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Showing posts from September, 2006

Ken Livingstone: J'accuse

Cicero has received some very interesting responses to "Mr. Livingstone, I presume" In particular the investigative journalist, Vitali Vitaliev, has pointed out what may be the most egregious display of public corruption since the Poulson scandal of the 1970s. His extensive article on the subject will be published shortly. Ken Livingstone is using Londoners' money to support a dictator that Human Rights Watch accuses of multiple allegations of murder and torture: Hugo Chavez of "the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela". In particular, Livingstone has negotiated a deal to swap Venezuelan oil for surveillance, finger printing and closed circuit television expertise. Several London officials are being seconded to assist the government of Venezuela to install the equipment. Incidentally, the original story that the oil would power London Transport buses can not be true- it is the wrong grade- the oil instead will be sold on the global market- (to whose profit?). Meanwh

The Evil twin

I do not have very much time for the current Polish government. The current Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski lives with his mother and a cat. Naturally he is fierce in his denunciation of homosexuality. His identical twin, Lech, has managed to escape the apron strings- in order to become President of the Republic. The twins are both backward looking backwoodsmen. Obsessive about who did what to whom during the Communist era, they have not had very much to say about the future. Even Lech Walesa regards them as strange. Their party- PiS- entered into a coalition with the Polish families League, LPR, whose bizarre Catholic jihad agenda has led them to be nick named the "Adams Family League". About from the LPR PiS entered into coalition with Samoobrona- "Self Defence"- whose quasi-fascist policies previously made them verboten as coalition partners. A Polish businessman said to me last week- "at least you know where you are with Lepper (Samoobrona's perma-t

Mr. Livingstone, I presume?

We know that Ken Livingstone tends to get a bit aggressive when well oiled. The trouble is that he does not do a very good job when sober. Bendy buses are crap. How come Mercedes Benz got the contract? Skyscrapers in London- who makes the most money? Bicycle lanes ? Don't make me laugh- and anyway the quality of London's road surfaces varies from "dismal" to "ploughed field". We told you before Ken- license the digging up of the roads otherwise a) they are always being dug up and b) the road surface ends up like a ploughed field. As Livingstone returns from his £300 a night jolly at the Labour Party lovefest in Manchester, I wonder if he might consider that his record so far is rather sub-par. Naah- even his own side think that he is an egotist . I wonder if, in addition to being incompetent, he is also corrupt?

Two Cheers for the Balkans

I have been a bit slow commenting on the agreement by the EU to permit the entry of Bulgaria and Romania on January 1st 2007. Of course I welcome these new countries. However since the big bang entry in 2004, much has changed in the EU. The failure of the constitutional treaty has created strains, but in fact a variable geometry Europe now exists in all but name. Several countries are opted out of the currency or the Schengen agreement, some are members of Schengen but not eh EU as a whole. Europe is turning from an table d'hote menu into an a la carte. For this reason, I am unhappy hearing the Commission suggesting that enlargement should now take a break. In fact there is no excuse to exclude Croatia right now. As for the other Western Balkan countries- surely the lesson of the past two decades is that the Union should increase its engagement with the region. Not to disengage and leave it to drift. With the thorny question of final status for Kosova still very much on the agenda,

Global competitiveness

The World Economic Forum publishes each year an I ndex of Global competitiveness . The US has fallen sharply from the top spot, the result of the new distrust of American institutions. The UK has fallen too on worries about the UK education system. Interesting to take a look at who's hot and who's not...

