvenience which were complicating relief efforts. Yet the wars were the principal cause of the tragedy.

When I spoke to Michael Buerk in the late 1990s, he still held the view that the wars had 'complicated matters', but he did agree that self-censorship had played a role in his own and others' reportage at the time: 'You've got ... to make the decision, is this side story of any real significance? And also, at the back of your mind, is: if I overemphasise a negative angle to this, I am going to be responsible for ...inhibiting people from coughing up their money.'

In the time of Band Aid, 'negative angles' were out. It would have been negative, although true, to have emphasised that Mengistu was one of the most vicious African dictators of the previous quarter century, that he was fighting three wars at the time (two in the north, in Tigray and Eritrea, and one in the Oromo lands of the south), and that his troops were committing atrocities in the region where the famine was unfolding. It would have been distinctly negative to have reported that the dictator was using food as a weapon of war - bombing crops and markets while setting up roadblocks to prevent the movement of food. The methods used by Mengistu's armies were bound to create famine, and they did.
Predictably, the main beneficiaries of Western generosity were not the starving Ethiopians:

Journalists and aid workers were not the only ones wary of confusing viewers at home with 'negative angles'. While it was Band Aid and, later, Live Aid that caught the imagination of the world, they funded only a small proportion of the aid effort: 90 per cent or more of the aid came from Western donor governments. As the governments would only deal with a recipient government, not with rebel movements, most of the aid - again, roughly 90 per cent - was channelled through Mengistu's hands. In a grotesque irony, we found ourselves supporting the very government that was causing the famine we were supposed to be alleviating. This was certainly a 'negative angle', and therefore, unsurprisingly, it received hardly any attention at all.
Now, twenty years later, Geldof doesn't want your money, he just wants to raise the consciousness and whip up popular support for causes such as debt forgiveness. Pundit Guy is skeptical whether this agit-prop tactic will work:

Dear Mr. Geldof, I hate to break it to you, but the people (teenagers) who attend your free concert will be there to see whomever shows up. They will not attend the show as a sign of solidarity to end world hunger. They will not leave the show and change their consumption habits either. In fact, 24 hours after the concert, I bet 99% of them won't remember any of the overtly political messages blurted from the stage. All the pontificating that will go on between acts and between songs will go in one ear and out the other. Oh, you'll hear cheers and applause alright - but don't make more out of it than it is. Crowds like these will cheer the breaking of wind.
Using entertainment to raise political and social consciousness can be notoriously tricky, especially as far as Generations X and Y are concerned. The effort to mobilize the youth groundswell for John Kerry did not quite work out in 2004, and there is little to suggest that "Aid or Die" will be more successful than "Vote or Die".

And performers aren't necessarily much better than their audiences. As
Sir Elton John said recently, "When the Live Aid concert happened 20 years ago I was pretty much a self-obsessed drug addict. Although I was pleased to be part of a great day, I really wasn't adult enough or mature enough to realise the full consequences of what we were doing." While no one doubts that Bono or Sting have some idea of what they're talking about (even if you don't agree with their positions), be prepared for another orgy of glibness, lip service and opportunism from the entertainment industry's beautiful crowd.

More aid was never the solution to the problems of the developing world. But it was always an easy way out, because all you had to do was to send (in most cases) somebody else's money without worrying too much about the consequences. The act of charity was an end in itself. But poverty is not a problem, it's a symptom of a problem, that being lack of democracy, freedom, transparency and sensible economic policies - and more money, like giving dope to an addict, only serves to be exacerbates these conditions.

It's so much easier though to have a concert or an appeal for aid or debt forgiveness rather than for political and economic liberty. It's difficult to imagine Robbie Williams and U2 playing for regime change in country X, or Madonna and Sting performing on stage for economic reform in country Y and international trade liberalization. But these are the things that actually matter. And so our boys from the 42nd Infantry Division are now doing more for the cause of solving world's problems, than our boys from REM strutting the stage.


The Dutch turn 

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has made a final appeal to voters on, urging them not to reject the European Union constitution saying the charter would not cause the country to lose influence in the 25-member bloc.
At Peaktalk, Dutch-born blogger Pieter Dorsman previews tomorrow’s non-binding Dutch referendum:

Polling... found out that the no-vote is strongest among the free-market Liberal Party (the VVD, the Dutch right) and the hard-line socialist SP. The supporters of the centrist Christian-Democrats are generally in favor while the Labour Party is split. All these results really point to one thing and that is the desire of a majority of outspoken Dutch voters (from both the left and the right) to have something that has been absent from Dutch politics for years: a debate about Europe.


Guest blogger: Germany's Thatcher, Part 2 

With Angela Merkel likely to replace Schroeder as the Chancellor later on this year, I asked German blogger, journalist and historian, Ulrich Speck, to give Chrenkoff readers a run-down on the contender, who is already touted as Germany's Thatcher. Yesterday, Ulrich focused on the domestic challenges facing Merkel - today, foreign policy. Make sure you check out his excellent Kosmoblog for news, views and analysis from Germany.

