Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Good news

One of the most annoying human beings alive, Dominique de Villepin, has been nominated to be the next prime minister of France. This is excellent news because being prime minister under Chirac, in these difficult economic times, will probably destroy his political career. If Chirac had wanted to make a really clever move he should have appointed his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy to the post, which would have ruined his mystique and damaged his hopes of becoming the UMP's presidential candidate in 2007 (and replacing Chirac, who wants to run again).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Human Rights

It is a tragedy of the first order that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which should be working to protect and defend human rights worldwide, should be so influenced by biases and prejudices that they have completely lost their ability and moral authority to properly carry out their mission. It is very disturbing to observe the rabid hatred of the US and total lack of proportion that has been taken up by these organizations. An excellent example is the recently released report "The state of the world's human rights" by Amnesty International. A gulag? Do these people even know what a gulag is? See AtlanticBlog and GayandRight for further comments.
Here is an example of a fair-minded and damning critique of the abuses that have taken place under the US Army (via Instapundit). These actions need to be exposed, condemned and rectified as far as possible. It is too bad that those (like me) who care about these things cannot count on two of the most important organizations in this field to be fair-minded, trustworthy, proportionate and constructive. Also see Indepundit for an interesting perspective (via Instapundit).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The EU Constitution

It is very hard to have a balanced and informed opinion on what effects France's and Holland's likely rejection of the EU Constitution will have on the EU, partly because of the complexity and uncertainty of the issue, but mostly because most of the dicussion on this subject is dominated by emotional hyperbole (get a load of this). This week the Economist has an excellent leader (subscription required) that makes the case for a rejection of the document. There are very few issues on which I disagree with this excellent weekly, and this is not one of them. A few years ago, when I was still in high school, the Economist itself published a proposed constitution for the EU, and I have been bringing it to the attention of people ever since. It is a crying shame that this truly excellent proposal has not garnered more attention: one can quibble over some details but I think it is undeniable that to become "closer to the people" the EU needs a constitution along these lines - short and clear. I have the feeling that people are fed up with the feeling that enormous amounts of money are spent (or are they wasted?) by people who don't have to answer directly to voters and without a clear idea for what purpose. And don't tell me "it's the people that don't care enough to find out": if you want to spend, it is your responsibility to convince people to care. Furthermore I think that the EU needs to digest the radical changes it has gone through recently, before more is heaped on our plate. Biting off too much is actually more dangerous for the EU than slowing down for a while.
Anyway, for the benefit of those who aren't subscribed to the Economist (whyever are you not?), I have quoted the full text of the proposed document below. It would be truly great (and very surprising) if such a rational document were to become the constitution of Europe.
A constitution for the European Union
Oct 26th 2000
From The Economist print edition

We among the states of Europe, seeking to encourage peaceful, open and constructive relations between our peoples, and seeking to advance our common interests in the world, ordain and establish this Constitution for our European Union. This constitution shall prevail over other European and national law, including treaties of the Union, should conflict arise.

