Thursday, March 31, 2005

Germany's Open Secret

The German government is muddying the waters regarding its role in the disastrous, Green Party-led "tourist visa" legislation. (This legislation, in the face of reiterated warnings from diplomats, politicans and police, allowed hundreds of thousands of illegal eastern European immigrants into Europe - see End of the Line, Net Closes In, and Scandal Enmeshes Fischer.)

The government has declared documents relating to the scandal as Verschlussache - "classified matter", which is another way of saying "state secrets".

This classification means the documents cannot be quoted in the inquiry into the scandal, which is starting to put serious pressure on the legislation's chief architect: Joschka Fischer.

Fischer, Germany's peacenik, policeman-beating Foreign Minister, is keeping schtum on the matter for as long as he decently can. Indeed, the timing of his appearance to justify himself to the inquiry is in itself a matter of controversy. The popular, portly Foreign Minister is keen to postpone it until after the important regional elections in Nordrhein-Westphalen on May 22, an election whose outcome this scandal will surely influence, to the disadvantage of the ruling Social Democrat-Green Party government.

The documents include such highly secret items as articles printed in newspapers, leaflets published by the Foreign Ministry and stuff which has appeared on the internet. The CIA has been known to base some of its conclusions on such material. Even so, it's not normally subject to state restrictions. So what's behind this bizarre secrecy?

On the one hand, it is simple, reflex obstructionism of the sort that makes all bureaucrats everywhere the mortal enemies of transparency and democracy.

On the other, it is a clear giveaway that the German government has done something very wrong and wants to hide it.

As so often, it is the manic cover-up, as opposed to the corruption and incompetence itself, which emits the clearest possible signal that something is badly wrong with the current German government. When we first wrote of this matter about two months ago, it looked as though Fischer, and his awful government, might survive the scandal. That looks a lot less likely now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Chinese Arms: Not in Our Name (II)

A week ago today, the blog kicked off the campaign to stop the EU from lifting the arms embargo on China. We wrote:

"The EU policy to lift the Chinese arms embargo is intellectually barren, morally malevolent and a political dead-end. This blog will have nothing to do with the repulsive and inexplicable politicking behind this disgraceful abdication of European responsibility and says, "Arms to China? Not In Our Name!"

"We expect that millions of Europeans will share our anger and disgust and will force the EU to abandon its policy before June, when the matter comes to a head."

A week's a long time in politics and the blog has been taken aback by the support from, among others, Prince Ferfried von Hohenzollern and Richard Gere (see Comments to the launch post), and hints from the British government that the lifting of the embargo is becoming increasingly untenable.

First indications are that the EU will indeed move away from the discredited policy. But the blog isn't counting its chickens yet, as it is only too clear that the French - to name just one of the governments eager to get European arms rolling off to China again - lose no ingenuity in protecting to the death projects they've decided are essential to their own amour-propre.

Geldof Flailed in Uganda

Bob Geldof, the Irish neo-colonialist rock star and philanthropist, has been attacked for political interference by crowds in Uganda's capital, Kampala.

Crowds festooned with dry banana leaves - a symbol used by supporters of the Ugandan President Museveni - brandished placards reading "No to drug addicts and rock homos," and telling Geldof to "sober up and shut up."

The protesters were angered by Geldof's remarks about their President. Geldof had criticised Museveni's attempt to gain a third term in office. Moses Nuwagaba, a Museveni supporter rejecting Geldof's neo-colonialist paternalism, pointed out that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the UK, was also seeking a third term in office.

Not everyone in Uganda has turned against the Irish star, however. A counter-demonstration in support of Geldof is slated for today by the Popular Resistance Against Life Presidency.Telegraph News Mob besieges British mission after Geldof attacks president

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ferfried von Hohenzollern's Moustache

This week's boulevard press dissects the mystery of what can have impelled Prince Ferfried ("Foffi") von Hohenzollern to shave off his moustache. Motives put forward include the Prince's wish to disguise himself, to look 10 year younger, to signal a new phase of his life, to facilitate the drinking of soup - and last but not least, to keep his mistress happy.

The blog communes with the Prince's fragrant mistress, "Sweety".

It is true, she confesses shyly, that the grating of Foffi's rough, bristled upper lip did rather irritate her cheeks' peach-blossom skin. But that isn't the whole story by any means. The Prince, it appears, has become a passionate adherent of the blog's campaign to stop the European Union from selling its arms to China. He wastes no opportunity to publicise his new-found beliefs.