Start Again: The Challenge for Angela Merkel, Part 2

So much for domestic affairs, the reform of the welfare state. Now some words on the second challenge: The invention of a German foreign policy.

Here again I need to go back some steps. In times of Cold War, Western Germany, or the Bonn republic, didn't need a foreign policy, comparable to those of France or Great Britain. As security was guaranteed by Nato (or America), all major decisions were made by Washington.

So Germany could concentrate on business. In the four decades of the Bonn republic - from 1949 until 1990 - German relations with the outside world where mainly economic. Very often, politics became a sub-function of the trade. One of the main tasks of German chancellors has always been to invite top businessmen - Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Volkswagen, Mercedes - onboard the chancellor's aircraft and to visit foreign countries which whom Germany could do business with. Gerhard Schroeder is loved by business people as a "door opener".

Besides the economic relationship to the world, Germany has developed a relationship that might be called moralistic. That's less a relationship, it's more a way to perceive the outside world. As the Bonn republic has had no real foreign policy, people could talk endlessly about foreign politics as an issue of good or bad. In fact, to talk about "Vietnam", "Cuba", "America", "Israel" was more an essay to come to terms with Nazi history than a real interest in what was going on in the outside world. Leftist Germans became part of the international "anti-imperialist" mood, because that made them feel better about their own history. In the extremist version, America and capitalism where blamed for Auschwitz, Dresden and Vietnam alike. American bombings became a code-word for political activists that still works. On the day the war on Iraq started, chancellor Schroeder, in a public speech, reminded the Germans of WWII. There is a curious fashion of vicitimization in Germany today, especially on the left. This is a mixture on which the current government relies, and chancellor Schroeder will, in the campaign that will come now, try to use this kind of anti-American mobilisation once again. He already shortened his visit to Washington that is scheduled for the end of July. And in a speech he declared that you could use the money that is spent for Iraq much better to fight poverty. Applause.

The problem of this moralistic discourse is that it has no counterweight in Germany. You have similar reasoning in America, but it's not hegemonic. In Germany it is. It's not only a leftist thing. Also conservative Germans feel attracted by the idea of "liberalisation" from America. Every newspaper is "The New York Times": no "Washington Post", no "Wall Street Journal". No foreign affairs establishment exists that could be a couterweight. Think-tanks are financed by the government or the parties.

In 2002, Schroeder decided to exploit these anti-American feelings for his campaign. It worked. Thanks to this campaign, he won a second term.

This was the moment when the old Federal Republic of Germany came to its end. It was built on the conviction that the government should not exploit anti-Americanism for political goals. It relied on the conviction that to be close to America is in the national interest of Germany.

What Schroeder did, after his election, was not to calm down anti-Americanism. To the contrary. He had found a resource on which he could build support for his government. And he decided to use it. What followed was active campaigning against the American project to topple Saddam. For the leftists who are used to see America as the empire of evil, this was the moment of glory. But, unfortunately, not only the leftists. Entire Germany was furious; enraged against Bush who was prepared to kill hundreds of thousands of people only to get cheap oil. That's how the case was presented to Germans. The war on Iraq was the ultimate proof that the image of America as a dangerous imperialist was justified.

Since 2002, Berlin has put his weight on the French side. German foreign policy became aligned with French foreign policy. For Chirac, 2002 was the moment to dust off the old Gaullist blueprint and to reestablish grandeur: Together with Berlin, it might be possible to get control of Europe and to transform it into a challenger of the American power. The propagandist name for the Great Game was "multilateralism". Schroeder invited his "friend" Putin to join the new axis.

What lays behind this axis are classical geopolitical ideas: International politics are seen as a struggle for spheres of influence. A zero-sum-game: Either we or you. That's how they perceive the war on Iraq - as a neo-colonialist enterprise. And that's how they react: If you have Iraq, we will get Iran. If you support Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, we will get China. And so on.

But it doesn't work like this anymore. America is not a state like others, it does not seek spheres of influence. America has been forced in 20th century to take responsibilities for world order - like England before, but on a much larger scale. America is pushing for the opening of countries to market economy and democracy, for its own interest. But, fortunately, others benefit from it as well. Often enough as freeriders. 9/11 was a turning point as it reminded the super-power that the job is not finished: The Middle East is a timebomb, and it has to be pacified. The best pacifier is to give people freedom and responsibility for themselves. A working state, a working market.

A special mixture of anti-Americanism, misperception, hubris and falsely calculated economic interests brought Schroeder and Chirac to the idea to try to undermine this project of transformation. They tried - and they failed. Why?

First, against their expectation, they will not rule the EU. "New Europe" - Atlanticist and capitalist - does not want to be submitted by two arrogant and egoist players, Chirac and Schroeder. Leadership does not mean intimidating others and seeking one's own advantage, but including the will and the interest of others. Neither Chirac nor Schroeder has shown these qualities. The first blow was it turned out that New Europe was in favor of the war on Iraq. The nomination of Barroso as head of the European Commission, against their own candidate, was a second blow. Now, with the defeat of Schroeder in domestic affairs and of Chirac in the referendum on the constitution, this project is dead.