Founding principles
The Union is established by the Treaty on European Union signed in Maastricht on February 7th 1992, and founded on the European Communities.
The Union shall uphold the principles of liberty, democracy and the rule of law.
The Union and its Member States shall respect the fundamental rights of citizens, including, but not limited to, those rights guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on November 4th 1950, and rights common among Member States. (1)
All powers, other than those clearly delegated to the Union by this constitution and by the treaties of the Union, are reserved to the Member States.
The Union and the Member States shall uphold the principle of subsidiarity. (2)
English, French and German shall have equal standing as the sole official languages of the Union institutions. (3)
The Union shall have legal personality. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.
Any citizen of the Union having the right to move and reside freely within his own Member State shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of all Member States.
A citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote in his country of residence only. (4)
Heads of government, one from each Member State, shall meet at least once every six months, as the European Council. (5) This European Council shall be the high policy-making body of the Union. It shall give instructions and guidance to the Council of Ministers and to the European Commission, which shall be published after each meeting along with voting records. (6)
The Union shall be served by the following common institutions: a Parliament, a Council of Nations, a Council of Ministers, a Commission, a Central Bank, a Court of Justice and a Court of Auditors. These institutions shall possess those powers, and only those powers, granted to them through treaties ratified by all Member States.
Parliament shall consist of representatives of the peoples of the Member States. Representatives shall be elected by direct universal suffrage for terms of five years. Their number shall not exceed 100. Seats shall be allocated among Member States in reasonable proportion to population. Parliament shall fix its own rules of procedure. (7)
Parliament shall debate the policies and the legislation of the Union. It may strike down legislation and it may propose amendments to legislation, where this is authorised by the treaties of the Union. It may request the Commission to propose legislation to the Council of Ministers. It may bring actions before the Court of Justice.
Parliament, including committees of the Parliament, has a general right to question in public hearings any member of the Commission, or any proposed member of the Commission.
Parliament may, acting by a two-thirds majority of its members, dismiss any member of the Commission. (8)
No judge shall be appointed to the Court of Justice without approval from the Parliament.
Save as otherwise provided here and in the treaties of the Union, Parliament shall act by a simple majority of the votes cast.
The Council of Nations
The Council of Nations shall consist of representatives drawn from the parliaments of Member States, according to procedures devised by the respective parliaments. Seats shall be allocated with reference to population, save that every Member State shall have at least two representatives and the number of representatives shall not exceed three times the number of Member States.
The Council of Nations shall act as a constitutional council. It shall have power to overrule the Court of Justice. It may strike down legislation. The Council shall act by a simple majority of the votes cast. (9)
The Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers shall be the legislature of the Union. It shall consist of one representative of each Member State. Each representative shall have the rank of government minister, and shall be authorised by his government to make commitments on its behalf.
The Council of Ministers shall consider, and, when it so decides, enact, laws and resolutions furthering the aims of the Union as set down in this Constitution and in such other treaties as Member States may from time to time enact, provided always that any such treaties have been ratified by all Member States.
The Council shall act by unanimity where the treaties of the Union require it to do so. At all other times it shall act by a double-majority system: to carry, a vote shall be supported by a majority of Member States, containing a majority of the Union’s population. (10)
An agenda shall be published before each Council meeting. A voting record shall be published immediately after it. (11)
In all other respects, the Council shall fix its own rules of procedure.
The Commission
The Commission shall be the secretariat of the Union. (12) It shall consist of a president and 12 commissioners (13), having authority over a civil service. It may propose and draft legislation for the Union, at the direction of the European Council or at the request of the Parliament. It shall have the right to bring cases before the Court of Justice. It shall have the general task of ensuring that the laws of the Union are respected.
The European Council shall appoint the President of the Commission, acting by a simple majority. The President shall be appointed for a term of five years, which may be renewed. Member States shall propose candidates for commissioners’ posts from among their own nationals. The President of the Commission shall choose his commissioners from among those candidates, also for terms of five years, and shall decide their responsibilities. (14)
Commissioners shall act in the general interest of the Union. They shall neither seek nor take instruction from any Member State nor from any private interest.
The Commission shall act by a simple majority of its members.
The Court of Justice
The judicial power of the Union shall be vested in the Court of Justice, and in such inferior courts as Member States may ordain and establish through treaties. The Court shall be the supreme court of the Union in matters of Union law only, save that it may be overruled by the Council of Nations on matters which the Council of Nations considers to be constitutional in nature. The court shall have appellate jurisdiction over inferior courts, including those of Member States, in matters of Union law only.
Each Member State shall appoint one judge to the Court of Justice, save that no appointment shall be made without the approval of the Parliament. A judge in office may be dismissed only by a vote to that effect by both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The retirement age for judges shall be 70.
The judges shall elect a President of the Court from among their number, and shall fix their own rules of procedure.
The Commission, the Parliament and the governments of Member States have the right to bring actions before the Court. The Court may choose to hear actions brought by private and legal persons.
No judge shall seek or take instruction from any Member State or from any private interest.
The Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors shall examine the revenue and expenditure accounts of the Union and its institutions. At least once each year it shall provide the Parliament and the Council of Ministers with a statement of assurance as to the reliability of the accounts, and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions. This statement shall be made public.
Each Member State shall nominate one member to the Court. Each member of the Court shall act in the general interest of the Union. None shall seek or take instruction from any Member State or from any private interest.
The Central Bank
The Central Bank shall be governed solely by an executive board consisting of a President, a Vice-President, and five other members. (15) Each shall be appointed by the European Council, by simple majority vote, save that heads of governments representing countries outside the Monetary Union shall not participate in voting on these appointments. Each executive board member shall be appointed to an eight-year term, which shall not be renewable.
The Central Bank shall define and implement the monetary policy of the Monetary Union, this Monetary Union consisting of all, and only of, Member States that have adopted the euro as their sole legal tender.
The primary aim of the monetary policy of the Central Bank shall be the maintenance of price stability within the Monetary Union.
The Central Bank shall hold and manage the official foreign reserves of those Member States within the Monetary Union. It shall have the exclusive right to authorise the issuing of banknotes and coins within the Monetary Union.
Members of the executive board shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government nor any private interest.
The Union shall levy no taxes. (16)
The Union, and Member States, shall strive to remove all obstacles to the free movement of goods, and services, and capital within the Union. Save that governments may disallow the free movement of specified goods and services where there is a clear and significant risk to public health, or public order, or national security. No national law regulating the taxation of income or profit shall be construed as an obstacle to the free movement of goods, or services, or capital. (17)
The Union shall fix common rules on competition to assist the proper functioning of free markets.
The Union shall fix a common regime for trade between Member States and other countries.
Monetary Union
Membership of the Monetary Union is open to all Member States, save that Member States within the Monetary Union may impose reasonable, objective and non-discriminatory entry criteria on Member States wishing to join the Monetary Union.
Justice and home affairs
The Union shall fix a common policy for the entry of foreign nationals on to the territory of Member States.
The Union shall fix a common policy for the granting of asylum by Member States.
A person charged with a criminal offence in a Member State carrying a sentence of imprisonment shall be given up for extradition, on the demand of a high court, by any other Member State in which he may be residing or in which he may have taken refuge, promptly, or on completion of any prison sentence he may be serving, or about to serve, when the extradition request is made. (18)
Foreign and defence policy
The Council of Ministers shall appoint a High Representative, authorised to speak for the Union in matters of foreign and defence policy on which the Council of Ministers has agreed a common position. The High Representative shall have the right to seek decisions from the Council in matters of foreign and defence policy. (19)
Member States shall seek to agree common positions when acting in international organisations, save on questions of national representation. (20)
Other policy areas
Member States may, through treaties, grant powers to the Union in other policy areas, and take back powers granted previously, so long as such treaties are ratified by all Member States. (21)
Treaties made among groups of member states
Member States may make treaties among themselves to which some but not all Member States are signatory. Parties to any such treaty may choose to make the treaty justiciable before the Court of Justice, provided that:
i) Nothing in the policy content of the treaty contradicts anything in the main policy content of this Constitution or any existing treaty of the Union;
ii) The parties include at least half the Member States of the Union at the time of signature, and no other party at any time;
iii) Any other Member State may accede to the treaty at any time, subject only to reasonable, objective and non-discriminatory criteria.
Member States, acting by a three-quarters majority of states, may agree to admit to membership of the Union other countries that are able and willing to meet the obligations of membership. (22)
Supension and secession
The Council of Ministers may suspend the voting rights of a Member State, if that Member State departs from the basic values or violates basic rules of the Union. (23) In such cases the Council of Ministers must act by a three-quarters majority of states, exclusive of the Member State that is the subject of the vote.
A Member State may leave the Union at any time. (24)
This constitution may be amended only by all Member States acting unanimously, and after a referendum in each and every Member State on the proposed amendment or amendments.
1) There is thus no need for an additional charter of fundamental rights, currently under discussion.
2) This enshrines in the constitution a principle that governments have often proclaimed, but which has rarely been used in practice as a way to judge or justify new initiatives.
3) This shifts the main burden of other translation to member states that want it.
4) There may be arguments for assigning the voting right to the country of nationality, rather than the country of residence. But taxation is based mainly on place of residence. The formula chosen here preserves the link between taxation and representation. A citizen may, on the other hand, run for office in any country that will allow him to do so.
5) One country, one representative. France will have to decide whether to send its president or its prime minister.
6) This describes, and so institutionalises, current practice. It denies the European Commission the status of “high policy-making body” that federalists would wish to assign it.
7) Including its choice of seat, so ending the monthly commute between Brussels and Strasbourg.
8) A new power. Until now Parliament has been able to dismiss the commission en bloc only. This new power for Parliament checks the greater power given to the commission president in choosing his commissioners.
9) We favour separating constitutional oversight from the other duties of the Court of Justice, and charging a chamber of parliamentarians with this responsibility. The reason is that the court would have a stronger tendency to extend the reach of European law than would such a chamber. This is the tendency which our constitution aims to resist.
10) A new formula. The current system is one of “qualified majority voting”, whereby a proposal must command at least 62 out of 87 possible votes in the European Council. Member states agreed in 1996 that the voting system needed reform before the Union could add many more new members. This formula links voting power more directly to population.
11) A new requirement, which obliges governments to reveal to the public how their ministers have voted on Union business.
12) A new description, recognising a shift in political power away from the commission and towards the European Council.
13) A new formula. At present the commission has 20 members, including the president, two from each bigger member state and one from each smaller member state. Governments agree that reform is needed here before another enlargement of the Union. “Capping” the commission at a fixed size, regardless of the number of member states, is one option.
14) A new mechanism, designed to encourage member states to “compete” for commission places and so to offer better candidates.
15) There will be no national bank governors. With enlargement, the inclusion of national bank governors on the governing council of the central bank will become unwieldy and (since big countries will have the same representation as small ones) inequitable.
16) A short article, but an important one. It underlines the standing of the nation state within the Union. Any transfer of power to tax should require not merely unanimity among governments, as for treaty changes, but a constitutional amendment, which demands also the direct endorsement of citizens through referendums.
17) This puts flesh on the bones of subsidiarity in an area of policy where the issue is especially likely to be fudged.
18) The minimum of guaranteed co-operation that would be needed as an alternative to harmonising national systems of criminal justice in a Union of open borders.
19) A minimal mechanism for ensuring that member states can be obliged to consider common positions and common actions in respect of world events. In practice, the Union is evolving mechanisms for institutionalising common foreign and common defence policies which are likely to be the subject of future treaty provisions.
20) Thus national governments with, for example, permanent seats on the UN Security Council, cannot be obliged to support the abolition of those seats.
21) An “ever closer Union” is not, therefore, a constitutional obligation. Powers can also be returned to member states, if all member states agree.
22) Action by majority vote is proposed here so that accessions cannot be blocked by a local squabble, or by one country’s threat of a tactical veto; and also on the grounds that the addition of any one new country to the Union is unlikely to be a matter of vital national interest to any one country already within the Union. This clause also removes Parliament’s right to block an accession through a simple vote. But Parliament could always challenge an accession before the Court of Justice, on the grounds that the candidate country was not “able and willing to meet the obligations of membership”.
23) A simplified version of current rules, and one that leaves the Court of Justice to decide, if asked, what is a “basic value” or a “basic rule” at the time in question.
24) A new provision, perhaps surprisingly.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A sorry excuse for an ambassador

