Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

“Most Intelligent American President”

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

Oh good, there are quality President Trump-jokes cropping up already.

britske_listy
You can click through, but it will be in Czech. Glad to translate:

The aircraft was about to crash. Four passengers remained on-deck, but there were only three parachutes. The first passenger said: “My name is Steph Curry, I’m the best basketball-player in the NBA. Millions of fans need me, I can’t allow myself to die.” He took the first parachute and jumped.

The second passenger, Donald Trump, said: “I am the newly elected American president and I am the most intelligent president in American history, my country doesn’t want me to die.” He took the second parachute and jumped out of the plane.

The third passenger, Pope Francis, said to the fourth passenger, a ten-year-old schoolboy: “My son, I am old and don’t have many more years before me, you have many more years to look forward to, so I will sacrifice my life and give you the third parachute.”

The boy answered: “It’s all right, Your Holiness, there is also a parachute here for you. The most intelligent American president took my schoolbag.”

This comes courtesy of the Britské listy, a sort of reverse-EuroSavant in that it’s apparent purpose is to report to Czechs interesting articles from the British press. Naturally, then, this joke originates somewhere from there, but Britské listy does not give any reference to exactly where. In effect, I have translated it back to its original English.

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French Anti-Brexit Threats

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Now this is curious . . . “Brexit would have ‘consequences’ for the migrant question, [France President] Hollande warns.” This comes right when French authorities have just wiped out about a quarter of the infamous “Jungle” camp of migrants at Calais trying to get into the UK – and just as British Premier David Cameron went to the northern French city of Amiens yesterday to visit with President Hollande, Premier Valls and other officials.

3MARBrexit1
What “consequences” could President Hollande have meant? Unfortunately, the Le Huffington Post story is not exactly clear. Here is what Hollande said standing next to Cameron at their joint press conference:

One should not raise fears, but speak the truth. There will be consequences if the United Kingdom quits the EU . . . including the manner of managing situations in the matter of migrations.

And here is Premier Manuel Valls:

The day that this relation [that between the UK and the EU] is broken, the migrants will be no more at Calais.

HuffPoFR reporter Alexandre Boudet then helpfully adds, “In plaintext, the doors will be thrown wide open for them rejoining the United Kingdom.” (Wait: RE-joining?)

And then Harlem Désir, French Secretary of State for European Affairs:

There is no blackmail, nor threat, but it’s true that we cooperate more easily as members of the EU than if the United Kingdom wasn’t that anymore, because for example we also work with common European tools such as Europol or the Schengen information system. Even though Great Britain is not a member of Schengen, it cooperates through this system and other means of exchanging information.

Still not very clear. And there still seems to be some element of threat, despite M. Désir’s denials. Luckily, this piece also references an article in the Financial Times (EN-language; but paywall) which helps to clear things up:

3MARBrexit2

Mr. Macron [that’s the French economy minister] said that Brexit could scupper a bilateral deal with France, known as the Le Touquet [A]greement, that allows Britain to carry out border controls – and keep unwanted migrants – on the French side of the Channel.

Finally the picture comes clear as to how, as David Cameron has also been warning his constituents, that “Jungle” over in Calais could potentially move across the Channel if Brexit were to occur – despite the best efforts of UK authorities. For when their officials can no longer first check travelers’ papers on the far side of the English Channel, then they have to do it once they are already in England – and what can you do then with those who you discover don’t belong there, who immediately claim asylum? According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, you have to deal with them in a humane way, which includes not just sending them back somewhere, at least not at first.*

Still, this key “Le Touquet Agreement” is a bilateral agreement, i.e. not something within the legal framework of the EU. Therefore, it does not logically follow that it should necessarily fall by the wayside should the UK no longer be an EU member-state. Rather, if that does happen, then that will amount to the French government canceling it after Brexit out of sheer vengeance. If this really is being contemplated, it could set a pattern, by which I mean: If the French will be vengeful after a Brexit, then why won’t the EU be so as a whole? How can those who advocate Brexit really be so sanguine that the UK will be able to re-negotiate basically the same terms for trade, etc. that it had as an EU member once it is out?

One can look at the matter that way, or one can employ another perspective: That, starting here with President Holland and his top officials at this UK-France summit, a campaign has begun of threats and intimidation to try to head off a Brexit. Here at EuroSavant we view the UK remaining an EU member-state as a no-brainer – there’s little doubt future blogposts in the run-up to 23 June will faithfully reflect that – yet one can doubt whether this sort of tough approach is really best calculated to aid the British electorate to make that correct choice when they are called upon to cast their votes.

Anyway, that HuffPoFR piece also reported that President Hollande made special mention of the problem of reuniting the many refugee children stuck at the Jungle who have relatives already in the UK with those relatives. David Cameron was said to be accommodating on that. Further, Cameron announced a supplemental payment to France of €20 million to help out with those refugees still stuck at the Jungle – mainly, however, for encouraging them to be dispersed and moved away to other parts of France.

* Note that the “Le Touquet Agreement” has to do with people arriving to the UK via the cross-Channel ferries. There are analogous agreements (which are also bilateral), under different names, covering train (Eurostar) and aircraft travel, which also could be abrogated by the French/Belgians (train) or those and other EU member-states (aircraft) in the event of Brexit.

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I Protest! Take My Blood!

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Perhaps some of you in the UK will have already heard of the remarkable #polishblood initiative, but most have not. And it is all supposed to go down tomorrow (that is, Thurs., 20 August).

xpolishblood
This is a tale of the birth and growth of a special meme, largely via social media, in this case among the very many people of Polish citizenship living and working in the UK. It started out of the substantial accumulation of grievances held by this particular cohort against the country they chose to move to – basically, of the many instances of unfair discrimination against Polish people as being foreigners, as an unwelcome people coming to the UK to steal native jobs, to compete for resources, take up space on a crowded island generally, etc.

