Monday, 22 December 2014

Enough To Make Your Head Spin

We mourn the passing of Billie Whitelaw.

Desdemona to Laurence Olivier's Othello.

Demonic nanny in The Omen.

Domineering matriarch in The Krays.

And Deputy Prime Minister under Margaret Thatcher.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Still No Salvation After Twenty-Five Years

Romania was not part of the Soviet Bloc. She had a ghastly regime, not least from the point of view of the valiant Byzantine Rite Catholics. But not a Soviet satellite one.

In fact, that regime had particularly close ties to Britain. To our shame, but there we are. English and French, rather than Russian, were taught in schools. No Romanian troops participated in putting down the Prague Spring.

More than once, the Soviet Union came to the brink of invading Romania. There was absolutely no question of giving back what is now the Romanian-speaking western part of the cut-and-shunt state of Moldova.

Which bring us to the National Salvation Front, overthrowers of Ceausescu, and originators of the present political class in Romania. Their objection to Ceausescu was not that he was pro-Soviet. It was that he was anti-Soviet.

They emerged out of the Moscow-backing, because Moscow-backed, faction within the Communist Party. In 1989, the Soviet Union still had two years left to go, and few were those who thought that it would collapse entirely.

When a kangaroo court convicted and executed the Ceausescus for the "genocide" of 34 people and for daring to throw parties at their house on major holidays, it was not just the beginning of dodgy "genocide" convictions: of García Meza Tejada for fully eight people, of Pinochet for under a hundred, of Mengistu in absentia, of his opponents even including aid workers, and of Kambanda without trial, with Milosovic never actually convicted at all.

It was also, as it turned out, the last great triumph of the Soviet Union, taking out a man who was vicious and brutal in himself (like García Meza, or Pinochet, or Mengistu), but who was nevertheless a dedicated opponent of Soviet power.

Those who took him out have run Romania ever since. They now do so within both the EU and NATO.

Oh, Hush The Noise, Ye Men of Strife


This is a time of year for memories, and the ones that keep bothering me are from my childhood, which seemed at the time to be wholly happy and untroubled.

Yet all the adults in my life still dwelt in the shadow of recent war. This was not the glamorous, exciting side of war, but the miserable, fearful and hungry aspect.

My mother, even in middle-class suburban prosperity, couldn’t throw away an eggshell without running her finger round it to get out the last of the white.

No butcher dared twice to try to cheat her on the weights. Haunted all her life by rationing, she would habitually break a chocolate bar into its smallest pieces.

She had also been bombed from the air in Liverpool, and had developed a fatalism to cope with the nightly danger of being blown to pieces, shocking to me then and since.

I am now beset by these ingrained memories of shortage and danger because I seem surrounded by people who think that war might be fun.

This seems to happen when wartime generations are pushed aside by their children, who need to learn the truth all over again.

It seemed fairly clear to me from her experiences that war had in fact been a miserable affair of fear, hunger, threadbare darned clothes, broken windows and insolent officials.

And that was a victory, more or less, though my father (who fought in it) was never sure of that. Now I seem surrounded by people who actively want a war with Russia, a war we all might lose.

They seem to believe that we are living in a real life Lord Of The Rings, in which Moscow is Mordor and Vladimir Putin is Sauron.

Some humorous artists in Moscow, who have noticed this, have actually tried to set up a giant Eye of Sauron on a Moscow tower.

We think we are the heroes, setting out with brave hearts to confront the Dark Lord, and free the saintly Ukrainians from his wicked grasp. This is all the most utter garbage.

Since 1989, Moscow, the supposed aggressor, has – without fighting or losing a war – peacefully ceded control over roughly 180 million people, and roughly 700,000 square miles of valuable territory.

The EU (and its military wing, Nato) have in the same period gained control over more than 120 million of those people, and almost 400,000 of those square miles.

Until a year ago, Ukraine remained non-aligned between the two great European powers. But the EU wanted its land, its 48 million people (such a reservoir of cheap labour!) its Black Sea coast, its coal and its wheat.

So first, it spent £300 million (some of it yours) on anti-Russian ‘civil society’ groups in Ukraine. Then EU and Nato politicians broke all the rules of diplomacy and descended on Kiev to take sides with demonstrators who demanded that Ukraine align itself with the EU.

Imagine how you’d feel if Russian politicians had appeared in Edinburgh in September urging the Scots to vote for independence, or if Russian money had been used to fund pro-independence organisations.

Then a violent crowd (20 police officers died at its hands, according to the UN) drove the elected president from office, in violation of the Ukrainian constitution.

During all this process, Ukraine remained what it had been from the start – horrendously corrupt and dominated by shady oligarchs, pretty much like Russia.

If you didn’t want to take sides in this mess, I wouldn’t at all blame you. But most people seem to be doing so. There seems to be a genuine appetite for confrontation in Washington, Brussels, London… and Saudi Arabia.

There is a complacent joy abroad about the collapse of the rouble, brought about by the mysterious fall in the world’s oil price.

It’s odd to gloat about this strange development, which is also destroying jobs and business in this country.

Why are the Gulf oil states not acting – as they easily could and normally would – to prop up the price of the product that makes them rich?

I do not know, but there’s no doubt that Mr Putin’s Russia has been a major obstacle to the Gulf states’ desire to destroy the Assad government in Syria, and that the USA and Britain have (for reasons I long to know) taken the Gulf’s side in this.

But do we have any idea what we are doing?

Ordinary Russians are pretty stoical and have endured horrors unimaginable to most of us, including a currency collapse in 1998 that ruined millions. But until this week they had some hope.