"The moustache had to go," a close friend explains. "Foffi wished to signal to the world that if a noble prince of his ilk can put a stop to a habit that makes him look foolish, the lickspittles of the European Union should follow his example and abandon their idiotic plans to sell arms to China."

The blog will be watching developments with close, slightly uneasy interest. First Richard Gere, now Prince Ferfreid von Hohenzollern. This veritable cascade of high-profile support makes us nervous.


This blog has been a consistent supporter of Foffi and Sweety:

-In January, we wrote a heart-warming piece on how "The Prince and the Widow" were true role-models for our times.

-In February, we revealed that Foffi and Sweety would after all be attending the Vienna Opera Ball and urged the people of Vienna to kneel in homage to the royal pair. Precious little kneeling was done in that quarter in the event, and the burghers of Vienna may yet come to regret their act of lèse-majesté, which has not gone unnoticed in Esens.

- In February again, we described Foffi and Sweety's anguish at seeing Foffi's British cousin, the Prince of Wales, facing so many difficulties in legitimising his relation with his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Euro Stability Pact (II): Dead, But Not Buried

As predicted in this blog last January, the EU's Stability Pact, designed to protect the independence of the European currency from short-term political considerations, is being consigned to the bin, although the pretence will be maintained that it is still breathing.

This is not good for the long-term strength of the euro, although its current strength means nobody will be too worried about that for the time being.

It shows what opponents of the single European currency always said - that one currency for countries with such different economic and fiscal needs is a recipe for meltdown. For now, the "large, debt-incurring countries", Germany foremost amongst them, have succeeded in "watering down" the sanctions set out for those who overspend. They have overcome the objections of smaller, more thrifty countries who wished for the Pact's strictures to be enforced.

Both sides are fighting against the obvious logic that if national economies are to prosper, they need the very flexibility denied them by the confines of a single currency. There isn't yet a "European" economy, as the manoeuvrings of the national politicians in this argument demonstrate. The only factor that has counted in coming to the "agreement" has been national interest and the threats of national politicians.

The euro's health is now very much in the grip of their sweaty hands.

Germany Leads Pack of Pact Assassins Current Affairs Deutsche Welle

A US View on the EU: Heed Vaclav Klaus

Pete Dupont, writing in today's Wall Street Journal, compares the EU's social and economic dirigisme with the similar tendency among US bien-pensants and Democrats.
OpinionJournal - Outside the Box

The Curse of Von Esens (III): Muis and OLAFant

Jules Muis, the Dutch ex-Director of the EU Commission's Internal Audit Service, hit the headlines last week with a leaked email reported originally in the Daily Telegraph (London).

"Ten years after the Commission first failed to get normal audit blessing on its accounts and controls, it still does not have a proper accountability construct. This extraordinary situation is the major cause of the chronically sordid state of quality accounting," he said.

Muis referred to the bullying of the EU Commission and its disgusting treatment of those who point out the fraud and corruption that thrives under its rule. He described the Commission's power "to trash an individual... if it so wished, at taxpayers' expense."

Muis was referring to such cases of abuse as Paul van Buitenen, the Dutch whistleblower whose revelations led to the resignation of the entire Commission in 1999; Hans-Martin Tillack, the German reporter imprisoned by Belgian police after a dawn raid on his flat in Brussels based on fabricated evidence; and lately, Marta Andreasen, the Spanish EU accountant who described the EU budget as "an open till waiting to be robbed."

Muis - who came from the World Bank to try and create some order in the EU's disgraceful accounting procedures, has himself been threatened by EU officials, he says, with the bloodcurdling words, "We have ways of breaking people like you."

After days of negative coverage, the EU Commission has no comment to make on these scandalous and deeply compromising revelations. All the blog could find today was the reference to a meeting with The Court of Auditors (which actually happened last Thursday) at which it was agreed "to improve results rather than concentrate on listing errors" - words designed to sound mature and statesmanlike, one supposes, were it not for the inconvenient fact that improved results can only arise from open admission and correction of errors. They must be half hoping that the fuss settles down and everyone forgets all about it until the next shitload of scandal hits the proverbial fan. That's how it usually happens.

But in this Year of Destiny for the draft European Consitution - which, in a spasm of lunatic starry-eyedness, has been launched by the EU Commission into outer space on a doomed, lonely mission to seek extraterrestrial approval - things are different.

And indeed, if the blog's Curse of Von Esens has anything to do with it, these matters will not soon be forgotten.

