Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

And if this does not make you smile there is no hope for you


Thursday, March 28, 2013

A fine review of a good book

I had better start with a declaration of multiple interests: both John O'Sullivan, author of this review and Douglas Murray, author of the book in question, are friends of mine and people with whom I often agree. In fact, make that almost always agree. But not always. For instance, while I am quite fond of Noel Coward's songs and some plays I do not admire him quite to the degree John O'Sullivan does.

The subject in question is serious: Douglas Murray not only attended the Saville inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday but seems to have read the ten volumes of the report before writing his book, Bloody Sunday - Truth, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, which goes beyond the mythology of what that report said and also beyond the mythology of the actual events. Murray takes no sides though he is not too fond of the Provos as who could be. Instead, he analyzes the history behind Bloody Sunday, the many loyalties that led to the tragedy and the immediate events before those fateful shots.

These events are our history as well. We should pay attention to them and not pretend that the province over the water has nothing to do with us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Show time

Everyone needs cheering up and what better way of doing it than by watching Danny Kaye. Here he is in a film I have never seen but intend to as soon as possible, On the Riviera, singing to Gene Tierney. Embedding  has been disabled so you will just have to follow the link.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The answer is no

Lord Stoddart of Swindon put down a Written Question about the BBC:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the Pollard report, they have any plans to withdraw the BBC's Royal Charter when it is next due for renewal.
To which HMG in the shape of Lord Gardiner of Kindle replied:
The current BBC Charter expires on 31 December 2016. It remains the Government's position that a Royal Charter is the right vehicle for the BBC, which is established for many good reasons, at arm's-length from politicians.
That will be a no, then.

What Cameron ought to have said

A friend who is a true Conservative in every way reminded me of a recent article in the Daily Mail though he did not have the link.
Newly released documents show that in 1981, Bruce Forsyth asked Margaret Thatcher to do the same [ as Hugh Grant was asking.] She replied: ‘I share your feelings about the need to maintain standards... but equally it is of crucial importance to keep the press in this country free from government interference. I do not think it is possible to draft a law to deal with these matters. The real sanction, of course, is not to buy the offending paper or magazine.’
And that ought to be the real Conservative attitude.

There is a slight problem, though. The real reason for the sanctimonious demands for state control is the fact that a very large number of people do buy the "offending paper and magazine" and the more offending, the better.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A missed anniversary

Once again, I have had a finger-wagging from a regular reader of the blog and I deserve it. How could I forget the thirtieth anniversary of this speech?


 President Ronald Reagan addressing the nation on the subject of defence. puts that seminal speech into perspective. President Obama has just returned from his Middle Eastern tour during which his "achievement" seems to have been to allow Israel and Turkey do what they wanted to do anyway and sort out their differences. Those two countries have been allies for a long time and are both more than a little worried about Iran.
Islamofascist Iran is now, according to the White House, a year away from nuclear arms, and the "Arab Spring" Obama's apologies helped spawn has turned Egypt from a U.S. ally into a possible foe under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Compare Obama's failure to realize the havoc he was wreaking to the astonishing prescience of Ronald Reagan.

Addressing the nation, he asked, "What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?"

He knew missile defense was "a formidable technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century."

But by committing America to it, Soviet communism was a few years later relegated to "the ash-heap of history," as Reagan had promised the year before.
Read the whole article and weep.

Boris Berezovsky and other matters

Readers of this blog would have heard by now of the sudden and  unexplained death of Boris Berezovsky, enemy number one for President Putin and his cohorts. Apparently,  he was found in his bath at about 11 o'clock this morning. One is awfully tempted to use the old KGB slang мокрое дело or wet business and I shall leave it to my readers to remember or work out what that might stand for.

The way the story broke was interesting. This afternoon I escaped early from yet another conference of seminar about what eurosceptics should do now or this time next year (can't remember) and went to London Library (after conferring with the Boss who is snowed in up north), checked my e-mails and went on Facebook to see if there was anything interesting happening in the world. There I found several postings from Russian friends or British friends who follow Russian affairs that were wondering if Berezovsky was dead. Apparently, some Russian outlets were saying it, at first cautiously then more boldly that they had heard from Berezovsky's son-in-law who posted the information on Facebook that the old man was dead. Others referred to some telephone call from London to Moscow, yet others quoted people "close" to Berezovsky.

By this time it was about half past four in the afternoon, several hours after the body had been found. Or so it seems.

Meanwhile the western media was desperately trying to confirm the story and were, therefore, keeping quiet. I am delighted to say that I tweeted about it a while before the Wall Street Journal came up with "Breaking: Boris Berezovsky dead". Before confirmation came and the police said "in a statement they had launched a "full inquiry" into what they described as "the unexplained death" of a 67-year-old man at a property near London" the Russian media started saying that this was definitely a suicide, that he had been depressed, was facing bankruptcy and was, in general, feeling that he was a failure. Presumably, this was an effort to get in there first as most of us thought of some other explanation when we first heard the news. (Jokes about ice picks have already been made.)