One of their natural champions in articulating and publicizing these grievances has been Polish Express, a Polish-language UK newspaper. This publication certainly does not hold back on its Twitter-feed:

xpol1
“20 thousand pounds reward for information on the affair of the degenerate who brutally attacked an immigrant” – Polish, of course.

xpol2
“Immigrant [actually, not Polish this time] does not pay a fine of 20 pounds, is deported.”

xpol3
“These UK firms cheat their workers! We publish the government’s ‘list of shame.'”

A few weeks ago, in the febrile atmosphere of the UK’s summer heat, resentment at this sort of treatment cropping up in the Polish Express’ on-line forum finally boiled over. “We’ll show them!” was the new attitude. “Let’s have all Polish people in the UK go on strike for a day, to show the Brits how their economy would collapse without us!”

That must have been a satisfying feeling, getting that off one’s chest and being able to look forward to a coordinated, nation-wide action designed finally to demonstrate the error of their ways to what UK-based Poles perceive as an often resentful native population, insufficiently appreciative of their contributions to modern-day Britain. Just how things went on from there, however, is not so clear.

For the evident down-side of such public action – assuming it really can successfully be coordinated on a wide scale in the first place – is that it could make British people angry even as it reminded them of how much they depend on the Poles. Indeed, it might make them angry precisely by making them aware how much they depend on the Poles.

Blood for Money

That is why we now have #polishblood, at least as Rzeczpospolita (which is of course one of the leading national newspapers in Poland) reports it. Don’t go on strike; instead, take some time from your work to go to the local hospital, or Red Cross center, and donate blood!

That’ll show those Brits! Ha! No regular Anglo-Saxon person will be able to donate blood his/herself that day, as all the slots will be taken up by Poles! In fact, according to the Rzeczpospolita piece, this new campaign took off among Poles so much that even they were having trouble arranging to go give blood on the appointed day (which is 20 August: tomorrow), so that many of them had to resort to booking times to do so even several days before. (more…)

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Lithuanian Survival By-The-Book

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Vladimir Putin’s apparent willingness to invade bits of land adjoining Mother Russia where he feels native Russian-speakers are feeling oppressed has understandably made many in the immediate neighborhood rather nervous. And while Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all members of NATO, that still doesn’t necessarily allow them to sleep easily at night. The famed Article V of the NATO treaty does make an attack on any one member an attack on them all, which theoretically means that the Alliance’s nuclear powers – the US, foremost – would be willing to escalate all the way to Mutually Assured Destruction should Putin merely have his forces invade the Baltics and then refuse to back down. But how credible is that? For that matter, how effective were France and England in carrying out the guarantees of Poland’s territorial integrity that they issued just prior to the Second World War?

(By the way, the lesser-known Article IV provides for invoking consultation among Alliance members in the event of disquieting security developments. Lithuania and Latvia invoked that in March of last year in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea.)

You can’t blame these nations for doing a little contingency planning based on a assumption of Putin’s worst behavior paired with maximum fecklessness on the part of their supposed allies. (Indeed, I hear there exists an NGO whose sole purpose is to steer the world’s surplus feck to NATO’s Brussels HQ.) Here’s what’s happening in Lithuania:

LitManual
Yes, that Baltic nation is shortly to publish a “survival manual” for all its citizens about what to do in case of a Russian invasion!

Now, I found out about this via the round-about path that you can see contained in that tweet. But it turns out that, within that Le HuffPost article, there was an additional link to a Reuters article, in English and datelined from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, that lays everything out pretty well.

So you don’t need me to explain further. Just allow me, as a sort of enticing sweetener, to reproduce here a couple of the most-juicy paragraphs:

“The manual, which the Defence Ministry will send to libraries next week and also distribute at army events, says Lithuanians should resist foreign occupation with demonstrations and strikes, “or at least doing your job worse than usual”.

“[W]orse than usual” – love that!

In the event of invasion, the manual says Lithuanians should organise themselves through Twitter and Facebook and attempt cyber attacks against the enemy.

Mark Zuckerberg as future insurgent hero – who knew?

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Wouldn’t Miss It for the World!

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Those following yesterday’s gigantic Paris “Charlie Hebdo” solidarity march along at home picked up the presence of Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu among that gaggle of official freedom-of-expression hypocrites:

Netanya
Now an interesting revelation from – among others – the Belgian paper La Libre Belgique – he was never invited!

InviteSelf
[S]‘est invité: he invited himself! Originally, France President François Hollande’s office had actually requested that he not attend. The reason was quite straightforward: President Hollande did not want to muddy the waters by introducing the whole Israel-Palestine mess into the occasion.

But Netanyahu insisted. According to this account, this is why he insisted: he found out that his foreign minister (Avigdor Lieberman) and economy minister (Naftali Bennett) had already arranged to go to Paris. There’s an election campaign going on in Israel right now, you have to remember, and while they are both currently part of Netanyahu’s cabinet, they also both belong to another, competing political party, Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”) and, accordingly, have consistently been even more reactionary and outrageous in their statements concerning Palestine and the Palestinians than Netanyahu himself, if that can be believed.

But if they were going to be there then, by all that is Holy, Netanyahu was going to be there as well. As French President, what can you do? Well, you can be sure you invite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well. And he was there, parading, even though he had originally had no intention to attend and in fact had sent his regrets, constrained by a combination of his schedule and heavy snow impairing flights from that part of the world. Then again, if Netanyahu was going to be there – well, by all that is Holy, he would be there, too.

As a sordid coda to a sordid tale: One other thing Netanyahu did in Paris, after Hollande had graciously permitted him to come, is to tell a gathering of French Jews at the hostage-scene Jewish supermarket to emigrate to Israel, since they clearly weren’t safe in France! What a guy!

(He also apparently behaved rather boorishly during the solidarity march itself; this, and his emigration urgings mentioned above, are not in the Libre piece but you can read about them in English in this article from the Telegraph.)

UPDATE: Here we go:

JCole

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Academic (Journal) Revolution!

