March 15, 2014

QotD: Sir Humphrey Appleby on the Common Market

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:18

“We went into it to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans. The French went in to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition. The Germans went in to purge themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.”

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

March 2, 2014

Why the EU hesitates to do anything about Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:50

Theodore Dalrymple:

Extreme wealth, whether honestly or dishonestly acquired, seems these days to bring forth little new except in the form and genre of vulgarity. Mr. Ambani’s skyscraper tower home in Bombay is a case in point: His aesthetic is that of the first-class executive lounge of an airport. Mr. Ambramovich’s ideal is that of a floating Dubai the size of an aircraft carrier. Only once have I been invited to a Russian oligarch’s home, and it struck me as a hybrid of luxurious modernist brothel and up-to-date operating theater. I saw some pictures recently of some huge Chinese state enterprise’s headquarters, and it appalled me how this nation, with one of the most exquisite, and certainly the oldest, aesthetic traditions on Earth, has gone over entirely to Las Vegas rococo (without the hint of irony or playfulness).

But it was the luxury and not the taste of Yanukovych’s homes that outraged the Ukrainians, for if by any chance they had come into money they would have done exactly the same, aesthetically speaking. Yanukovych may have been a dictator of sorts, but when it came to taste he was a man of the people. A horrified Ukrainian citizen, touring one of his homes after his downfall, was heard to exclaim, “All this beauty at our expense!”

As to politics, the Ukrainian crisis has once again revealed the European Union’s complete impotence. Physiognomy is an inexact science, but it is not so inexact that you cannot read the bemused feebleness on the faces of people such as Van Rompuy, Hollande, and Cameron, the latter so moistly smooth and characterless that it looks as though it would disappear leaving a trail of slime if caught in the rain. Mrs. Merkel has a somewhat stronger face, but then she has the advantage of having spent time in the Free German Youth (the East German communist youth movement), which must at least have put a modicum of iron in her soul.

Be that as it may, Russia holds all the trump cards in this situation. It can turn off Western Europe’s central heating at a stroke, and for Europeans such heating is the whole meaning and purpose of life—together with six-week annual holidays in Bali or Benidorm. Therefore Europe will risk nothing for the sake of Ukraine, except perhaps a few billion in loans of no one’s money, a trifle in current economic circumstances. If Bismarck were to return today, he would say that the whole of Ukraine was not worth the cold of one unheated radiator.

February 27, 2014

Ukraine and the EU – why the easy answer won’t work

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

At the Adam Smith Institute website, Eamonn Butler explains why there won’t be an easy economic fix for the EU/Ukraine trading relationship:

The trouble with EU membership is that it is such a big deal. A country that wants to be part of the club, and enjoy its free trade benefits also has to accept a mountain of regulation and to sign up for the common currency. It is all or nothing.

That puts countries like Ukraine in a fix, just as it put the UK in a bit of a fix in the early 1970s. The UK did not want to raise tariff barriers and lose its trading relationships with its historic trading partners such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, from which it imported a great many agricultural products — butter, lamb, fruit, bacon and much else. But thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy, it did not have much choice. Today, the UK is inside the EU’s tariff wall, which makes trade with the rest of the world more expensive, and naturally focuses UK trade on Europe.


As a logical matter, that does not have to be. If the EU allowed Ukraine the same sort of status enjoyed by (neutral) Switzerland, the country would be free to trade with the EU as part of its customs-union club – but would remain free to preserve trading links to other countries as well. It would also be free to retain its currency and its legal and regulatory structure. A free trade pact with the EU that would help grow the Ukrainian economy, without threatening Russia or the Russian-speaking Ukrainians that the country would be wholly swallowed up into a Western political alliance.

A genuine free-trade deal, rather than full membership. That would probably be ideal for Ukraine (and for other nearby countries not already in the EU), but it won’t be on offer, because too many existing members of the EU would also prefer to have that kind of trading relationship without all the legislative/regulatory overhead that full membership requires. In many ways, the EU cannot afford to offer Ukraine such a deal, for fear of undermining the basis of the current integrated model.

Update: Daniel Hannan on the possibility of partition in Ukraine.

