Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the Cisleithanian [the non-Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalists), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one ‘wild’ (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in Cisleithania (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German,Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of the speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with a translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a language that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motion, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The Cisleithanian parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors’ galleries. By contrast with the city’s theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.*
* Among those who came to watch the antics of the deputies was the young drifter Adolf Hitler. Between February 1908 and the summer of 1909, when Czech obstructionism was at its height, he was often to be found in the visitors’ gallery. He would later claim that the experience had ‘cured’ him of his youthful admiration for the parliamentary system.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 29, 2014
July 15, 2014
It is a painful thing to confront someone whom one is accustomed to respecting, and to tell that person they are barking mad. Usually one avoids it, or dismisses the other’s strange behavior as “a difference of opinion,” and speaks platitudes about “the importance of diversity,” however when a person is going, “Arf! Arf!” right in your face, there is no way around it. This includes governments, when they become barking mad.
Thomas Jefferson knew this, when he quilled the Declaration of Independence, listing King George’s barking mad behaviors, however there has been a recent, revisionist effort to show that King George the Third wasn’t all that bad, and his blue urine wasn’t due to porphuria, and his spells of foaming at the mouth were but minor episodes, especially when he was young and was busily losing the American colonies. (I think this may in part be due to the fact that porphuria is hereditary, and certain people don’t want the rabble giving Prince Charles appraising looks.)
The argument states that, if you could get an audience at his glittering palace, King George was quite lucid, and even charming, and that the points he raised, about the government’s right to tax, are valid to this day. There is even some reproach towards America and Jefferson for failing to understand King George’s points.
However taxation was not the issue. Taxation without representation was the issue. When one looks back with twenty-twenty hindsight, the solution to the problem seems simple: Simply give the thirteen colony’s thirteen elected representatives in Parliament. It seems like such an obvious thing, to give Englishmen abroad the same rights as Englishmen at home, and seems so conducive to unity and the expansion of an unified kingdom, that to switch the subject to the-right-of-the-government-to-tax seems a sleight of hand bound to stub thumbs, to lead to schism, and to create discord out of harmony. It was, in fact, a barking mad thing for King George to do.
Caleb Shaw, “Barking Mad – A rave, prompted by facing insane heating costs”, Watts Up With That?, 2014-07-14.
July 4, 2014
Published on 3 Jul 2014
“America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue,” says Frank Buckley, George Mason University law professor and author of the new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.
Buckley sat down with Reason TV‘s Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss how the U.S. presidency has evolved into what he calls “something like an elective monarch.” He says that this is not what the framers of the Constitution had intended, nor did they conceive of the modern version of the separation of powers.
“A parliamentary regime was more or less what the framers wanted…as far as the separation of powers is concerned,” says Buckley “instead of a device to constrain a president, it’s one which immunizes him from criticism by Congress.”
May 24, 2014
Published on 22 May 2014
One of the most talked about technology tradeoffs today is the question of how much privacy we give up to live in a world of convenience, speed and intelligence. We’re now less anonymous than many people are aware of or comfortable with, and headline-grabbing stories like the Heartbleed Bug don’t provide much reassurance for those of us seeking comfort around data privacy. How can we balance our need for anonymity with the incredible benefits of our connected world? World class Internet privacy expert Dr. Michael Geist helps us understand which current surveillance and privacy issues should be on your mind.
Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School. Dr. Geist is an internationally syndicated columnist on technology law issues with his regular column appearing in the Toronto Star and the Ottawa Citizen. Dr. Geist is the editor of From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (2010) and In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law (2005), both published by Irwin Law, the editor of several monthly technology law publications, and the author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.
Dr. Geist serves on many boards, including the CANARIE Board of Directors, the Canadian Legal Information Institute Board of Directors, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board, the Electronic Frontier Foundation Advisory Board, and on the Information Program Sub-Board of the Open Society Institute. He has received numerous awards for his work including the Kroeger Award for Policy Leadership and the Public Knowledge IP3 Award in 2010, the Les Fowlie Award for Intellectual Freedom from the Ontario Library Association in 2009, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 2008, Canarie’s IWAY Public Leadership Award for his contribution to the development of the Internet in Canada and he was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2003. In 2010, Managing Intellectual Property named him on the 50 most influential people on intellectual property in the world.
May 1, 2014
It hasn’t been a banner year so far for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. David Akin notes that it’s Harper’s birthday today and that he’s now our 9th longest-serving PM:
Today is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 55th birthday. It is also is his 3,005th day in office. (The Library of Parliament counts his first day as Feb. 6, 2006, the day he and his first cabinet were sworn in.)