There have also been news from Russia and not just about the Cyprus shenanigans. Readers of this blog might recall last year's law that "foreign-funded non-governmental groups (NGOs) involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents" in Russia". The term has a very special and sinister sound in a country where not so long ago you were imprisoned for many years at best if  you were named a "foreign agent".

A number of NGOs that could be said to have some foreign funding and foreign links have been raided by the police and tax inspectors. Among these were Memorial that tries to reconstruct what happened to the millions of victims of the Soviet system and also deals with human rights issues since its collapse.
Memorial says inspectors returned to its Moscow offices on Friday, having already seized 600 documents including accounts on Thursday.

A statement on the Memorial website said the inspections were directly linked to the new law on NGOs and the targeted groups' compliance with it.

Memorial director Arseny Roginsky, quoted by the Russian news website Vesti, said it was "a complete check on everything concerned with our sources of funding".

He insisted that the NGO law "will not change our position at all". "We won't refuse foreign donations, nor will we register as a 'foreign agent'," he said.
Helpfully, as the picture in the story shows, somebody (could one possibly guess who) has written a graffiti on the wall of Memorial offices, describing them as "a foreign agent".

The legislation against NGOs that get foreign funding and have foreign links is seen as a response to the agitation around the Magnitsky Act that was signed into law by President Obama in December of last year and campaigns against so-called foreign agents have intensified.

Meanwhile, the Russian investigation into Magnitsky's death in prison has been dropped.
The committee posted a statement on its official website on March 19 saying Magnitsky was placed legally in pretrial detention and died there from heart complications in 2009. The committee said there was no evidence of a crime.
Indeed, how could there be a crime? The man was arrested for trying to find out what happened to the companies he was supposed to be working for that had been stolen in order to claim enormous tax rebates by people linked to the security services, kept in appalling conditions for a year without any charges, denied medical attention, evidently tortured and was eventually found dead in his cell. All very normal.

However, the Magnitsky case is not dead even if the man is. His posthumous trial has opened in Moscow but  has been adjourned till the 27th. Gogol, the author of Dead Souls, should be alive now. He, alone could do justice to this tragic farce.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Some headlines I liked

First about Cyprus. There really is very little I can add to the avalanche of analysis that has hit the fan in the last couple of days except to suggest that maybe, just maybe those oligarchs knew in time to withdraw their money and take it somewhere else. I am guessing, mind you, but there are other countries near there, such as Turkey and Turkish Cyprus. It's the others wot got caught.

Anyway, here is my favourite headline on the subject: RAF plane flies to crisis-hit Cyprus with a MILLION euros for British forces in case cash machines stop working. Another Berlin air lift, forsooth. Except that this crisis was not created by the enemy outside but the enemy within.

Here, on the other hand, is the story as it is developing with the Cyprus Parliament rejecting legislation on the levy:
Cyprus’s finance minister arrived in Moscow on Tuesday night to try to wrest vital economic assistance from the Kremlin as his country’s parliament rejected a €10bn EU-led bailout that requires €5.8bn to be seized from Cypriot bank accounts.

The 11th-hour attempt to tap funds from Russia as an alternative to the deposit levy stunned leaders in Brussels, who said they were taken aback by the resistance of Cypriot lawmakers to shifting the tax’s burden exclusively on to deposits over €100,000 – many of which are held by wealthy Russians.
What will the Russians demand as guarantee? And should they not try to tap Belarus as well? It seems that some of Luakashenka's cronies may have been caught out. Well, like the Russian ones, possibly. Then again, maybe not. I am still guessing.

As to the other big story, the intended licensing and regulation of the media (not just the press, as the newspapers keep saying), I liked several headlines but this one really takes the biscuit. Peter Oborne has suddenly woken up to the endemic nastiness of the NUS. That's it, he says, he is resigning from the NUS.
It is a sad moment, but today I have decided to resign from the National Union of Journalists. It is the second time I have done so. The first was in the mid 1980s when (as a young journalist who was very proud to be an NUJ member) I was appalled to read in the NUJ newspaper an account of a trip by some union officials to Moscow. They favourably compared free speech in Soviet Russia to free speech in Britain. It was sickening, and showed a catastrophic failure to understand free speech and why it matters. I felt it was morally wrong to remain a member of such an organisation, so I quit.
He then went back, for whatever reason, but has now once again decided to leave.
For some time, however, I have been increasingly disturbed by the NUJ's growing sympathy for state control over the press. If the union represented journalists, as it claimed to do, it would have been up in arms at yesterday's squalid deal which has granted politicians power over newspapers for the first time in more than 300 years. It would have fought all the way. Instead the NUJ has been a largely silent and shamefaced collaborator with Hacked Off and its rich and powerful backers. I tried to warn the union's secretary Michelle Stanistreet about this, but she would not listen. Yesterday she threw her weight behind the stitch up between the political parties.
I should have thought the two attitudes are two sides of the same coin but that is probably why I am not a highly paid hack.