Secondly, the idea of an axis against the US is a product of delusions of grandeur. It turns out that, to take two examples, Beijing and Teheran have a slightly different perception. Their desire to be guided by Berlin and Paris is not exactly that high. Instead, they see themselves as masters of the game, who are able to dictate their conditions to a Europe that is, on the whole, on decline.

To sum up, Schroeder has buried the old German foreign policy. But more than this. He has also buried the old Gaullist foreign policy. In making the dream of an anti-American Europe come true, for an illusionary moment (Schroeder and Chirac hand in hand), it turned out that there is no substance. It has failed to pass the reality test.

What we have now is tabula rasa. The old option - to go back to the formula of the Bonn republic - is not possible, as the world has changed, and we with it. The second option, to build an European empire on the difference to America or even as a challenger to the US, has failed. There is already too much America in Europe. And there are too many people who want it to be so.

The seven Schroeder-years were years of passage. The idea of Kohl, that we don't need to change, in order to adapt to a different reality, has become unsustainable. With Schroeder, it became clear that there is no alternative to change. But he had no idea where to go. In domestic affairs, he tried to make changes without challenging people. In foreign affairs, he aligned Germany completely to the French way. Both didn't bring us one step further. At least, it did exclude two options.

The challenge for Merkel and her government will be enormous. They cannot simply work as bureaucrats, step in and continue the work. They have to be architects, inventors. They have to work with ideas. Angela Merkel might be good for that job. She has an instinct for liberty, a distrust of the state, both resulting from her personal experience with totalitarianism. And she has already seen an Old Regime fall. There are some signs that she might have some appetite to repeat that experience.


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Guest blogger: The whale yawns 

A minor diplomatic skirmish between Australia and Japan has been recently amusing those who are amused by these sorts of things. At the heart of the dispute, Japan's apparent regular circumventing of international agreements protecting whales, through the practice of "scientific whaling", that is killing several hundred whales a year seemingly for the purposes of scientific research, otherwise known as the "great scientific seafood take-away":

Japan claims it needs to harpoon the whales and dissect them to determine migration patterns as well as gain data on their feeding and breeding habits. It insists that subsequently serving the whalemeat at restaurants and for school lunches is merely the best way to dispose of the carcases.

While scientific hunts are permitted under the IWC's regulations, the sale of about 2,000 tons of meat a year earns more than £28 million. The profits are put back into the whaling fleet.
Australians also tend to be protective of "our" whales, while Japan never tires of reminding us that whales don't acquire our nationality just because they occasionally frequent our territorial waters.

Our man on the ground in South Korea, John Kennett, reports live from the city of Ulsan, where the whales are very much on the international agenda - and on the menu.

The whale yawns

Here in Ulsan, South Korea, the 57 International Whaling Commission opened on last Friday, May 27. There will about 10,000 people with some interest in whaling here at different times over the next 29 days.

There couldn't be any less interest in the meeting in the Korean press if they tried! I have only come across one or two stories, noting that it has started. This is the biggest international event in Korea since the World Cup, in 2002, yet there has been almost no coverage of it.

The banners are competing for space with the banners for the International Windsurfing Championships, the Korean Archery Finals, and the 82nd Korean Athletics Competition. Ulsan will be busy in the next few weeks, and I think that all of the meetings are getting the same amount of coverage - none.

I saw a couple of news stories on KBS (Korean Broadcasting Service), in Korean, noting that there are some 'foreign' anti-whaling protesters coming here, but that's it.

Ulsan City Council has gone all out for the event, with all light poles on main roads flying banners and flags welcoming the Commission delegates. I headed down to Lotte Hotel (on my way to Lotte Cinema, which is in the attached Lotte Department Store - ahh, Korean conglomerates are so creative in naming things!), the main base for meetings, to see if there were any protesters there, and all I could see was a giant whale made of flowers at the entrance - but no environmentalists - it was a sunny weekend though, perhaps they were busy?

So little difference has the IWC made to Ulsan, that the Whale Restaurant not a 10 minute walk from Lotte Hotel is still open, and as popular as ever - where are Greenpeace?

Not coming, one hopes, or perhaps they are saving their Korean travel funds to come back in November to protest at APEC in Busan - Bush and Howard will be there among others, so it would be more important for groups such as Greenpeace to come to protest the war in Iraq, than any whaling that the Koreans or the Japanese are doing, seeing as whaling has little to do with environmentalism.


Crushing dissent - not in the United States 

"Dutch aid workers arrested in Darfur over rape claims"
No, it's not what you think; it's not another UN-style scandal involving peacekeepers and international bureaucrats mixing with underaged girls in some Godforsaken war zone:

Police in Sudan arrested a national head of the aid agency Médecins sans Frontières over a report issued about the widespread rape of women by soldiers and militiamen in Darfur.

Paul Foreman, a Briton who heads the Dutch branch of the organisation, was taken for questioning by security forces in Khartoum yesterday.

Mohamed Farid, Sudan’s Attorney-General, said he had opened a criminal case against Médecins sans Frontières Holland for publishing the report in March, which detailed hundreds of rapes over a recent 4½-month period.