These two views — Ukrainians as a historic people, Ukrainians as a strain of Russians — frame the present quarrel. Most Russian nationalists allow, albeit reluctantly, that Ukrainian national consciousness exists. Alexander Solzhenitsyn grumpily accepted that western Ukrainians, after the horrors of the Soviet era, had been permanently alienated from Mother Russia; but he insisted that the frontiers were arbitrarily drawn under Lenin. If Ukrainians claimed independence on grounds of having a separate national identity, he argued, they must extend their own logic to the Russian-speakers east of the Dnieper.


Plainly a pro-Russian regime can’t govern the whole country: the recent uprising has put that fact beyond doubt. If the Slavophiles can’t rule the West, might the Westernisers win the East? The way of life they propose ought to be more attractive. But we should not underestimate the importance, in such a region, of blood and speech. Nor should we underestimate how much more Ukraine matters to Moscow than it does to Brussels. Vladimir Putin has mobilised troops on the border. Does anyone imagine any EU government, with the possible exception of Poland’s, contemplating a military response?

If neither the Slavophiles nor the Westernisers can carry the entire territory, some kind of separation starts to look inevitable. Such a separation might come about as paramilitary groups establish local supremacy. Or it might happen as a result of Russian intervention, as in Armenia, Moldova and, later, South Ossetia. It is easy enough to imagine Russian security forces crossing the border at the request of local proxies and establishing a de facto Russophone state. The Trans-Dniester Republic still exists, unrecognised but very much in force, on Ukraine’s western border; why not a Trans-Dnieper Republic to its east?

February 25, 2014

A contrarian speaks out on Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:43

Brendan O’Neill isn’t comfortable with the widespread media descriptions of Ukraine’s change of government and calls it regime change instead:

Even in this era of rampant political spin and platitudes, where George Orwell’s claim that political language is used and abused to ‘make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’ has never been truer, the commentary on Ukraine stands out for its dishonesty. Western observers tell us there has been a revolution in that benighted nation. They claim revolutionaries have overthrown a dictator. They say the people of Ukraine have risen up and deposed their despot, and are now ‘experiencing the intense emotions expressed so eloquently by Thomas Paine in 1776 [in his writings on the American War of Independence]’. It is hard to remember the last time political language was so thoroughly used to obfuscate reality, to impose inappropriate historical narratives on to a messy modern-day event. For what we have in Ukraine is not revolution, but regime change, set in motion far more by the machinations of Western politicians than by the stone-throwing of Ukrainians.

Orwell was right – too much political writing is less about clarifying real-world events than it is a collection of pre-existing phrases ‘tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse’. So it has been in relation to Ukraine, where the words selected by Western observers tell us more about them and their prejudices than they do about events in Kiev. So the word ‘meddling’ is used to describe Vladimir Putin’s interventions in Ukraine, but never to describe Angela Merkel’s or John Kerry’s cultivation of the oppositional forces – that is ‘mediation’. Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich is now widely referred to as a ‘dictator’, confirming how exhausted and meaningless that word has become through overuse: unlike serious dictators like Gaddafi or Assad, Yanukovich won a free and fair election, in March 2010. As for the word ‘revolution’ – that has been knackered by misuse for decades, but its deployment in Ukraine takes its bastardisation to a new low: there has of course been no replacement of one social order by another in Ukraine, or even the instalment of a people’s government; instead various long-established parties in parliament, some of which are deeply unpopular among certain constituencies in Ukraine, are forming an interim government. Revolutionary? Hardly.

The Western debate and coverage of Ukraine has cast a massive political fog over events there. It may not have quite made ‘murder seem respectable’, but it has certainly made externally generated regime change seem revolutionary, and the Western-assisted anti-democratic removal of an elected leader seem like an act of people’s democracy. It has exposed a severe dearth of independent critical thinking among the Western commentariat. Even those on the right who are normally passionately anti-EU are now lining up like lemmings behind Brussels’ dishonest moral narrative about being a mere observer to a glorious revolution in the East. And even those on the left who condemned regime change in Iraq or Libya are buying the idea that Ukraine has undergone a revolution of Paineite proportions, with the Observer giddily declaring that Ukraine is currently experiencing ‘an intoxicating sense of liberation from an old guard’. Across the political spectrum, narratives about Ukraine that don’t add up, and which are being promoted by people normally seen as untrustworthy, are being accepted as good coin – among both a right excited by the prospect of a return of the neat Cold War-era divide between good West and bad East, and a left so desperate for evidence of revolutionary behaviour in the twenty-first century that it will lap up even staid, grey, distinctly unrevolutionary Brussels’ claims about a revolution being afoot in Ukraine.