If anyone really is trying to punish the Russian people for being patriotic, by debauching the rouble, I cannot imagine anything more irresponsible.

It was the destruction of the German mark in 1922, and the wipeout of the middle class that resulted, which led directly to Hitler. Stupid, ill-informed people nowadays like to compare Mr Putin with Hitler.

I warn them and you that, if we succeed in overthrowing Mr Putin by unleashing hyper-inflation in Russia, we may find out what a Russian Hitler is really like. And that a war in Europe is anything but fun.

So, as it’s almost Christmas, let us sing with some attention that bleakest and yet loveliest of carols, It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, stressing the lines that run:

‘Man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring.
Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.’

Or gloat at your peril over the scenes of panic in Moscow.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

1945 And All That

The death of John Freeman leaves no survivor of the 1945 parliamentary intake.

Next year's General Election will be the most important in 70 years. Everything that remains of the 1945 Settlement will survive or perish by the result.

To vote for any party other than Attlee's and Freeman's, ostensibly in some "Spirit of '45", would be unpardonable self-indulgence.

Lockerbie

Of course he did not do it, at least not on his own. But that was beside the point.

The point was that these matters were for a court, perhaps including the High Court of Parliament under certain circumstances. Not for Executive fiat. Where would that end?

He should have been released. Because he should never have withdrawn his appeal. But he did. For that matter, he should have been tried by a jury. But he was not.

So he died legally guilty of 270 murders. People have died in prison, including of horrible conditions, while legally guilty of an awful lot less than that.

However, which is a related but distinct question, he did not do it, at least not on its own.

And an apparent alliance with the ghastly Islamist regime that we have installed in Libya is the very last thing that we need.

The Very Least We Owe Them

John Prescott writes:

Last year I wrote about one of the worst cases of forced repatriation in British history.

Two thousand people were scared into fleeing their island ­paradise after their dogs were rounded up and gassed to death.

The Chagos Islands were leased to the US for 50 years by the Harold Wilson government as part of a squalid deal on nuclear weapons.

The islanders were made to flee because the US wanted to turn one of the islands, Diego Garcia, into an ­American ­military base.

The Chagossians who fled found themselves without a country or home. Many went to Mauritius where they had to live in slum areas while some made it to the UK.

Neither could ever replace their island home.

That lease is up for renewal next year and the Americans want to renew the agreement for another 20 years. Britain must give notice soon if it wishes to grant the extension.

The Foreign Secretary is now looking at all the options, from extending the lease to compensating the islanders or even allowing them to go home.

Sadly the chance of them returning was made slimmer by the last Labour government.

In 2010, David Miliband – then Foreign Secretary – declared that the waters around the islands were to become a marine protected area. It was ­implemented by an Order in Council without a parliamentary debate.

While this was claimed to be good for the ­environment, it also meant anyone returning to the island would be banned from fishing – ­stopping them earning a living and feeding their families.

So why is America so keen to keep Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands? Well, it’s effectively become a key American airbase.

That’s what they mean by a “special relationship”.

It’s been used for bombing missions to Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably if the lease is extended, it could be used against Iran.

There are even allegations it had been used in the “rendition” – i.e. illegal abduction – of terrorist suspects, many of whom turned out to be innocent.

Our Intelligence and Security Committee investigated and reported that there was no evidence of such rendition flights stopping at Diego Garcia.

But the Americans later admitted that certain unlogged planes had landed there.

Now the US Senate Intelligence Committee has revealed a great deal of their torture operations took place in bases outside America, such as Afghanistan, Cuba and a number of European states, Poland, Lithuania and Romania.

This confirms a report from the Council of Europe, which I sit in, that first made the claims about rendition flights some years ago.

For Britain the question is: “Do we continue to allow this base to be used for what could be criminal activities, including the possible abduction and torture of innocent people?”

Before we start to think about extending the lease on Diego Garcia and the other Chagos Islands, we should uncover the truth to see if it was used for criminal activity.

But we also carried out a major injustice to those islanders.

Now is the time to assess, as attempts are being made to at the moment, whether those people can have the opportunity to return, even during any possible future ­agreement with America.

Of course there’ll be some concern as to whether the Chagossians are motivated by a genuine desire to return to their homeland or are simply looking for ­compensation.

The best way to assess that is to give them what we gave the Falkland Islanders – a referendum on their future.

Giving a referendum to the Chagossians is the very least we owe them for our part in this disgraceful episode.

And allowing them to return to their island paradise would be the greatest Christmas present Britain could ever give.

Antisocial

Nigel Farage has banned his candidates from using social media.

I know this from social media.

UKIP, down three points tonight while Labour has a seven point lead over the Conservatives, is over.

Forget about it.

"The Conservative Colbert"

When I wrote that on here, explaining how he had been the originator of the planned economy, a person who shall remain nameless, but who was later to announce himself the Labour candidate for North West Durham one day before an all-women shortlist was imposed, left a comment on which he clearly assumed that I was referring to The Colbert Report.

I shall miss it. If only for that reason.

Normal Relations

That'll be Guantánamo Bay closed, then.

And Assata Shakur sent back.

If ever there were a double-header with Warren-Webb or Webb-Warren written all over it, then this is it.

Hillary Who?

For that matter, Jeb Who?

Why Does NATO Still Exist?

Peter Hitchens would very much like to know.

He is not the only one.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Fed Up

Or not.


That's right.

India.

Hacked Off

I seem to recall that Sony is Japanese. How, then, is this hacking business primarily America's problem? Or is that too risky a question to ask, for fear of North Korea versus Japan?

And I seem to have missed something. Sony should have asked the President of the United States before it made an editorial decision? "Some dictator, someplace," indeed.

