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Showing posts from December, 2006

If Freedom fail

Over the past year, one of the major themes of this blog has been Freedom.

However, this is not the kind of freedom where "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

It is my belief that the individual has the right to live their life untroubled and untrammelled. Everyone should be free to choose to "go to the devil their own way".

Nevertheless, there are many snares in untrammelled freedom- selfishness cuts us off from others, greed ultimately poisons our bodies, or our happiness. Materialism leads us to neglect ourselves in favour of possessions.

So, although I will make no judgments of others, it is clear that there are certain disciplines that we can impose upon ourselves that will help us live more fulfilled and happier lives. It is these disciplines that form the basis of morality and ethics.

From the 1930s, the Oxford Group began to talk about a "moral re-armament" in the face of the challenges of both Hitler and Stalin, and while occasionally th…

"Events.." in the natural world

Just over a year ago a gigantic earthquake hit the fault between the Indian and Burma tectonic plates. At 9.3 on the Richter scale it was the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. A few minutes after the quake had stilled, the first tsunami came ashore on Sumatra, before spreading out across the Indian Ocean. Along a huge section of coast the surge of water flooded ashore- often for many miles. The US Geological Survey initially recorded the casualty toll as 283,100 killed, 14,100 missing, and 1,126,900 people displaced- one of the most destructive natural disasters ever recorded.

The Boxing Day Earthquake reminds us that the unexpected can come from many different quarters. Humans seem remarkably good at ignoring long term danger- until, that is disaster strikes.

There are several events that may at the time be considered "black swan events"- that is that they are inherently unpredictable- arguably 9/11 was one such event. However this is not so with many …

"Events...." in Europe

Christmas, the season of Saturnalia, has come and gone.

The days are drawing out- albeit that it will be weeks before we notice the longer daylight.

It is impossible to know what 2007 holds. We can talk about trends, but this forgets the "black swan" events that are by their nature unpredictable. The Grim Reaper can confuse many calculations- as he seems to have done in Turkmenistan with the death of the brutal dictator Niyazov, leaving no obvious successor. New ideas can gain purchase rapidly and then turn into the Conventional Wisdom. So I make no serious predictions about the passage of events.

So I will devote this fallow period before real work restarts to some unserious thoughts about the kind of events that may shape the coming year.

"Unseriously", we could think of many things that might happen in 2007- Iran may go nuclear, or may go moderate. North Korea may collapse or linger on. China may reform or crack down. Each seems about equally likely at the moment.

Ye…

No State Funding for Political Parties

Labour gets ever more mired in the cash for peerages mess. The Tories find themselves funded by obscure trusts in Liechtenstein. Questions continue about the Michael Brown affair amongst the Lib Dems.

Some commentators now believe that political parties should be funded directly by the state. After all, goes the argument, it is necessary for the workings of the political system to have vigorous, well funded parties and it is better to have these openly funded rather than by foreign or other questionable sources.

Bluntly, this is self serving bulls**t.

If the political parties can not manage to fund themselves in a legal or orderly way, then I have no quarrel with the idea that they should go under.

Why should what is, in effect, a private club that seeks to fund a massive advertising campaign every few years get its money from the state, that is to say, from everyone else?

If Labour or Tories can not run themselves without recourse to unsustainable levels of debt, then tough- they will hav…

What are the Liberal Democrats for?

An occasional poster to this blog, "Lepidus" made the following comment:

"many Lib Dems will likely be elected on the back of "Tory Votes" as was John Leech, so you are wise to seek out Labour held seats, as they will be far the easier pickings. You have I think adopted the classic Lib Dem obsession with the Tories at the point when the easier pickings are elsewhere even if some like Gidley weren't hammering the final nail into their political careers themselves, hence your strident tones. Excuse my cynicism but if the Tories were more "ideological" in your view you would be lambasting them equally hard for being "extreme", come to think of it that makes you a perfect Lib Dem MP Consul! I look forward your new Philippics in the HoC."

Essentially, if I can paraphrase: basically "don't get hung up on Tories, it will be easier to beat Labour".

I think to answer the point, I have to step back and reiterate why I support the …

Ooh Cheeky...

I know, I know... Lembit Opik- crazy name, crazy guy.

I saw him about a month ago and he said that he had broken up with Sian, and that "it was not going too well".

Lembit is a treasure- genuinely funny, albeit ever so slightly manic (after all a pilot, expecially a paragliding pilot is clearly closer to the thrill seeking end of the personal equation).