Mr Farid said that MSF had failed to consult the Government-run Humanitarian Aid Commission before publishing the information and, despite repeated requests, had refused to supply medical evidence to back up its claims.

“If they don’t give us the medical documents, we will send them to the criminal court accused of publishing a false report which harms the general peace,” Mr Farid told Reuters.
"Newsweek" should thank its lucky stars that it's not based in Sudan.

Médecins sans Frontières is, of course, not the first international organisation to document rape being used in Darfur as a weapon of war:
the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have covered this territory before. Not to mention all the major media.

A cynic might think that the pro-government Janjaweed militias harm the "general peace" more than any NGO reports. Sadly, the media has not been particularly interested in the problem, either, seeing that the American soldiers are not the perpetrators.


It makes sense 

When emotions run wild:

Six people were burnt alive when a mob protesting a suicide bombing of a mosque torched an outlet of an American fast food chain in Karachi, police said on Tuesday.

Police and firemen recovered the bodies of six Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) employees after an angry mob set the restaurant on fire late on Monday following a suicide attack on a Shiite Muslim mosque that left five people dead.
Pakistani Shia are being killed by the Sunni extremists, some of whom have links with Al Qaeda - so, the natural response is to torch an American fast food joint. Mind you, the protesters - if that's the correct term - also burned two petrol stations and a number of cars during their rampage, but either way, there is obviously still a long way to go for Pakistan.


Guest blogger: Germany's Thatcher? 

Germany's opposition chiefs selected Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel on Monday to challenge Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at an early election that might make her the country's first woman leader.

Merkel, 50, would also be the first chancellor from former communist East Germany if she wins the election, expected this year rather than next after Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) suffered a heavy loss at a regional poll last week.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) holds a commanding lead in opinion polls and her own personal popularity has overtaken Schroeder's for the first time, according to opinion polls issued at the weekend.
With Merkel likely to replace Schroeder as the Chancellor later on this year, I asked German blogger, journalist and historian, Ulrich Speck, to give Chrenkoff readers a run-down of the domestic political situation on the Rhine and to introduce Merkel, who is already touted as Germany's Thatcher. Hype or reality? Read the first part of Ulrich's piece today, and make sure you check out his excellent Kosmoblog for news, views and analysis from Germany.

Start Again: The Challenge for Angela Merkel

There are two major challenges in Germany today, and it's likely that Angela Merkel, leader of CDU and candidate for the head of government, will have to find an answer. Gerhard Schroeder, German chancellor since 1998, failed on both points.

Number one is the reform of the welfare state, number two the invention of a German foreign policy.

To understand these tasks we have to go back to the good old days before German unification. Western Germany lived well and quiet under the umbrella of America. The transatlantic partnership was not a matter of choice, it was as matter of survival as a free state. Americanisation was successful. The integration in the Western sphere permitted Western Germans to use their energy for economic purposes, and that's how Nazis were changed in consumers. A fine example of reeducation. Democratic Germany developped something that Weimar and Third Reich didn't achieve: a long-term economic prosperity.

The "social market economy" became famous, as a formula that pacified the inner conflicts of the capitalist system, that ended class struggle. You had strong unions and large companies, and together with the government they organized economic life. Together, they advanced the system of social security, to minimize personal risks and to guarantee every German a good live. I think it's the kind of corporatist system that Walter Russel Mead has described as "Fordist".

Yes, there have always been strong anti-American, anti-Western feelings. Germany has been defeated in 1945. Especially the cultural elites didn't like Americanization - it made them a kind of endangered species.

There has always been an anti-Americanism from the right - a feeling of superiority - and a another from the left, which was a major force behind German 1968 and all those movements in the seventies. The key word for the left was "anti-imperialism", and the idea was liberation from American influence.

But as, since Adenauer in the fifties, the German interest was defined as an interest to be part of the West - to be part of the East was much less attractive - German government always defended the West and fought anti-Americanism.

That's how it was in the Cold War.

Than came 1989, the pressure to unite both Germanys, a pressure from East Germany. 1990 than, the unification.

The idea was simply to enlarge Western Germany. But it didn't work. The government was not capable to initiate a structural change that would have made the East competitive. Helmut Kohl was more interested in voters than in making tough changes. People in Eastern Germany were confused, not challenged. They were used to rely on the state, not on themselves - that's socialism - and they could continue to do so. They got a regime change, but not a system change. Many of them went from socialism into Western social state.

East Germany has it's own pressure group: PDS - party of democratic socialism - is the successor of the former SED - the governing party of Eastern Germany when it was under soviet rule. Now they also put pressure with NPD, a far-right party with a sympathy for a certain period in German history.

A main reason for pumping money into Eastern Germany is the fear of radicalism. Now it seems that money doesn't prevent radicalism. What is needed is not simply more money but more chances for the people to realize personal goals, to live a decent life on their own feet.