The people at OLAF and the enforcers over at the EU Commission should quickly curb their hubristic contempt for decency, fair play and transparent accounting procedures, and abandon their addictions to bullying, power-politicking and bureaucratic obfuscations - all things most calculated to bring down the Curse of Von Esens.

In the past few weeks alone, Hervé Gaymard and Heide Simonis have felt the righteous lash of the Curse's rage. OLAF and the EU Commission may seem broad targets, but the Curse always finds its own ways to scourge and humble such self-serving, arrogant holders of power.

EUROPA - Press Room - The European Commission's on line Press Room

Sunday, March 20, 2005

European Arms for China

The UK is carefully backing away from the longstanding push by the EU, led by Germany and France, to lift the embargo on selling arms to China.

It is the first signal from a government in response to this blog's campaign to make the EU reverse its arms-to-China policy. The UK recognises that China's announcement last week, that it will oppose Taiwan's wish for freedom with military force, means that the European approach needs to be reconsidered.
Reuters AlertNet - Lifting China arms embargo getting harder, UK says

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mussolini: Ends Hunger Strike, May Challenge Elections

Alessandra Mussolini, the Duce's granddaughter, has stopped her hunger strike (protesting against the clampdown on her party, Alterniva Sociale) with a lasagne and a salad. She is currently appealing to have the party reinstated to the Council of State. Should the appeal be unsuccessful, the party may dispute the validity of the elections.
Agenzia Giornalistica Italia - News In English

Moron Pleads For More Socialism

Edgar Moron, Chairman of the Nordrhein-Westphalen SPD (left-wing), has, along with the rest of his party, seen what can happen to complacent socialists who have been in power too long for anyone's good. Recent events in Schleswig-Holstein, where the SPD Prime Minister of the past 12 years, Heide Simonis, was finally ousted amid undignified scenes, have unnerved Moron and his fellow socialists.

The SPD has been the party of government in Nordrhein-Westphalen for decades. Along with its confreres on the national SPD-Green coalition government, it has presided over catastrophic economic decline and German inability to transform its outdated tax and employment regulations. The national unemployment figure of 5.2 million people is a fitting monument to its policies.

Nordrhein-Westphalen (NRW) will vote in May. The stage ought to be set for a long overdue transfer of power. But loyalty to the old socialist ways is still residually strong, across large swathes of Germany, and the old "Ruhrpott", with its shattered mining and manufacturing industries, is amongst them. No-one expects longstanding SPD loyalists in traditional working-class constituencies to switch to the centrist parties en masse. Even so, more than 5 million out of work is not the best basis for brazening it out. So the SPD are casting about for the best way to position themselves to avert too dramatic a swing against them. The current thinking appears to be - "The SPD can guarantee "social justice" in the face of globalisation and unemployment. The centrist CDU/CSU/FDP parties, by contrast, will favour the bosses and increased globalisation."

Moron, a reliable party hack, is now faithfully spouting the new line. Clearly he is relaxed about a return to a Germany with state-sponsored non-jobs in the state aparatus or factory jobs building the old communist car the Trabant. Market forces are by definition evil in the Moronic world-view.

But Moron's choice is a false one. Globalisation is a given. But so, in Europe, is "social justice". No-one looking at it dispassionately would seriously believe there's any chance of a reversion to 19th century proto-capitalism, no matter what Moron and his acolytes may insinuate. But not all voters look at it dispassionately, of course, and resentment and resistance against Atlanticist or Anglo-Saxon capitalism still plays a part in Germany as in France. Moron must hope that such sentiments will save his party.

It may seem that the opposition should have little trouble exposing the SPD's claim that the election will be a choice between the unrestricted market forces of globalisation on the one hand, and "social justice" on the other. What is "social justice", after all, when half the workforce is out of work? It is no more than the misuse of tax money to perpetuate outdated state-sponsored inefficiencies.

But Germans are rightly proud of the "Wirtschaftswunder" which brought prosperity to Germany from the 1950's and which furnished the economic powerhouse with a social security safety net. Today, that model looks tired, and it's saddled with excess bureaucracy, taxation levels, and employment practices way out of kilt with those of the more prosperous Western countries - let alone the new challenger economies of eastern Europe and the Far East.

Everyone is agreed that reform is needed in Germany. But none of the parties' current programmes is anything like radical enough to deliver. The SPD is offering more of the same, a surefire recipe for failure and worsening performance. The centrist parties are too timid to set out policies which may alienate the comfortable German consensus.