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

For those of you not of the higher education world, here’s a tip about one of the biggest scams plaguing it. For very many fields of study it’s the academic journals that make or break academic careers – publish or perish! – and those journals have in effect become monopoly providers. So they charge monopoly prices: universities pay incredible amounts yearly to leading publishers just for subscriptions. And as the cherry on the cake, those who write the scientific articles that are accepted for publication in these journals thereby give up all rights to them.

Doesn’t that sound like something that just shouldn’t exist in this glorious Internet Age, where “information just wants to be free”? I agree, but this piece from the Times Higher Education (formerly Supplement) shows that things are getting no better.

JournalSpending

[Researchers] found that the amount [for journal subscriptions] paid to Oxford University Press rose by 49.2 per cent between 2010 and 2014. The amount paid to Springer rose by 36.3 per cent and the amount to Wiley by 33.5 per cent. The smallest rise – 17.4 per cent – was in subscriptions to Elsevier journals. Overall expenditure increased by 23.9 per cent.

That’s interesting – but since when did EuroSavant turn into a higher education blog, rather than a European foreign press blog?

You’re quite right. But fear not: what I wanted to bring to your attention was a recent high-risk attempt by Netherlands universities to do something about that, reported by Martijn van Calmthout of the Volkskrant.

Elsevier
At issue is so-called “open access” (a phrase translated unchanged into Dutch), namely free access to such journal articles, whose publication would be financed by one-time university payments. Ironically, the first target is Elsevier, the (relative) best-behaver in the Times’ article, but also the only Dutch one. The consortium of Dutch universities, the VSNU, is pushing for open access as soon as possible and has proposed to Elsevier that its member-universities pay a year’s worth of subscription-fees to it one last time, but thereafter switch over to open access to the titles the company publishes.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Elsevier has rejected this offer; the company would prefer to keep getting the subscription-fees and charge extra for any open access. Talks have now broken off. These universities face the prospect, as of 1 JAN 2015, of having no more access to any new articles. (Old articles will still be available, though; furthermore, that is just on-line access that they will lose to new articles.)

The universities are not beaten yet, it would seem, as the State Secretary for Education in the Netherlands, Sander Dekker, has their back. He was publicly advocating back in early 2013 for the Netherlands to have een voortrekkersrol – that is, to be in the avant-garde – when it comes to open access. (Note that most Netherlands universities are publicly-funded; that scientific material scholars submit to journal publishers for them to make their monopoly profits on was likely heavily subsidized by the State.) The EU is also on the VSNU’s side – although, of course, the Commission has just changed regime, and scholarly journals are probably not top-priority for the new EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics.

Meanwhile, VSNU has taken up negotiations with Springer and Wiley. “These talks are proceeding more smoothly than those with Elsevier, insiders report.”

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Feeling Shaky? Join the Euro!

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

A quick note here on the latest entry on The Economist’s “Eastern approaches” blog entitled “Poland’s foreign policy: A shaky compass.” (Subscription required – well, you do get to look at one article per month for free, make it this one!)

The point here is that Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski sees his country’s swift adoption of the euro as a needed response to the turmoil to the East. From the article:

Ditching earlier concerns by former finance minister Jacek Rostowski, Mr Sikorski called for Poland to move rapidly to adopt the euro – the last core European institution to which Warsaw does not yet belong. “The decision about the eventual adoption of the common currency will not have just a financial and economic character, but rather it will be mainly political, dealing with our security,” said Mr Sikorski.

This view has yet to gain much traction. . . . Recent polls show about two-thirds of Poles opposed to joining the euro.

First let me note that Poland has a treaty obligation to join the euro, under terms of its 2004 accession to the European Union. But then let me add that this is an obligation to do so eventually, and that Poland will not be allowed in until its economy and the złoty pass a number of real-world tests – something over which any Polish government will naturally have a great degree of control.

But there is a larger point here, which is the strange continued attraction of the euro to certain (EU and non-EU) countries, even while other member-states regret it and some are indeed seriously suffering under it. That attraction is self-evident in the accession to the euro of Estonia in 2011 and Latvia just this past January 1. And now we have Poland – or at least that country’s Foreign Minister.

Can his assertion really be true that adoption of the euro will help strengthen Polish security? It really seems unlikely. Surely a more profound discussion is to be had concerning under what circumstances Eurozone membership really can benefit a country. It’s possible that such a discussion would sooner be characterized by many economists as a “reminder,” but surely things that we thought we knew along those lines need to be reassessed in light of the terrible track-record since the outbreak of the European sovereign debt crisis in 2009. And soon, please: Lithuania is all set to join its fellow Baltic states in the Eurozone as of January 1 of next year.

Meanwhile, beware of hysterical Polish political discourse. I don’t necessarily mean Mr. Sikorski’s assertions quoted above; I rather mean this from the end of that Economist piece: “[Polish Premier] Mr Tusk on Friday said that some members of the opposition, with their Eurosceptic views, posed a ‘mortal danger to Poland.'”

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Despotism That Can’t Laugh At Itself

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

While writing that previous post on the refugee camp in Jordan for Syrian exiles, the thought suddenly occurred to me: “What ever happened to @Syrianpresident? I haven’t heard from that guy for a while!”

Now, by no means do I mean the real Syrian president, that former opthamologist turned child-torturer, inveterate public liar and chemical-weapons aficionado, Bashar Al-Assad – I wouldn’t be interested in communications coming from his office, on Twitter or otherwise. Rather, where was the parody account under that Twitter-handle that for quite a while after the Syrian rebellion broke out (caused, you’ll remember, by the police simply shooting down marching demonstrators) brilliantly skewered the murderous pretentions and absuridites of the ruling Syrian elite? Al-Assad’s current ludicrous scheme to run for re-election while otherwise busy with an ongoing project of having his own citizens butchered, up to 4 million of whom have therefore left the country, would alone provide endless material to work with.

It’s easy enough to enter into your browser http://twitter.com/Syrianpresident. Result: Account suspended.

