Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Get rid of this nut

This week's Economist mockingly awards Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the current holder of the European Presidency, the "Louis XVI Prize - for being out of touch." That is much to good for him - I hope Luxembourg rejects the European Constitution so that he can keep his pledge to step down if that should happen.
In recent weeks Mr. Juncker, who is strongly in favour of increased European integration, has been making a series of totally unhinged and undemocratic statements. Not only do they make him sound out of touch, they are also endangering the integrity of the European Union itself.
That should be particularly troubling for the EU, because it is a club that is based entirely on confidence and goodwill. If the idea gets around that it is a discredited organisation whose leaders are living in la-la-land, it may find it increasingly hard to impose its authority, even when it is enforcing EU law. National governments may become increasingly inclined to ignore edicts from Brussels. This process is already well under way with the destruction of the stability and growth pact. But the unravelling of the authority of the EU could, in time, extend to areas well beyond the enforcement of fiscal discipline. What would happen if tomorrow the commission were to tell Italy or France that they could not bail out troubled companies such as Alitalia or Alstom? In the current political climate, it would be tempting for the Italian or French governments simply to tell the commission to take a hike.
Such a confrontation would expose the flimsy foundations of EU power. When Little Rock refused to desegregate its schools in the 1950s, there were federal troops to enforce the will of the United States Supreme Court. Even Louis XVI had an army behind him. But the European Court of Justice and the European Commission, like the pope, have no divisions. They rely on the goodwill of EU members and the credibility of the organisation. Both are now under considerable strain.
Smart move, Jean-Claude!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


There has been a lot of talk recently about Africa: debt-relief, increased aid, the G8 summit, the Live 8 concert and so on. The increased focus on this problem is very positive as it represents a scandal of the modern world that an entire continent lives under such dire circumstances. Unfortunately, these things are not as simple as most people think ("the West has cruelly exploited Africa for centuries, and should now do the right thing and give more money"). There is plenty of evidence that not only is all this money not being spent appropriately, but that it might even be counter-productive.
The Spectator has an excellent article on how the money is spent. This, at any rate is really comforting:
Take, for example, Malawi's 'Benz Aid' scandal. In the year 2000 Bakili Muluzi was hailed as a paragon of African 'good governance' following the demise of Life President Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The Economist rated Blantyre as the best city to live in in the world. Britain promised to increase its aid from £30.8 million to £52.4 million in a single year specifically to help the 65 per cent of Malawians existing on less than 50 pence a day. Malawi's government celebrated by purchasing 39 top-of-the-range S-class Mercedes at a cost of £1.7 million. In the furore that followed, Clare Short, then international development secretary, ruled out a ban on aid to Malawi, explaining that the money used for the car purchases had not been skimmed off British aid but some other donor's.
Last year King Mswati III of Swaziland went against the grain. He passed over Mercedes and went for a £264,000 Maybach 62 for himself plus a fleet of BMWs for each of his 10 wives and three virginal fiancées selected annually at the football stadium ‘dance of the impalas’. Imagine if he continues buying BMW for his wives; his dad collected 50 spouses and 350 kids. In May southern Africa’s Mr Toad changed his mind about Mercedes and roared up to his rubber-stamp parliament in a new S600L limo. The total bill for his car purchases alone will be about £750,000, or three quarters of the annual figure for British assistance. Of the £14 million Swaziland gets in foreign aid, £9 million goes on the king’s balls, picnics and parties — and cars. Yet 70 per cent of Swazis languish in absolute poverty and four out of ten have HIV/Aids, the highest rate in the world.
Do read the whole thing. And see this excellent article in openDemocracy with an alternative suggestion. See here and here for further comments.
Even more worryingly, it seems that it isn't only states that foul things up - NGO's also create problems. Additionally the African leaders themselves often spread rumours and falsehoods that exacerbate problems: denying that HIV causes AIDS, claiming that Western donated vaccines are ploys to make Africans infertile; government sponsored AIDS education programs in South Africa teach that fat people do not contract AIDS. What is one to say to that? Help comes to those who help themselves.
Clearly what is needed is significant aid and debt-relief, with extensive follow-up on the money's use, only for those countries which can prove that they are not genocidal, repressive and corrupt. This should have the double benefit of helping the poor people there and giving strong incentives to the other countries to shape up.
The problem with this idea is that it will be hard to find suitable candidates for this largesse. Even Kenya, a relatively advanced country is terribly corrupt:
One of the most flagrant abuses of 'good governance' in Africa today is occurring in Kenya — original home of the WaBenzi. After decades of dictatorship voters in December 2002 swept Mwai Kibaki to power at the head of his NARC rainbow coalition on an anti-corruption ticket. 'Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya,’ Kibaki promised. The very first law Kibaki's parliament passed rewarded politicians with a 172 per cent salary increase. MPs’ take-home pay is now about £65,000 per annum (compared with a British MP's £57,485 gross) and the Kenyan MPs' fat package of allowances includes a £23,600 grant to buy a duty-free car, together with a monthly £535 fuel and maintenance allowance.
Take a look at Kenya's 2005–06 budget, read out by finance minister David Mwiraria to a cheering parliament in Nairobi on 8 June. According to the local Daily Nation, the government has allocated £3 million for the purchase of a fleet of new vehicles for the Office of the President. A further £2.9 million has been set aside for the maintenance of the existing car-pool of vehicles. One has to wonder if this expenditure of nearly £6 million, no doubt a lot of it on Mercedes-Benzes and far in excess of the sums involved in Malawi's 'Benz Aid' scandal, has anything to do with the increased aid supply.
And these are the elected leaders - imagine the dictators! How depressing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The American Interest

The New York Times reported a few months ago that some of the most prestigious members of the editorial board of The National Interest had left the well-known magazine.