In that context, Moron's claim that the SPD will defend the welfare state is not as unintelligent as it seems. The question is whether the opposition politicians are effective enough to show voters that the choice Moron posits is a false one, and whether they can act on that realisation to produce policies to help dig Germany out of its current economic hole.

TheEdgar Moron MdL

Condoleeza Rice on North Korea and China

Condoleeza Rice is calling on North Korea to resume the six-party talks about its nuclear programme (see posting immediately below for the North Korean position).

She also called on China, which, as guarantor of the North Korean state, has primary responsibility to envcourage N Korea to return to the discussion table, to embrace democratic reforms as its economy surges.
Aljazeera.Net - Rice presses N Korea to return to talks

US Military Exercise in S. Korea

The North Korean News Agency denounces US military exercises taking place this weekend in South Korea as the rehearsal for an attack on North Korea:

"The US projected adventurous military drills are aimed to steadily escalate the tensions in the peninsula and finally make a preemptive strike at the DPRK and, furthermore, achieve its sinister strategic design on Northeast Asia."

For as long as the US persists in such aggressive behaviour, the news agency says, there can be np point in continuing disarmament talks.


Friday, March 18, 2005

China Arms: US Warns EU

As the blog's campaign to deter the European Union from its efforts to sell arms to China swells into a continent-wide movement (see Not in Our Name), the US Ambassador to the EU adds his voice, with the observation that things could turn "very very serious" if the EU persists, and a warning that Congress may draw its own conclusions, and take punitive action which will be inimical to EU trade.

The Ambassador is saying no more than the obvious here. That is right and his duty. He also says some positive things about the draft EU Constitution which will warm some hearts in Brussels - many there had feared that the draft Consitution's undemocratic nature would arouse the President's ire.

Unfortunately not. Clearly the Chinese issue takes precedence in US eyes right now, and the US might turn a blind eye to the faults of the Constitution in return for some European compromise on the arms question.

The Curse of Von Esens (II): Heide Simonis and the Schleswig-Holstein Question

A morality tale from the frozen north of Schleswig-Holstein - one which should sober up power-drunk politicians everywhere.

On February 21st, 2005, this blog invoked the Curse of Von Esens against Heide Simonis, long-time Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, after she had clung on to her post in the face of rejection at the ballot box and the victory of the opposition leader, Peter Harry Carstensen. She had refused even to consider the possibility of standing aside for the victor of the polls, saying, "Und wo bleib' dann ich?" ("Then what will become of me?"). Well, now we know.

We wrote as follows of her ego-crazed actions:

"Such political behaviour is not, of course, illegal - but in going so blatantly against the electoral flow, it is undemocratic, and in pandering so shamelessly to the lust for power of a politician rejected by the voters, it is politicking at its most immoral. In short, it merits the blog's strongest sanction.

"Accordingly, and with some regret, the blog calls down the Curse of Von Esens and invokes it on Heide Simonis' head."

The sequel has not been long in coming. This blog, however, far from gloating at developments, feels only sadness. The workings of the Curse, once unleashed, can be cruel, as they have been in this instance.

Simonis' end was pitiful. No blog of feeling can rejoice at her destruction. Four times yesterday she put herself up to continue as Prime Minister, but the Curse was implacable. Four times she was rejected - a secret abstainer sealed her doom. Now Schleswig-Holstein is without its new government. The issue will be settled after Easter.

Time for everyone - especially our deluded politicians - to reflect on the fate of those who put ego before good governance, and so incur the wrath of von Esens.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Artist Injected With Cells From Aborted Foetuses

Jörg Immendorff, the publicly-funded artist who went on trial last year after being caught indulging in cocaine-and-prostitute parties, went to China last February so that his brain could be injected with the cells of an aborted foetus.

The artist is dying of the nerve-paralysing syndrome ALS, and appears to think that this bizarre procedure may yet save his life. The artist's doctor is deeply sceptical of the treatment and Immendorff travelled to China without informing him about the futile plan.

(The link is to a German-language articleRP Online - Dtoday - Immendorff spricht ?ber Therapie mit F?tenzellen)

"Not In Our Name" Campaign On A Roll

The blog's campaign to persuade the EU to see sense on the Chinese weapons embargo has gathered huge momentum since its launch here yesterday. Germany's main opposition parties, the CDU/CSU (centrist) and the FDP (centre-right) have called on Chancellor Schröder to abandon his plans.