Although the extremely detailed interview that Sian gave the newspapers was clearly done for a great deal of money, I don't really see too much damage to Lembit in the long term.

Women will wonder what he has in him, and guys will generally feel that a Cheeky girl sounds like fun.

In the shallow waters of mild celebrity such emotional squalls are to be expected- and are basically good entertainment.

Personally I have been laughing like a drain for several days... and I am grinning still.

Russia faces catastrophe

An interesting article from Matthew Lynn at Bloomberg deserves wider circulation.

The implications of his point that Russia is not a sensible place for major international investment are even more profound than they first appear.

Essentially Russia is not only refusing to allow international business to function, but where investment is being made in capital equipment and techniques that the Russians do not posses themselves, then they are trying to steal this proprietary technology.

Meanwhile the political picture grows more violent. Putin's "Nashi" goons continue to harass anyone they see fit- including the widespread use of violence and murder.

This is not a recipe for a powerful Russia. It is a recipe for an impoverished, weak and isolated Russia. Such is the catastophe that the KGB Colonel has led his country into.

The greedy, Mafia state will fail- and with unforeseeable consequences. Despite the flow of petro-dollars, the money leaves Russia as fast as it arrives. Away…

Strategy versus Tactics

Much of the daily grind of politics is about the getting and keeping of power, rather than a considered approach to what you do with power once you have got it.

To be honest I think that this is where a lot of the current disillusion with politics emerges from.

If you are political anorak, there are few places better for endless discussions about the mechanics of elections than http://www.politicalbetting.com/

I particularly recommend their latest discussion on the electoral maths of hung Parliaments.

However, there are fewer discussions about first principles- and yet for me, this is what is attractive about the idea of politics. The fundamental questions about what political power is and what the aims and practice of politics should be can be inspiring topics. Young people are passionate about political topics, from the environment to health- overtly political areas- but the business of party politics is viewed with suspicion and even disgust.

We might blame the media, and it is true tha…

Green Christmas

Sir David Attenborough made a striking statement in his evidence to the Parliamentary committee. "Wasting Energy", he said, "is morally wrong".

He has a point. Even Lapland has no snow this year and it is now thought that 2006 was the warmest year on record. The evidence for a significant warming of the planet taking place is now substantial.

There is also increasing evidence that global warming is a man made phenomenon.

In nature, it is very rare to find waste- there are niches for life virtually everywhere on the planet. Therefore, the dumping of excess waste heat is bound to cause serious imbalances.

It is incumbent upon humanity to live our lives in a manner that respects the balance of nature.

From Soviet Socialism to National Socialism in 15 years

After the murder of Litvinenko, perhaps we should not be surprised that Shell have decided to relinquish control of the Sakhalin-2 energy fields. As BP's deal with TNK now increasingly comes into the spotlight, it is salutary to see the campaign of harassment against the British Ambassador waged by Putin's thugs.

The fact is that Russia has drifted into "capitalism in one country"- failing to acknowledge the necessity to trade in order to gain expertise. The only relationship they seem to understand is control and compulsion.

This is Fascism.

Rain in Albania

It has been a busy day, enduring the pelting rain in the Albanian capital.

My purpose was to meet with various public figures and discuss ideas about investment. The first port of call was The President of the Republic. As the traffic in the crowded streets of Tirana began to delay us, I got out of the inevitable Mercedes and strode out, in order to meet my appointment on time.

I was-just- on time, but President Moisiu has a military sense of timing. I was reminded that "punctuality is the politeness of Kings", as I arrived in his office about five minutes later than 11.00. Nevertheless it was interesting to see way that such a man engages with the new Albania. As a general in the Albanian army he was given the job of building the famous "bunkers"- three million pill boxes- that the Dictator decreed. Although Hoxha was a megalomaniac, even he must have been surprised by the effectiveness of the army in completing the task. President Moisiu is known as conciliator, an…

Are you thinking what they're thinking?

As the Conservatives and their blinkered friends in "Migration Watch" continue to pedal their warped ideas about immigration, it was interesting to get some information about British emigration overseas. In recent years we have heard a lot from the Tories about refusing to let in "non-European immigration" to the UK. Fascinating to notice that apart from Spain, most Brits chose to leave the UK and go to... Non European destinations.

A good thing that the New Zealanders are not arguing "send them back" then.

The fact is that emigration/immigration are subjects that are far to complicated to be debated using the language of the Daily Mail.