Now, however, a philosophical disagreement within its editorial board has put its future in turmoil. On Friday, 10 well-known board members, including the conservatives Midge Decter, Samuel P. Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, announced their resignations, saying they disagreed with the narrowly realist foreign policy of its new owner, the Nixon Center.

They departed announcing that they were going to create a new magazine, to be named The American Interest. The new publication's website has just been put online and I must say it looks very good. I am very impressed with the editorial board and I am looking forward to the first issue, which will be coming out this fall.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Italy, the CIA and the ICC

    I'm not sure what to make of this story, but I think there are several points that should be underlined.
    Like in all Western countries, the Italian judiciary is totally separate and independent from the government, therefore this has nothing to do with the Italian government's foreign policy. On the contrary, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has had a very conflicted relationship with the judiciary: he has stood trial several times and his previous stint as PM was ended in 1994 by a subpoena. However, while there seems to be no doubt that Berlusconi has had a hand in shady business dealings, he has never been convicted (even though he has often gotten off through the statute of limitations).
    Nonetheless, unlike most Western countries the Italian judiciary is undeniably and gratingly politicized. A lot of judges and prosecutors are left-wing and do not hesitate to express their political opinions. Therefore, it is very hard to ever be sure of what is actually going on. Are convictions and aquittals based on impartial evidence or political preferences?
    As a result Italy is a nation in the grip of conspiracy theories. These mostly try to give a rationale for unexplained events (mostly in the post-WWII years), and there are plenty of those:
    • the Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969 (and various subsequent and related arrests, suicides [?] and murders),
    • the 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station,
    • the crash of ENI Chairman Enrico Mattei's airplane in 1962,
    • the 1978 assasination of PM Aldo Moro,
    • the suicide (?) of Banco Ambrosiano Chairman Roberto Calvi (God's Banker) in 1982,
    • the crash, off the coast of Ustica, of an internal commercial flight,
    • the P2 Masonic Lodge,
    • the Red Brigades, and the list goes on and on.
    It is precisely this lack of impartiality of the judiciary, and the absence of convincing official explanations that have allowed the proliferation of incredibly imaginative, complex and disturbing conspiracy theories (that often include CIA involvement). It comes as no surprise that in comparative studies (among Western nations) the Italian people have the lowest levels of confidence in their judicial system. The Dark Heart of Italy, by Financial Times journalist Tobias Jones, has an excellent account of this phenomenon.
    Given all this, I think it is safe to say that while the CIA's behaviour may not have been ideal, it is rather likely that the prosecutors may have been motivated by the desire to undermine the Berlusconi government by encouraging anti-American sentiment. See here and here.
    Is it any wonder then that the US is reluctant to sign up to the International Criminal Court? If the ICJ, with its significant limitations, is already unbelievably politicized, as has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by its ruling on the Israeli "Wall," can you imagine how easily the (vastly more unfettered) ICC will be hijacked as a tool to further anti-Americans' political ends? As expected this has actually already taken place:

    As the Court now begins its first session, you might suspect Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein would find an early place on the docket. Or maybe the ICC would try Kim Jong Il, the brutal North Korean dictator who has systematically starved two million of his subjects to death and tortured hundreds of thousands more in labor camps? Or it might train its guns on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who is also starving his own people while forcibly seizing land from his country’s white farmers? Or perhaps some of the myriad henchmen who have carried out the aforementioned individuals’ monstrous policies? Maybe the perpetrators of the ongoing, unspeakable atrocities in Congo, Liberia, and Sudan; or the agents of oppression, terror, and human-rights abuses scattered all over the Arab world?

    But none of these cases are soon to be heard. Instead, the Greek Bar Association has announced that it will file charges of “crimes against humanity and war crimes” with the ICC against British Prime Minister Tony Blair, because of his participation in the Iraq war. This is not at all surprising; from the very start, the main proponents of the ICC’s formation were “human rights” organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both of which traditionally oppose American foreign policy — and were ecstatic to find a vehicle with international “respectability” through which they could condemn any American military and political venture they dislike.

    See this outstanding Policy Review article in which John Rosenthal argues that the ICC actually undermines the UN system. Also see here and here for why the US is justified in refusing to join.