"I did what I had to do- I saw it through"

As the curtain slowly falls and the political obituaries of Tony Blair are written, as the cheesy strains of "My Way" fade from the stage, it is hard not to suppress a harsh giggle. Labour are being given a pig in a poke -the bizarre psychological torment that seems to have afflicted Gordon Brown since he first watched Tony Blair enter Ten Downing Street does not show the man who would be PM in anything but the harshest of lights. Many senior Labour members believe that the Chancellor is not fit to be Prime Minister- and these are people who know him well! What are the rest of us to make of this seemingly humourless and angst ridden character? What alternative do Labour have? Various names are bandied about, but more in the context of the revenge of Gordon Brown against those deemed "too loyal" to the PM- the candidates who have nothing to lose by standing. Nope- It will be Brown alright. And then what? I think we all know the answer. Defeat.

The Decline of the American Empire?

This article in The Economist caught my eye. It seems to indicate an academic and well as a political and financial sclerosis that is afflicting the United States. America has been an extraordinary intellectual power house in the sixty years since the end of the Second World War. Albeit that many Nobel prize winners, like Einstein or Edward Teller, were born outwith the US, nonetheless they were no less passionate Americans for being immigrants- and America won the lions share of academic recognition. As a child, my father worked for several American corporations and visited the States often. I well recall visits to our house from colleagues who had become friends- they seemed taller, friendlier and much richer than any other people I had met. They had cine cameras- which seemed to me to be science fiction in 1971. I eagerly read the National Geographic Magazine- adverts for speed boats and huge cars- unimaginable luxuries it seemed at the time. Alistair Cooke, each week, would intone

Johann Hari is Vicki Pollard

I suppose it was inevitable, the injury to Richard Hammond , the Presenter of the BBC's -slightly dated- motoring programme Top Gear , has sparked the usual chorus of po-faced disapproval. In particular I see Johann Hari of The Independent - self appointed leader of Britain's burgeoning gay chav community- has spoken out against the cult of speed and anti-political correctness of the programme. God- what a bore he is! The fact is cars are fun. I shall drop the roof on my MG and drive the country lanes of Britain- taking due care and attention of course- but, on one of the straighter, safer stretches of road I might just open up the throttle and puton a bit of a blast, in honour of the boneheaded idiots who behave totally irresponsibly and with the maximum amount of immaturity. At least they are lot more entertaining than the tedious self laceration of a Cambridge graduate who would really prefer to be Vicki Pollard. Come to think of it, you never see Vicki and Johann in the sam

Guardian at the Gate

There are few in the UK who have paid much attention to the Presidential election in Estonia . Yet the Liberal revolution in Estonia has attracted attention vastly disproportionate to the small size of the country. The flat tax revolution sweeping Europe was born here, and the country has become a model for flexibility, openness and the use of technology. The defeat of President Ruutel, albeit by a narrow margin in the electoral college, was a victory against the forces that are trying to roll back the Liberal revolution that has taken place in Estonia over the past fifteen years. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a Swedish born, American educated, exile now completes the set of Baltic Presidents who have spent most of their lives in North America: Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania lived much of his life in Chicago, while Mrs. Vaira Vike Freiberga was a Professor in Canada. In the brief period that their terms will overlap (President Vike Freiberga must stand down later this year), it will be interestin

Anyone but us...

I see that Health care professionals are a bit sceptical about Gordon Brown's plans to set up an independent NHS Board . Quite right- how could it be held accountable? The problem about the Conservative reforms was the same- the independent trusts could not be quizzed by local MPs about how they spent the tax payers money that they received. How could a national board be brought to account? Ministers would/do* say- "not my responsibility, it was that nasty independent board/trust* that made this happen". * delete where applicable. If tax payer's money is involved then Parliament must supervise and make someone accountable for how the money is spent- that is its job. If the ministry is not competent then it should be abolished. Meanwhile I see Harriet Harman wants the public to run foreign policy - Oh dear, where to start... The one area in politics where openness is a double edged sword and with her unerring eye for the pointless and the stupid she goes straight ther

Monty mania

Cicero tends to regard golf as "a good walk, spoiled" Even still, Colin Montgomerie's putt in the Ryder cup was pretty impressive! This is one of those events where even the Europhobe saloon bar bores can cheer on Europe. Go the Europeans!