What an insulting load of tripe.
As older societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world... In the last year or so, as we've engaged in discussions about the transformation of the Middle East and democracy, I have told my American friends that the region in this world that has seen the most transformation and change is Central and Eastern Europe--without shedding a drop of blood. So don't preach to us. And don't think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues--we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let's solve the problem in the next four years!
So says the German ambassador to the US, quoted in the New Yorker. Is this guy for real? As older and more experienced societies, we Europeans, who are so sophisticated, have managed, just in the last century, to kill tens of millions of innocent people (at home and abroad), to create and abet two of the most destructive ideologies ever known to man (Nazism and Communism) and without the intensive and extensive help of the Americans we would never have been able to beat these existential threats back.
And this unintentionally comic punk says "without shedding a drop of blood"? If I were German I would be appalled and outraged that my representative to the US was going around making such embarassing, condescending (and preachy, I might add) statements. And, mother of all ironies, apparently it's all those American officials with graduate degrees and years of experience "on the ground" that are supposed to be the naive ones. (Whilst the experienced Germans are running their country - and continent - into the ground.)
The Belgravia Dispatch has a thorough critique (and the full New Yorker quote; via Instapundit) and Davids Medienkritik underlines the absurdity of the statement with a few historical details and photographs.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Disgusting George

Recently I was having a chat with a friend, and George Galloway, the British MP, was mentioned. I am not an expert on him, but I can say that his tactics and positions are despicable, and I am appalled by the lack of criticism, and the affection ("maverick"?) with which he is treated by the media (and the left in general). Here are two must-read columns that appeared recently on his testimony in the US Senate: one by Christopher Hitchens in the Weekly Standard (via Melanie Phillips) and the other by Gerard Baker in the (London) Times.
This interesting post caused quite a stir in the blogosphere, as it seems to adduce proof that Galloway brazenly lied at the Senate hearing. The same post also has a useful list of sourced quotes of Galloway (scroll down), which reveal his true character. Also see further comments by Oliver Kamm. What a shame that so many people see him as a hero.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Oil-for-News Program

Here is a fascinating article that explains how Saddam's regime managed to bribe the Arab media to give it favourable coverage (via lgf). So they weren't just bribing government officials of the states sitting on the UN Security Council? But then again, we already knew that. (Scroll down here for flashbacks.)

Madam Chancellor?

All the best to Angela Merkel. She now seems to have a reasonably good shot at becoming the next German Chancellor, at the general election that will probably take place this fall (see here). It is going to be hard to tell exactly what she will do if elected, because to actually get elected she will basically have to try to hide her plans by being vague (this is Germany after all). However, if all goes well and she does manage to implement the reforms she has supported in the past, it will be a first step in the recovery of the German economy. At any rate, I suspect that a divorced Protestant, from an ex-communist country at the helm of a conservative party is just what we are looking for.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Interesting reading

See here for a hard-hitting rebuttal by Alan Dershowitz with regard to the critics of his book "The Case for Israel" (via AtlanticBlog).
And here is a heartening take by a Saudi democracy campaigner on the Newsweek kerfuffle.

The Media

The media is incredibly important in the intellectual struggle that the world is going through. The dictatorial regimes in the Middle East have grasped this and are using it to the fullest extent. An Egyptian television station serialized the Protocols of the Elders of Zion a few years ago and until recently the whole text of this anti-Semitic forgery appeared on the Palestinian Authority website. Iranian TV even perpetuates the infamous blood libel and the Palestinian Authority TV recently made this hair-raising contribution (via Melanie Phillips).
This behaviour rarely raises any eye-brows in the West because these things are not reported. After all Mahmoud Abbas is a peace-loving visionary, and who would want to ruin the illusion?
It is however amusing to see that even those who live under these execrable regimes don't buy into everything that they are told. I had to laugh out loud when I read these accounts of conscientious Americans being berated by Syrians and Egyptians for criticising Bush.
At any rate, what is all the more worrying is when media outlets in the West, albeit much more moderately, let their prejudices shine through. The BBC is a prime example here. Read this excellent article by a veteran Beeb reporter that appeared in the The Daily Telegraph (via Normblog). I can't wait for his book to come out.
Melanie Phillips has two fascinating posts, here and here, which bear out his points and the director of the Aspen Institute Berlin has an interesting article decrying the same attitude in Germany (via Davids Medienkritik). Also see this nice editorial by the CEO of Axel Springer AG (also via DM - with translation).
This bias has had the ironic effect of giving the UN Secretary General, who has (at best) been actively bungling his job while presiding over the most disastrous decade the UN has ever gone through, a 58% approval rating in Germany.
But it also has the deleterious effect of keeping most Westeners ignorant of the facts necessary to form fair and informed opinions on the issues of the day. For instance this excellent analysis of the history behind the Palstinian "right of return" (via MP) will no doubt come as a total surprise to most people.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

When is it politically correct to beat gays and kill women?

Cathy Young has an outstanding article about when it is politically correct to beat gays and kill women (via Instapundit).
This is really a big problem in Europe where we have refused to (or been incapable of) implementing the "melting pot" US model, where people are actually proud to become part of their host nation and see it as an honor, all the while maintaining their traditions. The Dutch MP Ayan Hirsi Ali (Somali born, ex-Muslim) talks about some interesting and controversial proposals to solve this problem in an interview with Spiegel magazine (via Free Thoughts [scroll down] - great blog run by an Italian, time to be patriotic for a change!):
Hirsi Ali: Start by knocking on the door! We must penetrate into their worlds.
SPIEGEL: You'll be seeing many doors slammed in your face.
Hirsi Ali: I'm not saying that it would be easy. For her book entitled "Invisible Parents," the journalist Margalith Kleijwegt did some research in the Moroccan section of Amsterdam, where Van Gogh's murderer, Bouyeri, lived. She knocked unsuccessfully on doors six times. The seventh door was opened, and then she learned a great deal about this community. For example, she learned that no parents in that neighborhood knew about the murder, that no parents even knew who Van Gogh was or had heard about the film. They only watch Arab television where they are fed with conspiracy theories about the West. They spend every vacation at home in Morocco. They can't speak or write Dutch, and they don't read newspapers. The lesson of Margalith Kleijwegt's book is that the parents are not equipped to give their children the upbringing necessary in a modern western society. They also have many children and these parallel worlds are growing. We look on without even knowing what happens in them.
SPIEGEL: Who should go in? Social workers?
Hirsi Ali: Certainly not. They are too politically correct and in most cases very young and inexperienced. No, there are other ways to get in. One is the political tool of preventing further growth of the ghettos. We need to employ a policy of integration that dictates to people where they can live and where they cannot live, thereby guaranteeing a mixing together of cultures and nations.
SPIEGEL: That sounds like a lot of trouble - from the Dutch as well.
Hirsi Ali: So what? What is at issue is defending our values, and that can certainly lead to arguments.
SPIEGEL: Aren't you concerned that tensions would arise in these forced communities?
Hirsi Ali: The other alternative creates even greater tensions. If you allow the ghettos to grow, you'll have clashes between skinheads and Muslim extremists, for example. The second means of access should also be controlled by political means: A prohibition on all faith-based schools. Schools must be places of civilization, places that impart Western values, the purposes of democracy. We must treat the children as our children and not turn their education over to defenders of foreign dogma who indoctrinate them with anti-liberal doctrines.
SPIEGEL: Ignore the cultures of the immigrants?
Hirsi Ali: Blindly respecting their cultures is the wrong approach. Here's an example: Many children in Holland's Arab ghettos are taught the teachings of Ibn Abu-Taymiya, one of the founders of pure Islam who preaches the holy war as a way of life. Instead of studying European philosophers, the children are taught to abide by 11th century teachings!
SPIEGEL: Integration and European culture can't be imposed on people.
Hirsi Ali: But we can do something about it. This is where society comes in. Artists, kindergartens, churches, they should all penetrate into the ghettos. It's really grotesque: We have all kinds of NGOs that send people all the way to Africa to convince people to use condoms. But they don't dare touch the problems we have at home. Charity begins at home.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps this is partly because part of democracy means allowing people to think as they wish.
Hirsi Ali: Democracy also includes legitimate intolerance. The intolerable cannot be tolerated. We must declare war on Islamist propaganda. Why should we ignore that women in our midst are being suppressed, beaten, enslaved? Why should we ignore that people preach hatred and vow to destroy us?
Read the whole thing.
These are radical proposals, but the solutions must be proportionate to the problems and in this case the problem seems to be very grave. This by no means implies that Muslims should give up their traditions (unless "honor killings" etc. are considered traditions). But we must in some way ensure that immigrants' contributions to European culture be constructive.

Israeli greatness

This story brought tears of pride to my eyes.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

It is breathtaking how the EU, the Divinely appointed guardian of the environment and permanent resident of the moral high ground, is willing to condemn scores of Africans to death and sickness, by discouraging the controlled and limited use of DDTs, with threats of trade sanctions. The Wall Street Journal has the goods (requires subscription; via Gay and Right - which includes excerpt). Where are all the critics of the nefast pharmaceutical companies?
At the same time many people here in Brussels (and across Europe) think that President Bush opposes the Kyoto Protocol (even though it was actually the Senate that voted against the treaty, 95-0) because of his putative links with evil corporations. Apart from the absurdity of these unfounded accusations, nobody ever questions the Protocol itself. Nobody mentions the risible effect it is predicted to have on "global warming" if all its signatories maintain their commitments (which they patently are not doing). Nobody mentions the crippling economic cost of the treaty. Nobody mentions the mounting evidence that "global warming" is not necessarily tied to human activities. Nobody mentions how limited our understanding of the climate really is.
These attitudes are so entrenched here that I myself rarely have the courage (and energy) to try to convince people that Kyoto is an expensive and useless mistake. And I am not saying that there is no pollution or that nothing should be done about it. The environment must be protected and treasured - but in order to do that effectively people are going to have to switch on their brains and take out the earplugs. The solution is, of course, using market forces, as The Economist argued recently (requires subscription, see here for an excerpt, and take a look around the Commons blog in general - great stuff!). I can see no other realistic, fair and effective alternative.
And if you really want to know what is actually going on with respect to the environment take a look at this mind-blowing and very interesting (and dare I say amusing?) resource: Junk Science, which is run by Steven Milloy (additional bio here).

Thursday, May 19, 2005

China, India and Japan

It is a commonly bandied-about notion that China is set to become the next super-power. Considering its current human rights record, form of government and baffling attitude towards Taiwan (don't they have enough land and people?), this idea, which I actually find rather implausible, strikes fear into my heart. It is however amusing to see sundry anti-Americans and assorted pundits expectantly banking on this (for the moment) hair-raising outcome. Not that I have anything at all against China - on the contrary it is a very fascinating country. But, how shall I put this, I think it needs to take enormous steps practically, and radically transform its culture and mentality, before it will be willing and able to act as a world leader.
At any rate, I will go out on a limb: I think it unlikely that China will become a world, or even regional power anytime soon. There are several reasons for this.
China is not a democracy. Taking the example of the Soviet Union one would think that this should not be a problem. However there is reason to argue otherwise. The world has changed: while in Soviet times it was relatively easy to block information and maintain the illusion that elsewhere in the world there was less liberty and prosperity, this will be much harder now, with democracy slowly spreading to an ever higher number of states, and with communication facilitated by the technological revolution. Furthermore, it is partially because of the very strong growth of the Chinese economy that the people living under the current regime have tolerated their lack of freedom. When this growth falters, as it inevitably will, it is easy to conceive that severe political unrest will ensue and this, I think, will put a damper on, if not forcefully set-back, any global ambitions that China may have for quite some time.
Additionally, there are other countries that are better placed to become at least regional powers in the Asian realm: India and Japan.
India has economic growth comparable to China's and at the same time is a mature and stable democracy (with several peaceful and orderly transfers of power under its belt). This will allow it to avoid disruptive and distracting political unrest on its journey to becoming a developed economy. Additionally, being a member of the Anglosphere also gives it very strong advantages. Its closer interaction with the US and UK, the young people that go abroad to get a first-class education and then go back and the gradual improvement of its infrastructure and institutions are all setting the stage for regional leadership.
Japan on the other hand is already a developed economy. However it is rarely spoken of as a big player in the security sense because of its constitutional limits to military action. This should not be taken too seriously. If it wanted to, Japan has the economic strength and technological development to become a nuclear power without much effort. If it hasn't done so until now it is by choice and if provoked or encouraged sufficiently it will presumably choose to make its presence felt. Japan's pacifism, particularly in view of what happened during World War Two is actually very encouraging. However, in this day and age, pacifism with a bite on the part of a, by now, Westernized democracy, is even more useful and reassuring.
Given these trends and conditions, I am, for the moment confident that these predicted geo-political trasformations will be slower than most people think (don't say goodbye to US power yet) and will play out in unexpected directions, particularly given the increasingly positive India-Japan relationship.
For an interesting blog which focuses on these issues see By Dawn's Early Light, from which a few of my ideas are taken. Here is a digest of his posts on China and India.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Instapundit has an excellent rebuttal of Andrew's hysterical attacks on his comments about Loo-gate. In the same vein, it is particularly interesting to note how the scepticism with which any statement by the US military is greeted suddenly disappears if an Islamist detainee (who has been trained to do so, see page 16) claims he has been tortured or mistreated. Mind, I am absolutely not denying that a few soldiers have comitted crimes and they should be severely punished, but the double-standard is telling. Also see this excellent post for an interesting take on the most recent developments and media reactions (all via Instapundit).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Where the problem really lies

In recent days the blogosphere has been abuzz with excitement over a Newsweek story that claimed that US soldiers had flushed a Koran down a toilet (some feat!) as a technique to get Muslim prisoners to talk (huh?), the riots and deaths in Afghanistan that ensued and Newsweek's subsequent retraction of the story.
As occasionally happens Andrew Sullivan (see Quote of the Day II) has gone beserk over this:

Even if this incident turns out to be false, our previous policies have made it perfectly plausible. That's the deeper issue here.

Apart from the fact that "fake but plausible" is a dangerous rationale for the media to take up, I also find that it is emphatically not the deeper issue. Isn't the real issue here that Islamists (and many Islamic states) will kill if a Koran is desecrated and that the West is not scandalized?
Also see this interesting post.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Palestinians: keep the PA out of my back yard!

Here is a rather amusing article by the great Daniel Pipes about Israeli Arab and Palestinian views about the Palestinian Authority (via Melanie Phillips).
I haven't seen a serious analysis of the practical aspects of the recent Palestinian Authority elections, however I can only assume they weren't much better than the 1996 sham. It is strange that such charades should pass unblinkingly in the media as legitimate transparent democratic elections. At least the Palestinian people themselves seem to realize that they aren't. Or do they?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A scientific scandal of the first magnitude

Considering the prevailing orthodoxy on global warming, it is absolutely amazing to me how much evidence there actually is that there is less warming than people think, and that there is no evidence that such warming is caused by human activities. Read this excellent editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times (via Gay and Right).
No doubt one of the reasons why so many people are convinced of the global warming narrative is the media's coverage, which reflects the absolutely scandalous tendency of supposedly objective scientific journals to censure the debate (via Melanie Phillips). Also see this excellent post for more damning details.
And get a load of this: the air is getting cleaner and causing global warming! (via Gay and Right) Maybe we should pollute more, to keep the Kyoto crowd happy?


You should absolutely read this outstanding (as always) Melanie Phillips article. And for those who are still unconvinced see this incredible story (also see here).
On the other hand there is also some good news: growing opposition to the AUT boycott! Sign the petition here. (All via Gay and Right: great blog - take a look around)

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Undoubtedly the war in Iraq killed many civilians and this is a tragedy. Even one single death is terrible, but it has to be recognized that there inevitably must be trade-offs, and alternative results should be considered. This is not a moral choice - it is intrinsically part of the reality we live in. Deciding to do nothing to avoid casualties, means that one has decided (consciously or not) that the potential results of inaction are less dire than intervention - in other words there is a trade-off.
Anyway, as Mark Twain said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." It is amazing that everyone bandies around the figure of 100,000 civilian victims, from a debunked Lancet study, while the UN itself, that neocon bastion, estimates that the number is a quarter of that (via Instapundit). It is nonetheless a terrible number, but honesty and good-faith would give the war critics some credibility (which I find they often lack).

The Royal Park

Today I went to visit the Royal Park in Laeken, and had a great time. This is where the Belgian Royal Family resides, in the north of Brussels, and it opens only for a few weeks in the Spring - today being the last day. On top of that the weather was breathtaking - fresh breeze and clear skies. The park is very beautiful, with a lake and views of Brussels, and the main attraction - the Royal Greenhouses - are very impressive and colorful. I would have loved to take pictures, but organized guy that I am I left my digital camera in Milan. However the website I link to above has a lot of pictures.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

PETA kills animals

I am a vegetarian, but I find PETA profoundly offensive. There are many rational arguments for being a vegetarian (and even so I would never try to impose my lifestyle on others), but there is no need to be rabid extremists about it. Additionally, I find the humanization of animals annoying - animals are not equivalent to human beings and it does not take a genius to see why.
At any rate, this is deliciously ironic. (via Gay and Right)

Friday, May 13, 2005

Well done

In a rare show of courage an Italian state-TV channel (Rai 2) yesterday aired part of the movie Submission (follow link to see a clip; go here for a download and background) by murdered Dutch film director Theo van Gogh (via lgf). This is a victory for free speech, considering the intimidation that was involved. Rai is the first foreign national TV channel to air clips from the film and I hope that it is further distributed and seen by as many people as possible.
It is high time that the treatment of women in Islamist regimes and enclaves be condemned and that there be an increased focus on this problem. The overly dramatic reaction of some Muslims would be absurd even if the accusations were totally unwarranted (which clearly they aren't). If Christianity and Judaism, for instance, can be freely and forcefully criticised (as it should be everyone's right to do), then I don't see why Islam should be any different.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Today I had an epiphany (nothing ground-breaking, I'm afraid). I have come to the realization that the Brussels edition of Metro (the free newspaper distributed in subway stations around the world) is truly a piece of garbage.
Since I think it's important to be somewhat aware of your surroundings, for me Metro is a handy way to keep up with the local news, which can become rather mystifying to an expat. For example there has been speculation recently that the government will fall over the Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde wrangle, but it took me forever to understand (with the help of a colleague) what it was actually about.
However every now and then I notice things that I find disturbing. Today, for instance there was an article (in the French edition) supposedly about the spread of blogs, which degenerated into a disguised ad for Skyblog. Since to get a blog there you have to be subscribed, the article gives the impression that to run a blog costs something (but, it adds, reading blogs is free...), without mentioning the various ways to create a blog for free.
As I was reading this, I remembered that a few months ago Metro ran a piece about a lottery the US State Department runs, whose winners are offered green-cards. Ironically they ran the piece about a week after this year's lottery applications were closed, and stated that it cost €50 to apply. This is total bollocks, as anyone remotely familiar with it will know this lottery is free. There are people who charge, but what they offer is unclear and they have no connection to the State Department (and this is stated clearly on the Department web site). Maybe Metro should not rely on spam for news...
I don't think the reason for these blunders is that Metro is free (I know, I know - nothing is really free...) because there are high quality products and services that are offered (at least partially) for free, like Blogspot and Skype (try it out - it's fantastic!). And anyway the largest income source for newspapers is advertising and Metro has plenty of that, and with 487,000 readers just in Belgium it should earn quite a bit of money off it. Maybe it's just carelessness...
Anyway, it's too bad that so many Belgians get their news from people who mix journalism and advertising and who are not media-savvy enough to avoid making colossal blunders.
Post scriptum:
By the way Metro also reported this news item, without bothering to mention that the methods used to gather the statistics are questionable, at best. Just another small piece in the puzzle that explains anti-Americanism.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

None of your business

The European Union is a great idea with a lot of (potential) benefits, but sometimes I wish it would just butt out! How absurd to tell people that they can't work more than 48 hours a week in order (I imagine) to protect their quality of life. Don't individuals have any say anymore on what to do with their time and life? Ironically this move not only takes away some of our liberties but it damages what's left of our economies! So much for protecting our quality of life...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Climate catastrophe cancelled

I have no scientific expertise, but when a veritable army of highly qualified scientists calls into question the science which underpins conventional wisdom on global warming (and on which the Kyoto Protocol is based) wouldn't it be a good idea to take notice of what they say?
Watch this jaw-dropping documentary - trust me, it is worthwhile to see this (all via lgf). I would go as far as to say that this is (or rather, should be) front-page news that everyone needs to hear about. Funnily enough, no one in the MSM seems to have noticed it. I wonder why?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Wake up call

A propos crime (see the previous post), this is a must read. I often find it grating when Andrew Sullivan manages to tie in the gay marriage debate to just about any subject under the sun but in this case I find he is spot on: nothing less than vigorous protest and outrage will do. Not directed at the crimes and criminals themselves (who are beyond contempt), but at the people in the three branches of government, who are vested with the power - and responsibility - to protect the citizenry and uphold the principles stated in the Constitution.
And it is not just a question of technical powers, but also of image and morale. I have the impression that if the facts were reported in the media without the usual sugarcoating the people here in Europe wouldn't be so accomodating. Recently I was telling a well-informed Dutch friend of mine about this (scroll down for the whole article) fantastic episode and he was impressed, but surprised, because he had never heard of it.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Crossing the street in Brussels

Today I had an annoying experience. While walking down Boulevard Anspach, near my house, I came up to a pedestrian crossing (of a side street), where the light was red for pedestrians. I looked on both sides, and since there was no car in sight, I started crossing. On the other side there were a pair of policemen, one of whom rudely told me to turn back and wait for the green light before crossing, and I complied (feeling like I was back in Kindergarten).
This got me thinking about what the police force is actually for: fighting crime or teaching people good manners? I mean, the policeman had not justified his command by saying that what I was doing was illegal etc., but that since other people were politely waiting I could too. And anyway, even if it was illegal, is there any reason why it should be a problem for pedestrians to cross even when there is a red light (and no car is approaching)?
Crime rates in European capitals have been rising for years. This is a worrying phenomenon, not least because the level of dicussion is not very high: on the one hand there is scare-mongering by the anti-immigration crowd, on the other Europeans are lulled into a false sense of security by the smug (and apparently incorrect) notion, propagated by subtle anti-Americanism, that crime rates are much higher in the US (see this and this).
Maybe there is something wrong with the approach the police is taking? Isn't it strange that in one of the smaller capitals in Europe, whose "crime rate is in the high range of industrialized countries," that instead of dealing with crime the police should feel it necessary, and have the presumption to teach people to mind their manners?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Howard, Bush ... and now Blair

I am quite happy with the results of the British election. It's great that Blair actually got re-elected, and I think it is good that the Conservatives are back on the horizon (provided they become more Thatcherite, and less nombrilistes about immigration and hunting...) so they can be an effective and healthy opposition. I am sorry about the gains the Liberal Democrats have made, but as they are lower than polls predicted, I can only be relieved. I do not think their political star will continue to rise - as long as they remain unelectable.
Reactions are amusing as usual: let the spin begin! For instance, the reader comment that is highlighted on the election front page at the Beeb:
“The public has spoken. Iraq was a mistake” Martin Phillips, Oxford, UK
At the moment it is reported that about 88% of the electorate voted for parties that supported the Iraq war (for whatever reason). That doesn't sound like a very strong signal to me... (see Instapundit).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Miracles do happen

Here is an example for why euthanasia might not be such a great idea. What an incredible time this must be for the family! Naturally, in the final paragraph, BBC News fails to mention that Terri Schiavo's medical condition was subject to significant debate among medical professionals.

Whatever happened to Afghanistan?

I haven't heard much from Afghanistan recently. That's because there is a lot of good news coming from there and that certainly doesn't fit the agenda of the mainstream media (via lgf). Chrenkoff is the place to go to for round-ups of under-reported good news both in Afghanistan and in Iraq (see bottom of right-hand sidebar for links to previous editions).
Recently a friend was saying that she is disgusted by what the Americans are doing in Iraq. This would be salutary reading.

"I owe nothing to Women's Lib"

Today is the anniversary of a momentous event that deeply influenced the post-war era and forcefully re-shaped the world we live in, practically and intellectually: the election of Margaret Thatcher. I have enormous respect both for her opinions and for her courage in pursuing these unpopular ideas and policies in face of enormous resistance. As Prime Minister she was a visionary who understood the problems Great Britain and the West were facing better than any of her contemporaries and she remains my ideal for what a leader should be.
This single-mindedness is evidenced to spectacular effect by one of her most famous speeches. Amidst rampant speculation that her government was about to change course on tough economic policies, in the tradition of Edward Heath's 1972 U-turn, during a speech at the 1980 Conservative Party conference she countered: "To those who are waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catch-phrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn, if you want to. The lady's not for turning." And she kept her word.
I am currently reading a fantastic book about the post-war development of economic policy around the world and the changing balance between States and Markets in economic activity. The book is "The Commanding Heights" by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw. For a person my age (22) the authors really put into perspective what determination it took to impose the policies that eventually managed to beat stagflation. For instance, privatisation, which nowadays is supported by all mainstream political parties (or should be) and is taken almost for granted as the best policy, was unheard of in the early 1980's. It had never been done before and there were no precedents to turn to, to assess potential risks and problems. The operations both to prepare State-owned companies for the market and to actually sell them were colossal and quite literally involved the building of the massive machinery which enables markets to run smoothly. At the time, rejecting pure Keynesian Economics for Hayek and Friedman, was an incredibly courageous thing to do.
Therefore, it behooves all of us, who are fortunate enough to have had her as a world leader and to have benefited from her policies and (more importantly) from the intellectual revolution she spawned, to reflect on her achievements and to avoid taking for granted her contributions to the progress of humanity.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bigotry in Britain

Alan Dershowitz has a mordant editorial in the National Post about the decision of the British Association of University Teachers to boycott Israeli academics (via AS). Also see this telling Jerusalem Post piece which recounts the virtual canonization of Rachel Corrie (via AS, fourth post down).
Recently I had a discussion with a friend who lives in Great Britain, who claimed that the Guardian is one of the better, mainstream British papers. I think that's ridiculous (and I hope Britons agree), particularly in light of their biased news coverage and of the offensive editorials they regularly run. See Norm Geras' take on their latest disusting diatribe against Tony Blair (via AS, third post down). As Josef Joffe argued recently in the Financial Times, Tony Blair is the last best hope for the rational European left.

Monday, May 02, 2005


It is becoming increasingly clear that the Italian authorities bungled Giuliana Sgrena's rescue operation, and that the driver of the car was speeding (not surprising: we Italians love to speed and always do), and therefore unable to stop at the US checkpoint at short notice. CBS News even reports (via Captain's Quarters; Instapundit) that there is satellite evidence that they were travelling at more than 60 miles (96 km) per hour - on a muddy road, which is well known for being the most dangerous in the world, and on which there are many checkpoints. What were they thinking? At any rate, it is nice to see that BBC News is reporting all sides of the story (just joking).
It is understandable that the Italian authorities will contest the US report, because it makes them look bad. However, accusing the US of suppressing evidence really is the outside of enough. Just looking at the pictures of the car after the incident must prove that Ms. Sgrena at best has a patchy memory of the incident. I also find it amusing that everyone who was criticizing the US before, continues to do so unfazed, but has suddenly stopped talking about the speed the car was travelling at.

Italian narrowmindedness

In recent months two large European banks (BBVA and ABN Amro) started attempts to complete acquisitions in the Italian market (BNL and Banca Antonveneta, respectively). This would be an unprecedented move, as in the past the Governor of the Bank of Italy (Antonio Fazio) has always blocked such mergers and acquisitions. Now, however, he is under pressure from the EU Commission not to intervene. Instead he has done his best to interfere indirectly, with considerable success, by encouraging other Italian banks to rival the bids, because he doesn't want Italian banks to fall into foreign hands.
Most recently he has managed to get a good friend of his, the Chairman of Banca Popolare di Lodi, Giampiero Fiorani, to buy up shares in Banca Antonveneta, and yesterday BPL managed to replace the Board of Directors of Banca Antonveneta, which had accepted the ABN Amro bid, with one of its choice.
The reason why some people want to keep the banks in Italian hands is because, often at the behest of the government, they finance Italian industry, even when there is little chance they will get their money back. Deals are made in which debt is transformed into equity, so that if (or when) a company cannot honor its debts, the creditor banks become shareholders. It goes without saying that under these deals, which are explicitly intended to sponsor, or bail-out, struggling companies, there is no market justification to actually lend the money. At any rate, this practice has enabled the Italian government to continue to indirectly subsidize industry without incurring the wrath of the EU.
The flip side of the coin is that the money to support such operations must come from somewhere, and in this case it comes from the Italian bank customers: according to Capgemini Italian lenders charge the highest fees in the world.
Obviously, foreign banks will not go along with this disgusting sham of sponsoring companies that have no reason to exist in an efficient market (such as Fiat and Alitalia), and will charge lower fees forcing their Italian competitors to lower their fees too. According to the logic of Mr. Fazio (part of whose job, ironically, is to protect the Italian banking customer), this needs to be stopped at all costs, because it would force Italian banks to tighten their belts, and because it would force coddled Italian industrial companies to actually face the market (of all shocking things).
The most absurd aspect in all this is that those whose interests would be best served by foreign involvement in the Italian banking market are the small investors and bank customers who have provided the support to change Banca Antonveneta's Board, and imperil the ABN Amro bid. I cannot help but pity those who applaud the cheap nationalism and provincialism of Mr. Fiorani (the BPL Chairman) who said at the Antonveneta AGM that "we have to stop the Dutch," and (at the recent BPL meeting) that "to the supposed opening of the European market we respond with the force of localism and territorial pride," because it is not Italy "that is entering Europe, but in this case it is Europe that is forcing its way to us."

Sunday, May 01, 2005


For the past few days I was in London, first for work and then for leisure. I was hoping to have regular internet access, but, alas, I did not, so I didn't get around to posting anything.
I left after work on Wednesday and arrived in the evening. I stayed at a friend's house in Kensington (very nice area - and house, near Earl's Court).

I went to Westminster where I had to attend the Annual General Meeting of Barclays (a large British bank). As they say, it was "bloody good fun" and I met a few corporate bigwigs. It was over at around lunchtime and I strolled around the area. I walked up Whitehall, looked in at Downing Street and then went past the Cabinet War Rooms, through St. James' Park up to Buckingham Palace. I walked to Hyde Park Corner and made my way up Piccadilly. There I took my time, especially towards the end, where I popped into Fortnum & Mason (the world-famous gourmet food store) and I spent a long time in Hatchards (a large, beautiful bookstore). Then I looked into the Economist Shop in Regent street and strolled to Trafalgar Square. In the late afternoon I had an appointment with Megan McArdle (I'll post about that separately) at a bar near the Imperial War Museum, on the other side of the Thames.

I had to attend the Annual General Meeting of Pearson, which owns Penguin, the Financial Times, half of the Economist and Pearson Education. This meeting was rather smaller than the Barclays one. However, given my interest in journalism, I found it much more exciting. After the meeting there were refreshments and I got a chance to chat with Marjorie Scardino, the CEO of the company. It was great and since I am a great fan I'll dedicate a separate post to her too. In the evening I met up with another friend from college who is now at the London School of Economics.

I met up with my LSE friend again (my host was very busy with an essay all weekend) and we visited the Tower of London, which was a wonderful experience. I had already seen it, but that was almost a decade ago. We went through the whole thing, including the classic Beefeater tour, but for me the treat was the Crown Jewels: truly dazzling!

I walked from my house to Harrods in Knightsbridge where I met my LSE friend again. We took a long walk in Hyde Park, whose luxuriant lawns and towering trees brought to mind the sorry condition of the "parks" in Milan, where we both went to college. Then I caught my Eurostar train at Waterloo.

Now I am back home in Brussels. I am happy to be home even though I had a wonderful time. So many of my intellectual interests are tied to the Anglosphere, including Great Britain, and it was fascinating to see it live again, after all this time. I assiduously read the Economist and look at the Financial Times daily, when I was youger I read all of Agatha Christie's novels and more recently I have been reading Jane Austen and Dorothy Sayers. Actually visiting Great Britain has refreshed so many images which had become faded and stale in my mind.
London lived up to all my expectations and I had a lot of fun, which I also owe to my good friends who did a lot to make my stay pleasant. The only aspect which leads me to prefer Brussels (at this time in my life) is that London is so large that it is difficult to get around. Brussels is much easier to navigate, while maintaining the flavor of an important European capital, with its institutions (Belgian, EU and NATO), its cosmopolitan populace and first-rate cultural events.