At 3,005 days in office, the country’s 22nd prime minister is its 9th longest-serving prime minister.
Here’s the top 14 as of today:
- William Lyon Mackenzie King: 7,824 days in office
- John A. Macdonald: 6,934 days
- Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 5,620 days
- Wilfrid Laurier: 5,565 days
- Jean Chrétien: 3,689 days
- Brian Mulroney: 3,202 days
- Robert Borden: 3,195 days
- Louis St. Laurent: 3,139 days
- Stephen Harper: 3,005 days
- John Diefenbaker: 2,130 days
- R.B. Bennett: 1,902 days
- Lester Pearson: 1,824 days
- Alexander Mackenzie: 1,796 days
- Paul Martin: 786 days
April 28, 2014
We are all familiar with the basic difference between English and French parliamentary institutions; copied respectively by such other assemblies as derive from each. We all realize that this main difference has nothing to do with national temperament, but stems from their seating plans. The British, being brought up on team games, enter their House of Commons in the spirit of those who would rather be doing something else. If they cannot be playing golf or tennis, they can at least pretend that politics is a game with very similar rules. But for this device, Parliament would arouse even less interest than it does. So the British instinct is to form two opposing teams, with referee and linesmen, and let them debate until they exhaust themselves. The House of Commons is so arranged that the individual Member is practically compelled to take one side or the other before he knows what the arguments are, or even (in some cases) before he knows the subject of the dispute. His training from birth has been to play for his side, and this saves him from any undue mental effort. Sliding into a seat toward the end of a speech, he knows exactly how to take up the argument from the point it has reached. If the speaker is on his own side of the House, he will say “Hear, hear!” If he is on the opposite side, he can safely say “Shame!” or merely “Oh!” At some later stage he may have time to ask his neighbor what the debate is supposed to be about. Strictly speaking, however, there is no need for him to do this. He knows enough in any case not to kick into his own goal. The men who sit opposite are entirely wrong and all their arguments are so much drivel. The men on his own side are statesmanlike, by contrast, and their speeches a singular blend of wisdom, eloquence, and moderation. Nor does it make the slightest difference whether he learned his politics at Harrow or in following the fortunes of Aston Villa. In either school he will have learned when to cheer and when to groan. But the British system depends entirely on its seating plan. If the benches did not face each other, no one could tell truth from falsehood — wisdom from folly — unless indeed by listening to it all. But to listen to it all would be ridiculous, for half the speeches must of necessity be nonsense.
In France the initial mistake was made of seating the representatives in a semicircle, all facing the chair. The resulting confusion could be imagined if it were not notorious. No real opposing teams could be formed and no one could tell (without listening) which argument was the more cogent. There was the further handicap of all the proceedings being in French — an example the United States wisely refused to follow. But the French system is bad enough even when the linguistic difficulty does not arise. Instead of having two sides, one in the right and the other in the wrong — so that the issue is clear from the outset — the French form a multitude of teams facing in all directions. With the field in such confusion, the game cannot even begin. Basically their representatives are of the Right or of the Left, according to where they sit. This is a perfectly sound scheme. The French have not gone to the extreme of seating people in alphabetical order. But the semicircular chamber allows of subtle distinctions between the various degrees of tightness and leftness. There is none of the clear-cut British distinction between rightness and wrongness. One deputy is described, politically, as to the left of Monsieur Untel but well to the right of Monsieur Quelquechose. What is anyone to make of that? What should we make of it even in English? What do they make of it themselves? The answer is, “Nothing.”
C. Northcote Parkinson, “The Will of the People, or Annual General Meeting”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
April 21, 2014
- Spotted yesterday in the Times (which is behind a paywall) of the day before yesterday by 6k. “Very good” says he. Indeed.
Brian Micklethwait, “Samizdata quote of the day”, Samizdata, 2014-04-19.
April 13, 2014
Being an MP is a vast subsidized ego-trip. It’s a job that needs no qualifications, it has no compulsory hours of work, no performance standards, and provides a warm room, a telephone and subsidized meals to a bunch of self-important windbags and busybodies who suddenly find people taking them seriously because they’ve go the letters ‘MP’ after the their name.
April 10, 2014
The former federal finance minister and MP for Whitby-Oshawa (my riding) is reported to have died earlier today:
Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, smiles while speaking during a press conference after releasing the 2014 Federal Budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Flaherty ramped up efforts to return the country to surplus in a budget that raises taxes on cigarettes and cuts benefits to retired government workers while providing more aid for carmakers. Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former finance minister Jim Flaherty has died. He was 64.