    Saturday, June 25, 2005

    Delusions on the war

    Most people in the West seem to believe, and this is certainly the impression given by the media, that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that since this was the rationale given for the war, it follows that the war was not "worth it."
    This is total bollocks.
    First of all, the rationale given by President Bush for the war did not rest only - or even mostly - on the fact that based on the most recent information available at the time, all intelligence agencies (even the French and Germans) thought that Saddam was developing WMD. Claiming it did, as has become fashionable, is a out-and-out lie, as a simple Google search will demonstrate. See roundups here, here and here.
    Secondly, and this might come as a surprise, WMD have been found on several occasions. Maybe not the labs we were expecting, but WMD nonetheless. See a recent post here (via Instapundit).
    Finally, even if they hadn't been found, there are still excellent reasons to argue that the war was "worth it," as Robert Kagan ably argues in the Washington Post. By the way, you should read his book, Of Paradise and Power, an analysis of European-American attitudes on the world and international relations which is absolutely brilliant. The essay the book is based on can be found here.

    Thursday, June 23, 2005

    Condi for President

    Less than a year into Bush's second term it is a little early to start thinking of the 2008 US Presidential elections. However, while reading the comments to this post, I couldn't resist the temptation of picturing a Hillary/Condi contest. For a host of reasons Condoleezza Rice would be my ideal candidate, as well as being in an optimal position to win the Presidency, even against Hillary. Here is a roundup of the various supporters' websites. I think it is a safe assumption that such a scenario is only realistic if over the next year and a half, Dick Cheney steps aside and is replaced by her. That would give her two to three years of "executive" experience that would give her the knowledge, image and position from which to successfully vault herself into the Presidency.
    I know this sounds pathetic, but the mere prospect makes me giddy!
    By the way, here are some level headed critical comments on recent Hillary bashing, and an equally level-headed defense by the author of the book in question.

    Good news for the environment

    Some good news on the environmental front: the US Senate has rejected a measure calling for mandatory greenhouse gas limits (see here and here for why this is good) and President Bush has been talking up nuclear energy (finally).
    Europeans meanwhile seem to have completely lost what little is left of their minds: as evidence emerges that European countries are totally unable to keep to the Kyoto targets, and that European industry is in crisis because of high energy prices, the EU announces that it wants to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020.
    Is this a joke? How difficult can it possibly be to understand that the insistence on limiting energy and carbon dioxide, which are essential for the economy and for life and plant growth, respectively, is stupid, and damaging even to the environment? The enormous cost of these operations (which, by the way, have very limited results) takes away the resources that are necessary to actually solve our environmental problems, through research and technology, not to mention the positive effects that a slightly warmer atmosphere will probably bring.

    Speedy justice

    The Italian justice system must be one of the most efficient in the world: we're still sentencing SS officers. Better late than never, I guess.
    The Italian judicial system is a shambles (see here, in Italian): an average civil trial lasts 337 days. On first appeal the duration goes to 1338 days (over three and a half years) and the Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione) receives more appeals in one year than it manages to resolve: the number of pending cases increased this year by 23%. Consequently the average duration of a case heard by the Supreme Court went from 836 days last year to 994 days this year. Even pending criminal trials have gone up by 27.6%, and their duration went from 194 to 261 days. In fact Italy was convicted of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights which enshrines the right to a fair and speedy trial.
    It is interesting to note that it is exactly this failure of national institutions that makes the Italians some of the most pro-European people around - we apparently hope that Europe will save us from ourselves (see here, in Italian). I wouldn't hold my breath, but no doubt it will be an improvement.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2005

    The war is over and we won

    The American Enterprise has an interesting column (via Instapundit), that puts the situation in Iraq into perspective. No doubt there are still enormous problems but the general impression people have is much more pessimistic than warranted (I wonder why...). Here is a further indication that things are improving, and see this analysis:
    Marines patrolling this desert region near the Syrian border have for months been seeing a strange new trend in the already complex Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents, they say, have been fighting each other in towns along the Euphrates from Husayba, on the border, to Qaim, farther west. The observations offer a new clue in the hidden world of the insurgency and suggest that there may have been, as American commanders suggest, a split between Islamic militants and local rebels.
    A United Nations official who served in Iraq last year and who consulted widely with militant groups said in a telephone interview that there has been a split for some time.
    "There is a rift," said the official, who requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks he had held. "I'm certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the Jihadists grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don't want against innocent civilians."
    The nationalist insurgent groups, "are giving a lot of signals implying that there should be a settlement with the Americans," while the Jihadists have a purely ideological agenda, he added.
    It is infuriating that so few people in Europe are even aware of what is going on.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    (Un)diplomatic bias