I wish I could give you some screen-shots here of the excellent observations and wise-cracks whoever was behind that parody site produced, but I didn’t think to do that at the time. And now that is quite impossible, because once you get “Account suspended,” that’s it – down it goes down George Orwell’s classic memory-hole. The result of a decision from a private company, let it be noted – an arbitrary decision. (more…)

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Distaff Defense

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The yearly Munich Security Conference came to an end last week, and I wanted to be sure to pass along the following tweet that issued out of that, and especially the accompanying photo, which is said to have “gone viral.”

EuroDefMnstrs
It’s this article in the Guardian that claims that this picture went viral, and which provides a good English-language account for you about how this issue cropped up at that security conference.

At least we have here something in the way of continuity from the “male chauvinist pig” theme in my previous post about today’s election for Tokyo governor. For what we have is no less than four European Defense Ministers who are female, and the issue must be: What, if anything, does that mean?

The obvious jumping-off point here is the question of whether to allow females to serve as soldiers in combat units. Although hardly widespread (yet), there is an unmistakeable trend worldwide in that direction. A few countries do already allow women to serve in their militaries without restriction, including Sweden, whose Defense Minister you see there second from left. In the US, while the formal ban on women serving in combat was removed only as recently as January 2013, further institutional progress towards enabling them actually to do so is only creeping along. For example, while the first women (three of them) recently graduated from Marine Corps infantry combat training, they won’t be allowed to actually serve in infantry units (and that probably means “combat units,” of any type) for the foreseeable future.

Your friendly EuroSavant blogger here is himself a combat veteran, and I think that women serving in combat units is a bad idea, for reasons of unit cohesion and effectiveness. I am hardly alone in this – indeed, I’d want to tell you that any man who has ever actually been in combat will tell you the exact same thing, but of course I can’t know that. For what it is worth, the highly respected Israeli military writer Martin van Creveld is a prominent opponent of the idea, and put his case forward back in 2002 with his book Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? (His answer: No.) Indeed, Creveld on this topic often shows a vehemence that jars even me, and he followed up that book last year with another one entitled The Privileged Sex. (Hint: It ain’t men he is talking about.) Prof. Van Creveld has also been quite willing to stand up for his ideas, even embarking last year on a lecture tour through Europe to debate the point against various female opponents. (more…)

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Libyan Solution to US Govt Deadlock

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

News is spreading now (via the usual media – Twitter at the forefront) that Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeiden, seized earlier this morning from what was supposed to be one of the most secure locations in Tripoli (the Corinthia Hotel), has been released.

Now that things are all right in that regard – for now – perhaps we can look back at a peculiar previous tweet from the BBC:

Zeidan
So “detained legally,” eh? And indeed, if you want to click through to the article (go ahead, you can do it right above on the tweet itself), there is some scattered talk of the militants who seized the PM operating to fulfill some order – to arrest the head of government, mind you – from the “prosecutor general.”

Hmmm, maybe we see here an interesting technique for getting certain US legislators out of the way, and thereby getting the US Government funded once more and in a position to fully pay all its debts, and on time?

OK, on second thought forget that – this governmental paralysis, instigated by a radical Republican faction, is already coming to resemble far too much the America of just before the Civil War.

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What A Feminist Looks Like

Monday, March 11th, 2013

QUEEN-COMMONWEALTH-MESSAGE-huge

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Not So Isolated

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?

The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.

The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.

But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:

iDnes: Klaus a Telička schvalují rozvážnost v Bruselu, ČSSD varuje před izolací: Prezident Václav Klaus označil … http://t.co/Qh043Qmm

@Zpravy

Zpravy


(more…)

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Burmese Nuclear Ambitions

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The Norwegian paper Morgenbladet today carries a worldwide scoop: the first interview (Burma’s worst enemy) provided to the Western press by Sei Thein Win, a former major in the Burmese army who defected months ago. What makes what he has to say so remarkable is that he was – or he claims to have been – deeply involved in an alleged campaign by the military junta in power there to develop atomic weapons.

As written, the piece is really something out of James Bond. “I’m not really here” Sei tells the Morgenbladet journalist, who cannot be permitted to provide any outside details whatsoever of the defector’s location, to protect him against Burmese assassination-teams scouring Europe to find him. But we do get some internal details: the locale is an anonymous apartment where even the landlord is not allowed to know who his tenant really is; the major sports long hair quite unsuited to the military man that he once was, along with glasses that are for disguise, not actual use; the living room is “furnished with military minimalism” that includes only a table, a computer, a book of “Business English verbs” – and a razor-sharp dagger.

And inside his head is copious information that he has already spilled about the Burmese government’s attempts to develop its own nuclear weapons. He has brought along “hundreds of photographs” as well. The regime back home has already denounced him as a “deserter and criminal”; on the other hand, no less than Robert Kelley, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), calls him “a source with truly extraordinary information,” information which happens to be consistent with the other evidence investigators have accumulated about the alleged Burmese nuclear effort. Kelley himself has already heavily relied on Sei Thein Win’s account for a report he brought out last May under the imprint of the dissident TV/radio station Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Oslo – there’s the Norwegian connection), entitled “Nuclear Activities in Burma” (whose short version is available here for you on the Scribd site).

It’s damning testimony. Then again, it’s (so far) based on only one witness. Can he be trusted? How will the world’s great powers react? And what will “M” say – especially when he learns that the account on the Morgenbladet’s website is but an abridged one, that the full Norwegian article on Sei Thein Win is only to be found in today’s printed edition?

Miss Moneypenny, get our man in Oslo on the line immediately! Not so fast, Chief. Turns out that the Independent newspaper has grabbed the full Norwegian piece and – with some shifting words-and-phrases around – brought it out in English.