With Helmut Kohl, who was chancellor from 1982 to 1998, the crucial idea was continuity. The cold war might be over, Europe might re-unite, Germany might became the central player in Europe - all those historical changes should not change the fundamental settings of Germany policy. Social market economy should be enlarged to Eastern Germany, and the role of Germany as a mediator between Paris and Washington should remain unchanged. European integration, the vehicle for the return of Germany on the international arena, should be accelerated, to make sure that future governments would not use German power for power politics in the traditionalist way.

Kohl's formula seemed to work. There was stability and continuity, and the fears that Germany might reemerge as an aggressive or imperialist power were calmed down. Germany, a success story.

1998 Schroeder was elected, as he promised "not to do everything otherwise, but to do many things better". His start was promising. He seemed prepared to finally attack the structural problems of the welfare state which have become much urgent since unification. He seemed to be attached by liberalism (in the European sense): more individual freedom and responsibility, less state. On the other hand, the minister for foreign affairs Joschka Fischer, a former leftist radical (and streetfighter) who has been converted to Atlanticism, seemed to cherish the heritage of Adenauer and Kohl.

It took not long, very short indeed, that Schroeder's ideas on the reform of the social state got in conflict with the unions and the leftists in his party, the social-democrats (SPD). To make it short: in his seven years he made a first step in reform. But in a very timid, defensive manner. He always presented reforms as a necessary evil. He never talked about new chances, meanwhile many talked about losses. The message was: Unfortunately, globalization forces us to take steps in a bad direction. Unfortunately, we cannot resist. And Schroeder never presented a vision where he wanted to go. He failed to build support. That's why he, ultimately, came under such a heavy pressure form his own party that he finally gave up and called for new elections.

For the leftists, the talk about liberalisation and economic reforms is nothing else than a new conspiracy against the working class. There is a milieu that is strongly related to France - with Oskar Lafontaine (a former SPD-chairman and candidate for chancellorship, who has left his party some days ago), the unions, Attac - that has introduced the idea that "neo-liberalism" is an "ideology", invented by the powerful (guess who) against the weak. So again it's time to "resist".

Muntefering, chairman of Schroeder's SPD, now tries to hold the party together by referring exactly to those ideas which work fine with traditional anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism. His attacks on "international capitalism" - known as the "locusts affair" - before the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) were part of the attempt to blame somebody else for Schroeder's failures: desperately seeking a scapegoat.

But when SPD lost the elections in NRW on May 22, in that traditionalist blue-collar worker-Land that has been ruled by social-democrats for 39 years, even this radical language was not likely to stop the revolt in SPD. It would come to a clash. With that perspective in mind, Muntefering and Schroeder decided, on the day of the defeat, to choose the lesser evil: to give up, one year before the term should end, and to call for new elections. This was supposed to be the only possible measure to discipline the party again.

Following all signs, Schroeder's SPD will loose the elections. Schroeder cannot play the working class hero, he is known as "Genosse der Bosse", as the comrade of the bosses. And why should people re-elect somebody who just has given up? That makes no sense.

So Angela Merkel from CDU will be his successor. We know little about her. Born 1954, she grew up near Berlin, in Eastern Germany. Merkel is the daughter of pastor, what might has given her a certain distance to socialism. She became physicist. In the early nineties, she joined CDU, the party of Helmut Kohl. He made her minister for the environment. In 2000, she managed to become his successor as the leader of the party.

What Merkel did with great success is to manage her own advancement in the party, as an outsider, as a woman from the East. She is not from the establishment. She was also successful in holding her party together. And now she has triumphed again over her male rivals, getting nominated as the candidate for the top position in the government.

Angela Merkel is not a German Maggie Thatcher. But she may become one. It's really hard to foresee where she will go - and who will follow. Merkel is not the type of politician who is well-known for this or that position. She is more the manager-type. But, again, we might be surprised.

Whatever she will do or not, at least she is in a good position for reform. First, she has not the burden of being linked to the unions and to a party that is full of distrust of economic liberalism, as Schroeder's SPD is. CDU and CSU - the "sister party" in Bavaria - have origins in the Catholic social doctrine (katholische Soziallehre), but since Adenauer and especially since Erhard, CDU is a strong backer of market economy, much less socialist than SPD. And there is FDP, a party that is normally between 5 and 10 percent, which is the party of liberalism, especially economic liberalism. So Merkel will not have the tension that Schroeder had in his own party. Sure, there are tensions as well, but they are much more moderate. It will be much easier for her to build support for reform.

Secondly, CDU/CSU has a large majority in the "second chamber", made of the federal states, the "Lander". The consent of the Lander is needed for most reforms, without Lander, the Bund has not much room for maneuver. A check that today is more a blockade for the necessary changes. When CDU will win in September, they will have, for at least two years, a majority in both chambers. That will give Angela Merkel a window of opportunity.

Come back for part two tomorrow.


Guest blogger: We're fed up 

What to make of the French referendum result? What better person to ask than our guest blogger, the French-Australian writer Sophie Masson (visit Sophie's website here).