As my friend John Monney has just put it on Facebook, "Surely USA owned firms bend over backwards to facilitate China, who don't have a good human rights record? If a Sony movie was a satire on "taking out" a Chinese leader or a Saudi Arabian leader, I suspect that the White House would be leaning on Sony not to release it."

Quite.

7 Up

Labour is seven points ahead.

Seven.

The Lib Dems are on five per cent.

Five.

The party led by the Deputy Prime Minister has an entire showing of two less than the Labour lead over the Conservatives.

Time For A Takeaway

The real point is not that Nigel Farage considers such language acceptable.

It is that he considers it normal among council estate residents.

Oh, and Winston McKenzie has been suspended.

UKIP is over. Forget about it.

Emergency, But No Accident

Jeremy Hunt has blatantly lied to the House of Commons.

He ought to be found in contempt of Parliament.

Koreas Advice

North Korea cannot be that backward, then?

Think on.

She Must Be The One In Three

The Office for National Statistics has reprimanded the Secretary of State for Eduction, one Nicky Morgan, of whom you would be forgiven for never having heard.

Not for the first time, she has claimed that under the previous Government, one in three children left primary school unable to read or write.

That extremely serious allegation was totally false. She has now been told so more than once.

As soon as Parliament returns, a motion needs to be tabled to reduce her salary. Thus, if passed, rendering her position untenable and requiring her to resign.

I suggest that the proposal be to reduce her salary by one third.

The Nonnes Preestes Tale

Baldrick: My father was a nun.
Blackadder: No, he wasn't.
Baldrick: Yes, he was. Whenever he was up in court, the magistrate would say "Occupation?", and he would reply, "Nun."

From memory, I admit.

Far from having won, the ageing, dying, dissident American nuns have been told, by a Pope of their own generation and who is a Jesuit, to go back to what they were doing in the 1950s. They are reduced to pretending that that has been what they have always wanted to do.

If a dwindling band of women in their seventies and upwards, with the perfectly preserved 1960s attitudes and outfits to match, really were the Church's frontline, then the Church would be finished. But it is not, so She is not.

Beyond a very bald Deism, if that, at least 50 per cent of them do not believe one word of the Creed. Therefore, the only explanation for the Holy Father's indulgence of them is that no one cares what they think. It is not what they are for. They can now expect their every effusion to be greeted in like manner.

Practically all of them seem to want to be priests, which, while of course it will always be impossible, is nevertheless an irritant. Or it would be, if anyone were paying any attention. Certain congregations seem never to have existed as anything other than places to put women who thought that they ought to be priests. Ought the Church to have such things at all?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lab Rats

According to Seymour Hersh, a proper journalist by anyone's standards, mothers held at Abu Ghraib were forced to watch their sons being raped, and teenage boys held at Abu Ghraib were forced to have sex in front of their mothers. The Pentagon still has the tape.

Meanwhile, the CIA did not only torture people, it also experimented on human beings. This, the Bush Administration not only knew, but authorised.

The End of Feminism?

Forty-four years on from The Female Eunuch, and behold, the fast-tracking of the monarch's appointees as Church of England bishops into seats in the House of Lords.

By the Tories.

By an Old Etonian Prime Minister.

The revolution has been televised from start to finish, and that finish is upon us. The end has come, not with a bang, nor even with a whimper, but with a rousing chorus of God Save The Queen. And it is not God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols.

More broadly, so to speak, the redoubt of feminism may be about to fall. I refer to American academia, the powerhouse of the global movement.

The published works of radical feminist academics might very well be found to have contributed to the wrongful suspension or expulsion of young men accused of sexual assault and disciplined on the extremely low burden of proof mandated by the federal government in public institutions, or adopted voluntarily in private ones, well below that which would be required for a criminal conviction.

The frat boys can afford any lawyer that they want, and they are in any case unlikely to need to pay, since attorneys from the very top drawer would do this for free, being pledged for life to the band of brothers. The respondents' last hope would a Supreme Court that it is almost certainly two thirds Greek.

It is easy to look at this and to see no dog in the fight. However, the plaintiffs' more or less guaranteed, and not necessarily undeserved, victories could usefully be framed in class terms. Thus forcing the Left and the Democratic Party back to issues of economic inequality, and to the celebration of past achievements in addressing those issues.

Moscow Calling

It's the little things.

The 11am news on Radio Four led on Vladimir Putin.

Then came half an hour on the Russian ultranationalists who were sending men to fight in Ukraine.

Followed by half on hour on Stierlitz, "the Soviet James Bond", an interesting insight into the fact that the Soviet Union had a popular as well as an elite culture, that it really was very popular indeed, and that plenty of people are well and truly nostalgic for it.

Finally, the news at noon led on Vladimir Putin.

This is Radio Four. This is, rightly, what we Radio Four listeners are deemed to need to know.

Angela Merkel's English is good, but it was for Russian that she won nationwide prizes as a schoolgirl. Putin was the KGB Bureau Chief in Berlin; his German will be practically native. His English could be a comedy sketch.

The long history of common culture is as evident from the very name of Stierlitz, a fierce and cerebral Soviet patriot, as it is from the fact that, at the outbreak of the First World War, the German, Austrian and Russian Ambassadors in London were all cousins.

The Austrian one was called Mensdorff, and the Russian one was called Benckendorf. It was the German one who was called Lichnowsky.

I grew up at what we we were at least implicitly taught was the End of History. It wasn't.

To Get To This Point


One small claim to fame of mine is that I was present during Fidel Castro’s final public speech as Cuban President back in 2006.