(The link is to an article in today's Berliner Kurier in German only:BerlinOnline: Liberale gegen Waffenlieferung an China)

EU Support for Palestinian Terrorism "Unproven"

A report from OLAF, the European Union's anti-fraud office, says that it has found no proof that EU funds given to the Palestinian Authority were directly used for terrorist purposes. Well, there's a surprise.

It adds, however, that such proof would be pretty much impossible to find, given that internal accounting is not the PA's strong suit. Or, to put it in OLAF's diplomatic words, "Internal and external audit facilities in the PA remain underdeveloped."

Between November 2000 and February 2005, the EU donated some 391.3 million taxpayers' euros to the Palestinian Authority. That's a cool 7.53 million euros a month. One can only wonder what it was spent on. OLAF isn't letting on, because it clearly hasn't got a clue, or if it does, it is far too diplomatic to say.

OLAF also adds:
• Some of the practices of the past, such as the payment of salaries to convicted persons or the financial aid given to families of “martyrs” as well as the Fatah contributions by PA staff, are liable to be misunderstood and so to lead to allegations that the PA is supporting terrorism. These issues should be raised with the PA.

Good idea, that. We wouldn´t want "misunderstandings" of that sort to spoil the prospects for peace. And the new Palestinian leadership means that someone might actually take the time to consider the issues raised. We hope so, because, from a European perspective, the EU comes out of this looking distinctly shifty, for all OLAF's duly diplomatic formulations.
EUROPA - OLAF - OLAF press releases

Slippery Slopes: Justifying Torture

A timely article by the conservative Catholic commentator Mark P. Shea draws an analogy between those who justify "pelvic" sins (including abortion) and those who justify torture.

Both sets of apologists claim that the ends justify the means. Thus, non-lethal torture is often justified because it might lead to the prevention of terrorist atrocities.

Shea points out that in Catholic morality, all torture is an intrinsic evil and a mortal sin. He warns conservatives tempted to downplay allegations of torture in Iraq that they are on the slippery slope which denies certain categories of people (such as enemy combatants or suspected terrorists) their human rights. He points out that the left made a similar mistake in arguing for the acceptance and spread of abortion and sexual liberation, which, he argues, was a slippery slope leading to unanticipated and unwelcome consequences.
Crisis Magazine

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

EU Lifting of China Arms Embargo: Not In Our Name! (I)

The EU persists in its agitation to end the Chinese arms embargo. A "high-level" delegation has just been slapped down in Washington. Condoleezza Rice said drily that she hoped the Europeans would see that there still some "tensions" in the region. With distinctly martial noises coming from Beijing and outright threats of war from North Korea (see North Korea Threatens Nuclear War), one would have thought the tensions would be impossible to overlook. But the EU seems to have become fixated on its plan to sell China more weapons.

This blog has always been mystified as to what the EU hopes to gain by this course of action, apart from a few more arms contracts and the opportunity to show the world how dashingly independent of the US it is (see Chinese Arms Sales Mystery).

But lifting the arms embargo sends a disastrous signal - confirming to the corrupt and murderous Chinese government its thinking that the world will not demur at Chinese sabre-rattling against Taiwan and its support of the barking mad North Koreans.

The EU policy to lift the Chinese arms embargo is intellectually barren, morally malevolent and a political dead-end. This blog will have nothing to do with the repulsive and inexplicable politicking behind this disgraceful abdication of European responsibility and says, "Arms to China? Not In Our Name!"

We expect that millions of Europeans will share our anger and disgust and will force the EU to abandon its policy before June, when the matter comes to a head.

President Köhler of Germany Makes Reasonable Remarks

In advance of tomorrow's ludicrous "Jobs Summit" which will bring together the ruling socialist coalition (SPD and Greens) with the centrist opposition (CDU and CSU), the German President, Horst Köhler, has said that the main cause of joblessness, over the years, has been state bureaucracy and well-meant but interfering legislation emanating from the Länder (state governments), Berlin (the Federal government) and Brussels (the EU government).

It is a sign of Germany' excessively consensus-driven political culture that Köhler´s speech, which would sound like a timid expression of truisms anywhere else ("Actionism doesn´t work", he declared), has been hailed in Germany as a robust, "almost brutal" (Rheinische Post) intervention into what is laughably described as the "debate" about unemployment.

This blog is a stranger to cynicism of any sort and wishes Köhler and his sentiments well, in the hope that, against any sane expectation, tomorrow's "Job Summit" comes up with a programme of ruthless bureaucratic pruning that acts on the President's insights.