We're fed up

"Ras le bol"--we're fed up--that's the strong feeling behind the crushing victory of the "No" vote in France's referendum on the EU constitution this last Sunday. People in France ARE fed up--of a political and media elite that lives in its own pompous little bubble and constantly talks down to them, that goes about its merry way without taking account of them; they are fed up of not living in a truly democratic system (the French republican system, to my mind, combines the worst aspects of an authoritarian monarchy with the ideological excesses of abstract idealism that blathers on constantly about the "rights of man" without actually caring about individual rights). People are fed up of high unemployment, of broken promises, of massive social problems. They're fed up of the technocratic tyrants in Brussels who interfere in each and ever aspect of ordinary life, especially France's cherished food. They're fed up of seeing their industries going under and fed up of being unable to manipulate their currency as they used to be. They're fed up of being on the losing side in the world, of being lectured by all the bien-pensants, too. They're fed up of having their pride wounded; and they're fed up to the back teeth not only of wolfish Jacques Chirac but of most of the other members of his merry band--and that of the Socialists, and just about everyone in mainstream politics.

They don't want Turkey in Europe; they don't want foreign workers coming in; they don't want political integration with Europe--they want the "Europe of the nations" not Europe as super-state. They are fed up of being stuck in a spiraling form of national depression. For once, they were given an opportunity to say what they really think, about a project that they felt was largely conducted behind their backs; and they took that opportunity.

But are they ready to face the tough decisions? Would they really follow Nicolas Sarkozy when he says that France badly needs reform? All French governments are scared of their people--scared of the national tendency to rush out into the street and scream and shout and threaten revolution. It remains to be seen whether, even if the amazing happens and Chirac falls on his sword, as he damn well ought to do, and the Parliament is dissolved, opening up the way for fresh elections--it remains to be seen whether the French people would grit their teeth and agree to things which may well be for the good of their country, but will hurt--especially harshly in the short term.

But "ras le bol", though a general feeling, does not explain everything. It's interesting to look at the map of France to see how each region voted. There's a good one published by
"Le Monde". Looking at the map, it's clear that the far North and the far South were the strongest No voters--these areas are strongly leftwing, in the old style, but also in recent times most inclined to Le Pen. The North is old working class, very depressed industrial areas, lots of immigrants; the South is old peasantry, very suspicious of outsiders, but also with high unemployment and lots of immigrants. The West--Vendee, Brittany--which is still very traditional, rural France, voted Yes--though only just. Vendee and the two most 'Breton' departments--Morbihan and Finistere--not only have been insulated from high unemployment and Muslim immigration (it is rare indeed to see a Muslim in those regions), but they have a high proportion of small business, and their history predisposes them to be much more suspicious of the French state than of the European proposal (in the Revolution, the Western provinces rose up in revolt against the revolutionaries, and were massacred without mercy--they still carry those memories very strongly.). However, to counteract that, other provinces that also have a history of revolt against the French state--for instance, Corsica and the Basque country (known as Pyrenees Atlantiques on the department map, right down the far south-west, on the Atlantic) voted No--the Basques at 52.14 No, the Corsicans at 56.5 No.

The highest No vote was recorded in the very northernmost departement, Pas de Calais, at 69.5 percent (its surrounding departments also overwhelmingly voted No); the highest Yes vote in one of the Ile de France (Paris region) departements, at 66 percent. Bas-Rhin, in the east, which features the European Parliament's capital, Strasbourg, not surprisingly voted 56.10 percent Yes; other strongly Yes vote departments were also in the East, close to the Alps: Haute-Savoie with 53.93, Rhone with 54.17. In my parents' home department of Lot et Garonne, in the south west, the vote, by contrast was 61.5 percent No (and in their village, apparently, it split dramatically with 9 people voting Yes, 120 voting No!); whilst in one of my sisters' home department, Ariege, at the foothills of the Pyrenees, it was 63.56 No. Even in my eldest sister's home department, Haute-Garonne, which includes the seat of Airbus, major European flagship company (for which she works, incidentally), the No vote was 53 percent.

For me, this result was exciting and interesting. Though I'm a supporter of a "Europe of the nations", a prosperous, peaceful place that trades freely yet respects national boundaries and the different cultures that makes it up, I'm not at all keen on the kind of Europe proposed by this constitution, a behemoth bureaucratic oligarchy imposed on a continent where there's not even a common language. The result in France is an all too rare example of democracy at work in a country that badly needs it, a breath of fresh air, and I'm hopeful it might lead to some real, useful change. But I'm also quite aware of the fact that a) it may not lead to any real change in the attitude or responsiveness of the political and media/intellectual class in France, b) it may simply run out of puff as a protest vote and then it'll be business as usual; c) it may well lead to unwelcome consequences, such as the ultra left and ultra right thinking they now speak for all of France, which isn't the case at all (there certainly aren't 56 percent of extremists in France). Interesting times, anyway, are on the horizon.

Two other interesting perspectives - one from France, by Sylvain Charat, director of policy studies at the French think tank Eurolibnetwork, and one from the Anglosphere, by Mark Steyn.