Unlucky politics

After the Conservative flirtation with mag-lev trains, perhaps we should not be surprised that a crash in G ermany has killed at least 15 people . Their support for Mag-lev, always looked like a gimmick- now it seems positively ill-judged

Spin and Substance

"Sincerity: if you can fake it, you've got it made." George Burns Well, now we know- the Lib Dems are big on substance and actually... They are. It has been customary to decry them as lightweights and to mock their aspirations of power, but the reality is that they have had a pretty substantive body of policy for many years- as even a fairly cursory look at their policy documents will show you. So where do we stand now in British politics? The political pendulum is swinging- and Labour must be feeling ever more nervous about holding on to power after the next general election, whenever that is. The Conservatives, like a very old bloodhound catching the scent, think that they are on the way back into government. And yet, and yet... Although David Cameron is trying to change the image of his party- new squiggly tree and all- there is not yet the kind of enthusiasm for him or his party that can guarantee that they can win. The mood music is full of doubts- how can an old Et

Talpra magyar, hí a haza !

"Arise Hungarians! the country calls" The first lines of the Nemzeti dal- the national hymn of Hungary. It was penned by the insurrectionary poet, Petofi Sandor, shortly before his death in the Hungarian uprising of 1848-9. Petofi was also the inspiration for the Hungarian uprising of October 23rd 1956. The student clubs, the Petofi circles, were ostensibly literary clubs, but they had come to have a more political character and in the confusing times after Krushchev's secret speech denouncing Stalin in February 1956, they began agitating for greater Hungarian Freedom. The early stage of the 1956 rebellion was a demonstration outside the Magyar Televiszio studios which led to several of AVH secret police being lynched and hanged from the trees outside the building. Thus the latest violent demonstrations against the current Socialist MSZP government, which have taken place on the same spot, are intended to make a direct parallel with the '56. Certainly many of the skin

A song at the final curtain

Thursday at the conference is not usually of great interest. The jaded, terminally hungover delegates are mostly subdued and many have left. The only highlight is usually the leaders speech, but each year this seems to get a little more exaggerated. I remember Paddy Ashdown coming off stage after one of his "leader's speeches" which ended in fireworks, and balloons and the usual hullabaloo and muttering under his breath "stupid bloody circus" and I know what he means. Nevertheless, "Ming-the Movie" which will proceed today's celebration of the final curtain on conference will at least let a few people know what an extraordinary man the Lib Dems have accidentally chosen as leader. Although I disagree with Ming on many issues- I certainly do not regard myself as being on the "Centre left" for example, the fact is that his career has demonstrated a tenacity and an individual substance that is extremely impressive. Ming is a self made man- an

Biting the hand

I see Iain Dale dropped by Brighton last night. Perhaps another manifestation of our fairness or being the nice party, or something... Iain has been making a living as the guru of the blogosphere, and despite being a losing Tory candidate last time, does occasionally manage one or two graceful comments about opinions not his own. He has improved his blogging franchise still further with his Guide to Political Blogging in the UK . It is a personal- and idiosyncratic- selection of the top Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour and non aligned blogs. I see that this blog achieved the dizzy heights of being in the top twenty Lib Dem blogs, but this still places it outside the top 100 blogs overall. Iain attended a fringe meeting last night- I would link to his blog of it, but to be honest it doesn't show him a particularly good light. While I don't expect him to engage with Liberal arguments, it would be nice if he could bring himself to do more than simply mock his political opponents. I

Come back kids

Amid the alcoholic haze of many old friends meeting, Tuesday turned out to be an exceptionally good day for the Liberal Democrat conference. The media attention was on Charles Kennedy's hail or farewell speech, which it was depended on who you talked to. He is popular, and with good reason- an intelligent and thoughtful man. There is a lot of human sympathy for him, and his appearance was a major step in the healing process both for Charles himself and also for the party, which has been very bruised by the leadership problems since last year. As for the speech- well he would have been cheered if he had recited the telephone directory- but it was workmanlike and solid, if not inspirational. As a demonstration of the recovery of the party, however, it was worth a lot. It was good for the psyche of the party to see him in Brighton. Despite media hopes, of course, Charles would not want to rock the boat- and his statement of loyalty to the party and to Liberal principles was genuine an