Note: This article is posted at Spiked Plus, which is normally a pay site. They’ve made the site available to non-subscribers for a limited time to mark their second anniversary. If you’re reading this post at a later date, the link to the whole article may not work unless you’re a member.

February 6, 2014

TAFTA/TTIP – The US is negotiating from a position of unassailable strength

Filed under: Europe, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

At Techdirt, Glyn Moody explains why the EU is insane not to demand that the negotiations with the US government over TAFTA/TTIP be made fully public:

On the one side is the US, on the other, the 28 nations that go to make up the European Union. Because they have differing views on the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, it’s necessary to pass around many documents conveying information about the current negotiations, and seek to obtain some kind of consensus on future EU proposals and flexibilities.

In the wake of Snowden’s revelations, security will doubtless be much better than during the Copenhagen Summit, when supposedly secret messages were sent using unencrypted emails. But it only needs one weak link in the European Union’s security chain — somebody who forgets to encrypt his or her message, or who leaves it on a system that has been compromised — and the NSA will be able to access that information, and pass it on to the US negotiators, just as it did in Copenhagen.

The key point is that there is a profound information asymmetry in the TAFTA/TTIP talks. Although the spy agencies of the EU countries will doubtless be trying their best to obtain confidential information about US negotiating tactics, it will be much harder than it is for the US to do the same about EU positions. That’s because the NSA is far larger, and far more expert than the EU agencies. GCHQ is probably the nearest in terms of capabilities, but is so closely allied with the NSA in other areas that it probably won’t be trying too hard so as not to annoy its paymaster.

This more or less guarantees that the US will know everything about the EU’s negotiating plans during TAFTA/TTIP, while the EU will remain in the dark about the US intentions. That not only undercuts the European Commission’s argument that releasing documents is not possible because they must remain secret during the negotiations — they won’t be — it also gives the EU a huge incentive to insist on full transparency for the talks. That way, the EU negotiators would be able to see at least some US documents that currently are hidden from them, whereas the US would gain little that it didn’t already know through more dubious means.

February 3, 2014

Corruption in the EU

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

BBC News discusses a recent EU report on bribery and corruption in Europe:

The extent of corruption in Europe is “breathtaking” and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has presented a full report on the problem.

She said the true cost of corruption was “probably much higher” than 120bn.

Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased.

Interestingly, the perception of corruption is significantly higher than the (self-reported) incidence:

In the UK only five people out of 1,115 — less than 1% — said they had been expected to pay a bribe. It was “the best result in all Europe”, the report said.

But 64% of British respondents said they believed corruption to be widespread in the UK, while the EU average was 74% on that question.

In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery,

In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months.

There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.

Ms Malmstroem said corruption was eroding trust in democracy and draining resources from the legal economy.

January 28, 2014

CETA provisions still secret, even though the deal is agreed

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

It’s an odd day that I find myself in full agreement with anything the Council of Canadians pushes, but as Glyn Moody explains, this is not the way to get Canadians to buy in to a new trade deal:

Back in November, we reported that the EU and Canada were claiming that “a political agreement” on the key elements of the Canada-EU trade agreement, CETA, had been reached. One of the supposed reasons why the negotiations were being conducted in secret was that it was “obviously” not possible to release texts while talks were still going on — even though that is precisely how WIPO operates. So, now that key parts of the CETA have been agreed upon, presumably the public will finally get to see at least those sections of the text, right? Apparently not, as the Council of Canadians found when it put in a freedom of information request to the Canadian government:

    The federal government has denied an access to information request from the Council of Canadians for the working text of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The grassroots public advocacy organization is accusing the Conservative government of unnecessarily depriving Canadians of the information they need to pass judgement on CETA, and of any opportunity to alter the deal before it is signed.

