Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit et al

So here we are. Somewhere. I suppose that the extraordinary display of democracy and politics in the UK recently deserves mention. I voted, in such a way as to maximise democracy and make our politicians think (for a change). We discovered that they're not much able to do that.
Some people, like Rachel Johnson,  consider that Cameron's reaction to the result going against his wishes,'has been as kingly and calm as Charles I at the scaffold'. I am led to think she hasn't been paying attention, not for the first time in her life, conceivably. Or perhaps her reference is more cunning than it looks: Charles I was executed primarily because he lost the trust of the people who formerly supported him. He was considered to be a liar who would ally with England's enemies to overrule her democratic will.
Cameron's decision to resign (but not yet) goes specifically against what he said he would do. He said he would be staying on come what may to guide the country through a difficult process, 'to see out the job, to carry out the will of the British people'. Moreover, if he were going to resign he should have done so immediately so that another leader could be found to begin the task of negotiating with the EU (over a new associate status outside the full Union, naturally). Instead of this he seems determined to leave his post and not leave it (a Johnsonian not having one's cake and having it). No doubt he will be taking paid hols but officially he will be in place until October, and until that time will not be making use of article 50 to leave the European Union. This is not to keep things calm, but on the contrary to delay and create instability in the Government of the country, and in the Conservative party, which will necessitate a new General Election before invoking article 50. He will be in place to pronounce on in public and to influence behind the scenes the race to succeed him, and he will probably be doing his darndest to prevent it being that Johnson. The overall aim is, as it ever was, to avoid invoking article 50, and coincidentally there is not another politician of Johnson's cross-nation appeal who could lead this invocation effectively. Mind you, I wouldn't rule out Nigel Farage. The last apparent ditch has plenty to be said for it, sometimes. 

Meanwhile our friends in the North, the Scots, have been voting rather differently to those in the South, though rarely has Scotland flattered itself more as a cosmopolitan mate of the London clique. It's funny how the independence movement which defined itself as being too far distant from London attitudes to be governed from Westminster now uses the closeness of their views on the EU to justify breaking away from places like Berwick on Tweed. Perhaps the effect of money from both London and Brussels does sway the mindset, over time. I simply do not see what Nicola Sturgeon is trying to argue: last year the Scots voted on whether to stay in the UK. They decided to do so. Step one. Now, the question was should the UK remain within the EU, or leave. Step two. They were voting as part of the UK and they influenced the result accordingly- not decisively, it is true, but the percentages do talk, and right now the level of uncertainty is due largely to the Scots and London. They have to be content with that, within the Union which they voted to remain in last year. 
As for Mr Cameron, he seems to be rather a drama queen. While formerly he said he would stay on, now he flounces out, but rather than doing so cleanly he delays his departure. He has tears in his eyes but it seems steel in his soul. Just as he steeled himself to lie about being Eurosceptic to get into the top Tory position, so he steeled himself to terrify the British people with predicting apocalyse following Brexit, and he steels himself now to stymie the will expressed in the vote, to thwart popular successors and through the instability created to herd the people back to the status quo through new elections where familiar labels and other issues can be used to cover up the EU membership question.
Are the political class, as exemplified by the Prime Minister, unable to think? No, it seems that tactically Mr Cameron can think. What he cannot do is to reason: he does not have an apparent framework of thinking that can be accessed by others. His apparent political philosophy is 'My way', and 'My way' means being a high representative of an elite class which finds its apogee in the EU and Brussels elite. Being unable to cope with rejection, and reacting with spite and tactical opportunism, is the defining trait of such an elite. Seems to me Britain and Europe really do have a lot of in common, despite everything, and after all this is over, darling, we'll probably just have some more fun kind of Union, just for the hell of it. Count me in for that one.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The menace

The last time I wrote on this blog was to note the extreme behaviour of Vladimir Putin's Russia. The reason for doing so was a sense of foreboding about his attempts to rejuvenate Russia as a world power. Now, more than a year and a half later, the concerns about Russia's activities in Ukraine persist, and of course Putin has become involved in the conflict in Syria. This is one more step along the road to a critical mass- but a critical mass for what, to what end, where does the momentum lead?

Contrary to what I said before, Russia is far from behaving like a psychopath. The truth is much more interesting than the poetic notion. 