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EU’s Hardline Serbia Stance Falters

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

In her new commentary on the EU and Serbia in Die Zeit (Europe threatened by Humiliation), Andrea Böhm posits the sort of counterfactual you would expect:

Suppose there were relevant indications that the leader of an Islamic terror-group, responsible for the murder of several thousand people, were hiding himself in a high-rise apartment in a European capital. How long would it take before a multinational army of secret services and investigators would come swarming to observe every garbage-dumpster, illuminate every floor, and if necessary evacuate half the building? Two months? Three weeks? Ten days?

But what is really at issue is not Islamic terrorists at all, it’s rather the high Serbian government officials responsible for war crimes in the Yugoslav Wars of some 15 years ago, in particular General Ratko Mladic. According to Ms. Böhm, he’s clearly somewhere in Belgrade and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find out exactly where. Yet not only is no one going after him (nor after the other wanted Serbian official, one Goran Hadzic, former leader of Serbs in Croatia – him I did not know about), but there has just been alarming signs of weakening in what had been the EU’s insistence that Serbia would be allowed no further progress along the road to becoming an EU member-state until these two fugitives were delivered up to the UN Yugoslavia Tribunal in The Hague.

Granted, the Serbs are still far from EU membership, just as they seem equally far from agreeing to do anything to deliver up Mladic and Hadzic. Nonetheless, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg last Monday did agree to at least open Serbia’s formal application process. And that is the “humiliation” Ms. Böhm speaks of in her piece’s title – Europe once again exposing itself as a softy on the world stage by unilaterally climbing down from what had been it’s ironclad insistence on seeing the two fugitives in jail at The Hague (actually, at Scheveningen, if you want to be technical about it) before the Serb government would even be allowed inside the door. What happened to the Dutch? she wonders – they were the ones single-handedly (well, with occasional Belgian support) holding out on this insistence. She speculates that it all began to seem too much like some sort of Dutch “obsession” – an irrational thirst for revenge against the Serbs for the humiliation suffered by the “Dutchbat” troops who had been assigned to protect the civilians who were massacred at Srebrenica in 1995, so that the Netherlands government finally became self-conscious and too embarrassed to insist anymore.

In point of fact, the situation seems quite a bit more subtle than all that, as explained in a recent entry on the Economist’s “Charlemagne” weblog (in English, of course). Why did the EU foreign ministers budge in the first place? Because they wanted to reward the Serbian government for recently agreeing to meet with leaders of Kosovo, which ordinarily Serbia regards as a renegade break-away province (much as the People’s Republic of China views Taiwan). More to the point, it seems that they made that concession yet at the same time they didn’t: at least according to the Economist analysis, unanimity among governments (meaning the renewed potential for a Dutch veto) will be necessary again soon for Serbia to make any further forward progress.

EU officials are skillful at this sort of sleigh-of-hand, whereby they seem to give something away while in reality doing nothing of the sort (while still retaining the option of giving it away again sometime in the future, should that be viewed as necessary). But all this is hardly to Ms. Böhm’s taste. The EU needs to remember, she writes, that it bears a share of the blame for the horrors of the Yugoslav War; it happened in its own backyard, it was Europe’s big geopolitical test – and, of course, it failed it, having to rely in the end on American diplomacy and military power to rein in both Serb depredations in Bosnia and Croatia and the Milosevic government’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo. So fancy procedural games for her won’t cut it – much better a full-court military/police press, as if tracking down some Islamic terrorist-leader were what was at issue.

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EU Budget Discipline – With Bite

Friday, September 24th, 2010

The scoop ultimately belonged to the Financial Times, but that article is ensconced behind their semi-porous paywall. So here at €S we had to get the news from Lidové noviny, from the Twitter alert by @cznews (Oh no! Not Rozpočtoví hříšnici!):

Rozpočtoví hříšnici v eurozóně zaplatí pokutu ve výši 0,2 % HDP: Země eurozóny, které v budoucnosti po... http://bit.ly/9X8tCn #czech #news
@cznews
Czech Business News

And a scoop it truly is, for the FT journalists (Peter Spiegel and Joshua Chaffin) have unearthed proposed “legislation” set to be officially unveiled by Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn next Wednesday, which their article terms “the EU’s most ambitious attempt to reorder its economic governance since this spring’s debt crisis that nearly destroyed the single currency.” Basically, the Commission would step up to take up a role in examining the national budgets of the 16 Eurozone member-states in a big way, with the authority to impose fines of 0.2% of GDP on governments which “consistently fail to bring down their public debt levels” – or “fail to control their annual spending,” or “fail to reform their economies to improve their competitiveness.” Once having decided to fine a member-state, the Commission under the proposal could only be stopped by a qualified majority vote from the European Council within 10 days of the decision. (Similar rules for member-states still outside the Eurozone will apparently be forthcoming later.)

Even just ignoring recommendations about how to improve national competitiveness (from the Commission presumably; and so how can they really be described as “recommendations”?) could make a government liable to a 0.1% of GDP fine. And, somewhat ludicrously, the Commission would also maintain a productivity data “scoreboard,” sort of like the running list of grades on an elementary school classroom wall.

Pretty amazing – especially when those of us with any sort of historical memory (it need not go back any further than ten years or so) recall the Stability and Growth Pact that was a key component to the introduction of the euro at the end of the 1990s. That also prescribed monitoring of (Eurozone) member-states’ public finances by the Commission; and it also prescribed “sanctions” (initially fines) for those governments who continued to violate the fiscal rules (budget deficit less than 3% of GDP, national debt less than 60% of GDP or getting there) after repeated warnings.

But it didn’t work: among the first to break these rules were the giants making up the EU’s “axis,” namely Germany and France, and no one ever dared to try to punish them in any way. Besides, there was always the fundamental bit of illogic in such arrangements of trying to punish by means of a monetary fine a government which has gotten into trouble because it doesn’t have enough money available.

So Why Now?