Emergency crews were called to his Ottawa home Thursday afternoon. The cause of death has not been released.
He was one of the longest serving finance ministers Canada has ever had and until he left politics, was the only one to ever serve under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He stepped down on March 18.
A Conservative MP for the Toronto-area riding of Whitby-Oshawa, Flahery was first elected in 2006.
Flaherty has suffered over the last year from a rare and painful but treatable skin disorder. In his statement, Flaherty said his health did not play a part in his decision to quit politics.
My deepest condolences to his wife Christine Elliot, and their sons John, Galen, and Quinn (Galen and Quinn were players on soccer teams I coached a decade or so back).
April 3, 2014
If Scotland votes in favour of separation from the United Kingdom this September, it will kick off a period of vast political uncertainty on both sides of the border:
The potential negotiations are all frighteningly close. In just six months time difficult discussions between the Scottish government and Whitehall could be getting under way. David Cameron would lead for the Rest of UK, but only as a weakened Prime Minister contemplating a legacy centred on the loss of the Union. His Westminster opponent Ed Miliband would have to contemplate the loss of many Labour MPs from north of the border. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage would presumably be jumping up and down shouting “bye-bye Scotland, close the door behind you” and stressing that England should be for the English. That view would, I suspect, be very popular after the Scots had raised two fingers at the English in the referendum.
In Scotland, once the Nationalists had woken up with a massive collective hangover, there would be bedlam too, with Salmond the victor and head of government demanding to lead for the Scots in negotiations on oil and so on. But should one man be allowed to create a separate state and dictate its constitution? Shouldn’t a wider group of founding fathers and mothers come up with a plan that Scottish voters can then be asked to approve? To help, the better Scottish MPs and peers at Westminster would very quickly have to go home to try and prevent Salmond turning the whole exercise into a massive vanity project. They would also have to stand for seats in the next Scottish parliament elections, or retire and pipe down.
All this would be taking place against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and intense emotional turbulence.
In such extraordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would put up with Scottish MPs trying to carry on as normal and then standing for election in 2015 as though nothing had happened. The Members of the Scottish Parliament would say that they now spoke for Scotland. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish at Westminster would be justified in saying later this year to those MPs from Scottish seats: what are you still doing here?
March 20, 2014
The federal finance minister announced his resignation the other day. This had been rumoured for quite some time, as Jim Flaherty had been having health issues for the last couple of years. He’s at least for the time being remaining as my local MP (full disclosure: I coached two of his sons in soccer several years ago). He wasn’t going to be my MP in the next parliament, as my village is being moved to a different riding under the new boundaries. At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson tries to find the right words to say goodbye:
Writing valedictory posts is always a bit tricky. You have to strike a balance between showing the bad that is the obvious at the moment with the good that might be visible only in hindsight. It be must admitted that Jim Flaherty was not a bad finance minister, a minister who surrendered to every short-term political demand of the cabinet. Nor was he a great one charting a new course for Canada. He didn’t shift the goal posts, like Michael Wilson did for Brian Mulroney or Paul Martin did for Jean Chrétien. Big Jim minded the shop better than the other guys would have. Among midgets he was a giant.
The Flaherty years consisted of digging a gigantic hole and then carefully filling it back in. Modest surpluses, massive deficits and then a projected modest surplus. To quote the old poem: “Always he led us back to where we were before.” The net result is that we have a somewhat larger national debt than if we’d balanced the books for eight straight years. Not good but not too bad either.
As for Big Jim? Well he was one of the best Liberal finances minister of the last hundred years.
Such a well-placed barb. So artistically planted. And so true.
March 14, 2014
The death of Tony Benn was announced this morning, and the Telegraph‘s Iain Martin says that Benn’s political trajectory had three distinct phases:
The BBC‘s James Landale described it well this morning only minutes after the death of Tony Benn was announced. There were, he told the Today programme, three phases of Tony Benn the public figure. That is right, and in the second phase Benn almost destroyed the Labour Party. His death — or his reinvention as a national treasure from the late 1980s onwards — doesn’t alter that reality.
In the 1950s and 1960s Benn was part of Labour’s supposed wave of the future, serving in Wilson’s governments and embodying the technocratic approach that was going to forge a modern Britain in the “white heat of technology”. It didn’t work out like that.