Stood at a lectern about 50 yards from me, El Maximo Lider harangued the relatively small crowd for over two hours, littering his speech with the usual denunciations of ‘Yankee imperialism’, ‘capitalist monopolies’ and – I particularly enjoyed this part – ‘Bush and Blair’.

For a young revolutionary tourist like myself the spectacle of the bearded ideologue in full flow was subversively exciting: I hated all of those things too, or at least I thought I did.

Like so many who pretend to despise the boring machinations of liberal democracy I was passionately rooting for the romanticism of Che Guevara over the banal compromises of the capitalist system.

And so beards, green fatigues and tropical exuberance were in and Starbucks and McDonalds were most definitely out. 

But in reality the ‘plucky Caribbean island’ was no tropical Shoreditch and what I witnessed was the stage-set Cuba rather than the grim and Spartan reality.

I was a Useful Idiot, in other words; a person who would valorise the 95 per cent literacy rate on the island without telling you that it was the Cuban Government which decided what a person was allowed to read.

Like many a pampered comrade, I rallied against the ‘superficiality’ of McDonald’s and Burger King while forgetting that plastic food is incomparably better than no food at all.

And yet one of the most dispiriting things in politics is the way that people feel the need to defend those superficially on their own ‘side’.

Cuba is nominally socialist therefore all opposition is – and once was in my view - invariably ‘right-wing’ and ‘reactionary’.

Yet in reality any socialist or liberal ought to stand in vehement opposition to the Government in Havana.

Cuban labour rights are virtually non-existent. There are no independent trade unions and freedom of expression is non-existent.

The Cuban media in its printed form, with its endless stories of fraternal visits by North Korean officials and eulogies to Fidel Castro, was most accurately described by the late Argentinean editor and dissident Jacobo Timerman as “a degradation of the act of reading”.

All of this explains why the most penetrating critiques of Cuban socialism come not from the foaming-at-the-mouth right but from the progressive left.

As Carlos Franqui, the closest thing Cuba has to its own George Orwell, once put it, “The socialist world is not socialist; it’s the world where the people are forced to work and to endure permanent rationing and scarcity, where they have neither rights nor freedoms.”

Not that you would know any of this from listening to our own trade union-sponsored Cuban Solidarity campaign.

Yet for all the repression and economic failure that have come to characterise Cuban ‘socialism’, successive American governments have helped to prolong the life of the moribund communist system through hubris and stupidity.

The most striking example of this is the economic embargo, introduced in 1960 after Cuba decided to nationalise its large industries.

As a tool of the US Government the embargo must register as one of the least effective foreign policy initiatives in US history.

It hasn’t simply failed to topple the Castro brothers, but instead has helped them to cement their 55-year rule by portraying the US as all of the things the regime says it is: the bullying and controlling neighbour that wants to turn the island back into a corrupt brothel.

Thus when current Cuban President Raul Castro blames the embargo for “enormous human and economic damage” he isn’t simply lying like a good Stalinist.

The embargo costs Cuba around £1.2 billion a year and directly increases the suffering of the Cuban people, exacerbating shortages in everything from medical supplies to baby food.

Certain caveats introduced to the embargo more recently also threaten Cuban citizens with the loss of their homes based on spurious property claims originating in the 1950s.

And so for almost 60 years the Cuban people have been offered a Hobson’s choice by the Castro regime: stick with us or go back to the domination, racism and sordid excesses of American rule.

The embargo is the excuse that for half a century has kept on giving: the mess around you is nothing to do with us, so the Castro brothers are allowed to say, instead it is the fault of unhinged American Congressmen who want to violently snatch back what was taken from their gilded friends half a century ago.

Fortunately Barack Obama has decided to stop listening to the shrill voices on Capitol Hill and, uniquely for an American President, appears to understand that the best way to defeat the Castro brothers is to take away their raison d'être by ending the immoral and counterproductive economic embargo.

What a shame it has taken so long – and so many generations of impoverished and tyrannised Cuban citizens – to get to this point.

Born of a Virgin

There is an old stand-by of middlebrow, pub bore professional atheism, that the Virginal Conception has numerous mythological parallels. Nothing could be further from the case.

What occurs over and over again in mythology is the impregnation, by otherwise normal sexual means, of a woman by a god; a god, therefore, with a physical body. Exactly that does not happen in the Gospels.

However, it is held in Mormonism that this was how Jesus was conceived, one among many reasons why the enormous popularity of the Mormons within American religion - numerically third only to the Catholics and to the Southern Baptists, and the clear direct or indirect originators of numerous ideas such as "Manifest Destiny" - raises very serious questions about whether the American Republic, as such, is any sort of bulwark of Christianity. Not unanswerable questions. But very serious ones.

Both Jews and pagans made all sorts of contrary claims, but one was completely unknown to either, namely that Jesus had been the natural child of Mary and Joseph. No such suggestion was ever made by anyone in the first eighteen centuries of Christianity's existence.

Even the Qur'an has the "Prophet Isa" born of the "Virgin Mariam". Apart from that partial retelling in the Qur'an, the Biblical account is unique, and could not be less like any of the parallels that are routinely alleged.

That Islam - a Semitic reaction against the recapitulation in Christ and His Church of all three of the Old Israel, Hellenism, and the Roman Empire - depicts Jesus as both virgin-born and the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets is an important insight into the debate as to whether or not the circumstances of His conception described in the New Testament really are the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

Of course, had there been no expectation that the Messiah would be virgin-born, then there would have been no reason for the Evangelists to invent it. And that would have been just as strong an argument in the doctrine's favour.