    “It’s a new year, but we’re seeing the same old secrecy from the Harper government. How is anyone expected to say yes or no to this EU deal if Ottawa is not prepared to release it publicly before CETA is signed, sealed and delivered?” asks Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “The Prime Minister is misleading Canadians by claiming the CETA negotiations are the most transparent in Canadian history. A fully redacted copy of the text would be more transparent than this.”

This exposes nicely the dishonesty of governments around the world when they claim that regrettably they “have” to keep texts secret, but will release them just as soon as they can. Here, we have major parts of CETA that have been agreed upon and where there is no need to keep them secret — apart, that is, from the real reason why there is no transparency: because the governments concerned know that once the public find out how they have been let down by their representatives, there will be widespread outrage. In a blatant attempt to stifle democratic debate, it has become standard practice with these trade agreements only to release the texts after they have been passed, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

January 24, 2014

Government subsidies that make flooding worse

Filed under: Britain, Environment — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

Chris Edwards on the oddity of an EU subsidy that inadvertently makes it more likely that floods will be worse:

… Britain has been suffering from river flooding, and a Daily Mail article explains how subsidies are a key culprit: “Thought ‘extreme weather’ was to blame for the floods? Wrong. The real culprit is the European subsidies that pay UK farmers to destroy the very trees that soak up the storm.”

The author is a liberal environmentalist, but his piece illustrates how liberals and libertarians can share common ground on the issue of government subsidies.

The article describes how forests in the upstream areas of watersheds can mitigate floods. However, there “is an unbreakable rule laid down by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment … that land has to be free from what it calls ‘unwanted vegetation.’ Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.”

In the United States, we’ve got our own environment-damaging farm subsidies. We’ve also got the Army Corps of Engineers, which the Daily Mail could be describing when it refers to British policy: “Flood defence, or so we are told almost everywhere, is about how much concrete you can pour.

Another foolhardy thing, in the long term, is government subsidizing people to rebuild after devastating floods … in the same location that is just as likely to be damaged in the next flood. If you can’t get property insurance without getting the government to force insurers to offer it, you’ve probably built in an area that you shouldn’t have. A lot of the perception that major storms are more dangerous now than fifty years ago is that a lot of buildings are being erected in areas where storm damage is more likely to occur.

October 26, 2013

NATO after the cold war

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:15

Austin Bay looks at the latest re-invention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):

As the Cold War faded in the early 1990s, “end of NATO” prognosticators argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union would lead to the collapse of the military alliance forged to defeat it. They maintained that intra-alliance political frictions, no longer checked by the threat of Soviet tanks and nuclear weapons, would inevitably fracture the complex organization.

Moreover, Western Europe, re-cast as the European Economic Community and preparing for life as the European Union, could do it alone, militarily and economically. According to these seers, the outbreak of peace in Europe meant Europeans no longer needed to fret with those overbearing Americans.

However, European peace didn’t break out, not quite. Instead, Yugoslavia broke up, a USSR in Balkan miniature, its dissolution sparking a series of dirty wars on European soil.

U.N. peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans failed to prevent massacres like Bosnia’s Srebrenica genocide. When Kosovo exploded, the Clinton Administration, Britain and France sidestepped the U.N. To fight the Kosovo War, they used a democratic political alliance capable of waging war on behalf of a better peace: NATO. By doing so, they reinvented NATO as a global actor for the North Atlantic democracies.

Balkan troubles still plague Europe, but NATO’s Kosovo intervention staunched the bloodshed. European diplomats also quickly learned that (excepting Serbia) the ex-Yugoslav Balkan states regarded NATO and the European Union as classy clubs. Diplomatic clout is one of NATO’s continuing utilities. Membership has prestige. Dangling NATO and European Union membership still encourages better, if not quite good, Balkan behavior.


The “deep goal” of this new round of reinvention is to insure that the alliance can fulfill its NATO treaty Article 5 obligation to current members. Article 5 commits every NATO nation to the defense of a member suffering attack by a non-NATO member. NATO invoked Article 5 after the 9-11 terror attacks on the U.S. The 9-11 Article 5 invocation and the Kosovo War were predicates to NATO’s “beyond Europe” involvement in Afghanistan and in Libya 2011.