Millions of Euros Misappropriated for Propaganda Purposes

Again the EU is spending its citizens' tax money to tell them which way to vote. Added to the Dutch tax money (see Misappropriated Dutch Tax Money) - spending which is surely being replicated by other national governments nervous about the outcome of the referenda - there is 8 million tax euros from the EU Commission, and another 8 million tax euros from the EU Parliament. Earlier there had been talk of 24 million tax euros - this will doubtless be announced later or just be spent without attribution. Who cares?the EU bodies must be shrugging - certainly the taxpayers themselves don't appear to have noticed the full extent of futile wastefulness yet.

The bottom line is that millions of euros will be spent to instruct EU citizens how they should vote. Various referenda have been set in motion to see whether the new EU constitution can rustle up anything resembling a popular mandate. But the EU is nakedly attempting to fix the outcome of these referenda using taxpayers' money - a scandalously corrupt way of proceeding.

Until then, with an added touch of bizarre freakishness, the draft EU constitution will orbit haplessly above us in outer space: the EU is sending it there in hopes of finding supporters, presumably among federally-minded aliens (see EU Space Policy). This lunatic scheme, needless to say, is also funded by EU taxpayers.

It sometimes seems that there is literally no limit to the hare-brained wheezes for which EU taxpayers can be found to foot the bill.

Commissioner for Goats Sees "Obesity Epidemic"

Markos Kyprianou, the EU Commissioner for Goats, has looked at some figures showing European obesity is fast catching up with US levels. It´s the only area in which the EU is less than 20 years behind the US. The obesity is affecting not the goats Kyprianou has been testing (see EU Tests 200,000 Goats), but humans.

But instead of celebrating this great good fortune and announcing an end to hunger in the EU, Kyprianou immediately says there's an "epidemic" on and calls for tax money to be spent to tell people that the more they eat, the fatter they get.

Kyprianou began quite promisingly earlier this year when he identified a dangerous tendency amongst goats sometimes to get sick. His response was that more money needed to be spent to test the goats and tell their masters how to stop their goats getting sick again.

But now Kyprianou, perhaps encouraged by his great success among the goats, is simply repeating the reflex formula: spend more tax money to tell people what they already know. It's actionism, pure and simple - no good will come of it and Kyprianou should find something useful to do before the Curse of von Esens sweeps him away into the unregarded footnotes of history.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

John O'Neill of the Swift Boats Vets

The link is to an article on John O'Neill, and how, in the face of mainstream US media indifference and apathy, he got out the story about John Kerry's Vietnam service, effectively forcing Kerry to abandon his heroic pose. This story is an instant classic and confirms - for those who remain sceptical - just how strong the oft-cited "liberal bias" really was.
The American Enterprise: John O'Neill

Nazi Jibes Hurt Turkey

Turkey is going through a sticky patch as far as its international image is concerned.

Last week a lot of publicity attended a brutal police clampdown of a women's demo, this week we learn how Hitler's Mein Kampf is a runaway bestseller in Turkey.

The EU is watching all this with a beady eye, wondering which politically correct attitude to assume. The unpleasantness compromises Turkey's EU accession ambitions.

Another incident is muddying the waters: on February 25th 2005, Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily stopped the distribution of Vakit, a Turkish paper in Germany (circulation in Turkey: 60,000). The paper had been reported for anti-semitism last year but had continued to write anti-Jewish, Holocaust-denying pieces - a crime in Germany.

Germany's interior minister has the power to close down papers without the need for a court order or other formalities. The Turkish paper clearly believes this power is overweening and has been mocking Schily since the shutdown - writing of his "Hitler-methods" and saying "The Oven's Ready!" in reference to Schily's alleged desire to burn the paper. Vakit is positioning the issue as one of freedom of speech; the German political mainstream sees it as shutting down a fount of criminal anti-Jewish propaganda.

Schily is now asking his Turkish counteparts to help him out in taming the paper's Nazi comparisons. It'll be interesting to see how much power his Turkish colleagues have to modulate a paper's stance in light of Turkey's wish to be salonfähig for the EU. But it's a shame that this censorship is being foisted onto the Turks at a time when they may have hoped they'd finally put such things behind them.

(Link in Turkish only: H?rriyetim)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Beirut Protests

Today around half a million protesters are demonstrating in Beirut to keep up the momentum against the Syrian-backed government. The demonstrators accuse their government of murdering ex-PM Hariri.

The US, meanwhile, is keeping up the pressure on Syria to get its troops and intelligence advisors out before the Lebanese elections. And Syria has been making moves to be seen to comply.