But the Islamic view, staunchly Semitic and anti-Hellenistic as it is, adds considerable weight to the belief that the Virgin Birth is, as the New Testament writers maintain entirely matter-of-factly that it is, the fulfilment of the words of the Old Testament prophets.

It is often contended that it is not clear that the prophecy in Isaiah actually refers to a virgin. Well, it certainly does in the Septuagint, and, contrary to what used to be asserted, first century Palestine is now acknowledged to have been profoundly Hellenised.

So either the Septuagint prophecy is indeed being fulfilled explicitly, or else there was no expectation that the Messiah would be virgin-born, and thus no reason to make up that Jesus had been.

The doctrine works either way.

So, Too, Must Dictatorship

Owen Jones is gettting grief from all the right people for this important piece:

The US embargo against Cuba is nothing less than an act of vindictiveness and spite; the fact it is finally crumbling will alleviate the suffering of millions of Cubans.

It’s “just another concession to a tyranny”, wails Republican senator Marco Rubio. Such politicians risk drowning in their own hypocrisy: their selective interest in human rights does not extend to imposing an embargo against Saudi Arabia, a vicious, woman-oppressing tyranny that decapitates people for being gay or “sorcerers”.

Despite sending tens of thousands of American soldiers to die (and killing countless civilians) in Vietnam, the US normalised ties with the ostensibly Communist-ruled south-east Asian nation in the 1990s. So why not Cuba?

But here’s a quid pro quo.

Now this long-lasting foreign policy outrage is finally having a rendezvous with common sense, opponents of the embargo need to talk a lot more loudly about democracy in Cuba.

Yes, the Cuban revolution has delivered many achievements that have transformed lives: they are all the more the impressive given the nation has been embargoed by a global superpower located 90 miles away for so many decades.

Its healthcare system is recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the world’s finest. Its life expectancy is roughly the same as that of the United States. The island sends tens of thousands of doctors abroad to save lives in developing nations.

It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. It is a pioneer of sustainable development and a keen promoter of urban agriculture, or “organopónicos”.

All of these are examples that nations – rich and poor – can and should learn from.

And yes, the revolution overthrew a human rights-abusing US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, who presided over corruption, gangsterism and chronic social and economic injustice. But that was 55 years ago. 

Yes, Cuba was spared the horrors of the US-backed regimes in Latin America that disappeared thousands and threw political dissidents out of helicopters.

But – with the glaring exception of Colombia – the sordid era of US-backed brutality in Latin America is at an end, thanks to progressive governments that promote social justice as well as democracy.

They have lifted 56 million people out of poverty this millennium, and have done so without imposing a dictatorship.

Cuba’s human rights have been steadily improving: as Human Rights Watch – arch-critics of the Cuban regime – have put it, the government has released dozens of political prisoners (although they now face exile), and punitive prison sentences and “draconian travel restrictions” are being relaxed.

But it is not good enough.

Cuba is not a nation where the people can freely determine who represents them. Freedom of speech is curtailed, as is a free media.

Social and economic rights are not compensation for political rights; they should complement each other.

There were many dictatorships that called themselves “socialist” in the 20th century: almost all fell, and their lasting contribution has been to sully the cause of socialism.

Democracy is a universal right, not something that only some peoples or some cultures deserve.

Having an exceptional healthcare and education system, or defying a concerted attack by a global superpower, does not mean being let off the hook when it comes to allowing your people to vote for whoever they want.

Supporters of the Castros have long argued that a transition to democracy is made impossible by US hostility. Well, that excuse may now disappear.

If Cuba establishes democracy – while maintaining the grand achievements of the revolution – it could become a beacon for those who desire an alternative once again.

But those who defend the political status quo in Cuba do a disservice to both democracy and to socialism. 

The embargo is disappearing; so, too, must dictatorship.

Leaving Millions of Vulnerable People

Ruby Stockham writes:

Yesterday, the Daily Mail published figures from the Home Office showing that last year, 44,443 medical professionals moved to the UK from abroad to start work in hospitals and GP surgeries.

It is not the first time this issue has hit the headlines in recent weeks.

In evidence given to the Treasury Select Committee earlier this month, senior OBR economist Stephen Nickell warned that the NHS would be in serious trouble without immigrants.

Rejecting claims that the UK cannot accommodate any more people, he said that ‘the urbanised part of Britain occupies less than 10 per cent of the surface area. The urbanised part of Surrey occupies less of Surrey than golf courses’.

Nickell stated before the Committee his belief that on balance, immigration is both good and bad for the UK.

But he suggested that the health service was a specific case which would suffer if immigration was cut, because ’35 per cent’ of health professionals come from outside the UK.

The Mail worried yesterday that such a heavy reliance on foreign workers could have negative implications for the future of the health service.

But what about the health services in the countries where migrant workers are coming from?

The issue of the effect of incoming migrant workers has been discussed ad nauseam – as Nickell says, there are arguments for both sides, but the NHS is one instance where immigration has a demonstrably positive effect on the delivery of a public service.

Putting UK interests aside for a second, we need to ask whether our NHS is depriving developing countries of the healthcare that they need.

According to a study by the HSCIC published in January, Indians form the second largest group of NHS workers after British people.

There were 2,708 Indian consultants in January, seven per cent of the total whose nationality was known.

In India, there are approximately 600 million people with little or no access to healthcare. Accountability is driven by a private system, but a significant percentage of the population simply cannot afford it.

Experts have pointed to a lack of infrastructure -clean water and technology – but also say that the lack of skilled people, especially in rural areas, means that even if there was appropriate infrastructure there would be an insufficient number of skilled people trained to utilise it.

The Philippines is identified as the country that provides the second largest number of overseas health workers after India.