    A few days ago the Wall Street Journal ran an eye-opening (and depressing) article by Bret Stephens about a conversation he had with a senior German diplmomat posted in New York (via Davids Medienkritik):
    But the diplomat had no patience for my small talk. Apropos of nothing, he said he had recently made a study of U.S. tax laws and concluded that practices here were inferior to those in Germany. Given recent rates of German economic growth, I found this comment odd. But I offered no rejoinder. I was, after all, a guest in his home.
    The diplomat, however, was just getting started. Bad as U.S. economic policy was, it was as nothing next to our human-rights record. Had I read the recent Amnesty International report on Guantanamo? "You mean the one that compared it to the Soviet gulag?" Yes, that one. My host disagreed with it: The gulag was better than Gitmo, since at least the Stalinist system offered its victims a trial of sorts.
    Nor was that all. Civil rights in the U.S., he said, were on a par with those of North Korea and rather behind what they had been in Europe in the Middle Ages. When I offered that, as a journalist, I had encountered no restrictions on press freedom, he cut me off. "That's because The Wall Street Journal takes its orders from the government."
    I have no idea to what extent such despicable opinions are shared by the people of Germany (and the rest of Euorpe) but make no mistake, they are quite common - if often unexpressed. I find the sheer dishonesty of the comments simply baffling. Does this person seriously believe that what he is saying accurately and fairly reflects reality? How can it be that such people populate the upper echelons of the German diplomatic corps?
    To get a good idea of the extent of the bias take a look around Davids Medienkritik, an excellent blog that focuses on German attitudes. Some of the media here in Europe are literally corrupting the public dicourse by creating consensus opinions that are totally unmoored from reality - and in my view this is one of the most dangerous trends affecting the Western world (and Western Europe specifically). This is why the intellectual toil of exposing and debunking these incredible distortions and prejudices is so important and valuable.

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    The Gitmo Cookbook

    Very amusing. So finally we discover what these poor detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being fed (via Michelle Malkin). As usual Ann Coulter (also via MM) is deliciously sardonic:
    No cold meals, sleep deprivation or uncomfortable positions? Obviously, what we need to do is get the U.S. Army to serve drinks on commercial airlines and get the airlines to start supervising the detainees in Guantanamo.
    American soldiers make do with C-rations. Dinner on an America West flight from New York to Las Vegas consists of one small bag of peanuts. Meanwhile, one recent menu for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo consisted of orange-glazed chicken, fresh fruit crepe, steamed peas and mushrooms, and rice pilaf. Sounds like the sort of thing you'd get at Windows on the World – if it still existed.
    For some more excellent commentary on the subject see here and here.

    Friday, June 17, 2005

    The tragedy of Kyoto

    Incredibly I haven't done any Kyoto bashing in more than a week. Let me rectify that...
    Here is an incredible article in The Age, which has been widely linked in the Blogosphere. Since it requires registration (which I recommend), I'll quote the whole thing.
    Global warming cyclical, says climate expert
    By Philip Hopkins
    The Age, June 13 2005

    Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas and has helped produce the "green" world agricultural revolution, according to an Australian climate expert.
    Rob Carter, from James Cook University in Townsville, said the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in recent decades had boosted agricultural crop yields.
    "Carbon dioxide is the best aerial fertiliser we know about," he told the Victorian Farmers Federation in Morwell late last week.
    Professor Carter, a marine geologist, is research professor in the university's Marine Geophysical Laboratory. He said the Kyoto Protocol would cost billions, even trillions, of dollars and would have a devastating effect on the economies of countries that signed it. "It will deliver no significant cooling - less than 0.02 degrees Celsius by 2050," he said.
    "The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been the main scaremonger for the global warming lobby … Fatally, the IPCC is a political, not a scientific body."
    To understand climate change, it was necessary to look at the longer record, he said. Through an examination of material taken from deep below the ocean floor, marine geologists could study layers of earth's history similar to the way a tree's age could be determined by tree rings.
    "We are in a relatively warm period today," he said. "But 20,000 years ago, it was as cold as it has ever been - that was the peak of the last glaciation."
    Professor Carter said that over 2.5 million years there had been 50 glacial and interglacial periods. Of the past 400,000 years, the earth had been colder for 90 per cent of the time, with briefer warmer periods of about 10,000 years.
    He said the earth was now at the end of a warmer period, and reputable climate-change scientists agreed that the climate was going to get colder. The debate was whether it would take tens, hundreds or even thousands of years to occur.
    On a shorter time scale, Professor Carter said the earth had broadly got warmer in the modern period, from 1860 to 2000, although it had also been warmer in Roman and medieval times. There had also been a Little Ice Age between 1550 and the 19th century, when the Thames used to freeze over.
    A cooling trend took place between 1940 and 1970, when temperatures began to rise again, reaching a peak in 1998. "This coincided with the biggest El Nino in the 20th century," he said.
    However, research by the climate research unit at East Anglia University in Britain had shown that the average global temperature had declined since 1998.
    Professor Carter said greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide were not causing the earth to warm up. On both annual and geological (up to 100,000-year) time scales, changes in temperature preceded changes in carbon dioxide, he said.
    This was true even in the famous 1960-1991 graph showing rising amounts of carbon dioxide.
    Professor Carter said that without the natural greenhouse effect, the average earth temperature would be minus 18 degrees Celsius, compared with the average of plus 15 Celsius that had nurtured the development of life and civilisation.
    Water vapour made up about 95 per cent of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide was a minor greenhouse gas, responsible for 3.6 per cent of the total greenhouse effect, he said. Of this, only 0.12 per cent, or 0.036 degrees Celsius, could be attributed to human activity.
    Climate had always changed and "always will", he said. "The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it."
    So much for a scientific consensus in favour of Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol is an unmitigated disaster, particularly for those who care about the environment (as I do). A colossal misallocation of resources, which will do untold damage to the world economy and ironically mitigate scientific and technological advances (which could really improve the environment), all this with a laughable effect on global warming.
    See EnviroSpin Watch, an excellent blog on the subject. For Kyoto fundamentalists, this documentary is an absolute must. And remember, these are some of the world's foremost climatologists (and here's a hint: they are not happy about Kyoto).