Oh and how can one resist this headline on Guido Fawkes's blog? Among the various donors for that nauseating organization of tenth-rate celebrities outraged that they cannot control their own publicity, there is ... a Russian oligarch, to wit Yevgeny Lebedev, owner of the freebie Evening Standard, where he has a weekly vanity column (well, he is bankrolling the rag and it is no worse than other columns by Polly Filler and her like of both genders) and of the Independent.
The elite club of multi-millionaires with an axe to grind have confirmed however that they are “due to receive soon a grant from the Journalism Foundation of over £20,000″. The Journalism Foundation was former Indy editor-in-chief Simon Kelner’s £600,000 vanity project bankrolled by billionaire Russian oligarchs and Indy owners Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev. The former KGB agent set up the Foundation to promote “free and independent journalism”, pulling the plug on it after less than a year. Seemingly not before they channelled a chunk of the cash to those freedom lovers Hacked Off…
This gets funnier by the minute.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ten years

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating selection of photographs from the ten years since the start of the second Iraqi war.

We have a free media now?

Before I get on to the disgraceful behaviour by most of our legislators in adding an amendment during the Third Reading of the Crime and Courts Bill (which will now go back to the Lords for consideration of that and other amendments), which would allow them to license and regulate all (and I mean all) media outlets, let me just make a waspish comment.

So we have a free media? What about libel laws and anti-hate laws? What of the EU's framework directive on combating racism and xenophobia?

Legal base for the control of bankers' bonuses

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (a frequently appearing character on this blog) put down the following Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government under what Articles of the European Union treaties the new European Union rules restricting bankers' bonuses are being implemented; and whether there are any plans to introduce such restrictions in other industries or in the public sector.
For once the answer was clear and informative:
The Capital Requirements Directive IV proposals on remuneration are based on Article 53(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. There are currently no specific legislative proposals for the introduction of similar measures in other industries or the public sector.
Especially, not the public sector, I'd say. What deprive those poor innocent little regulators of their bonueses? Fie, I say, fie.

Looking the relevant Article up in the CONSOLIDATED VERSION OF THE TREATY ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, I found the following apparently irrelevant text:
1. In order to make it easier for persons to take up and pursue activities as self-employed persons, the European Parliament and the Council shall, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, issue directives for the mutual recognition of diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualifications and for the coordination of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the taking-up and pursuit of activities as self-employed persons.
How on earth does this apply to bankers, who are not self-employed, let alone their bonuses? Nothing for it, I sighed, let us have a look at the relevant Directive proposal.  As ever, it gives a great deal of information, including relevant aspects of the Basel agreement, which is rarely mentioned in the various discussions, and says this in Section 3.3:
3.3. The EU's right to act and justification

The legal bases for EU level action in this specific field are: Article 53 TFEU (former Article 47 CE) which provide the EU legislature with the possibility of adopting directives for the coordination of the provisions concerning the taking-up and pursuit of activities as self-employed persons and the provision of services in the Internal Market,  and Article 114 TFEU according to which the European legislator can adopt "measures for the approximation of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States which have as their object the establishment and the functioning of the Internal Market." The European legislature has discretion as to the method of approximation which is the most appropriate in order to improve the conditions for the establishment and proper functioning of the Internal Market. This may include the approximation of national laws concerning the type and level of administrative sanctions to be imposed.
While I remain unconvinced about the relevance of Article 53, it is clear that Article 114 gives the European legislature a carte blanche in its anxiety "to improve the conditions for the establishment and proper functioning of the Internal Market". I notice this was omitted from the answer given to Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

May one enquire how our Prime Minister or what passes for one intends to renegotiate that?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Oh no, not another "victory"

The Daily Torygraph is all excited: the Boy King has won another victory in Brussels. Woo-hoo! Red tape will be cut because our fearless David has vanquished Goliath. Well, sort of. I mean, Goliath isn't actually dead. In fact, he is doing rather well.
Over dinner in Brussels last night, EU leaders agreed a to bring forward "concrete" plans to cut bureaucracy by June.

Decisions on which regulations will be abolished are then expected to be discussed in the autumn.

In a joint statement at the European Council summit, the leaders said: "Further action is required to reduce the overall burden of regulation at EU and national levels, while always taking account of the need for proper protection of consumers and employees."

The statement promised detailed talks in the autumn on "the withdrawal of regulations that are no longer of use" and "the consolidation of existing legislation".
That's it. That is the great victory: a definite promise of some discussions that will bring forward concrete proposals to consolidate existing legislation.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tolokonnikova applies for parole ....

.... but her prison refuses to support her application.
A commission that assesses prison inmate behavior has decided against supporting Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's bid for parole, chairman of Mordovia's public monitoring committee Gennady Morozov told RIA Novosti.

Tolokonnikova is serving a two year prison sentence in Mordovia for the band's "punk prayer" at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

The commission is declining to support Tolokonnikova's parole application because of prison rule violations and because she has shown no remorse. The prison's stand will be forwarded to the court, which will rule on the band member's parole application.
Showing no remorse is a heinous crime as we all know but prison rule violations ought to weigh more heavily. It seems that there have not been any problems and no disciplinary action  has been started against Nadezhda Tolokonnikova but she did, according to her guards, go to the medical ward once without permission. As no disciplinary procedure has followed that action, one can't help wondering about it.