So, by all means let us discuss the question of migration, only please, without the misrepresentations and distortions of "Migration Watch" and the Tory party.

En Route to Tirana

I am "enjoying" the dubious pleasures of Stansted Airport as I wait for my flight to the Albanian capital.

I am due to meet with senior figures in the government of Albania to discuss the results of a meeting that I hosted between Estonian political figures and the Albanian PMs advisor in London. I will also be discussing aspects of a potential involvement between the firm that I advise and the Albanian financial system- such as it is.

However already, the extra immigration checks and the rather piratical figure of the Albanian Airlines rep are setting the usual tone: that Albania is still too poor and chaotic to be either trusted or liked by the European powers.

Nevertheless, the fact that those who sent me are interested enough to do so, and that those who have issued the invitation understand why, is encouraging.

Albania is still in the middle of a long and hard journey, but recent progress has been swift- I sense similar things beginning to happen in Albania as have already …

Are the Liberal Democrats Libertarian?

A few days ago Cicero met with one of the better known figures in the Libertarian Alliance, Brian Mickelthwait. Brian writes for various blogs that I enjoy reading- including Samizdata.

Ahead of our meeting Brain expressed "scepticism" about the Libertarian credentials of the Liberal Democrats: "My charge was that when you meet a Liberal Democrat you never know what he will believe. The one who talks to you is likely to say what you want to hear. But the others will simultaneously be telling other people with quite different views what they want to hear. So don't vote for these lying creeps."

Political parties- all of them- are coalitions of people who quite often disagree with each other. Apparently we are not supposed to "air our dirty linen in public", but actually one of the reasons that the Liberal Democrats appealed to me was that they were prepared to talk about issues and policies amongst themselves in public. The eclipse of the Liberal Party as…

The tax-and-spend dead end

Having finally analyzed the Chancellors pre-budget report, it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. As Philip Webster and Gary Duncan write in The Times today, Gordon Brown has simply repeated his habit of imposing extra taxes and increasing public borrowing. At a time of severe labour shortages in the construction sector, the timing of his announcement of further expenditure to refurbish schools could hardly be worse.

Meanwhile his cocktail of "green taxes" looks weak and ineffective. Whereas, the Liberal Democrats would increase taxes on pollution and cut taxes elsewhere, the Labour government just increases taxes. The British economy is already groaning under the weight of Gordon Brown's attempts at micro management. Meanwhile Cameron's promise to "share the proceeds of growth"- increasing expenditure while making undefined pledges on lower taxes just looks like what it is: pure waffle.

The fact is that a limit must be set on the size of the state- and …

Propagande.. c'est quoi?

The corrupt and incompetent M. Jacques Chirac does it again.

Since the free world does not find the French world view... commercial, the government of France has decided to set up its version of Al Jazeera.

Despite a budget less than 10% of CNN it is still tens of millions of Euros out of the pocket of the French tax payer.

Un elephant blanc, peut-etre?

Separatist Sirens in Scotland..and England

Much is being made of the development of a small lead for the SNP in the opinion polls ahead of next years election to Holyrood. In addition there is said to be small majorities in favour of independence on both sides of the border. The way some tell it, the United Kingdom is headed for inevitable dissolution.

So, it is a relief to see a much more balanced analysis from Magnus Linklater in The Times.

The key point is that while the idea of independence might be emotionally attractive, the practical realities would be deeply unpopular and as a result, even were the SNP to be able to form a government at Holyrood next year, they would be highly unlikely to win a referendum on independence. The support for the SNP is support for an opposition- and as the election draws nearer, even that lead in the polls may prove illusory.

To a certain extent the increase in the support for the SNP reflects the final despair of the Scottish Conservatives. The classically liberal elements of the Scottish Co…

Bemused..

Last week the Adam Smith Institute linked to a piece I did advocating greater understanding and use of markets in dealing with our housing crisis. Today I see The Guardian has linked to my piece pointing out the heroically overspun Blairite approach to hospital closures.

I suppose what they have in common is hostility to Mr. Blair.

Mind you, good to see that Liberalism can be attractive to people across the British political spectrum...

A tide in the affairs of men

Last night Cicero attended a talk given by Steve Forbes, the American publisher and former presidential candidate at the London Junto- a discussion group for financiers, loosely modeled upon Ben Franklin's original Junto.

Ben Franklin famously said "Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.". So it was particularly appropriate that the leading American advocate of flat tax should be speaking to the group.