Non - the wash-up 

"We are no longer in control, we are no longer in charge. The moment it [Europe] is no longer as French, it appears Anglo-Saxon in its economic context and they [the French] don't like that. The French are equating Europeanisation with globalisation and delocalisation [outsourcing of jobs]. For those who vote no, Europe is no longer the pursuit of France through other means."
So says Dominique Moisi, a senior analyst at the French International Relations Institute.

The Bad Hair Blog has a round-up of news and views. And, courtesy of Cafe Babel, an interesting timeline of how the "yes" vote collapsed over time from 69 per cent to 45 per cent.

Then there is that
famous map (hat tip: Tim Blair) that is creating much comment. Unlike the 2004 election red-blue state or county map of the United States, the French map doesn't really tell us much about the local political landscape except to suggest that a few little islands are strongly pro-integration, while most of the France is even further to the left than their elites and now considers the EU to be an Anglo-Saxon free market conspiracy. As you can see, the only major anomaly is Brittany, where the vote was generally "yes", albeit in the low 50s. My guess would be that Brittany is the part of France where local identity is the strongest (it was fiercely Catholic and pro-monarchy and so paid a very heavy price at the hands of the French Revolutionary authorities, which is still remembered more than two centuries later), and most such regions in Europe tend to strongly pro EU, as the Union is seen to be favoring minority groups and local identities over nation states, which in the past have generally tried to suppress political and cultural separatism.


Monday, May 30, 2005

Ayatollah Sistani wants you to switch off 

Finally, a fatwa all of us can support:

Yesterday, an Iraqi electricity ministry official confirmed that the great Shiite reference Ayatollah Ali Al Sestani has issued a religious decree of cutting down the electricity consumption, maintaining the generation networks and transporting power at a time that both Iran and Turkey have promised of increasing the electricity exports to Iraq.
The truth of the matter is, as I've written before, that the Iraqi electricity system simply cannot cope with the combined effect of decades of neglect, constant sabotage and dramatically increasing demand. Sistani can't do much about the legacy of Saddam's mismanagement, nor about the sabotage which is conducted by Iraqi and foreign Sunnis, but he can at least try to rein in increasing demands of over half of the population - and that's a welcome step forward.


Thanks, but no thanks 

This isn't actually good news:

The Arab League is ready to send experts to help the Iraqis draft a new constitution, the league's secretary general said Saturday.
Since the region remains the worst in the Freedom House rankings (link in PDF) ("Among the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, Israel remains the region’s sole electoral democracy and Free country. There are 5 Partly Free and 12 Not Free states."), I think this is one offer of help that Iraq should politely decline. In fact, if all goes well over the next few months, Iraq might indeed be in position to offer its help to fellow Arab countries on how to draft democratic constitutions.

Update: But this is good news:

Shiite legislators have decided not to push for a greater role for Islam in the new Iraqi constitution out of concern that the contentious issue will inflame religious sentiments and deepen sectarian tensions.

Instead, the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition that won the most seats in January’s elections, will advocate retaining the moderate language of Iraq’s temporary constitution that was drawn up under the auspices of the American occupation authority.

Humam Hamoudi, the Shiite cleric who heads the 55-member constitutional committee that will draft the new document, said that any attempt to debate the issue of Islamic law could ignite a firestorm of competing sectarian demands and that the brief references to Islam in three paragraphs of the temporary constitution should be left untouched.

"These paragraphs represent the middle ground between the secularists and those who want Islamic government, and I think the wisest course of action is to keep them as they are," he said in an interview at his Baghdad home. "Opening up the subject for discussion would provoke religious sentiments in the street."
Looks like the Iraqis might not need much help writing their constitution.



France overwhelmingly rejected the European Union constitution on Sunday, pitching the EU into crisis and dealing a potentially fatal blow to a charter designed to make the enlarged bloc run smoothly... Chirac swiftly conceded defeat in a televised address to the nation as the "No" camp celebrated a crushing victory with about 55 percent of votes to 45 percent.
Many (including the Reuters report quoted above) are already portraying the result as more a referendum on Chirac and the current "right-wing" French government than on the EU constitution, but this is a circular argument: the French political establishment is so thoroughly "European" in their outlook and policies that a vote against one is clearly a vote against the other.

As one of Instapundit readers, Jonathan Smith,
wrote: "I have yet to see an American blogger that has recognized that a lot of people that voted Non want France to be a MORE socialist state. It's a fear that the EU will be more capitalist." I can't speak for American bloggers, but I touched on this issue a few times over the last week.

For whatever reason, however, the European project is floundering but it won't stop the politicians. As Poles like to say: the situation is critical but not serious.

France: Non.

EUlites: Who cares? To quote Celine Dion, "My heart will go on", even as the Eurotitanic keeps running into the iceberg of public opinion.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg (as Dan Foty, whom I hat tip here, writes: "Luxembourg isn't really a country - it's a bank that happens to be big enough to have its own airport.") who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said before the results started rolling in: "If it is a 'Yes' we carry on; if it is a 'No' we carry on." (to which "The Daily Telegraph" commented: "There you have it: as neat a statement of the EU's guiding philosophy as you could ask for. The project is far too important to be denied by the ballot box.")