The Ides of March have come

Aye Caesar, but not gone yet.

True enough but, really, did you think you would be spared this:


Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's so difficult ....

.... about understanding that the European Parliament, regardless of its phony name are NOT the European Union lawmakers? The Wall Street Journal has a large staff and many researchers, yet they seem unable to grasp this simple fact.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bulgaria has an interim Prime Minister

Over and over again, we see this. Things go badly for the elected government, it resigns and somebody appoints someone for the time being. Now it is Bulgaria's turn.
Bulgaria's president on Tuesday picked a career diplomat to lead an interim administration tasked with safeguarding political and financial stability after the center-right government quit last month amid swelling protests against austerity and corruption.

President Rosen Plevneliev said that Marin Raikov, a former ambassador to France who served as deputy foreign minister in two previous administrations, would lead the government until elections on May 12. Kalin Hristov, the deputy central bank governor since 2009 tasked with managing the peg linking Bulgaria's currency to the euro, will run the finance ministry.

The move to pick bureaucrats with no overt political affiliations was aimed at showing protesters there has been a clean break with a political class they view as corrupt and unable to improve living standards in the European Union's poorest member country.
None of this would matter, as I keep saying, but for one thing. The Bulgarian government is also our government and will be as long as we remain in the EU.

Show time

We depart a little from the usual kind of show we present on this blog. In fact, culturally speaking, we are moving upwards. But who can resist this? Anna Pavlova dancing the Dying Swan in 1925:


Habemus Papam

Probably everyone knew before me about the white smoke. I was at the Hammersmith bus station when I checked my e-mails and saw a news flash from the Washington Post. So, it was quick and relatively painless. The new Pope is from the New World (the jokes about Argentina getting the Vatican and Britain keeping the Falklands are flying already) and a Jesuit. Two firsts for the Papal Curia.

Presumably, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, chose the name of St Francis Xavier as his own. Damian Thompson has an interesting blog on what the new Pope will have to tackle first. Unsurprisingly even for those of us not of the Roman persuasion it is the "corrupt structures of the Vatican curia" that Benedict XVI failed to reform. Perhaps being from the New World will help Francis I - he is less likely to be an insider - but, on the other hand, the Vatican being just like any other political structure, being an outsider has its own problems. On whom can he rely?

What I find somewhat amusing is the need so many people feel to make ridiculous, would-be funny (for which read not in the slightest bit funny), clever-clever and self-satisfied comments. It is as if the only thing that many people have kept when all knowledge of history has been discarded is a rather silly feeling of anti-Popery.

Incidentally, I understand he is not totally sound on the Falklands question but the days of the Vatican actually mustering an army, let alone a navy are over. He will have his hands full with other matters.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Now that is a VICTORY

Turn-out 92 per cent of which 99.8 per cent voted yes, they want to be British. Of course, I am talking about the referendum on the Falkland Islands, the one Argentina dismissed as being irrelevant even before it happened. I wonder who the three people who voted no were. Could they have been asked to do so, in order to avoid the 100 per cent vote, as someone suggested to me? Could they have made a mistake? Could they have thought this was funny or genuinely wanted to be ruled by the dysfunctional Argentinian government? (Yes, I know ours is dysfunctional as well but they do not interfere with the Falklands much.)

Or, perhaps, they are the independence movement.

Meanwhile, I suggest that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner proclaims that it is those three and none other who represent the workers, peasants and toiling  intelligentsia of the Falkland Islands.

For those who still feel they do not know enough on the subject, here is an admirably succinct summary of the case by a reader of this blog though on another thread:
A quick history lesson and reminder: when Britain took possession of the Falklands, oil was not an economic resource, Argentina did not exist, and there were no other occupiers of the place, no natives, no other imperial power. It was empty land. Many of the Falklanders families have been there for many generations now. Their desire to remain British was expressed in a referendum whose results were announced today: In favour 1513, Against 3. Turnout 92%.
Time to lay this issue to rest.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Apparently, it is not working

One of the self-avowed purposes of the European project has been the annihilation of bad things in European history, such as racism, xenophobia, tendency to go to war and so on. In fact, given the emphasis given to something rather vaguely described as "European values", one could argue that these values are to be used in order to overcome European history's rather less valuable aspects. Europeans, runs the argument, cannot be trusted to uphold and promote those values unless all these organizations are set up; Europeans need to be saved from themselves and their history through the official  promotion of European values.

By 2008, that is fifty years after the founding of what was first known as the EEC, the situation became so bad that a Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law was put together. This was going to solve the problem once and for all. But  has it?

Well, one can argue about the effect it has had on domestic legislation and, indeed, we should discuss that. For the moment let me call attention to two items of news (apart from what is going on in Hungary, on which more will be written).