The HSCIC report found that as of January 2014 The Philippines provided 8,094 qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors, and 12,744 NHS staff overall.

In 2013, Prince Philip famously commented to a Filipino nurse that her country ‘must be half empty’.

A 2013 UNICEF report into ‘brain drain’ in the Philippines found that ‘nurse migration from the Philippines has become so common that some doctors have undergone training in nursing just so they can have a chance at being employed abroad’.

Clearly, ‘brain drains’ are a vicious circle, and the more public services are affected by the emigration of skilled professionals, the more people will want to leave.

Indeed, Unicef reported that ‘the more prominent trend [from the 90’s onward] was that more professional migrants left the Philippines than professionals who joined the country’s workforce’.

The British Medical Association said yesterday that it expects the number of foreign workers entering the NHS continue to rise for at least 10 years.

A spokeswoman said:

“These overseas medics have a vital role. At the moment, we need about 10,000 more GPs, and 10,000 more consultants. It takes 10 years to train as a GP, and about 15 to train as a consultant, so even if the Government is pouring money into recruitment now, the effects will not be seen for many years.”

A continuation of this trend can hardly be good news for those living in India and the Philippines (to name just two of the countries affected by it).

The World Health Organisation estimate that (using the most recent available data) the UK has 2.79 physicians per 1,000 people, compared to the Philippines which has 1.15 and India which has just 0.7.

Guinea, severely affected by Ebola, has just 0.1 health workers for every thousand people – the consequences of this kind of shortage are becoming abundantly, brutally clear.

We need to support developing countries to build their own health infrastructures.

Otherwise the UK will continue to be a more attractive option for medical professionals, leaving millions of vulnerable people without access to even the most rudimentary medical care.

"Except For People We Like"

Alex Massie writes:

Next year’s general election looks like being the most gruesomely entertaining in years.

Entertaining because no-one knows what is going to happen; gruesome because of the protagonists and the sorry misfortune that someone has to win it.

All we can say for certain is that the Lib Dems will receive a doing.

I still don’t think that person will be David Cameron. In part for reasons previously detailed here.

The single biggest thing preventing a thumping Labour victory is Ed Miliband. This is, it is true, a sturdy peg upon which the Tories may hang their hopes but it still may not prove sturdy enough.

Not least because, by the standards they set themselves, this government has failed.

It came to power promising to put Britain’s finances in order. By any sensible measurement it has signally failed to do so.

As Fraser put it the other day, the Prime Minster and his Chancellor are scurrying around the country misleading people.

Never mind the national debt, the deficit has not been cut in half over the course of this parliament.

Indeed, functionally-speaking Cameron and Osborne’s record in power is much closer to the plans put forward by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling in 2010 than to the promises the Tories offered the country themselves.

In fiscal terms, you could argue this has been another Labour government.

But that’s far from the Tories’ greatest problem. If only it were! Broken promises are circles all governments must square, after all and it’s the kind of thing the electorate kinda expects.

No, much worse for the Tories is that far from completing the modernisation they once promised they have, in large part, abandoned the project.

As a result the electorate, generally speaking, reckons the Tories just as extreme as UkipMoreover, voters think the Tories are some distance further from the centre of British politics than Labour.

Perhaps that helps explain why no poll in the last two months has put the Tories above 34% of the vote.
So that’s all pretty bad.

But it’s not nearly as bad as the fact the Tories are entering the campaign with a message that contradicts itself.

Not at the margin or in some trivial sense but at the heart of the matter and on the stuff that really matters.
Because, you see, the Conservatives are running a campaign that says there is no money for public spending but there is money for tax cuts.

One of these things can be true; they cannot both be.

The income tax cut for millionaires was a terrible idea when it was first announced and remains, politically-speaking, a terrible idea now.

If anything, in fact, it looks worse now than it did at the time. Tax cuts for our chums; welfare cuts for you. That’s not a good look.
Now, however, Osborne promises huge public spending cuts of a depth and severity unseen in this parliament.

The future, he smirks, is going to be pretty bloody bloody. It will hurt but it will be good for you.

Well, perhaps it will be.

It may well be that further retrenchment is necessary, even if the private-sector economy grows more quickly than current predictions suggest. We can’t spend forever.
But if that is the case then we can’t afford tax cuts either. Especially tax cuts that won’t achieve their stated objectives.

Once upon a time, Osborne disliked unfunded tax cuts; now he seems to be in favour of them.
Consider his Stamp Duty reforms, for instance. This is predicted to cost the government £800m a year.

Not, it is true, the greatest lollipop in the history of pre-election giveaways but still, you know, a giveaway. 

Which, at a time of severe fiscal tightening, seems unnecessary and not least because it won’t actually do anything to make houses more affordable.

No-one will save any money because a reduction in stamp duty payable will be offset by an increase in house prices.

Good news for sellers, for sure, but there’s hee-haw in this for buyers.

It may be that voters don’t mind paying more for their house if it means the tax burden of purchasing a property is reduced and so there could, granted, be a political upside to this plan.

But even if there is that political benefit is more than offset by the manner in which Osborne’s Autumn Statement undermined the core thesis upon which the Tories are supposed to be making their pitch to the electorate.
Which is, again, that there is no money. Except, it seems, when there is. So which is it? At best the Tory message is We failed first time around but please give us another go.

Voters, however, are entitled to wonder why, if there really is no money, the government can afford to cut government revenues.

It’s not an easy message to sell, not least because it’s a message that contradicts itself. And those messages tend to be the kinds of message that lose elections.

Perhaps the electorate won’t notice.