    Dr. Kevorkian, call your office

    Get a load of this: two PETA employees have been arrested for cruelty to animals (via Drudge). I've mentioned PETA and its practice of killing animals before. They claim that they do it so as to spare the animals more painful deaths:
    PETA euthanizes animals by lethal injection, which it considers more humane than gassing groups of animals, as poor counties are forced to do, O'Brien said.
    "PETA has provided euthanasia services to various counties in (North Carolina) to prevent animals from being shot behind a shed or gassed in windowless metal boxes, both practices that were carried out until PETA volunteered to provide a painless death, free of charge," Newkirk said.
    However the appalling reality is that apparently this is not the case:
    But veterinarian Patrick Proctor said that authorities found a female cat and her two "very adoptable" kittens among the dead animals. He said they were taken from Ahoskie Animal Hospital.
    "These were just kittens we were trying to find homes for," he said. "PETA said they would do that, but these cats never made it out of the county."
    PETA had taken 50 animals from Proctor's practice over the past two years, he said. PETA also has taken animals from veterinarian James Brown in Northampton County. "When they started taking them, they said they would try to find homes for them," Brown said, adding that no one checked on the animals afterward.
    Even more damningly all this killing wouldn't be at all necessary if PETA spent its significant resources on some less radical-chic ideas:
    PETA kills animals. Because it has other financial priorities.
    PETA raked in nearly $29 million last year in income, much of it raised from pet owners who think their donations actually help animals. Instead, the group spends huge sums on programs equating people who eat chicken with Nazis, scaring young children away from drinking milk, recruiting children into the radical animal-rights lifestyle, and intimidating businessmen and their families in their own neighborhoods. PETA has also spent tens of thousands of dollars defending arsonists and other violent extremists.
    PETA claims it engages in outrageous media-seeking stunts "for the animals." But which animals? Carping about the value of future two-piece dinners while administering lethal injections to puppies and kittens isn't ethical. It's hypocritical -- with a death toll that PETA would protest if it weren't their own doing.
    PETA kills animals. And its leaders dare lecture the rest of us.
    These are radicals with warped minds. Where is the outrage?

    Thursday, June 16, 2005

    Where are the human rights protesters?

    Hair-raising article on North Korea (via GayandRight). Shame on China for supporting this dangerous and murderous regime, when it would be so easy for them to pressure Kim Jong Il to shape up (just by threatening to stop supplies of food and energy).
    On second thought, what can you expect from a regime whose founder, Mao Zedong, murdered a mind-boggling 70 million people? (For this figure see this book, article here and critique here.)

    Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson

    Chritopher Hitchens has an absolutely eye-popping article about the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini (via GayandRight):
    Young Khomeini has been spending a good deal of his time in Iraq, where he has many friends among the Shia. He is a strong supporter of the United States intervention in that country, and takes a political line not dissimilar to that of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. In practice, this means the traditional Shia belief that clerics should not occupy posts of political power. In Iranian terms, what it means is that Khomeini (his father and elder brother died some years ago, so he is the most immediate descendant) favors the removal of the regime established by his grandfather. "I stand," he tells me calmly, "for the complete separation of religion and the state." In terms that would make the heart of a neocon soar like a hawk, he goes on to praise President Bush's State of the Union speech, to warn that the mullahs cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons, and to use the term "Free World" without irony: "Only the Free World, led by America, can bring democracy to Iran."
    I wonder how many people here in Europe are aware of this. Do read the whole article.


    Citizen Smash has a level-headed and convincing post (via Instapundit) on people who try to counteract military recruiters' work. What a bunch of idiots! Would they rather have a military-draft?
    As George Orwell is reputed to have said: "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
    The people who do the thankless job of recruiting for the military have all my admiration and respect.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    When will Europe awaken?

    Robert Samuelson has an interesting column in the Washington Post on the fact that, far from becoming a counter-weight to US power, Europe is actually well on its way to extinction. While I do believe that when the situation becomes critical enough, as in Great Britain in the 1970's, a society can undergo enormous changes (if there is a strong and committed leadership), it is undeniable that many Europeans are simply blind to the most pressing problems we face: declining birth-rates and lackluster economic growth. Samuelson says it best:
    A few countries (Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands) have acted, and there are differences between Eastern and Western Europe. But in general Europe is immobilized by its problems. This is the classic dilemma of democracy: Too many people benefit from the status quo to change it; but the status quo isn't sustainable. Even modest efforts in France and Germany to curb social benefits have triggered backlashes. Many Europeans -- maybe most -- live in a state of delusion. Believing things should continue as before, they see almost any change as menacing. In reality, the new E.U. constitution wasn't radical; neither adoption nor rejection would much alter everyday life. But it symbolized change and thereby became a lightning rod for many sources of discontent (over immigration in Holland, poor economic growth in France).
    I really do believe that we are capable of solving these problems. However, I suspect that, unfortunately, it will take more acute malaise and stagnation before continental Europe is awakened from its torpor. It is a pity that these things take so long here.