What’s the difference this time, that makes Commission staff think that these sorts of proposals will be accepted, and that they even will work if enacted to influence member-state government behavior? Obviously it’s the big Greek/Spanish/Portuguese/Irish/etc. debt crisis of 2010, which in May prompted the panicked assembling of a €700 billion+ support fund for states in trouble with their sovereign debt. It’s by no means clear that that will be enough to head off trouble; it’s by no means clear, for example, that Greece will in fact be able to avoid default (or, probably, the same thing camouflaged as debt “restructuring”).

Neither is it clear that member-states will be at all receptive to these latest Commission proposals as they are formally presented next week (together with similar ones from Council President Herman van Rompuy). It’s hard to avoid the thought that this sort of supervision of their budget processes from an external, super-national body of experts, backed up by sanctions with financial teeth, was not what most if not all of them thought they were getting into when they joined the EU and then the Eurozone. That historical process of European integration is likely about to face a decisive “gut check” moment, coming up next week.

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Moment-of-Truth Day for EU Banks

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Today is “Stress Day” – the day when the results of the “stress test” exercises performed on all major European banks will be released after the end of the European business day (but right in the middle of the American business day!). The Financial Times column Alphaville has a handy round-up of articles on the subject, compiled by Gwen Robinson. The most comprehensive guide – perfect if you’re still unsure of what these “stress tests” are all about and have some time – is by far the contribution from Anne Seith of Der Spiegel. (Rest assured: it’s in English. As for Alphaville itself, better enjoy that while it’s still free and available to all!)

Then there is the report by Anne Michel in Le Monde, also cited in the FT Alphaville round-up. Why is everyone so stressed about these “stress tests”? Mainly because banks can only “pass” them or “fail” them, and failure could carry a high price in terms of loss of investor confidence, for starters. Indeed, the impact is likely to be even greater than it was for the ten banks (out of nineteen tested) which “failed” during the American “stress test” exercise carried out back in May, 2009, for banks that fail by definition need recapitalization and there is a dwindling number of European governments still able to provide that. It’s notable, as Mme. Michel points out, that European authorities have staged such “stress tests” twice before, namely dry runs in August of 2009 and April of this year with a more limited selection of banks, whose results have never been made public.

But this time it’s serious, and all results will be released publicly. Naturally, everyone would love to jump the gun and get word of at least some of the results before they’re released to the unwashed masses (there’s potentially money to be made, for one thing). Mme. Michel does her best to oblige. It looks like all the French banks involved – namely BNP Paribas, Société générale, Crédit agricole and BPCE – have passed the test. Indeed, the failures are expected to come only from the usual suspect nations: Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Oh, and Germany, too – but the one German laggard is likely to be the Hypo Real Estate Bank, which already got into so much trouble back in 2008 that the German government fully nationalized it. (Note that this last bit does not come from Mme. Michel’s article, but from another of my on-line sources.)

Going back to the star banking pupils from France, such seeming across-the-board success inevitably raises questions as to the stress tests’ legitimacy. The article does go into some detail about how the tests’ parameters have been toughened up to include some degree of sovereign debt default, placed on top of a posited recession of 3% negative economic growth lasting over a year-and-a-half. But will this go far enough to convince the markets that all this has been a worthwhile, bona fide exercise? That is probably what most EU officials and bank executives are stressed-out about most of all.

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Greek Problems, German Concerns

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Today is the day EU heads-of-government convene in Brussels for yet another summit. There will be an elephant in the room, a problem that needs to be handled – Greece, of course – but which some (mainly, but not only, Germany) don’t want to handle just now. So, bizarrely, the summit meeting itself will not have Greece on its agenda; rather, there will be a meeting called of all Eurozone heads of government (16 of them) just prior to the main summit event to address the Greek problem.

I learn this from the preparatory blogpost to the summit provided by the Economist’s “Charlegmagne” correspondent, and I have to admit that, here, that source (in English, of course) is the best provider of information and analysis that I have been able to find. Among other things, his main insight (as embodied in his column’s title, “Why Greece is not suffering enough yet”) that Greece will only be bailed out after it has been forced to suffer considerable economic pain – namely to set an example to other potential fiscal miscreants – is spot-on. And he also reports (although indirectly, from FT sources) the very valuable information of what Germany is demanding to help Greece: 1) Greece must first exhaust all other sources of finance from the markets; 2) It must then get as much as it can from the IMF; and 3) Then Germany will help, but will at the same time demand “tough new rules on debts and deficits that will impose more budgetary discipline than before, even if that involves changing the treaties.” (more…)

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Benedict XVI Feels Your Humiliation

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Thanks to last Christmas’ “Underwear Bomber” more and more airports all over the world have started digging deep into their pockets to purchase those insidious “full-body scanners” for screening passengers – starting, unfortunately, with Amsterdam’s own Schiphol Airport, where they probably are still feeling the embarrassment of being the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab embarked on his ill-fated flight to Detroit. The awkward privacy and civil liberties implications of showing people virtually naked this way – in addition to these machines not being guaranteed to actually work as they’re supposed to – have given rise to a lot of fierce criticism, but with no tangible result so far in discouraging these expensive purchases.

But now, unexpectedly, and as Spiegel Online reports, opponents of these machines have a noteworthy new ally: Pope Benedict XVI, who over the past weekend took the occasion of a visit by a group of airline-industry representatives to try to bring his audience back to some elementary first-principles, like “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity” and “it is essential never to lose sight of respect for the primacy of the person.”

Spiegel Online’s report actually was prompted by this piece in the Guardian that is even a little bit better (quite apart from being in English), in that it points out that the Pope is himself in that VIP-class of people who never need to worry about any sort of screening no matter how much they travel. Then again, one can also suppose that empathy is an important element of his job-description.

UPDATE: Could the revolution have already begun? The London Times now has this story about how two Muslim women, set to fly to Pakistan, refused to undergo full-body scans (by those £80,000 “Rapiscan” machines! Is “Rapiscan” pronounced with a long “a,” by any chance?) a short while ago at Manchester Airport. (I first found out about the incident, however, from the Nederlands Dagblad, which is itself a religious newspaper.)

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SuBo in Danger?

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

John Lennon, thirty years ago; surprise Scottish pop sensation Susan Boyle next, i.e. to be shot down by some crazed fan? That’s what her family are worried about, specifically her brother John, after Susan returned to her council-flat home one evening earlier this week to encounter a young intruder rummaging around inside.

Belgium’s La Dernière Heure picks up the story here, but they originally got it from that shining star of British journalism, the Sun, so you can read all about it in English here. (And those Belgians didn’t even include the extra bits, like how she can dance like Michael Jackson!)

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Was Swine Flu Just a Hoax?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

It’s all there in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Just months after rushing to order enough swine-flu vaccine to protect their citizens, European governments are canceling orders and trying to sell or give away extra doses as they sit on a glut of the vaccine.

The main reason: European health officials decided that only one shot per person was needed, instead of the two originally planned.

Actually, there may have been another reason, as announced in the headline of the Czech Republic’s largest-circulation mainstream paper Mladá fronta dnes: Expert: Swine flu pandemic is a swindle by the pharmaceutical companies.

That’s right, it is alleged their profits were not all that they should be, so the drug companies manufactured a crisis to pump up sales revenue by at least millions. But who is the “expert” making this claim? His name is Wolfgang Wodarg, and he is chairman of the Health Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. (Note: that has no direct connection to the European Union, it’s a completely separate – in fact, earlier – organization. I know, it’s confusing . . .) And it seems that that Parliamentary Assembly will debate this question later this month, so maybe we’ll hear more about it then and become better able to judge.

Fortunately, the MFD article cited another piece giving all the details in the UK’s Daily Mail, so you can read about them there. But it also links to an article it published itself (i.e. in the Czech paper MFD) last July, about how the prominent Czech politician (and former Minister for Health) David Rath was also of the opinion that swine flu was just some sort of fraud for the benefit of the drug companies.

UPDATE: And indeed, French president Sarkozy’s house-newspaper Le Figaro is now announcing that the swine-flu epidemic there (known as “H1N1”) is over, according to an organization of French doctors called Réseau [i.e. network] Sentinelles France. At the same time, the article’s author (mysteriously known only as “C.J.”) says that it’s still recommended that one get immunized – the disease “could know a rebound.”

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To Prague, With Reluctance

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

hradcanskaIf this is Saturday, and you’re the American president, then that countryside you see down below, outside of the windows of Air Force One, must be the Czech Republic. Yes, today Obama and entourage flies on to Prague, and Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times already has the details about how he has the tricky task before him of visiting a country’s capital while taking care to have very little to do with top leaders of the government there – and pulling all this off without seeming impolite or ungrateful for the hospitality. The first trick involves invoking a presidential desire for a night off in scenic Prague, to grab the chance for an intimate dinner with Michelle at a “secret location,” in order to avoid any extended encounter-over-a-meal with either Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (who publicly labeled Obama’s domestic budget plans a “road to hell”* only a few days ago; is a rather stolid, apparatchik-type guy anyway; speaks little English – and, most vitally, is now but a “caretaker” prime minister after his government fell this past week) or President Václav Klaus (speaks excellent English, now is in whip-hand position to determine composition of the next Czech government – but who could also bring on an attack of extreme presidential indigestion, no matter how excellent the food served, with his outspoken and negative opinions about the EU and climate change; for more about this in English, from the Economist, see here). (more…)

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Aaaaaaaapril Foooooool!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

It has been a particular challenge going through the Danish press today: they seem especially gripped by (to coin a new term) “April-Fool-itis,” that is, celebrating this April 1 by planting remarkable “news” stories that turn out just to be a joke. Even if one is inclined to look favorably on the practice (e.g. as an amusing change-of-pace from the pedestrian nature of most news during the other 364 days of the year), Danish newspaper practice unfortunately waters it down substantially through the practice of frequently running the same articles from the Danish news-agency Ritzau in several of the papers at the same time. This naturally reduces substantially the amount of truly-original (as opposed to “echoed from Ritzau”) material. (Dutch papers also have this problem, i.e. of too many papers too often publishing the same article, by the way.)

Still, there are a handful of original joke-articles out there. But then the next problem arises, i.e. that the humor is too tied-in to the Danish cultural and/or political context to raise any laughs outside of the country. Anyway, let’s go looking for these jokes-articles and you can decide this for yourself. This exercise will also be valuable as a means to “innoculate” you against these tongue-in-cheek news-tales in case you later run across them within a context elsewhere that presents them to you as real. (more…)

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Denmark as Non-Inquisitive Fugleman

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

fugleman – noun, plural -men. 1. (formerly) a soldier placed in front of a military company as a good model during training drills. 2. a person who heads a group.

dansk_supermodel1So I’m taking my usual stroll through my RSS reader . . . and what do I come across? Something from the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende, entitled The Danish supermodel! Hey, click on that sucker . . . !

To my disappointment, it turns out to have nothing to do at all with anything like the efforts of some lithe, shapely (and probably under-fed) young Miss from, say, the Jutland hinterlands to displace Claudia Schiffer or Gisele Bundchen (she wears the pants!) from the catwalk. But you realize that the parlous times we’re currently in don’t really allow for such idle distractions, right? (Not that EuroSavant has followed, or even is able to follow, this line consistently . . .)

You’ll be glad to know that the “Supermodel” that this article discusses is indeed of an economic nature, namely the Danes’ way of putting together and running their economy, which seems to work extremely well in a time when we are all looking for extremely good solutions. For we have Business Week not long ago plaintively blazing the headline “What is capitalism’s future?” And as this Berlingske article proclaims, “The USA has disappointed the world. The American model, with its irrepressible belief in free-market forces where everyone forges his own success, has loudly broken own.” What could replace it? Why, possibly that Danish “supermodel”! (more…)

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Merkel Awaits Obama

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

I’d like to take up again the subject of the rather unconventional German governmental response – so far – to the surging economic troubles to be found in Germany as well as more widely, prompted as I am to do so by the reader response I’ve received. You might recall that we can summarize that response as “Times might be tough, but there’s no need for this government or any other to spend huge sums, go way into debt, or otherwise endanger the EU’s Stability Pact that is supposed to underpin the euro.” (But also remember that this unorthodox position seems to be held only at the German government’s top levels, with plenty of insistent calls to start spending coming from elsewhere, including lower-down in that same government.)