The Conference Animal

I always wonder about "conference". Sometime speakers address the delegates as this singular creature: "Conference, we must blah blah blah". Talking about "conference" with no article is a sign of having been around for a while- being inside in the in crowd. But conference is a strange animal. Sometimes, I am sure that the Party leadership must think that, if it is an animal, then it is a rather bad tempered one. In Blackpool, the proposal to inject more commercial disciplines into the post office was embarrassingly rejected by "conference", and this year there was the prospect that Ming Campbell would not be able to carry his tax proposals through the thickets and mires of the conference vote. In fact, from my arrival in Brighton it was fairly clear that the party was in good humour with the leadership, and although some we unhappy about scrapping the 50% tax proposal, it would be passed nonetheless. Although it remains to be seen what Charles K

The Independent is written by Cretins

Cicero is sunning himself in Brighton, attending the Lib Dem annual conference. I quite enjoy Brighton- and I have had a breezy day in a compact and historic city that is without the snootiness of Bournemouth or the squalor of Blackpool. The conference is one of the largest in recent years- I will write a bit more later about the doings of the Party. One of the features of the party conference season is the large number of free newspapers that are given away. At the Lib Dem conference it has usually been The Independent that gives the biggest sponsorship and hands out the largest number of free papers. However, this year there is more competition, with both The Guardian - whose Deputy editor, Michael White, interviewed Ming Campbell on the podium yesterday- and The Times putting in stronger showings than normal. Mind your, this year bloggers too are making an impact, and reading today's Indy , one can see why- the Op-Ed piece in Today's edition is one of the most ill informe


So Pope Benedict XVI has criticised the violence of Islam (and the Prophet particularly) Kind of ironic that the reaction should be so violent Personally I would like to protest against the protest- the people organizing these disgusting displays are nothing more than backward, ignorant bigots whose actions have gone a long way to proving the Pope's point. Turn the fire hoses on them...

Short Change

I hold no particular brief for Claire Short , She has often appeared a bit naive - and has been a serial resigner form Labour's front bench. Nevertheless she is clearly an honest and well meaning sort of politician and does have a genuine following in the country. She is an all too human antidote to the machine politicians of both Labour and increasingly the Tories. I was therefore rather struck by her comments as she announced that she will stand down as a Labour MP at the next election. Her contempt for Blair and Brown was obvious. She lambasted them both- not just for Iraq or for the mess of ID cards and the trespasses that they have launched against civil liberties and, perhaps more significantly on their failure to deliver PR- which she sees as a central question in British politics. As for Cameron, she condemned him too as a shallow PR merchant. Claire Short represents a significant faction in the Labour Party- a faction that both Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam were a part of. This

Future Shock

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write; they will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler Thirty six year ago Alvin Toffler wrote "Future Shock" - His idea being that human beings are not well suited to handling a rapid pace of change. He coined the term "informational overload" to describe the key root of future shock. It is one of the themes of this blog that our knowledge of the future is imperfect and our skills of prediction are poor. Yet as Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues human beings persist in trying to create patterns out of essentially random events- he calls this the Platonic fallacy. Thus even the information that we actually possess may not be the information that we think we possess. It is understand these limits and in particular understanding how to react to our fallibility that can create robust systems. As we examine the future, we are in danger of drowning real information in the noise of