    Monday, June 13, 2005

    Guns as a human right

    Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has a very interesting post about the right to bear arms (via Citizen Smash). As a European I too feel uncomfortable about guns, but the argument he makes is extremely compelling:
    As many of you know, I'm from Canada. We have a pretty different attitude to guns up here, and I must say that American gun culture has always kind of puzzled me. To me, one no more had a right to a gun than one did to a car.
    Well, my mind has changed. Changed to the point where I see gun ownership as being a slightly qualified but universal global human right.
    Here's the crux, the argument before which all other arguments pale into insignificance:
    The Right to Bear Arms is the only reliable way to prevent genocide in the modern world.
    Do read the whole thing: it is argued clearly and cogently.

    Friday, June 10, 2005

    Give 'em hell Tony!

    I am pleasantly surprised by Tony Blair's intransigence with regard to the UK's EU contributions rebate. I hope he doesn't give in and remembers Margaret Thatcher's memorable line: "We are not asking the Community or anyone else for money. We are simply asking to have our own money back."
    French President Jacques Chirac has called on Britain to "make an effort" over the EU budget, amid an escalating row about the UK's rebate.
    Speaking alongside German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Mr Chirac called for "greater fairness" in EU contributions.
    Make an effort? Greater fairness? They already pay more than you do - have the decency to at least shut up (and enjoy the farm subsidies while they last)!
    I would be even happier if Blair used the rebate issue to force at least a partial dismantling of that crime against humanity known as the Common Agricultural Policy and generally reform the EU budget. Did you know that the entire European Parliament - MEPs, staff and all - move, for one week a month, from Brussels to Strasbourg to make the French feel important? Can you imagine how much tax money is spent just on this minor stunt?

    EU Constitution - Postmortem

    The Weekly Standard has the most lucid and honest analysis (that I have seen) of why the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected by the French and Dutch voters, and what it means (via Zacht Ei). It is telling that we have to wait for an American weekly to pull the threads together and explain.

    Thursday, June 09, 2005

    The "Downing Street Memo"

    There is increasing talk among the chattering classes of impeaching Bush & Co. because of the so-called "Downing Street Memo." See here for why this is a ridiculous notion (via DM, who also has interesting comments on bias in German newspapers).

    Conspiracy theories

    This truly boggles the mind: a few days ago the German state-owned TV channel ARD aired a 90-minute fictional episode which clearly implied that Bush & Co. organized the 9/11 attacks to gain oil and power. See Davids Medienkritik for all the details.
    The Washington Times reports:
    Many Germans think, for example, that the 1969 moon landing was faked, and a poll published in the weekly Die Zeit showed that 31 percent of Germans younger than 30 "think that there is a certain possibility that the U.S. government ordered the attacks of 9/11."
    At the same time:
    The U.S. Embassy in Berlin was not impressed with the latest episode, which seemed to use haunting Arabic music to portray Arabs and Muslims as innocent victims of American aggression.
    "Any claim or suggestion that the United States government was behind the 9/11 disaster is absolutely absurd and not worthy of further comment," said Robert A. Wood, spokesman for the embassy.
    A German diplomat in Washington said no one in Germany took the plot seriously because it was "pure fiction."
    "It was so out of line with what people really think," the diplomat said, adding that the episode does not deserve further comment.
    Are these guys out of their minds? "Not worthy of further comment"?! There should be an all-out diplomatic and media offensive rejecting and disproving these spurious, dangerous and insulting lies and the people charged with representing the US abroad are not even going to comment?! This is outrageous!
    Anyway, why would over 7 million people watch such a thing if they thought (correctly) that it was totally ridiculous even to contemplate such a possibility? What would the reaction be if ARD produced a fictional TV drama in which Jews are depicted as fabricating the evidence proving the Holocaust happened? Would that be brushed off as "pure fiction"?

    Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden?

    I am simply flabbergasted. It is true that this kind of totally meaningless tripe routinely appears in Italy's major newspapers, but this is really the outside of enough. It is bad enough that often editorials and reviews in Italian papers are filled with incomprehensible and totally meaningless pseudo-intellectual speak, but this article is also highly insulting.
    More importantly, how can a rational and thinking person consider this a remotely reasonable, valid and useful analogy? I literally don't know whether to laugh or cry - this is the Italian intelligentsia's idea of interesting commentary? See
    Normblog's comments.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    The Hydrogen Engine

    It is often said that the future of cars lies with the fuel cell, which runs on hydrogen. Since its only emission would be water, it would go a long way to solve many of the environmental problems caused by cars. However the fuel cell seems to suffer an insurmountable problem: on the one hand the engines themselves won't be market-efficient for at least a few years and when they will be nobody would want a fuel cell car because there is no distribution system for hydrogen in place - therefore no possibility to refuel.
    The Financial Times has an interesting article today that discusses a possible solution to this problem: the creation of a hydrogen engine.
    But now a competing technology, which enables ordinary internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen, will soon start to hit the road.
    Enthusiasts say the hydrogen engine could help smooth the introduction of hydrogen as a fuel - a process that will require heavy investment in filling stations, hydrogen production and specialised components.
    The hope is that hydrogen engines will provide a "bridging technology" to fuel cells, says Vance Zanardelli, Ford's chief engineer for hydrogen engines. "When the fuel cell is ready for prime time, the world needs to be ready for hydrogen," he adds.
    This is excellent news. There are several disadvantages to the hydrogen engine compared to the fuel cell, but it seems to me that this would be an ideal way to encourage the creation of a hydrogen distribution system.
    Another reason I am happy that these kinds of developments are taking place is that I believe the Kyoto Protocol is a useless and costly mistake (see here and here) and Europeans will realize the folly of it once it hits them in the pocket (without actually improving the environment). Anti-americanism may be good fun, but are we really willing to pay for it thorugh the nose, all the while destroying what little is left of our economies?
    Tech Central Station (hideous name - but great website) has an interesting article explaining why this is so.
    According to the European Environment Agency only two countries are on track to comply with the Kyoto targets, the UK and Sweden. Funnily enough, both of them are doing well because of political decisions that (1) date back to the 1980s and (2) have nothing to do with climate. In other words, climate policies aren't helping them move towards their supposed target, whereas other policies (that may or may not be wise for other reasons) do. Such policies include the shift from coal to natural gas (as is the case for the UK) and a strong reliance on nuclear power (which provides some 45 percents of Swedish electricity needs).
    ETS (the European Trading Scheme) is designed to work in the short, not the long, run. Emission reductions are targeted to 2008-2012. The risk then is that we invest in inefficient ways to reduce emissions because we need to do it quickly - instead of taking more time to find more efficient and beneficial methods. Moreover, emission reductions under ETS are going to be fake: a form of money redistribution between those who exceed the Kyoto targets and those who have been good negotiators and have obtained national goals that they would have met anyway for unrelated reasons. That means most companies will have to pay a lot to buy allowances, and will have less to spend on innovation. Some will get richer, some will get poorer, but nobody will end up with cleaner technologies because nobody will invest in research & development.
    Do read the whole article. The real question is how long it will take us to realize this, and focus on actual solutions. I'm not holding my breath.

    Moore and the Left

    Clive Davis, who wrote this nice article on Michael Moore in the (London) Times two years ago, has an excellent Moore-bashing interview (via AS) with Jesse Larner, who cannot be accused of being a right-wing partisan. Larner recently authored a biography of Moore and while I disagree with most of his politics, he makes many interesting and fair-minded points.
    While we're on the subject I highly recommend this excellent review of Farenheit 9/11 by Christopher Hitchens, another voice of the Left who can't abide Moore's dishonesty.

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    Raid on the Sun

    Twenty-four years ago today, at 5:35 pm, a group of Israeli F-15s and F-16s changed the course of history by successfully bombing and destroying the Osirak nuclear reactor at Al Tuweitha, near Baghdad, Iraq. Here is an interesting (albeit cheesy) presentation that explains the details (also see here). Last year an outstanding book was published which gives all the background and details of the story. This is one of those rarely discussed and often distorted events to which Winston Churchill's words apply: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." It is, at any rate, comforting to see that as soon as there is something questionable going on anywhere in the world Italy is never far behind and Chirac has his hands in it as well (via sleepingfeet). Incidentally, I'd like to take this opportunity to join the Economist in calling on him to resign (for totally unrelated, but equally felt reasons).

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    In your face

    Front Page Magazine has an excellent article (see related comments at Samizdata; via Instapundit) by Hussein Shirazi. Some people advocate the immediate withdrawal of US and Allied troops from Iraq (because, according to them, this would stop the insurgency). Shirazi analyses the past accuracy of some of these pundits' predictions - and the picture is not pretty. More intellectual capital should be invested in this kind of enterprise. The public should know to what extent the people who loudly advocate a certain policy have been utterly wrong in the past. This is not to say that a mistake should invalidate pundits' opinions and analyses, but the extent of trust placed in them should, at least in part, be proportional to their general accuracy. Alas, this is often not the case at all. A heightened focus on this aspect of the public discourse would lubricate the market of ideas and increase its efficiency.

    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    The enigmatic Swiss

    In an ironic epilogue to a disastrous week for Europhiles the Swiss have approved a measure that will make them part of the Schengen and Dublin Accords, which means that they will scrap border controls by 2007. I am quite surprised that the Swiss, who became members of the UN only in 2002, and until recently had the St. Gothard tunnel stuffed with explosives in order to be able to blow it up in case of an invasion (from Italy?), have proven to be the most pro-European of people.
    Additionally they voted to grant gay couples equal inheritance and tax rights. Good work for a country that granted women universal suffrage only in 1971. See here for comments.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    The Tribune and the Times