All of this sounds like good news, and one is almost disappointed to find that the EU is not busily attempting to sell Syria some weapons or surveillance systems to help deal with this pesky demonstration of "people power". The Russians were quicker off the mark in that respect. Maybe, the blog reflects, the EU effort is going on behind the scenes. The beans will be spilled soon enough, we'll warrant.
Naharnet News Desk

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Country Branding

Clay Risen´s article looks at country branding. It's especially difficult for democracies to do, because a change of government and its policies by definition lead to an inconsistency of message which is anathema to brand-building. As a result, "country branding", inasmusch as it claims to do anything beyond burnishing a country's timeless values, or selling a particular product or set of services, is a misnomer. Too many of the impulses which shape a country's brand values are beyond the control of the country's (hypothetical) brand manager. If it's about selling a specific country's specific policy or strategic direction, it really boils down to PR or spin, which are already much in use. Or, come to that, diplomacy, which may have an old-fashioned ring to it but was always about the distinctly modern pursuit of being "sent abroad to lie for one's country". / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Re-branding America

Saturday, March 12, 2005

North Korea Threatens Nuclear War

In the attached release from the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea's news agency, the US is warned it will set off a nuclear war if it proceeds with a planned "test war" aimed at "stifling (the DPRK) by force of arms." Should this come to pass, North Korea will forcibly remove all threats to it from the Korean peninsula using the nuclear weaponry available to it.

The world evoked in the current batch of North Korean press releases has a distinctly overheated temper: it is an otherworld peopled by cartoon citizens, veering between manic extremes of icy condemnation and unrestrained happiness. Japanese traitors are "flailed" in one story, whilst in another, we learn that for the past 30 days, people of more than 100 nations have been gaily celebrating a fete in honour of Kim Il Jong's birthday. This blog's invite must have got lost in the post. For a bit of comic relief, the paragraph "US-Advertised ´Freedom and Democracy´ Debunked" has a pungent, nostalgic effectiveness.

But that threat of nuclear war takes the biscuit and no good will come of it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

How Sick Is the EU?

A study released today claims that Europe´s economic performance is at least 20 years behind that of the US.

It sounds like the study and its timing is primarily designed to provoke controversy and publicity for its creators, an organisation called Eurochambres. Even so, it will be interesting to see the EU Commission´s reaction, and how quickly it gets round to rubbishing the report's data and conclusions. A good case for Margot Wallstrom (see Margot´s Nice Blog) and her communications team to get to grips with. It would be depressing if they just ignored it, wouldn't it?

EU Shock: Troops May Have to Fight

NATO's Secretary General, Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, seems to know a thing or two about expectation management.

Talking to El Pais yesterday, he sought to remind European leaders that soldiers, to be effective, may sometimes be called on to fight.

"Why is the EU creating battle groups?" he asks rhetorically. "It is not just to help rebuild a country. It may be, that to keep the peace, combat is necessary."

He also pours some cold water on the distinction, much vaunted within the EU, between the "hard power" (military) of the US and NATO, and the "soft power" (essentially diplomacy) championed by the EU (as in the attempt to deal with Iran´s nuclear ambitions by the so-called "EU 3" - France, Germany and Britain).

A nicely-judged intervention from the NATO chief. It makes explicit what some of the more pacifist EU participants, such as Germany and Sweden, may prefer not to have spelled out too clearly, but which needs to be spelled out now if tears are to be avoided later. One of the things which most hamstrung UN troops at Srebrenica, to take just one example, was the injunction that as mere "peacekeepers" they were not allowed to intervene with armed force even when that was transparently required. NATO wants to avoid being sucked into that kind of inactive turpitude. De Hoop Scheffer is trying to clear such nagging issues out of the way - before soldiers are formed into units. When soldiers are asked to do the work of diplomats and diplomats the work of soldiers, as seems to be the wish in certain European capitals, it raises expectations which can only be dashed. Good that NATO sees it this way, and even better that the EU will be made to see it too.

German Clampdown on Nazi Demo's

After weeks of near-hysterical inter-party discussions about what to do about a few shrill, unpopular, spotty neo-Nazi's, the German Bundestag today passed a proposal to ban the wrong sort of demonstrations at memorials to Nazi victims. The aim is to prevent a demonstation by neo-Nazi's at the new Jewish memorial on 8th May (the 60th anniversary of Germany's surrender in 1945).

The legislation will be rushed through so as to be active in time.