Perhaps they will conclude that, rubbish as the Tories have been, Prime Minister Miliband would be even worse.

That’s a pretty risky bet, mind you.

Cutting That Which Did Not Cause The Crash


The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that there will need to be “colossal” cuts in public spending to balance the books by 2018-19 – at least £55bn extra.

On 4 December, the day after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, the director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, said that it wasn’t for lack of effort that the deficit hasn’t fallen.

Rather, it was “because the economy performed so poorly in the first half of the parliament, hitting revenues very hard”.
Very true – but what Johnson omitted to say was that the main reason the economy performed so poorly in the first half of the parliament was because George Osborne was busy cutting the deficit. He should have been expanding it!
This is something that expert commen­tators lack the guts to say because that would brand them as Keynesians.

They may admit that fiscal consolidation has made eco­nomic recovery “more challenging”. But they don’t tell us why.

This theoretical gap leaves them without a reputable story of why the economy behaved so poorly. They are in familiar “blown-off-course” territory.
Every possible event that might affect growth, however fleetingly, has been summoned in aid of explaining the failure of the economy to grow: the Greek crisis, the rising price of oil, the extra bank holiday on the Queen’s Diamond ­Jubilee and the closure of shops during the London Olympics, snow and floods – everything except the real reason, which is that a deficiency of ­private ­demand was not being offset by public-­sector investment.

The latest explanation of why the Chancellor has failed to meet his deficit targets concentrates on the nature of the labour market recovery.

The government has congratulated itself on the fall in unemployment. We would expect falling unemployment to increase tax revenues and reduce public spending.

However, this will not happen if government policy has created lots of new, mostly low-wage jobs whose holders pay no direct taxes and that must be propped up with benefits.
The catastrophic fall in productivity that we are now seeing was planted in the two and a half years of stagnation that followed the creation of the coalition in 2010.

In October 2012, the Office for Budget Responsibility found that the economy had grown by only 0.9 per cent between Q1 of 2010 and Q2 of 2012, while its June 2010 forecast was 5.7 per cent growth over the same period.

Subsequent upward revision has made these figures less dire but there is no doubt that Osborne and his advisers seriously underestimated the adverse effects of austerity on investment.
As is now increasingly recognised, this extended period of stagnation reduced the long-term growth rate of the economy through the destruction of both human skills and physical capital.
Despite his warning about the size of the cuts to come, Paul Johnson said that they could be achieved. He added, however, that they would require a “reimagining” (or, put another way, shrinking) of the state.

Two questions arise. First, what effect will shrinking the state have on the economy? Second, what effect will it have on the polity?

On the first, Johnson seems to assume that the economy will go on growing at about 2.5 per cent a year, even as the deficit is being cut to zero. This is highly optimistic because the cutting is simultaneously reducing private incomes.

It may be possible, by sufficiently heroic austerity, for a government to keep revenues for a time running ahead of cuts but at what level of GDP will the budget eventually be balanced? Certainly lower than it would have been without the cuts.
The cuts not only change the level of GDP but also its composition and, therefore, the relations between the state and its citizens.

This point is recognised by Labour, which promises “fairer” cuts. If a government has to cut its spending, it is much better to tax the rich than starve the poor.

However, this is alien to the spirit of cutting.

The barely subliminal message of all austerity programmes is that the deficit has been caused by spiralling welfare payments to the poor, with the object of austerity ­being to “get them on their bikes” – like in the 1930s, when unemployment was consistently around or above 10 per cent.
We urgently need to have a proper debate about the role and size of the state.

Prosperity does not demand that the state should spend 40 per cent-plus of national income as it does now, though justice may.
In the old days, people used to talk of a “trade-off” between efficiency and justice and some of those arguments may still be valid, though I am less and less persuaded that the private sector scores heavily over the public sector in efficiency.

A financial system that allocates capital to itself and whose crash in 2008 left the population 15 per cent poorer than it would have been is hardly an advertisement for private-sector efficiency.
What is really indefensible is to cut the state for reasons of financial dogmatism, as though the size of the state – and especially the welfare state – were the cause of the slump.

We need a cool discussion on the role of the state as owner and regulator in a market economy and in the light of the civic purposes that people set for themselves.

It needs to be pointed out that these huge cuts imply serious losses to the quality of government services and the strength of the defence and police services.

I’m not sure which is worse: to bleed the economy with small cuts stretching many years ahead or to cut deeply now and hope for the best.

What does seem clear is that politics will not allow the second and only a ­Labour government can avert the first.

Neoconservatism’s Theory Gap

Leon Hadar writes:

A college professor teaching a course on theories of international relations would not find it hard to prepare for his or her students an anthology of articles or book chapters written by authors representing the major schools of thought in the field.

That would hold true for realism or idealism (in their traditional of “neo” versions), liberalism (including “neo” and “post”), or Marxism, or the various alternative approaches such a post-structuralism and post-modernism, as well as efforts to apply feminism or green theory.
So it’s not surprising that our enterprising IR professor, recognizing the extent to which a school of thought known as neoconservatism has shaped American foreign policy in recent decades—even transforming it in a dramatic way through the Iraq War and the Freedom Agenda—would also search for a major work written by a leading neoconservative thinker that could provide the students with a serious and coherent overview of the neoconservative theory of international relations in its most updated version.
Here I have the realist John Mearsheimer, the neo-realist Fareed Zakaria, the idealist Samantha Power, the liberal John Ikenbeary, the Marxist Noam Chomsky, and such works as The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, The End of History, or The Clash of Civilizations.