Cicero has been involved with the Baltic countries since he first discovered the Estonian Legation in London in 1979 and Estonia has been in the vanguard of the flat tax movement in Europe. Following Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro have all adopted modified flat tax regimes, with new countries joining the list quite regularly.

So far, no Western European state has adopted flat taxes.

A major benefit of a flat tax is that since there are no deductibles, it becomes extremely simple to calculate- thus…

Russia: How not to win friends

The latest comments from the Russian chief prosecutor are not acceptable.

Unless Mr. Putin actually wants a major diplomatic crisis- to include the arrest and or expulsion of the very large number of Russian spies in the United Kingdom- then I would suggest that he talks to his chief prosecutor- now.

The patience of the United Kingdom in the face of murder and nuclear contamination coming from Russia is not unlimited. It would be wise not to add insult to injury.

Getting your Retaliation in First

Ah! In December a young Prime Minister's fancy turns lightly to thoughts of spin.

The gigantic deficits in the British health care system are reinforcing a need to rationalise services on fewer sites. The problem is that closing hospital services is always deeply unpopular in the the communities they serve. When the services under threat are Accident and Emergency- then campaigns are tinged with the fear that A&E services might be too far away and that lives may be lost. Whether road accidents or heart attacks- people get nervous about closures.

So Mr. Blair is making a pre-emptive strike - arguing that those who oppose the closures are putting lives at risk. I have no idea whether Mr. Blair believes this, or whether he merely finds it expedient to believe this- in any event the evidence is somewhat finely balanced. However the concentration of sick people in one place strikes me as potentially quite dangerous.

Today we have MRSA- what happens tomorrow if H5N1 becomes transmissib…

Networks beat centralization

For some time there have been growing concerns about the cost of the new NHS centralised information system. The latest estimates are truly staggering: £31 billion.

What kind of a mindset creates such a behemoth?

Why is it required that the system should be centralised?

It is almost as though the Ministers forgot that the internet exists- it is totally unnecessary to centralise patient information to this absurd degree. While there might be concerns over the security of the links, these apply just as much to a centralised system - and curing the problem would not take £31 billion.

A system that re-invents the wheel to solve a problem that does not really exist- that is typical of Whitehall.

Meanwhile Microsoft has also managed to lay an egg, in the shape of its new Vista operating system- a system that has taken an enormous amount of centralised brain power to develop. Yet no one else will ever do the same. Again, the answer is the internet- linking simple units together creates far more…

Russian apologies

It is now clear that officials in the Russian security services were a part of the plot to kill Alexander Litvinenko.

Even if the order did not come from the top, agents within the State apparat connived in the assassination of a British citizen.

Therefore it is all the more distasteful that the Russians should have criticized the publication of Mr. Litvinenko's deathbed accusations against President Vladimir Putin.

As Dame Pauline Neville-Jones said "bloody cheek!".

Whatever the plots and machinations behind this sinister murder, the fact is that Russian agents were complict in the crime. The Russian government should understand that in previous times, this would have been considered and act of war against the Queen's peace. Instead of criticism, the British government has a right to demand full co-operation from the Russian government.

If we don't get it, then that would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.

Russia doesn't do apologies- while Blair busies himse…

Blue Labour

I see that David Cameron has defended his push for the centre ground.

Except it is not the centre ground- supporting ideas such as "relative poverty" and Polly Toynbee's rants is not triangulation, it is capitulation.

This country does not need more of the same- it needs a radical deregulation and much clearer limits to the power of the state.

The Conservatives are offering nothing new that can advance this agenda. Either they are serious about their new stand, in which case they are wrong, or they do not believe a word, in which case they are untrustworthy.

Looking at Cameron this weekend, it could even be both.

Litvinenko: The plot thickens

Since we have established that the poison used to kill Alexander Litvinenko was Polonium -210, it has been clear that there was a direct connection with the Russian security services.

The Polonium has also created its own trail- leaving traces in the plane that it came to Britain on, and cross contamination in several other planes.

The investigation has already established that Alexander Litvinenko was murdered, that the poison came from a specific reactor in Russia and that the poison was brought to London on October 25th on a BA flight -around the time of the Arsenal-CSKA Moscow football match. Access to the poison is limited to people with specific security clearances in the Russian security services.

As the question of how, and even who killed Mr. Litvinenko has become clearer, the critical question still remains: Why was Mr. Litvinenko killed?

In attempting to answer this question, we keep taking more steps closer to the person and personality of President Vladimir Putin himself.

The …