NATO’s demise is anything but imminent. Evolving threats have seeded closer cooperation.

October 19, 2013

CETA as a lever to (finally) loosen rules on inter-provincial trade

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:18

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells thinks that the new free trade deal between Canada and the European Union will be one of the historical successes of Stephen Harper’s career, but also notes it has a potentially great domestic influence:

Flip it around. Every delay in reaching an agreement with the EU on freer trade in goods and services has been merrily mocked by a few critics in the gallery, yours truly first among them. And if Stephen Harper had failed to conclude this deal, having taken negotiations this far, he would have durably wrecked Canada’s reputation as a serious trading nation.

(That goes doubly so now that Canada and the EU have reached an agreement in principle. Could it still fall apart? It could, although my test on this, for reasons I explained long ago, is the reaction of the Europeans. I’m told there is no love lost between Harper and José Manuel Barroso; Barroso would not waste time in Brussels on an empty dog and pony show so Harper could duck a few questions about Mike Duffy. The Europeans think this is real. For now we should take today’s announcement at face value. The Council of Canadians sure does.)

Well, if delay was worth criticism and failure would have been read as a career-threatening personal defeat, success must be counted as a personal triumph for Stephen Harper. When his political career ends, this is one of the first three things the newspapers will mention.

But as he notes, there’s a long-term, nagging domestic trade issue that might also improve under the new international agreement:

Best of all, any advantage offered by any province and its municipalities to European importers must, in simple logic, be made available to businesses from other Canadian provinces. This accord will act powerfully to deepen the still fragmented internal Canadian market. In a week when some cabinet ministers were turning cartwheels because it will now be legal to drive from Hull to Ottawa with a bottle of wine, that’s an overdue change. I’m on the record being skeptical Harper couldn’t close this deal, and I’m happy to eat crow. This CETA deal will be the most powerful pro-market accomplishment of any Canadian government in a quarter century.

As Wells correctly notes, this isn’t a true free trade deal but it’s a “free-r trade” agreement that moves us a few notches closer to actual free trade with the EU. Regulators and bureaucrats of all stripes will still have a lot of say in what goods and services are actually exchanged between the signatories, but that will still be less than the influence they currently wield.

September 13, 2013

The Catalonian separation movement

Filed under: Europe, Government, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:15

If you’re not already enthralled by watching Canada’s separatist movement in Quebec or the Scottish independence campaign, there’s a potentially even more disruptive separation brewing in Spain. Tyler Cowen thinks it’s not getting as much media exposure as it deserves:

Personally, I am still waiting to hear why Catalonian independence would not bring the fiscal death knell of current Spain, and thus also the collapse of current eurozone arrangements and perhaps also a eurozone-wide depression. Otherwise I would gladly entertain Catalonia as an independent nation, or perhaps after the crisis has passed a referendum can be held. When referenda are held during tough times, it is often too easy to get a “no” vote against anything connected with the status quo.

Is the view simply that “now is the time to strike” and “it is worth it”? Obviously, an independence movement will not wish to speak too loudly about transition costs, but I would wish for more transparency. Or is the view that Spain could fiscally survive the shock of losing about twenty percent of its economy, with all the uncertainties and transition costs along the way? That could be argued, but frankly I doubt it, OMT or not, furthermore other regions would claim more autonomy too. An alternative, more moralizing view is that the fiscal problems are “Spain’s fault in the first place” and need not be discussed too much by the pro-independence side, but I am more consequentialist and marginal product-oriented than that.

This piece, in Catalan, does cover the fiscal implications of debt assumption for an independent Catalonia. The site also links to this somewhat spare piece by Gary Becker, but I still want more of a discussion of the issues raised above.

Keep in mind that two clocks are ticking. The first is that education in Catalonia is becoming increasingly “hispanicized,” the second is that as economic conditions in Spain improve, or maybe just become seen as a new normal, getting a pro-secession vote in a referendum may become harder. It doesn’t quite seem like “do or die” right now, but overall time probably is not on the side of Catalonian independence.