Some see the legislation as a sign that Germany is a strong democracy. Maybe. This blog thinks that kneejerk legislation of this sort, demanding weeks of concentrated work, and culminating in further censorship, is a sign of distraction, uncertainty and weakness.

Clearly the paramount desire was to make impossible a global rash of pictures showing repulsive shavenheaded neoNazi's, posturing at the Jewish memorial, mocking the dead and staining the image of Germany. A fair enough objective. The more so given the wretched situation of the German government. With well over 5 million unemployed and counting, parallels with Weimar (which never had an unemployment tally so high) would be most discomfiting to the current set of arrogant and deadbeat career leftists.

The pity of it, though, is that the measure isn´t going to be especially effective, for all the government and legal-expert time that has been put into formulating it. It merely repeats an existing law against unlawful assembly, which would have served perfectly well to stop neo-Nazi's posing at Jewish memorials, and it will be equally powerless to prevent them from demonstrating at visually symbolic locations unconnected with Nazi victims.

Rudolf Hess' grave in Winsiedel, for example, has long been - and will continue to be, a magnet for publicity-seeking neo-Nazi gatherings.

All in all, the shiny new measure is another fine example of German political actionism in practice (see Action vs Actionism). This blog much prefers Berlin's police plan simply to strip the Nazi's naked (see Nazi's will be Stripped). Would've made for more eyepopping visuals, too.

ignal einer wehrhaften Demokratie? - FAZ.NET - Politik (link article in German only)

NeoNazi Band Is "Criminal Organisation"

A rock band can be defined as primarily a criminal organisation, the German Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) confirmed today. In order to be officially condemned in this fashion, a band´s lyrics need to encourage criminal activity such as hate of foreigners, or act as "propoganda" for anti-constitutional groups.

This opens up an amazingly wide field for potential lyrical crimes, the blog´s musical correspondent reckons, and it´s not too difficult a brief for new bands looking for a cheap shot of controversial "defenders of free speech" type publicity either.

The case in question concerned a skinhead band called Landser, whose lead singer and songwriter, Michael Regener, was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months for his musical crimes.

(The link is to the Press Office of the Bundesgerichtshof and is in German only.Der Bundesgerichtshof)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bush on Terror

This blog preserves strict political impartiality. In that spirit, it posts a link to a speech by President Bush today on terrorism, and wonders whether any of the President´s opponents on this issue have ever committed their thoughts into as well-considered and eloquent a form. It would be nice, for the sake of balance if nothing else.
President Discusses War on Terror

Monday, March 07, 2005

EU and the China Arms Embargo

Difficult to know exactly what motivates this French-led desire of the EU to sell arms to China, beyond the ongoing wish to oppose the US for the sake of it, and the wish to get on side with the Chinese government in the hope they will buy more Airbuses (5 and counting, so far).

At any rate, the repeated signals to China regarding Europe´s desires (see Is that a Gun in your Pocket?, and the downplaying of US concerns about the move, don´t give any sense that the EU has a strategy of any sort on the matter. The sabre-rattling and dangers of war looming menacingly around Taiwan and North Korea leave European politicians cold, when set beside the chance to cash in on China´s growing economy.

Some American commentators wonder whether Europoliticians have "lost their moral compass." This blog doubts they ever had such an instrument to start with. A moral compass, in Brussels, is useful only for showing the other fellow exactly where he´s going wrong.

But regarding this particular issue of selling arms to China, a compass of some sort is surely called for - Realpolitik and raison d´etat may be splendid for oiling the wheels of weapons-deals and aircraft sales, but if the cost is falling out of step with the US' regional strategy, you have to ask yourself whether it's really worth it. The two reasons often quoted: if we sell the Chinese arms, maybe they won't get round to making their own, and "it's only a symbolic sop to Chinese amour-propre" - are pathetic beyond the need for mockery.

The US regional strategy tries to balance engagement with China with the overall desire for regional stability, guarantees for Taiwan and human rights. Bush's repeated eloquence in the cause of freedom and democracy set an unambiguous direction from his moral compass. For Europe to sell the Chinese arms at this juncture might make sense if it would further strategic interests, but, beyond anti-US posturing and increased Chinese income, no European interests could possibly be furthered by selling arms to China. So why this bizarre determination behind the arms-lifting initiative? Does it really boil down to the childish ego thing, of wanting to spite the US and show that Europe still matters?

It's all a bit rum, the blog reckons. It would be a lot better if the EU, instead of agitating to sell arms to China, started buying some more themselves.
The China Arms Embargo: Sketching Out the Next Trans-Atlantic Crisis - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE