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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Cameron avoids Camp David gaffes. So far.

The Boy may be crap as an international statesman, but at least he's so far avoided the embarrassment that his predecessors from the Rotten Parliament caused at Camp David; first Blair in budgie-strangler cords so tight he couldn't even get his fingers in the pockets, then Brown so unpleasant and stiff that President Bush made several determined efforts to tip him out of the golf cart, to which a white-knuckled Broon clung like a fat kid to an ice cream. It's not much, but it's something. 

The Storm Must Break

Select any simile you choose; leaden skies before the storm, at the top of the roller coaster, running before the wind - they all mean it's just one-way now, with no going back, no pause. The alternative to the fracturing of the Eurozone is full political and economic union, and this simply isn't going to happen in the time available. Markets are moving rapidly to a show-down, and contrary to comments from the like of Peston and Chote, I think this catharsis will actually prove a boon for Britain.

However, we must insulate the functioning of the economy from the reckless liabilities racked up by the failed financial sector. The bank split into retail and buccaneer must happen not in 2017 but in 2012; interest rates, domestic lending and bank charges must be determined by the profits and losses on retail banking activity alone, and British bank customers must not pay the losses for the banks' mindless foreign avarice. Let the casino banks fall, and all their poison liabilities with them. They gave nothing to British taxpayers, and they should take nothing from them.

The European oligarchy, the noisome coupling of political class and big business, will be as reluctant as a cat with its claws in the sofa to relinquish its grip. They will do everything they can to twist, deceive, load more and more of the financial burden of the Big Lie on ordinary taxpayers. This must be resisted. 

The Eurozone fracture will offer nothing but opportunities for British business; a core Eurozone of the wealthy will keep the MkII Euro exchange rates advantageous. A collapse of Euro banks will leave Euro firms starved of investment and ripe for takeover or replacement by UK firms with piles of hoarded cash. Frankfurt will crash and burn, leaving London as the global centre for insurance, FX and commodities. The stripping away of all those disguised Euro subsidies - everything from DERV fuel duties to CAP knock-on benefits to food processors - will make every British farm and transport company more competitive, will create a level playing field for British SMEs. Our labour market flexibility and advantageous future pension liabilities (made even more advantageous by a booming equities market) will put us ahead of Euro competitors. There is nothing inherently superior about German workers or German productivity; the German boom has been at the expense of Europe's periphery and due to the EU's distortion of European markets. Now is the time for Britain to compete on equal terms. We can do it. 

Oh, and don't anyone try to convince you that the frictional costs of trading a whole basket of currencies rather than a single Euro are significant. They were significant maybe back in the 1970s, in the time of manual ledgers and paper transfer instruments, but technology has made multi-currency trading as costless as if all transactions were in Sterling.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The German dilemma

Being fair to the Germans, the renunciation of military means in favour of economic and political means to realise German extra-territorial ambitions is a good thing. As long as the problem of lebensraum remains (as it still does), as long as Germany is still too big for her borders, then European federal union remains the only game in town. However, so terrified is Germany of any hint of a return to her militaristic past that, as Der Spiegel reports, she risks being sidelined by an unwillingness to join the gung-ho big boys' adventures such as Libya.

My sympathies really do go out to Germany on this. She's sticking fast to the extra-territorial use of the Bundeswehr solely for either peacekeeping or post-conflict reconstruction; this was stretched a little by then Defense Minister Peter Struck for operations in Afghanistan, who extended not the extra-territorial remit but the Bundeswehr's Home Defence remit, characteriused as 'Defence in the Hindu Kush' against an asymetric threat. However, Libya was a step too far. There was no credible threat to Germany, and the mission didn't fit either the peacekeeping or reconstruction remits. So Germany declined to join-in. 