This whole question in its broader sense – which could be phrased, ¡¿Caramba!, what can we do to stop the onrushing Great Depression? – is put into sharp relief by a commentary from Thursday in the Financial Times by the historian Niall Ferguson* (in English of course: The age of obligation, h/t to Naked Capitalism). (more…)

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US Nuclear Weapon Abandoned in Greenland

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Don’t get too alarmed: it happened back in January, 1968, when a US B-52 bomber with four nuclear bombs on board crashed a few miles from an airbase near Thule, Greenland – then, as now, a self-governing province of Denmark. The first real problem was that there weren’t supposed to be nuclear weapons there in the first place, as the Danish had only approved the base for use in monitoring for a possible Soviet ICBM attack on the US over the North Pole, not as having anything to do with nuclear weapons themselves. And secondly, only three of those bombs were recovered from the crash site, but US authorities kept quiet about that, instead maintaining that all the weapons had been destroyed in the crash. In reality, three months later they sent a submarine to the area to look some more for the weapon, but with instructions for the officers in charge to lie about their mission to the Danish authorities, stating instead that they were there simply to survey the sea-bottom. (more…)

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Heading for the Exits

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Back to the subject of Iceland, which holds the doubtful distinction of occupying the current financial crisis’ leading-edge of economic suffering. As the FT recently reported, that country’s monetary authorities have now had to raise interest rates for the Icelandic krona to a record 18% as one condition for receiving what is still a “proposed” $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The future will seemingly bring a 10% contraction of the economy there, with simultaneous 8% unemployment and 20%-plus inflation.

I’m afraid I do not possess the skills in Icelandic to start investigating that country’s on-line press to look deeper into this mess that way. But there’s at least some interesting coverage from the Czech Republic’s leading general-interest quality daily, Mladá fronta dnes, in the form of an article Alarmed by the crisis, a third of Icelanders consider moving out of the country. (more…)

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Russian-Georgian Naval Conflict

Monday, August 11th, 2008

The Dutch daily Het Parool has word of the current military struggle between Russia and Georgia spreading beyond land conflict (Russian Fleet Sinks Georgian Boat). Quoting Russian press bureaus, who in turn gained their information from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, the paper reports that yesterday (Sunday) two Georgian patrol boats in the Black Sea fired rockets at Russian warships, who returned fire and sunk one of the boats. Spokesmen for the Georgian government were not available for comment. (more…)

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Obama in Berlin: A Serious German Press Review

Friday, July 25th, 2008

It’s all a bit bizarre: Here at EuroSavant we consider the Economist’s on-site blog Certain Ideas of Europe to be something of a watered-down competitor, in that its (anonymous) writers evidently command a few European languages themselves and take advantage of that often to remark upon noteworthy articles in the European press (really only the French and the German). Yet in its own day-after Obama-Berlin coverage, what else does Certain Ideas of Europe choose to highlight out of reaction to Obama’s Berlin speech from the German Fourth Estate than a breathless piece from the Bild Zeitung (Britons: think The Sun; Americans: maybe The New York Post but – as we’ll see – with a bit greater tolerance for female nudity.) The blog entry is entitled Obama and the ‘BILD girl’. Wow – 27-year-old Bild reporter Judith Bonesky (stifle the puns!) finds herself together in the gym of the Ritz Carlton hotel with HIM! Oh, he’s much taller than she had expected! They exchange some “How are you?”s! Then he goes and starts hefting some impressively-big weights, in such a manly fashion, without breaking a sweat! Naturally, when it’s time for him to go (he’s got a speech to deliver), she grabs her chance for a smugshot with the candidate. (more…)

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FT for Obama

Monday, April 21st, 2008

This will do nothing for the attempts by the Barack Obama presidential campaign to knock back the charges of “elitism” raised – only by the media and the Clinton and McCain campaigns, admittedly – in the recent storm over his “bitter small town” remarks at what was supposed to be a private fund-raiser in San Francisco. But anyway: yesterday the leading world business newspaper the Financial Times endorsed him for the Democratic Party nomination (Democrats must choose Obama). Of course, who in Pennsylvania reads the FT anyway, outside of some universities and financial houses in Philadelphia – or do I sound bitter? (more…)

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Deep Purple Funk

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Next Monday, 11 February, is promising to be quite an eventful day on the Gazprom front – that’s of course the gigantic Russan natural gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, of which the Russian government owns a majority stake. On the one hand, it’s the same-old same-old, what we’ve all seen before, for Monday is the day that Russia, speaking for Gazprom, will cut off all natural gas supplies to the Ukraine due to alleged non-payment by the latter of $1.5 billion. Curiously, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been scheduled for some time to arrive in Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. At least he’ll be glad to be away from his native country and someplace instead where it’s actually warm inside the buildings, though one can imagine that the diplomatic talks he will engage in might still be rather frosty.

But that is all par for the course for a European winter; I can remember recently thinking to myself “Hmm, it’s already February – shouldn’t we have had the regularly-scheduled Russian energy cut-off crisis by now?” More interesting is that next Monday is also the evening of the going-away concert in honor of Dimitri Medvedev – Gazprom chairman now, but Vladimir Putin’s “recommended” candidate for president of the Russian Federation at the upcoming March 2 elections, and therefore also a shoo-in as the next Russian president. The concert will be headlined by the legendary English rock-n-roll band Deep Purple, and this was recently commented upon in the New York Time’s weblog “The Lede: Notes on the News,” by Mike Nizza, who notes that Putin himself will surely be present as well. (more…)

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