The first item comes from the Independent, so one may have to take it with a grain of salt but, if the results of the opinion poll conducted by Der Standard, a respected Viennese newspaper, are reported accurately, one can feel a trifle glum about Austria, a country that has, on the whole been admirable in its political stance since the Second World War, particularly in its readiness to help refugees from the other totalitarian system.
As Austria prepares to mark the anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany, an opinion poll has shown that more than half of the population think it highly likely that the Nazis would be elected if they were readmitted as a party.

A further 42 per cent agreed with the view that life “wasn’t all bad under the Nazis”, and 39 per cent said they thought a recurrence of anti-Semitic persecution was likely in Austria.
Of course, that does mean, as Russia Today points out that
Fifty-seven per cent of respondents believed that "there was nothing positive about the Hitler era".
As to sixty-one per cent wanting a "strong leader", I do not find that particularly worrying. People  in many countries, Britain included, seem to want strong leaders all the time, without going too deeply into what a strong leader might do.

The Independent gives more details and calls them "damning".
Neighbouring Germany’s popular “Stern” magazine described the poll’s findings as shocking today. The poll also showed that 61 per cent of Austrian adults wanted to see a “strong man” in charge of government, and 54 per cent said they thought it would be “highly likely” that the Nazis would win seats in they were allowed to take part in an election.

Some 46 per cent of those polled said they believed Austria was a victim of Nazi oppression in 1938, while 61 per cent said they believed that “enough” had been done to reappraise Austria’s Nazi past.
The last paragraph is, perhaps, a little muddled but probably reflects Austrian opinion in general. At the same time, it might be useful if the Indy made it clear, as RT did, that the poll asked the vast number of 502 people. The results may be worrying, though not exactly shocking, but do they reflect Austrian opinion at all accurately in all particulars?

An even more disturbing video comes from the Netherlands, though, once again, it is hard to tell how widespread the problem is though the fact that they have picked up on the meme about Palestinians being murdered by Jews (ahem, what of Black September of what is going on in Syria) would indicate that these  youngsters are of the "nice" middle of the road soft-left persuasion.
A video that appeared on Dutch TV recently shows a roundtable of adults and children discussing Jews. The children praise Hitler and his genocidal inclinations. One of the boys says, “on the one hand I am satisfied with what Hitler did with the Jews…” while another responds that Hitler was justified in killing millions of Jews because “now millions of Palestinians are being killed.”

The four young boys are joined in a roundtable by an older gentleman (identified as Mehmet Sahin, a researcher at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit) who repeatedly challenges their assertions. When one of the boys asks the interviewer if he hates Jews, they seem surprised when he responds in the negative.

Later, the same boy who originally praised Hitler, says, ” as far as I’m concerned Hitler should have killed all Jews, ” a remark that merited laughs from the group of boys.

The interviewer, who repeatedly expresses his indignation at the boys’ opinions, ask them where they got their hatred for the Jews from–”from friends” they answer, noting that the term “Jew” is used as a curse word and that nobody at their school likes Jews.
And we know what the answer is to all these possible problems: more EU legislation.{Hey! That was a joke!]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Where it all started

There are many reasons why blogging is a bit sparse at the moment and one of them was a Saturday spent in trying to find where Russian ambassadors stayed in London from 1557 onwards. So far, every known place seems to  have gone. However, in the process I found this in Lombard Street. This is where it all started. Just as Russian writers of the nineteenth century all supposed to have come out of Gogol's Overcoat, so all of us, hacks of whatever persuasion came out of Lloyds Coffee House.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

They know less than they should

Lord Flight asked a very pertinent question in the House of Lords:
how many people are employed by the European Union institutions; and what assessment they have made of how many of those individuals pay either no tax or reduced tax rates on their remuneration.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire responded on behalf of HMG:
My Lords, the European Union institutions all together employ approximately 55,000 people. EU staff are exempt from national income tax, a similar situation to that found in other international bodies. As in other international bodies, the EU deducts a proportion of salary as a form of extranational taxation, proceeds from which are returned to the EU budget. This is applied progressively, rising from an initial 8% to a 45% marginal rate for the highest-paid. In addition, there is now a special or solidarity levy, which last month was increased from a top rate of 5.5% to 6%; most officials pay an average of 2%. I should declare an interest. My wife was for five years the director of the Robert Schuman Centre in Florence, whose staff regulations were those of the European institutions. We have examined her payslips and established that an average of 28% of her gross salary was deducted in community tax each month.
To the suggestion that civil servants who work for the EU should be taxed at the home rate back home he went into a long discourse about international organizations, residency and non-residency. The next topic raised, by Lord Tomlinson, was an old and tired one and shows that some of our politicos cannot or will not understand how the EU works.
Is the Minister as surprised as I am by the low number of European Union institution employees? How does that figure-I think he said 55,000-compare with a large-scale local authority in the United Kingdom?
The response was:
My Lords, the figures I have are that Paris employs 50,000 people and Birmingham employs 60,000 people, so it is a relatively modest number.
That merely proves that local authorities employ far too many people and some very severe pruning is needed. There is, also the point, rarely raised at times like this that those employees of local councils (and of many other organizations, public and private) spend much of their time implementing EU regulations. However, Lord Wallace went on:
I am sure the noble Lord will admit that the inefficiencies of the Commission-in particular, the rather inadequate personnel policies, the relatively generous allowances and an expatriate allowance which, unlike the NATO expatriate allowance, does not phase out after a number of years and is rather more generous-are things that we should be looking at, particularly when all national budgets within the European Union are being squeezed.
Uh-huh! Well, good luck with that. It would appear that quite a few people, not just the usual suspects are troubled by the expensive nature of the project. Lord Dobbs asked:Will my noble friend help a confused man who has trouble with numbers? We have one
European Union which has two parliaments, three presidents and dozens of employees who earn more than our Prime Minister. I understand that the second parliament in Strasbourg, over the course of the parliamentary cycle, costs our taxpayers €1.5 billion. Do any of those statistics make any sense to him?
Apparently, we all keep campaigning for abolishing the Strasbourg part of the merry-go-round but, so far, with no success whatsoever. That has something to do with the fact that the Strasbourg week was written into the Treaty of Amsterdam and has remained in the subsequent ones. Nobody noticed at the time and nobody is going to be able to change without re-writing the treaties.