Der Spiegel reports;
In January, representatives of the NATO member states attended the traditional Defense Planning Symposium at the NATO school in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau. The figures that German Brigadier General Ansgar Rieks presented to the partners were greeted with amazement. The attendees wanted to know why, after completion of the Bundeswehr reforms, only 10,000 of up to 185,000 German troops are to be available for foreign missions.
But take a look at Germany's other commitments. As part of the 'European Headline Goal' - the ability to respond to an international crisis without the USA - she provides 32,000 troops (18,000 at any time) to the European Rapid Reaction Force.  The German contribution includes armoured, air assault, and light infantry brigade headquarters and seven combat battalions. The Air Force provides core elements of air component headquarters, six combat squadrons with 93 aircraft, eight surface-to-air missile squadrons, and air transport. The Navy makes available maritime headquarters, 13 combat ships and support elements. Furthermore, the Bundeswehr is manning a permanent military operations headquarters at Potsdam, which can be transformed into the core element of a multinational operational headquarters.

Germany also had 7,000 troops committed to Bosnia heading the SFOR reconstruction efforts there, and maintains a large number under EUFOR, and had some 3,000 committed to Afghanistan. 

The loud noises now coming from NATO are around Germany's contribution to something that came out of the 2002 NATO Prague summit, at the USA's suggestion, of a NATO Response Force (NRF) of some 21,000 troops capable of being airlifted long distances at short notice. Not only does an unconditional commitment to such a force not chime with Germany's extra territorial remit, but the troops Germany has allocated to the Prague Commitment are, erm, exactly the same troops committed at the same time to the European Rapid Reaction Force. And she's made clear that their extra-territorial deployment must be cleared in advance by the German Parliament. Not what an economically-challenged US-dominated NATO wants to hear, clearly, from Europe's strongest economy. And hence, I suspect, the whispering campaign that has given us the Der Spiegel piece. 

You'd need a heart of stone not to sympathise with this particularly German dilemma.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

From Wehrmacht to Weltmacht

The delusion at the heart of the Federasts' entire European agenda is glibly parroted by Stefan Kornelius writing for Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung;
But who decides for Europe? Its incomplete institutions? If these functioned more effectively, they would benefit from greater confidence. The fact that critical questions – the issue of democratic legitimacy, the level of supervision and control – have yet to be settled is proof of the continent’s political immaturity. At the same time, national institutions are also too weak to take on the entire weight of Europe. Nation states with their limited interests cannot be expected to represent an entity which, in terms of trade, has long been subject to forces of globalisation: only unity will enable the continent to gain the respect that it merits as a world power.
And there we have all the familiar old chestnuts in one basket. More power needed for European institutions; Europe is a single economic entity, Europe is a World Power. What nonsense. What risible tosh. That sensible people can persuade themselves to give credence to this guff, this flatus defies belief. 

Firstly, Europe is not and will never be an 'economic entity'. the divergence between European nations is greater than that of any grouping you can imagine; even if you take a random grouping of every country in the world beginning in 'M' their group economic divergence is less than that of Europe. (H/T Greg)

And as for wearing jackboots big enough to make weaker nations 'respect' you, and dreams of being a World Power ('Weltmacht' in German), it seems we've heard this sort of thing from Munich before. As Klemperer noted, 'Prefix Welt- ("world", as in Weltanschauung, "intuition/view of the world"): this was quite a rare, specific and cultured term before the Third Reich, but became an everyday word. It came to designate the instinctive understanding of complex geo-political problems by the Nazis, which allowed them to openly begin invasions, twist facts or violate human rights, in the name of a higher ideal and in accordance to their theory of the world.'

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Two lessons learned

One of the great joys of mature years is realising that one never stops learning, that one can have been mistaken or ignorant or simply unaware of some nugget of wisdom and there is always a quiet satisfaction as some new level of understanding or appreciation dawns. Even when it confounds what one has always thought one thinks.