For those that assume Catalonia has always been part of Spain, Edward Hugh discusses why September 11 has been an important date in Catalonian history for nearly 300 years:

Catalonia was a party in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), where the old crowns of Castile and Aragon fought, alongside their European allies, over who should be crowned as king of Spain following the death of Charles II. Catalonia, which favoured archduke Charles as successor, lost a war which ended with Europe recognising Philip V as the new king of Spain. The long war ended with a prolonged siege of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which was systematically bombarded by Spanish troops fighting for the Bourbon candidate, Philip V. After months of resistance Barcelona finally surrendered on September 11 1714. Modern Spain was born, but Catalonia was to pay a heavy price for its support for the Austrian candidate: Catalan language was forbidden and Catalan institutions abolished. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the day on which Barcelona fell, honouring those killed defending the country’s laws and institutions.

August 15, 2013

Egyptian military empowered by Western approval

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:51

Brendan O’Neill says that we should not be surprised by the bloody turn of events in Egypt … after all, we collectively acted as enablers:

There is ‘world outcry’ over the behaviour of the Egyptian security forces yesterday, when at least 525 supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi were massacred. The killings were ‘excessive’, says Amnesty, in a bid to bag the prize for understatement of the year; ‘brutal’, say various handwringing newspaper editorials; ‘too much’, complain Western politicians.

Such belated expressions of synthetic sorrow are not only too little, too late (hundreds of Egyptians have already been massacred by the military regime that swept Morsi from power); they are also extraordinarily blinkered. To focus on the actions of the security forces alone, on what they did with their trigger fingers yesterday, is to miss the bigger picture; it is to overlook the question of where the military regime got the moral authority to clamp down on its critics so violently in the name of preserving its undemocratic grip on power. It got it from the West, including from so-called Western liberals and human-rights activists. The moral ammunition for yesterday’s massacres was provided by the very politicians and campaigners now crying crocodile tears over the sight of hundreds of dead Egyptians.

The fact that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces who swept Morsi from power on 3 July, feels he has free rein to preserve his coup-won rule against all-comers isn’t surprising. After all, his undemocratic regime has received the blessing of various high-ranking Western officials, even after it carried out massacres of protesters campaigning for the reinstatement of Morsi, who was elected with 52 per cent of the vote in 2012.

Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief of foreign affairs, who, like al-Sisi, is unelected, visited Egypt at the end of July. She met with al-Sisi and his handpicked, unelected president, Adly Mansour. She called on this junta disguised as a transitional power to start a ‘journey [towards] a stable, prosperous and democratic Egypt’. This was after it had massacred hundreds of protesters, placed various politicians and activists in prison, and reinstated the Mubarak-era secret police to wage a ‘war on terror’ against MB supporters. For Ashton to visit al-Sisi and talk about democracy in the aftermath of such authoritarian clampdowns was implicitly to confer authority on the coup that brought him to power and on his brutal rule and actions.

Meanwhile, the US has refused to call the military’s sweeping aside of Morsi a coup. The Democratic secretary of state, John Kerry, has gone further and congratulated al-Sisi’s regime for ‘restoring democracy’. Kerry said the military’s assumption of power was an attempt to avoid ‘descendance into chaos and violence’ under Morsi, and its appointment of civilians in the top political jobs was a clear sign that it was devoted to ‘restoring democracy’. He said this on 2 August. After hundreds of Morsi supporters had already been massacred. If al-Sisi’s forces believe that killing protesters demanding the reinstatement of a democratically elected prime minister is itself a democratic act, a necessary and even good thing, it isn’t hard to see where they got the idea from.

August 14, 2013

If there’s a conspiracy, it’s a pretty ineffectual, incompetent one

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:20

Jeff Thomas asks whether the gold market is being manipulated by shadowy conspiracies of governments, big banks, and international bodies:

… we are reminded that, no matter how evil we think a given government may be, no matter how greedy we think a given banker may be, both the world’s governments and the worlds banks have proven time and time again to be guilty of overreach; that is, they assume that their position of power will assure that, if they attempt to control a market, they will succeed.