First we need to recognise that Russia's position is hardly simple, even if the complexity is partly of its own choosing. Recent events, such as the downing of Russian tourist flight A321 in Egypt, have demonstrated that there is clearly a major threat to Russia from terrorism in the world at large, but this is even truer in Russia itself. Putin's need to build prestige, indicated by his sabre-rattling and his Crimea land-grab, is to do with countering this threat. Russians, like Frenchmen and Britons, have been drawn to the black flags of ISIS, and in Russia's case they may be recruits generated by internal muslim groups of long standing in the Russian 'sphere', for example the Chechens. 

Thus we can see that Putin partly acts tough to intimidate such opponents and to boost his popularity at home, where his core population sees itself under threat from the East.

In light of this, can we say whether Russia is a threat to Europe and the US owing to its territorial pangs in Eastern Europe, or should we rather say that it represents both a de facto and potential ally against Islamism? How should we describe such things as Putin's antagonism towards Turkey: the bullying of a NATO member, or natural tension towards an historic Islamic power whose actions in the current heightened state of affairs are ambiguous and possibly strongly self-interested, and who, moreover, shot down a supposedly straying Russia fighter? 

One thing should be obvious- if Putin wanted to make a united front with the UK/US/French etc, he could have done so by abandoning Assad and throwing his weight behind a alternative acceptable to these allies. It was not concern that Assad's departure would leave a vacuum that led Putin to support Assad. No, the key thing was to undermine NATO or US/UK/French foreign policy. 

Behind this is possibly the recognition of a rising Islamic tide. So far I have not mentioned the attacks in Paris in November. I have not mentioned the attacks in San Bernadino a few days ago. I have not mentioned the murder of tens of British tourists in Tunisia in July this year. Nevertheless, a rising tide is certainly about us, and Putin is well aware of this. Since Russia is particularly vulnerable, it is important that other countries should be given more trouble that Russia is- partly for propaganda reasons, but also because weakness would encourage Islamists to make his regime the first to be toppled in search of a new Islamic world power entity, otherwise known as Caliphate.

Thus, if the US and allies are stymied in the Middle East that's a useful signal to his enemies to target Europe rather than Russia. It also diminishes their standing and therefore (in a bi-polar world) raises his. Meanwhile, sponsoring Assad, whom no-one else would touch with a barge-pole, secures Russia a foothold in the Middle East that may be a crucial bargaining chip with a future caliphate power, which might for instance include a radicalised Turkey.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Back in the USSR

No apologies for anyone popping by (of whom there will be few, with so little to see), but I'll take this space to reiterate a point- don't bloody trust Russia. To read many English blogs and papers you would think that Putin had a point about first Crimea, and then Eastern Ukraine. Well he does- the point of a gun. I'm afraid Putin is more and more a mad dog, a rabid one. His record has to be observed, and once that is done the conclusion is inescapable that Putin is a psychopath within the trappings of a sulking partial-power.

The record will surely be incomplete but Michail Khordokovsky, Ana Politskaya, Alexander Litvinov, Victor Yushchenko, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Crimea, and now Vladimir Rybak.

He's a serial man, and there's no doubt he will be slowly stalking other prey, like Estonia, Latvia and Moldova. Well, I've said it before. I am afraid that I will be saying it again; and I think the word 'afraid' is too weak for how I really feel; foreboding is nearer the mark.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sorry Syria

Well, in the last dregs of summer's freetime I have given a little time to listening to the debate on Syria. I managed to see something of the Parliamentary debate, the relentless drumbeat of retreat from action which emanated from the back benches, but I hadn't heard Cameron's contribution until today. Meantime I had listened to John Kerry's rationalisation of the case for action against Assad, specifically his chemical weapons use.

First of all I must say that Kerry clarified the claim- 1429 dead, he said, at least, as a result of the attack. Until tonight I hadn't heard it so unequivocally put. Yesterday there was barely a mention except when Cameron briefly claimed 300 and something as a number drawn from Medecin sans Frontieres hospitals. That was always (I considered) going to be a fraction of the real number, assuming that the hospitals which treated the victims weren't all run by a French charity. 1429 is a different ball park- it's mass murder rather than warfare.

The number of dead leads necessarily to reflections on the scale of the attack.

What Kerry also added very clearly was the data on launch points of the attack, and targets. He said clearly, again and again- the launch points were multiple and all in areas controlled by the Assad regime. The targets were multiple but all were either in the hands of the rebels or of disputed control. The attacks had launch points in Assad territory (they were delivered by shelling) and targets which were rebel or disputed. The scale was massive and multiple in origin and target.

Did I mention 1429 people were killed in the assault?

What Kerry did that Cameron didn't was put together a sustained argument with key details which were repeated for emphasis and to allow them to sink in.

One aspect that he emphasised was the sheer number of videos of the aftermath which had come to light. So multi-sourced and spontaneous its as if ordinary people in Damascus might have smart phones with video capability. Oh.

Kerry spoke consistently and methodically, Cameron kept adding listed factlets in between interruptions from the House during which he repeatedly simply said 'I want to make some progress'- and then took another interruption. It all sounded very Parliamentary but for the 'Ă­nformation poor' House of Commons there was no chance to let key facts sink in. Moreover, Cameron was at such pains to point out that he was doing things differently from Blair, he didn't permit the facts to speak for themselves.
It was almost as if Cameron wanted to lose- he was so gentlemanly to opponents and sceptics that he felt it indecent to even try to bend their ears with facts.

Well, it's early days in this particular conflagration in the ME. There will be time,

'There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;                               
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.' 

But I still wish that Cameron had made a proper speech.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Mick Philpott, existentialist, rascal

Far as I am from the UK, I find that the story of Mick Philpott, guilty of killing six of his children, somehow encapsulates all that is wrong with the sceptered isle. His appearances on daytime tv, his status as archetypal layabout, with an origin intriguingly including a period spent as a soldier in the army; his previous convictions being of such serious crimes as aggravated attempted murder, but so underpunished as to teach him all he needed to know about the malleability of the values of the society he leeched from; all these and more suggest, in a kind of odiferous compot, the precise elemental excretia of the body politic in the era in which we live. 

In fact Philpott's life history suggests a man who acted entirely on his desires and behaved with an almost poetic sense of freedom, insofar as whatever he could get away with, he did. He may well have known what good behaviour was, in the abstract- he could certainly impersonate it when he wanted to-, but in reality he was committed to doing whatever he was able to get away with at the given moment, and in the process imposing a Philpott-shaped indentation on the society through which his antics cut a swathe.

The details are oh-so-very tabloid, to such an extent that it's clear Philpott understood and even lusted after placing himself within the tableaux of selfish extremity which is their constant emanation. We learn, for instance, that Mick Philpott and his wife Mauraid went to a karioke evening in the days after they had caused the death of six of Philpott's children, and that he sang 'Suspicous Mind' by Elvis Presley, including the lyric 'caught in a trap'. The macabre dark humour of the Philpotts is an element of the artist of the moment trying to impose his will on reality.

Murder, as Dostoyevsky illustrated in his work Crime and Punishment, is the ultimate assertion of the will. Thus did Philpott consider the deaths of his children: as the assertion of his will. He considered himself, and forced others to admire him as, one of life's winners, one of life's survivors. He considered it his role to dominate: women, children, even society itself. He dominates the headlines today, and that itself is a form of continuing victory. For this, Philpott can be considered one of the world's great existentialists. Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov would have agreed, and this latter day rascal shows how the world has advanced since those times.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Matthew D'Ancona:

'Ukip is not a party but a state of mind. It recoils not from Europe specifically but from change generally. It fuses the twitching of the suburban net curtain with the anti-everything spirit of Screaming Lord Sutch: the party of Monster Raving Rotarians. The rise of Ukip reflects not Conservative failure so much as the hectic pace of contemporary life. This is a bad era in which to live if you like uniformity, continuity and predictability. '

This statement makes me rather angry, which either self-identifies me as one of the no-change brigade, or suggests that D'Ancona's blanket smears are infuriatingly smug.

On the contrary, I would say, first of all, plus ca change, plus ca meme chose. Generally speaking those who menace for 'change' are those who suck like leaches from the status quo. 'Change' as a mantra is unchanging among the movers and shakers, of whom Ancona is a notable example. This is the same D'Ancona who was far up the New Labour posterior and is further up the Cameroonian one. This D'Ancona seems to be a Vicar of Bray minus the challenging era, needlessly and gratuitously ever-present. In the devil's words one wishes that he would just F-off.

D'Ancona mistakes imposition for change. Change, when it is authentic, comes from below. It comes in waves from the positions of lives coordinating spontaneously. Imposition imitates change but only superficially and its effects are like interference rather than waves. It comes sporadically, when conditions are permissive, imposed by will and vanity.

Change is always happening, and the challenge for all people of whatever age and place is to adapt to it. Therefore it helps if you are free from the imposition of fantasists. Such are political obsessives, currency fanatics, opinion-leader writers and european politicians.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Greece on the slide

Nothing can contain my disgust with the EU at their complicity and indeed authorship of the continued stresses in Greece, among other southern countries. Paul Mason offers a telling account of the Greek predicament:

On the walls somebody has spray-canned "Love or Nothing". Right now there is a heck of a lot of nothing: shops closed, stripped, barred, graffitied, the fascias chipped off as ammunition in riots, burned out, gone.

I am no fan of Mason, but like all true socialists he takes things seriously. Only he cannot- one assumes because he has other kinds of revolutionary solution in mind- come to the only sensible conclusion that will help Greece out of its hole: leaving the Euro. The only argument I could ever see in favour of the European Union was that it helped less-developed nations to integrate into the developed core. Now that process is reversing, and far from despairing over it, the Euro elite, from Germany to Spain, actually rejoices that 'necessary' 'reforms' are underway. As Mason illustrates, this is not reform any more than punishment beatings are justice. It's just beyond belief that the pols of Europe, so used to pivoting whole elections around a couple of percent of unemployment and a couple of percent of benefits or taxes, are merrily going along with changes in the tens of percent- unemployment, benefits, taxes. All the while it is verboten to consider the essential ground of currency which is normally a powerful tool available to the politicians who have been voted by their electorate. Mason's sense of foreboding is wise, even if the socialist in him cannot bring himself to undermine the essentially socialist construct of the Euro.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

and the key metric is...

No, not the bond yields for Spain, or the value of the Euro, or how the markets have risen on the news of Mario Draghi's promise of unlimited bond buying. No, the fact that matters is this - Greek unemployment rose by 1% in July. In July. In July alone! At 24.4% it's 7% higher than it was this time last year. It hasn't surpassed Spain's, but you can see the trend. Quantitative easing has decoupled the markets from the economy; government debt shielded by this has decoupled the populace from economic reality. Nevertheless the real weight of the economic uncertainty is being felt by the economic decisionmakers on the high street, in manufacturing and construction, and reality bites as the taxman goes hungry.

The big emphasis of Mario Draghi's announcement was 'conditionality' ie. the PIIGS can have the money IF they cut Government spending. This emphasis was for Merkel. The trouble is, that puts the population of Greece ever more into the position of rabbits in the EU headlights- pensioners paralysed, students pessimistic, everyone in between grasping for everything they can hold on to. It's not reform any more than the surgeons in the Middle Ages were carers. It's blood-letting, and the patient merely blanches ever whiter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Crazy Rajoy

This summer I spent my holidays in Spain. My moderate Spanish was tested and exposed from time to time, but travelling the country as I did from North to South was a great experience. Everywhere people were glad to see tourists; everywhere there were plenty of rooms available. Most areas it was very quiet, not at all like the highest of high seasons. On getting back I read that Spain had enjoyed a record-breaking number of tourists, according to official figures. Mmmm. I wonder how they are compiled?

Here's a great article on the current situation of Spain on ZeroHedge. What it emphasises is the relative difference of Spain,, especially that they evolved for themselves a special kind of finance model called 'dynamic provisioning' which basically allows them to fix the asset values of banks until favourable. This means that, according to ZeroHedge, the banks in Spain have their solvency underwritten by assets which are 40% overvalued. Perhaps a better word for the system could be 'static provisioning', maybe 'price fixing' or simply just 'fraud'.