That was the last moment of serious or semi-serious (can anything that involves the European Parliament be called serious?) discussion. The following two farcical exchanges took place:
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, what is the average annual cost to the taxpayer of Members of your Lordships' House and what is the average annual cost to the taxpayer of Members of the European Parliament, including all the latter's special perks and allowances?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it may surprise the noble Lord, but I do not have the exact figures to hand. Of course, any international parliament costs a great deal more because of the travel, dual residence and so on that are involved. Members of this House who also attend the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or the NATO Assembly also cost rather more than the rest of us.

Lord Howell of Guildford: Does my noble friend have any figures on the European External Action Service? Has he noticed recent criticism that it is not performing very effectively? Does he have any measure of cost versus performance for that body?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I do not have that. The European External Action Service is still very much in its early stages. It is now performing rather better than when it was originally established. Multinational operations take longer to get going than others-I am looking at various people here who have served in the European Commission-and have a level of built-in efficiency.
One cannot help longing for the days of Lord Bruce of Donington. After an exchange like this he would invariably rumble to his feet and ask whether the noble Minister was aware that he had the figures that the Minister apparently did not. Alas, who is there to replace the great Lord Bruce? Incidentally, he it was who demanded information about the nascent EU diplomatic service and the money that was spent on it, long before its existence was acknowledged.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

That's enough Stalin (Ed.)

It is time to recall a couple of other people who died on this day, in one case sixty years ago. Both of them were great artists and both suffered under the Soviet system though neither was actually arrested.

Sergei Sergeievich Prokofiev, one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, died on March 5, 1953 and his death was overshadowed by that of the great tyrant. His last years were overshadowed by persecution and the arrest of his wife. Even in death he found difficulties.
He had lived near Red Square, and for three days the throngs gathered to mourn Stalin, making it impossible to carry Prokofiev's body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composer's Union.
I think, people might like to listen to the Radio 3 programme on Prokofiev and here is Valery Gergiyev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Dance of the Knights, one of my personal favourites. I shall be happy to put up any other piece that readers prefer.


How can one forget the other great artist, in this case a great poet, who died on March 5 though she managed to outlive the old tyrant by 13 years? Anna Akhmatova, one of the greatest of the twentieth century poets and one of those who created a wondrous memorial to the victims in her cycle Requiem, died in 1966, having witnessed the cultural thaw but also its ending. Sadly but predictably Requiem, Poem without a Hero and her essays on Pushkin remained available only in the West till many years after her death, when they were finally published in the Soviet Union. For some people March 5 is Anna Akhmatova Day.

Oh, and incidentally, I have written about her before: here, here and here.

Little Joe the Rustler will rustle never more

One of my favourite LPs (or as they are known these days, vinyls) is this one: My Darling Party Line, given my father by one of the performers on it, Abe Brumberg, in real life a well-known expert on the Soviet Union (and many other things). The other performer is Joe Glazer a well-known writer and singer of labour songs but, clearly, a man who had no truck with the Communist party either in the Soviet Union or, more to the point, in the United States. To say that the songs are irreverent is to use an understatement. The album is a wonderfully funny though often rather sad send-up of many things to do with Communism in the east and west, but particularly the west. The words are written by Glazer and sometimes Brumberg, the tunes are mostly traditional and well known.

I picked one that is very appropriate for today: Little Joe the Rustler to the tune of Little Joe the Wrangler. The only text I could find on line is inadequate and incomplete. So, kind person that I am, I have copied out the much better text from the well-worn leaflet that goes with the LP. (Actually, I know the song by heart.)

Little Joe the Rustler will rustle never more,
His scheming in the Kremlin is all through. 
'Twas back in 1907 that he robbed the Tiflis bank
And he landed in a prison in Baku.

He rustled all through Europe,
And he rustled through the world,
From Germany out to the China sea.
Joe Stalin purged and plundered 
As his black moustache he twirled -
And he did it in the name of liberty.