However, history shows that both governments and banks have a patchwork quilt as a record for effectiveness in this regard. Both exhibit a history of misinterpretation of market drivers, inadequate planning and inadequate execution, to say nothing of a penchant for betraying one another. (The admission by Barclays Bank that they manipulated LIBOR is a good example.)

As such, the concept of a finely-tuned conspiracy of bankers and governments in which all the players (including the egotistical heads of countries) all agree on every facet of a “Grand Plan” is unlikely in the extreme. On the other hand, it is highly likely that an endless series of deals between any two or more parties will crop up along the way. They will succeed or fail to varying degrees. (And we should not overlook the likelihood that, whatever one group should attempt, another group may, inadvertently or not, spoil that attempt through their own plan, which may well be a different one.)

By arguing whether or not gold manipulation exists, we may find that we are wasting our brain cells on the question. A better question, and one that we might choose to monitor on a regular basis, might be, “To what degree is successful manipulation taking place?” We might then use the on-going answer as a guide, to inform our reasoning going forward, as to what impact any perceived manipulation is likely to have with regard to our precious metals investment.

August 13, 2013

It’s accurate to describe the Greek plight as a depression

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:44

Allister Heath says the catastrophic state of the Greek economy fully merits the descriptor “depression”:

Sorry, but the fact that Greece collapsed at an annual rate of 4.6 per cent in the second quarter, rather than a little bit faster, isn’t good news. It’s terrible, awful, horrible news. Greek output is down by 23 per cent since 2008 and unemployment is at around 28 per cent; no wonder, given the shrinking economy, that gross tax revenues are continuing to undershoot targets.

Hyperbolic economists sometime claim that the UK has undergone a depression, which is nonsense — but Greece’s woes cannot be described in any other way. Its depression has been catastrophic, one of the worst ever recorded for any country in the modern, industrialised era (apart from during or immediately after a war). Its dramatic collapse reminds us that stupid economic policies can destroy a nation; depressions have not been banished from modern civilisation.

It may be, of course, that the collapse is beginning to abate and that the economy may finally stabilise next year. I’ll believe it when I see it; unless Greece’s money supply starts growing again, and demand begins to increase, a recovery is impossible. But Greece is just a tiny part of the Eurozone, so achieving such an outcome is even harder than in a country like the UK, especially given that the Greek financial crisis hasn’t really gone away. There is no way that Athens will meet its bailout targets and its debt burden is utterly unsustainable.

July 19, 2013

Bitter reality scheduled to return on September 22nd

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

Here’s an unpleasant idea to disturb your narrative of economic recovery:

You may have noticed the small blurb recently that the ECB had eased the rules for asset backed securitizations. You may have read this snippet and thinking nothing of it you moved on. This would have been a mistake because just here you would have noticed the cracks of a crumbling empire.

The French banks, the Spanish banks, the Portuguese banks are all engaged in an ongoing charade so they do not need to ask the EU for help. They all are taking their Real Estate loans, the properties that they have confiscated, the commercial loans that are no longer paying and they have put them into massive securitizations that are pledged at the ECB as they are given cash for the collateral. The collateral, as you may suppose, has all of the value of cents on the Dollar but they are given money at par while the ECB carries them on their books at par. It is a fraudulent scheme jam packed with money created out of nothing but it is judged to be a better plan that to have to admit to accurate financials and have the banks of Europe default all across the Continent.

[. . .]

There will be nothing but lying until September 22, 2013 which is the date of the German elections. This is the drop dead date that I have been asked about for so long. Then, as soon as the celebration is over that Ms. Merkel is to remain in power, the world will turn on its axis. The status quo will disappear and there will be a “shock and horror” campaign as the Southern nations of Europe demand more help and Germany squirms and then refuses to provide it because it does not have the assets to do so.

Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and even Italy are all going to line up at the trough only to discover that the promise of water was just that, a promise, and does not exist. A Biblical drought will be upon the Continent and from the political battles will emerge new alliances and new screams calling the traitors by name. The twin towers upon which the markets rest, money from nothing and fairy tale financials, will decompose in the light of this new sun and our old friend, Fear, will return to haunt us.

Sleep well.

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