Anyhow, with my Spanish and a little free time, I watched Mariano Rajoy and Herman Van Rompuoy face the press today. Once upon a time I had hopes that Rajoy, unencumbered by the burden of responsibility which was Zapatero's, would be able to take a fresh approach. Uh oh. Rajoy's a gung-ho Charge of the Light Brigade type. He ranted in practically every single answer, despite the questions being far from challenging. No-one wanted to ask something simple like 'how much unemployment is unbearable for a country?' No, they knew that practically the only thing Rajoy would say is 'the Euro is forever''. Much like love. And we know how that usually turns out. The more you have to say it, the less it means and the more it signifies. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Thinking about the Libor scandal and the possible role of Ed Balls in this fiasco today, I reminisced a little in writing, as follows...

I was standing on some steps in London, not far from Grey's Inn- the legal college. It had been a fairly eventful visit to a friend who was just starting his career in the Foreign Office. It was about 2002. His fiancee had just given me a tour of the Inn where she was pupilled. At least, I think that's how it was. It's funny that when you say aloud to someone that you both should remember this moment and what was said and where, it should become so hazy. Yet in my mind at the time there was a sort of desperate certainty that made this act of conscious marking both necessary and seemingly futile. By saying 'remember this moment' I made the moment a haze, but I remember the content of what I wanted to say; it was a nice round package then and remains so now, as dumb as an improvised explosive device.

The content of it was not related directly either to law or to foreign affairs. Inapt was a word I could use for it. It was a statement out of synchronization with the times we were living in or the people we then were. I was criticising bankers; I was criticising Gordon Brown. I said that together they would make a disaster from the City and bring the country to economic catastrophe. House prices were pumped, interest rates sedated, profits on steroids and bonuses on Red Bull. It was all a word which I didn't yet know- a FUBAR. If I had known the word FUBAR in the sense of understanding what it meant I would have applied it to Brown's Britain, which was led by Blair but underwritten by the crazy gold selling interest rate calming end of boom and bust great moderation nonsense espoused most notably by Gordon Brown, Chancellor and master doom-distiller from Kirkaldy.

And I was right. The End.

Monday, June 11, 2012

we are all swivel-eyed xenophobic extremist anti-Maastricht bastards now

Love the intro from Norman Tebbit's lovely blogpost:

I post just as the first Spailout is being digested (and pretty thin stuff it seems). We've moved on from Grexit to Spailout, in terms of the latest flutterings. Germany is still growing, looking suspiciously like an undertaker booming as the front-line casualties mount. I'm also learning German (true, actually, but unrelated- I think).

Sunday, January 01, 2012


Ok, it's been a while. Mostly I've been observing rather than commenting anywhere- just the occasional tweet from me - @Edtho in case you'd  like to follow. But what a lot to observe. From where I sit the view of the Eurocrisis is just fascinating. It's all a question of to what extent anyone's in control and whether this is a "beneficial crisis" or a crisis of real proportions.

As I see it now it's a bit of both. Germany's Merkel clearly is in the best position and looks like the director, but it suddenly occurred to me that she's like Elsa in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The ground opens up and the grail slips down and lodges on a ledge below. That's German Euro-hegemony, in my analogy. Elsa (Alison Doody- Mrs Merkel) is reaching down for the Grail- stretching, stretching and she just can't reach while holding firmly to the floor above her. Well, the Germans don't actually have what it takes to solve the crisis without help, do they? They can bail out Greece but how about Spain? However, the idea of German virtue conquering all in Europe is so attractive to Elsa (Merkel) that she defies reality and keeps on stretching. Meanwhile, Indiana Jones (Cameron- ha) would like to dissuade her from the unrealistic over-reach. In the end, the grail is more attactive than the solid ground and Elsa's grasp of the latter slips as she pursues the former. And there you have it- a prediction for 2012, I suppose.

The divergence from the analogy is that it isn't Elsa (Merkel) who is lowering herself over the abyss for the grail, but the PIIGS who are being lowered- that's why the grail is so overwhelmingly attractive- because Germany doesn't appear to be in the forefront of risk. I think that could be somewhat illusory though, which is the exciting twist in the tail. To be continued....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

 A rare insight:

“Substance,” here, is beside the point, and this enrages a certain spectrum of the intelligentsia. As for Barbara Bush, her husband had not one iota of star power; her son had a little, but his qualities—non-eloquence, an Everyman outlook, a red-state appeal—are Sarah Palin’s, too… a closeness that may embarrass Barbara Bush more than a little, and really sting.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two Ideas... (that work for me)

Calling Gordon and the BBC

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