He rode with comrade Lenin who was leader of the band,
But Stalin had ambitions of his own.
He learned to shoot and rope and ride
Until he led them all,
And he succeeded Lenin to the throne.


Little Joe, he purged Bukharin, Trostsky and the rest,
Zinoviev and many others too. 
He said they all were traitors
And he shot them down like dogs -
Till he alone remained of all that crew.


'Twas in the spring of '53 that Joseph Stalin died,
They laid him next to Lenin in a tomb.
There were no tears, no broken hearts,
No grief throughout the world
When Little Joe the Rustler meat his doom.


Now we come to '61, Nikita is the boss. 
He said to Joe: "We're changing history.
You used to be a hero, Joe, but now you are a bum -
Move over, Joe, you've gotta make room for me!"


Of course, there is one slight inaccuracy in the text. As we know, there were people who mourned the old gangster and mass murderer, people such as Paul Robeson and many others like him.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ha, found it!

Tomorrow will be the 60th anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death (or, at least the 60th anniversary of the day on which it was announced). I shall be writing in celebration. In the meantime, here is something I have been thinking of finding for some time: Paul Robeson's eulogy of the great mass murderer, published in New World Review in April 1953 and actually reprinted in Paul Robeson Speaks. Please note the date on which he saw "the great Stalin" being cheered in the Bolshoi Theatre: 1937, the year when the Great Terror unfolded in its full ferocity.

To You Beloved Comrade

by Paul Robeson

There is no richer store of human experience than the folk tales, folk poems and songs of a people. In many, the heroes are always fully recognizable humans - only larger and more embracing in dimension. So it is with the Russian, Chinese. and the African folk-lore.

In 1937, a highly expectant audience of Moscow citizens - workers, artists, youth, farmers from surrounding towns - crowded the Bolshoy Theater. They awaited a performance by the Uzbek National Theater, headed by the highly gifted Tamara Khanum. The orchestra was a large one with instruments ancient and modern. How exciting would be the blending of the music of the rich culture of Moussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khrennikov, Gliere - with that of the beautiful music of the Uzbeks, stemming from an old and proud civilization.

Suddenly everyone stood - began to applaud - to cheer - and to smile. The children waved.

In a box to the right - smiling and applauding the audience - as well as the artists on the stage - stood the great Stalin.

I remember the tears began to quietly flow. and I too smiled and waved. Here was clearly a man who seemed to embrace all. So kindly - I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good - the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance. I lifted high my son Pauli to wave to this world leader, and his leader. For Paul, Jr. had entered school in Moscow, in the land of the Soviets.

The wonderful performance began, unfolding new delights at every turn - ensemble and individual, vocal and orchestral, classic and folk-dancing of amazing originality. Could it be possible that a few years before in 1900 - in 1915 - these people had been semi-serfs - their cultural expression forbidden, their rich heritage almost lost under tsarist oppression's heel?

So here one witnessed in the field of the arts - a culture national in form, socialist in content. Here was a people quite comparable to some of the tribal folk of Asia - quite comparable to the proud Yoruba or Basuto of West and East Africa, but now their lives flowering anew within the socialist way of life twenty years matured under the guidance of Lenin and Stalin. And in this whole area of development of national minorities - of their relation to the Great Russians - Stalin had played and was playing a most decisive role.

I was later to travel - to see with my own eyes what could happen to so-called backward peoples. In the West (in England, in Belgium, France, Portugal, Holland) - the Africans, the Indians (East and West), many of the Asian peoples were considered so backward that centuries, perhaps, would have to pass before these so-called "colonials" could become a part of modern society.

But in the Soviet Union, Yakuts, Nenetses, Kirgiz, Tadzhiks - had respect and were helped to advance with unbelievable rapidity in this socialist land. No empty promises, such as colored folk continuously hear in the United States, but deeds. For example, the transforming of the desert in Uzbekistan into blooming acres of cotton. And an old friend of mine, Mr. Golden, trained under Carver at Tuskegee, played a prominent role in cotton production. In 1949, I saw his daughter, now grown and in the university - a proud Soviet citizen.

Today in Korea - in Southeast Asia - in Latin America and the West Indies, in the Middle East - in Africa, one sees tens of millions of long oppressed colonial peoples surging toward freedom. What courage - what sacrifice - what determination never to rest until victory!

And arrayed against them, the combined powers of the so-called Free West, headed by the greedy, profit-hungry, war-minded industrialists and financial barons of our America. The illusion of an "American Century" blinds them for the immediate present to the clear fact that civilization has passed them by - that we now live in a people's century - that the star shines brightly in the East of Europe and of the world. Colonial peoples today look to the Soviet Socialist Republics. They see how under the great Stalin millions like themselves have found a new life. They see that aided and guided by the example of the Soviet Union, led by their Mao Tse-tung, a new China adds its mighty power to the true and expanding socialist way of life. They see formerly semi-colonial Eastern European nations building new People's Democracies, based upon the people's power with the people shaping their own destinies. So much of this progress stems from the magnificent leadership, theoretical and practical, given by their friend Joseph Stalin.