But it is when Labour found itself out of power in 1979 that Benn the socialist preacher applied his considerable talents — his gift for public speaking and the denunciation of rivals — to trying to turn Labour, one of Britain’s two great parties that dominated the 20th century, from being a broad church into a party that stood only for his, by then, very dangerous brand of Left-wing extremism. In the wars of that period against Labour’s Right-wing and soft centre he did not operate alone, but he was the figurehead of a Bennite movement that created the conditions in which the SDP breakaway became necessary, splitting the Left and giving Margaret Thatcher an enormous advantage to the joy of Tories. When Labour crashed to defeat in 1983, Benn even said that the result was a good start because millions of voters had voted for an authentically socialist manifesto, which would have taken Britain back to the stone age if implemented.
From there, after a bitter interlude and a sulk, Benn began his final and, this time, wonderful transformation, during which he was elevated to the ranks of national treasure — a pipe-smoking man of letters, like a great National Trust property crossed with George Orwell. As with many journalists of my generation, I encountered him one on one only in that third phase, and found him, as many others did, a deeply courteous, amusing and interesting man. It was his defence of the Commons, against the Executive, that I liked, and when he spoke on such themes it was possible to imagine him at Cromwell’s elbow in the English Civil War, or printing off radical pamphlets before falling out with the parliamentary leadership after the King had had his head cut off.
February 22, 2014
The situation in Ukraine just got more fluid, as President Yanukovych is said to have fled from Kiev and the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament announced a vote to remove him from the presidency. James Marson, Alan Cullison and Alexander Kolyandr report for the Wall Street Journal:
Government authority appeared to melt away Saturday, leaving protesters in control of the capital’s center. President Viktor Yanukovych left the capital for a city in the country’s Russian-speaking east and vowed to remain in power.
In a television interview Saturday afternoon in Kharkiv, Mr. Yanukovych denounced the events in Kiev as a “coup d’etat” that he blamed on “bandits.”
“I have no plans to leave the country and I have no plans to resign. I am the legally elected president and all the international intermediaries I’ve talked to (over the last few days) have given me guarantees of security. We’ll see how those are fulfulled,” Mr. Yanukovych told a small TV station in Kharkiv.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko earlier had called on parliament to vote to oust Mr. Yanukovych and announce presidential elections in May, as police withdrew from the center of the capital Saturday.
Ukraine opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was expected to be released from prison within hours, according to a spokeswoman for the opposition.
Ukraine is divided politically and linguistically on almost the same line:
The BBC reports that new elections have been called for May 25:
Ukrainian MPs have voted to oust President Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on 25 May.
Mr Yanukovych’s spokeswoman said he did not accept the decision.
Earlier on Saturday, protesters walked unchallenged into the president’s office and residential compounds.
Also on Saturday afternoon, prominent opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she was being held under prison guard.
A BBC correspondent saw Tymoshenko driven away in a car after leaving the hospital.
MPs had voted to pave the way for her release on Friday. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power.
Her supporters have always maintained this was simply Mr Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent, and her release has always been a key demand of the protest movement.
January 17, 2014
The argument that we must do everything a Minister demands because he has been ‘democratically chosen’ does not stand up to close inspection. MPs are not chosen by ‘the people’ — they are chosen by their local constituency parties: thirty-five men in grubby raincoats or thirty-five women in silly hats. The further ‘selection’ process is equally a nonsense: there are only 630 MPs and a party with just over 300 MPs forms a government and of these 300, 100 are too old and too silly to be ministers and 100 too young and too callow. Therefore there are about 100 MPs to fill 100 government posts. Effectively no choice at all.
January 14, 2014
A few answers to questions in the UK parliament on issues relating to the military in a post-separation Scotland, courtesy of Think Defence. First on the official reactions to the Scottish government’s pre-referendum white paper:
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on defence prior to the publication of the White Paper on an independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), did not have any discussions with Ministers in the Scottish Government about the White Paper on an independent Scotland on defence nor were any requested prior to its publication.
10 Dec 2013 : Column 197W
Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in Scotland in the event of independence.
Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed removal of the UK Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland in the event of independence.
And again, on the 17th of December:
Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence, as outlined in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence.
And on January 9th, a question on the estimated costs of defending Scotland in either case after the September referendum:
Mr Gordon Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the pro rata population adjusted cost of defence provision in Scotland in 2016-17; and what the Scottish Government estimates those costs will be for 2016-17 in an independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: Defence is organised, resourced and managed on a UK basis to provide high levels of protection and security for all parts of the UK and its citizens at home and abroad. Decisions on spending are based on meeting Defence requirements and ensuring value for money. The Defence budget is for the whole of the UK and is not apportioned on a regional basis. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK Defence capabilities and activities funded by the Defence budget. The UK Government is confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom and is not planning for an independent Scotland. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, it would be for the Scottish Government to determine the Defence budget for an independent Scottish state.