Five Years On

Regular readers will know that I take the "War on Terror" personally. No question that the vile and depraved acts perpetrated on September 11th 2001 needed an answer. Have we answered it in the right way? For I fear that the way that the West has conducted itself since then has been blind and foolish. I fear for the future of democracy. The incredible number of regulations imposed in the name of the War on Terror in the USA- from the so- called Patriot Act to the Department of Homeland Security all have been giant steps backward for the liberty of people in America and -as the US imposed extra-territoriality on many new rules- the rest of the world too. Today on the Radio, I was hugely cheered to hear an American "heretic" raising the question. "We have persecuted some; harassed large numbers; inconvenienced many; and taxed everybody. To what end?" This is a question that should be on everyone's lips. Have we been incredibly clever in defeating the dev


Modesty Forbids, but I see that Robert Harris is finally after me. The first in a trilogy of fictionalised biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Imperium , has just been published.

Sic Semper Tyrannis

President George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United Sates, is not fit for the office that he holds and should be removed from it as soon as the constitution allows. It is almost inconceivable to believe that after the attacks of September 11th we would now be debating what level of torture may be inflicted by US Federal agents- and whether near-drowning even counts. Illegal wire taps- spying on an industrial scale against American citizens, in clear contravention of the law have continued unabated. Today we see Mr. Bush defending- defending God save us- Illegal CIA prisons that detain uncharged prisoners for years. The Administration has been abusing the sovereignty of allies by flying illegal rendition flights of these same prisoners. In establishing an extra-territorial Cuban Gulag where prisoners are slowly driven mad Mr. Bush shows utter contempt for the rights of man and the very principles of liberty that form the foundation of the US constitution- the same constitution that

Redwood is deadwood and Blair is in the air

An interesting contrast on the radio this morning. At 7.35 John Redwood is talking about crunchy economics. He made some valid points, but his manner was hectoring and abusive- talking all over the interviewer, whose primary point was that Redwood was strongly disagreeing with his leader. Redwood was rude and ugly- no charm, no social graces. Yet several of the points he made about economic policy were right on the money. Twenty minutes later up popped David Cameron. His points were waffly- "sharing the proceeds of growth" "moderate choices"- intellectually it was drivel, but delivered with the easy charm of the fifth form cad. You felt that this was a cheery, reasonable sort of chap. How bad could he be? The trouble is that the last time we elected a cheery public school chap, we ended up with a Prime Minister who ended up saying the following: "If we are not prepared to predict and intervene far more early then there are children that we know perfectly well a

Dividing up the pie

Madsen Pirrie on the Adam Smith institute blog makes an interesting point about why the Conservatives are making a fundamental mistake when they talk about economics. It is a mistake that many Lib Dems make too- the idea that the economy is a fixed pie, so that any tax cut must be paid for either by spending cuts or by higher taxes elsewhere. Although I often find the ASI's commitment to tax cuts above all else to be impractical politics, it is worth pointing out that sometimes tax cuts can lead to an increase in overall tax revenue. This is the theory behind the Laffer curve , which seems to have received substantial confirmation in the results of taxation policies in Estonia, Slovakia, Romania and other countries that have followed a flat and low tax agenda. One thing that can not be argued is that complicated tax systems become very expensive- a fiscal drag that can have very significant consequences. Therefore whatever the political agenda- flatter taxes, higher taxes, stron

Fractal Philosophy- Quantum Politics

The twentieth century saw a revolution in the understanding of science. The classical models of physics gave way to a new set of insights based around the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. In both physics and in mathematics a fundamental uncertainty has been discovered. The questions of the mathematical state of chaos- the so called fractal geometry- that have been described by Benoit Mandelbrot indicate that the consequences of given events may move in highly unpredictable directions. Conventionally, these insights have been applied to systems, including such complex interactions as the creation of galaxies, or the meteorological system of Earth. However, applying the science of uncertainty to systems of human behaviour has seen much slower progress. Yet such application seems appropriate- it is already being used in economics analysis and politics bears several key characteristics of a fractal system. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Nassim Nicolas Taleb in his book “Fooled