As Mladic finally goes on trial, I recall a long conversation over supper a couple of months ago with a couple of young Slovenians, just about as old as the last Balkans war. Part of a new generation no longer liable to military service, their education system has nonetheless left them with a detailed academic knowledge of the war, its causes and progress, and balanced enough to appreciate the role that Slovenia's early break from Tito's old alliance had in precipitating the later carnage. What they lacked, however, what they were distant from, was any visceral or emotional response. They were as far removed from a personal involvement as we who were born in the years after WWII were from the extermination camps and the casual reprisals executions in occupied lands. As we talked there was a wetness in my eyes as I recalled the shooting by a Serb sniper of a pair of young lovers trying to flee their doomed town, the grainy news images of their bodies on the 'Bridge of Sighs'. They didn't know it. As for the mass murder in Srebrenice, they shrugged. Dreadful. Such things could not happen any more. They gave me hope; they were without bitterness, and whatever nationalism they had was not apparent. It is those who either lived the hell itself or those such as me who watched the whole tragedy unfold nightly on the TV news who retained the greatest prejudice, the greatest satisfaction at Mladic facing justice. And this is healthy and good. 

The second seedpearl of wisdom followed my instinctive outrage at the news that members of DUTCHBAT, the Netherlands UN force charged with peacekeeping in Srebrenice, were to receive belated medals for their service. The MSM story is that the sexually ambivalent, stoned, long-haired Dutchies shamefully failed to protect the town, hid in their base and allowed the Serb massacres. Such at least was the testimony given by one US general to the Senate. Before I put finger to keyboard, providence directed me to the dialogue on ARRSE, the unofficial army messageboard, on this. The consensus view from the professionals can be summed up by one comment "The fall of Srebrenica had diddly squat to do with Dutch soldiers be they gay, straight or undecided. It had everything to do with the ineptitude and negligence of the worlds politicians."

So no polemic today. And again I'm just a little wiser than I was yesterday.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

You can't distort markets forever ...

Back to beer at GRD 2,50 a litre (with GRD 3 to the £), Greek fags at GRD 5,50 and a 3-course meal for two with Retsina at GRD 30 ... 

It's like 1976 all over again.
(except the bit of bored photoshopping ...)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Sleazy MPs - what's changed?

There was a brief moment in the life of the Rotten Parliament when catharsis was possible, when MPs were genuinely on the back foot and reform was possible. Day after day the 'Telegraph' catalogued more John Lewis grapefruit bowls, more Remembrance Day wreaths, more petty theft, peculation, avarice and corruption. But never under-estimate the capacity of the political class to pull together, man the ramparts and defend their isolated privilege. A few mavericks were thrown to the dogs, a few thousands were repaid, and now one has to dig in the Telegraph files to expose some young thruster lecturing the public on hard work as having charged his family's duvets to the taxpayer's purse.

The other week we were told that all MPs had to be issued with new iPads. Now Cameron is reneging on his election promise to reform MPs' pensions. Next week no doubt will see an increase in their expenses ceilings and the necessary uprating of their stipend to meet rapidly rising costs of living. And they're still looking for a bad news day to announce tax funding for their dying private metropolitan clubs. I estimate total current membership of the Big Three as follows;

Conservatives 210,000
Labour 170,000
Lib Dems 50,000
TOTAL 430,000

With a UK electorate (not population) of 45m, that's fewer than 1% of voters.

In the recent local elections, 68% of voters abstained, demonstrating not 'apathy' but utter uninterest in the introverted pissing-about of the privileged few. At a time when every worker, every family, every retired or non-active Briton's concentration on economic matters is absolute these tossers spend Parliamentary time on Lords reform. gay weddings, the design of fag packets, increasing booze taxes and general prodnosing and data theft.

Hannan and Carswell who pompously and falsely claimed to have 'discovered' Localism have shown their true colours; Carswell having fought to make MPs' addresses a secret sits solidly amongst the privileged, whilst an unprecedented piece of whiny brown-nosing by Hannan at the weekend, like a naughty Spaniel on the doorstep, signals he wants to be inside with his mates when the mess hits the fan. And not a peep out of either of them as Boy Dave trashes his own Localism promises in favour of Whitehall's Command and Control model. It didn't take long, Dave, did it?

The Conservative party lost over a million members between 1979 and 1997, at a time when the Tories were in office. Norman Tebbit is about the only Tory who keeps asking where they are, pointing out that they're still out here, we're still out here. Waiting.