    Anybody who thinks that there is really no bias in European media and society, should read this spectacular editorial that appeared in the Jerusalem Post a year-and-a-half ago and compares an article that was published in the New York Times with its "edited" version that appeared in the Times' international edition, the International Herald Tribune.
    But it turns out that IHT editors often "improve" the Times copy a bit. The adjustments are minor in terms of the amount of text changed, yet sufficient to give the reader a completely different understanding of events.
    I discovered this only last month, having never before thought to compare an IHT article to its Times original. What sparked the discovery was a piece in the IHT's December 27-28 edition, entitled "Israeli tactics assure future bombings, Palestinians assert" and credited to the Times. The article's main thrust was that the Israel Defense Forces believes its two-pronged anti-terror campaign – construction of the separation fence and frequent raids aimed at arresting terrorists and destroying bomb-making facilities – has significantly reduced the number of successful attacks.
    But the article also claimed that the December 25 bombing at the Geha Junction ended a three-month period that "seemed to be a sort of unofficial cease-fire. In that time, Palestinian radical groups carried out no suicide bombings."
    This struck me as outrageous, since a cease-fire implies that no attacks were attempted – whereas, according to IDF statistics, there were no fewer than 22 attempted suicide bombings during that time, all foiled by Israel's security forces. But when I checked the article on the Times Web site in preparation for an angry letter to that paper, I discovered the following:
    The Times never referred to this period as a cease-fire.
    The Times explicitly mentioned that "numerous terror attempts" had been made during this period and were thwarted by Israel; that entire paragraph was cut from the IHT piece.
    The Times did not say that Palestinians "carried out no suicide bombings," giving the false impression that they attempted none; it merely said, correctly, that no bombings took place.
    Moreover, the Times article carried a very different – and far more accurate – headline:
    "Bombing after lull: Israel still believes the worst is over."
    The result is that the average Times reader came away with the following impression: Israel's military activity produced three months in which no Israelis were killed, despite "numerous terror attempts." This activity is thus saving Israeli lives, and therefore potentially justifiable.
    But the IHT reader received the opposite impression: Neither the fence nor the raids were justified, since there was an "unofficial cease-fire" and Palestinians were not committing attacks in any case. Moreover, since no attempts took place during this period, Israel's activity did not save a single life.
    In short, rather than preventing bombings, Israel is, as the IHT headline asserts, "assuring future bombings" by persecuting the Palestinians for no reason.
    Do read the whole article: it goes on to recount several other instances of breathtaking creative editing. No wonder the Times has long lost its reputation as the newspaper of record.

    Amnesty International

    Austin Bay has an excellent post on the Amnesty International report (via Instapundit).

    Identification cards

    The BBC has a very interesting interview with Jean-Louis Bruguiere (additional profile here), a top French anti-terrorism investigative magistrate. Perhaps surprisingly, France has some of the strictest anti-terrorism laws and policies in the Western world (see this fascinating Washington Post article for more details). Therefore it is interesting that Bruguiere says
    that courts should be allowed to consider evidence gathered by wire-tapping - as in France, but unlike the UK, where it is inadmissible
    and that
    compulsory ID cards had proved "very important" in his country's effort to thwart attacks.
    Both the UK and the US are taking into consideration measures that would create compulsory identity cards. In an Anglo-Saxon setting this is highly controversial because of the power it gives the government to pry into one's movements and activities, and I respect that concern. However, as I come from a country (Italy) where having ID on you at all times is compulsory, it doesn't seem as scary to me, because I have never witnessed (nor am I aware of incidents of) official abuse in this respect. It is true that there are also concerns about criminals or terrorists hacking into the networks that store the data, but I have no doubt that if implemented sensibly these risks can be minimised. Additionally ID cards have existed in many European countries for years and I am not aware of criminals easily forging them, as some critics say they will.
    See here for an overview of the issues and also see this well-argued criticism of the US plan which apppeared in the Wall Street Journal. A description of the UK plan appears here.
    Notwithstanding the legitimate concerns, it seems to me that, now that we have passed from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Western democracies need to have effective tools to counter the dispersed, but heightened threat that terrorists pose. No doubt, there need to be safeguards and clear limitations to ensure that people's civil rights are respected at all times. At the same time ID cards are not in themselves an effective solution, if they are not used in the context of a sensible intelligence program: otherwise these dire predictions will come true. Nonetheless it seems to me that there is no realistic alternative to (well regulated) ID cards if we want to ensure that the State can count on the most effective tools to combat terrorism.

    Torture, Andrew and Instapundit

    Because of my legendary laziness I barely ever write to newspapers, bloggers or companies to protest. However this post surprised me so much that I wrote to Andrew. Here is the letter:
    Dear Andrew,
    in this post you accuse Glenn Reynolds of ignoring or disputing your coverage of the abuse and torture scandal plaguing the US military, because you are gay. I am a regular reader of your blog and of Instapundit, both of which I consider essential reading. Your accusation is unfounded and hysterical (which is ironic - since you make it while denying that you were being hysterical). I am convinced that torture has taken place, and I think it is important that the situation be rectified (see here), however I would like to underline that even for me (and I am not even American) your coverage of the subject has actually been so hysterical that I find it hard to read through it. Its reasoning and tone clearly indicate that you always assume the worst case scenario, and this is very grating. Additionally, for someone who accuses others of obfuscation because their coverage is not in your view "balanced" (eg. on Iraq), your discussions on this subject are amazingly one-sided. At any rate, the contrast with the post which Glenn (and now you) link to could not be clearer.
    In light of this I would like to register my shock at your accusation and express my belief that you owe Glenn a public apology.
    Best Regards,
    Italian Jew
    The Armchair View