Juncker is becoming a bit of a poster-boy for what's wrong with the European project as currently envisaged, having also made a guest appearance in the latest
Mark Steyn column:

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again," "President" Juncker told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

Got that? You have the right to vote, but only if you give the answer your rulers want you to give. But don't worry, if you don't, we'll treat you like a particularly backward nursery school and keep asking the question until you get the answer right. Even America's bossiest nanny-state Democrats don't usually express their contempt for the will of the people quite so crudely.
Or take Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, the European Commission spokesman (hat tip: John Kennett): "The procedures have been completed in nine countries representing over 220 million citizens. That is almost 49 percent of EU population. The Commission thinks this is a very important reason why the ratification procedures should go forward." Thus the EU has seemingly decided to skip the boring middle bit of actually getting there, and is assuming that Europe is already one state where majority of the total population decides, instead of majorities in each of the member states.

For more examples of Euro-absurdities you can always visit
No Pasaran, (which also notes that the referendum coincided with Patrick Henry's birthday), including this wonderful mention of a Dutch Member of European Parliament who thinks that voting could actually be undemocratic, at least when people are voting "no". Where are you, George Orwell?

I can actually understand - and evesympathizese - with some of the motivations behind the drive towards greater European integration. Europe has had lousy history, particularly over the last century, and many among the EUlites as well as ordinary people believe that the only way to ensure "never again" is to submerge European nation states in a pan-continental, post-modern, utopian structure where the enlightened few will forever keep away conflict, violence, rivalry and nationalism, the four horsemen that have traditionally plagued European history.

These are all laudable aims - after all, no one wants to see Europe go through another major war, hot or cold. It's just that creating a superstate - however well meaning - won't do. The EUlites have decided that it's the people who are the problem; they're the hotheaded bunch that has to be kept in check if Europe is to experience lasting peace, and they cannot be allowed to now sabotage the project to end all wars by voting "no" to further integration. The problem is that it has never been "the people" who had plunged Europe into conflict but their rulers, so transferring more power to increasingly less accountable politicians doesn't seem like the best solution to the problem, even if those politicians like to think of themselves as our virtuous betters.


Memorial day 

Let us remember and pray for all members of the armed forces who had died while serving their country.

Let us remember and pray for all members of the armed forces who are currently serving their country, whether in the United States or overseas.

Thank you and God bless.

P.S. Because of the Memorial Day holiday, "Good news from Afghanistan" which would normally be published today, will instead be available online next Monday.

P.P.S. For (lot) more Memorial Day blogging see Mudville Gazette and Blackfive, as well as Winds of Change, which compiled a list of ways to support the Coalition troops.

P.P.P.S. Even more at The Adventures of Chester and Ratzinger Fanclub.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Children's jihad 

A few days ago, 15-year old Palestinian boy Ahmed al-Nadi was stopped at a border checkpoint and found to be strapped with a bomb belt. "The army spokeswoman said it was the 14th time in the past two months that a Palestinian teenager had attempted to detonate a bomb or smuggle arms and explosives through a military checkpoint despite a de facto truce declared in February." (hat tip: Dr Judith Klinghoffer)

"The Jerusalem Post" has the background to this incident (hat tip: Dan Foty):
Leaders of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in Nablus have denied that the group was using minors for launching attacks on the IDF. But several sources in the city, including the boy's family and PA security officials, insist that the group was behind the botched attack.

They said members of the group in Balta refugee camp, which is also in the Nablus area, had recruited Mohammed after persuading him that he would be rewarded in heaven for killing Jews. They also promised to support his family after he becomes a shahid (martyr).

The boy's grandmother, Aziza, said the family was very angry with those who sent Mohammed to attack the soldiers. "They have no fear of God," she said. "They let us suffer because of our children, they don't respect God; they don't have a conscience. I hope that God will punish them because they are sending children this age, God will punish them. I'm suffering pain every day, crying every night before going to sleep. God knows how many tears there are on my pillow every night."
As the Arab saying goes, from your mouth to God's ear.

Meanwhile, in Iraq the terrorists (who in the past also used children - including mentally handicapped children, not to mention people handcuffed to steering wheels, or otherwise unwilling and remotely detonated) are now starting to use pets:
Insurgents in Iraq attached explosives to a dog and tried to blow up a military convoy near the northern oil centre of Kirkuk.

The canine bomb went off but the only casualty was the unfortunate animal, said police. The militants wrapped an explosive belt around the dog and detonated it as the convoy passed through Dakuk, 25 miles south of Kirkuk, said the town's police chief, Col Mohammed Barzaji.
PETA and pet lovers will be annoyed, but on the moral scale blowing up pooches is undoubtedly and improvement over blowing up kids (although still gutless - you will never see Al Zarqawi strapping himself with explosives when he can blow us some brainwashed suckers from Saudi Arabian middle class). And the use of animals is hardly a jihadi innovation - during World War Two, the Red Army was regularly using dogs strapped with mines who were taught to crawl under the German tanks. That's why Wehrmacht use to shoot dogs on sight as the war went on. The US Navy has also in the past toyed with using dolphins, although less as bomb carriers than bomb retrievers.


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