They have sung - sing now and will sing his praise - in song and story. Slava - slava - slava - Stalin, Glory to Stalin. Forever will his name be honored and beloved in all lands.

In all spheres of modern life the influence of Stalin reaches wide and deep. From his last simply written but vastly discerning and comprehensive document, back through the years, his contributions to the science of our world society remain invaluable. One reverently speaks of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin - the shapers of humanity's richest present and future.

Yes, through his deep humanity, by his wise understanding, he leaves us a rich and monumental heritage. Most importantly - he has charted the direction of our present and future struggles. He has pointed the way to peace - to friendly co-existence - to the exchange of mutual scientific and cultural contributions - to the end of war and destruction. How consistently, how patiently, he labored for peace and ever increasing abundance, with what deep kindliness and wisdom. He leaves tens of millions all over the earth bowed in heart-aching grief.

But, as he well knew, the struggle continues. So, inspired by his noble example, let us lift our heads slowly but proudly high and march forward in the fight for peace - for a rich and rewarding life for all.

In the inspired words of Lewis Allan, our progressive lyricist -

To you Beloved Comrade, we make this solemn vow
The fight will go on - the fight will still go on.
Sleep well, Beloved Comrade, our work will just begin.
The fight will go on - till we win - until we win.

There is very good evidence that Paul Robeson, who could read Russian and whose son was at school in Moscow with children of those who were being arrested in the thirties, knew exactly what was going on just as he knew that his friends like Itzik Feffer, were being rounded up in Stalin's second, viciously anti-Semitic purge.

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Small earthquake"

Curiously enough, Nigel Farage, the Great Helmsman of UKIP, seems to be more rational about his party's achievement yesterday than many of the members and even the media whose endless repetition of the words UKIP and surge hide the fact that actually it did not go very far.

Mr Farage, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically modest in today's Evening Standard. Having in the past predicted repeatedly an earthquake in British politics caused by his party and throngs of Conservative MPs joining his party, on the day after UKIP had achieved its best result in a by-election, their Leader merely predicted an earthquake in next year's European elections.

By this, I assume he means that UKIP will come first among the parties. That is not unlikely as they came second last time.

All the same, a sitting MEP of some experience ought to know that even if UKIP wins every single British seat in the European Parliament (an inherently unlikely scenario) it will not make a scrap of difference to anything that happens in that body or in the European Union as a whole. He has said this frequently himself in that speech he has given up and down the country.

What was that headline Claud Cockburn invented: "Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead."

So where are we?

The Eastleigh by-election has confounded everybody, particularly the experts. I am rather glad I made no prediction and, indeed, took little interest. For, in the end, it is not a make-or-break by-election though things will go badly for a while for Cameron and his team, particularly Grant Shapps.

So here are the figures: turn-out was higher than we have been used to in by-elections at 52.8 per cent. The Lib-Dims, whose vote collapsed in the last several by-elections held the seat easily with 13,342 votes, down considerably from Chris Huhne's 24,966. Second: UKIP, for the third by-election, with 11,571 votes, third Conservatives with 10,599 and it is the Labour vote that collapsed: 4,088. As the Boss says in his far earlier posting (he actually stayed up being that kind of a person):
Mike Thornton's vote of 13,342 votes compares with Chris Huhne's 24,966 in 2010, yet Thornton talks of a Lib-Dem "mandate", having dragged in pitiful 32 percent of the votes cast, and 17 percent of the electorate of 78,313. UKIP's great victory amounts to 28 percent of the votes cast, or 14.8 percent of the electorate.
I am not sure this tells us anything new. People are not turning out to vote for any of the candidates (a spectacularly unexciting lot in Eastleigh) for a number of reasons.

The fact that this time the Lib-Dims held on to the seat after a number of catastrophic results while the Labour vote collapsed not only confounded those experts who said that the party was finished but shows a somewhat scatter gun approach by the electorate. We can draw no conclusions for the next General Election , which is two years or so away.

As for UKIP, despite their achievement in coming second yet again (and as late as 1 am last night Farage was saying that we may well see the first UKIP MP) they are now in no-man's land. Still no seat in Westminster, still not getting more than just over a quarter of the votes cast, still not achieving the position in political life, as opposed to the media they ought to have. Their plan to become the third party after the Lib-Dims has fallen by the wayside through the latter's victory in Eastleigh and they cannot pretend that they are the second party in the country with no MPs and very few councillors. So, despite the undoubted rejoicing in the UKIP ranks and despite the nauseating plaudits that will be heaped on the Dear Leader, the fact remains: after 20 years and in the most propitious circumstances they remain, as I say, in no-man's land.

For those who are interested

The Telegraph is doing live updates of the Eastleigh by-election. The suggestion is that the Lib-Dims, those who were about to implode according to all experts, will win with a majority of thousands rather than hundreds and UKIP might come second though that is not certain. The BBC calls that a virtual victory. It is nothing of the kind. In politics if you don't win you lose and it is long past the time UKIP can rejoice at not losing badly. Oh and this is not the most important by-election for generations.