So where is our Great Neoconservative Foreign Policy Thinker and his or her magnum opus?
A historian of American intellectual thought would probably conclude that once there were actually serious neoconservative thinkers like Daniel Bell, Nathan Glaser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Irving Kristol who published original and ground-breaking works on social and economic policy, some of which have become classics in the field.
But when it comes to the field of international relations, neoconservatism has failed to produce any great thinkers, and will instead be remembered for its many pundits and operators, or policy entrepreneurs, who did affect the debate and the crafting of American foreign policy but who have never been able to ground the policies they advanced in any consistent and systemic theoretical framework that could stand the test of time.
One could make the argument that these neoconservative policy entrepreneurs were just a bunch of guys who, during the Cold War, seemed to agree that Washington wasn’t tough enough towards the Soviet Union or friendly enough towards Israel, and since the Cold War ended have been arguing that America needs to establish global dominance (Pax Americana) and control the Middle East, culminating with their push for ousting Saddam Hussein, for occupying Iraq, and for remaking the Middle East.

Their policy recommendations came first, and only then did they tried to articulate the reasons why American policymakers should embrace them.
Some of these foreign policy entrepreneurs, like Robert Kagan or Charles Krauthammer, may have been more articulate than others, but much of what they and other neoconservatives have had to say and write about foreign policy has been quite predictable, calling for the exertion of U.S. military power abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

And their work was never aimed not at discovering a great new idea in international relations, but rather at providing intellectual ammunition to political allies fighting the “war of ideas” in Washington’s think tanks and green rooms, while maligning political enemies, more often than not as “isolationists”.
From that perspective, Bret Stephens’ America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder fits the bill as another lightweight neoconservative foreign policy tome with quite a lot of intellectual pretension, if not arrogance, that could have been condensed into a short magazine article or even into an op-ed piece (saving at least this reader some time).
Devoid of any new ideas, America in Retreat recycles old clichés in a confused and misleading way as part of an effort to revive and advance the neoconservative agenda at a time when it seemed (at least for a while) to be in decline, while at the same time bashing and trying to marginalize current and potential enemies of the cause.

In this case, those enemies are the supposedly emerging “isolationist” wing in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, and its presumptive leader and potential presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul.
Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning deputy page editor of the Wall Street Journalhas been promoting these and similar themes in his Global View column in the newspaper, and he tends to employ the same kind of literary devices in the book as in his column, starting with the Great Spin.
According to Stephens, America is retreating from the world.

It is abandoning Iraq; withdrawing from Afghanistan; refusing to topple Syria’s Assad; tolerating Russia’s aggression in Ukraine; allowing China to bully its neighbors.

These and other examples of weakness and appeasement amount to a rejection of America’s traditional role as the world’s policeman.
Until recently, the view that “we should not be the world’s policeman,” which Stephens equates with “isolationism”, was held mainly by the political left and “found a home in the fringes of the right, particularly among small-government libertarians and latter-day Father Coughlin such as Pat Buchanan.”
But now “isolationism” is gathering support among members of “the mainstream of the conservative movement,” with the upshot being that foreign policy in the United States “is now cutting across traditional divides.”

It is no longer “a story of (mostly) Republican hawks versus (mostly) Democratic doves.” According to Stephens, it is now an argument between neoisolationists and internationalists, with “an increasing number of Tea Party and libertarian-leaning Republicans like Senator Rand Paul” joining Democrats and liberals in espousing this neoisolationist creed.
The idealist and moralistic President Barack Obama and his Retreat Doctrine, which “begins as form of prophylactic defense against supposedly inevitable failure, then proceeds to an acquiescence to a world hostile to American interests, values, and long-term security” are supposedly responsible for the “isolationist” drift in Washington and around the country.

Since Obama came to office, the global political and economic order have apparently crumbled, creating the conditions for instability and chaos everywhere.
The result is that without the United States playing the role of the world’s policeman, we should expect the Coming Global Disorder, as revisionist powers (Russia, China, Iran) exploit the strategic vacuum being created in “de-Americanized world.”

Former U.S. allies that cannot count anymore on American protection (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan) are tempted to take matters in their own hand, to “freelance” when they fear that their security is at stake.

And “free radicals,” ranging from jihadists with WMDs to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, “take advantage of the open architecture of the modern world to attack the foundations of the free world.”
The problem with this Great Spin is that it is ahistorical and has nothing to do with reality.

Accounting for 42.6 percent of global military spending (as compared to 5.2 percent for China, 3.0 percent from Britain, and 2.2 percent for India) while continuing to maintain its military presence in every corner of the world, Washington, operating with clear bipartisan support, including by Paul, remains committed to activist global interventionist policies.
What Stephens dubs “retreat” and “neoisolationism” are nothing more than a return to normalcy, to the sources of traditional American foreign policy as practiced by Republican and Democratic Presidents since World War II.

It was President George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisors who abandoned those principles and decided to launch a costly unilateralist military adventure and war of choice—coupled with a ideological crusade to impose American values worldwide—that ran contrary to U.S. interests and traditions.
In fact, American presidents have never tried to impose a Pax Americana or to embrace the role of the world’s policeman, except perhaps in the Western Hemisphere, but have rather sought to work with its allies in order to protect their common interests, as it did during the Cold War when it shared global power with the Soviet Union, but never considered, for example, deploying military troops to assist freedom fighters.
From that perspective, President Obama, with initial strong support from the American public as well as the backing of many realists on the political right, has decided to abandon the reckless and un-American foreign policy pursued by his predecessor (especially during W.’s first term in office) and to adopt a similar strategy of adjustment and retrenchment that was pursued by Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford—and orchestrated by Henry Kissinger—against the backdrop of the expected U.S. military withdrawal from Vietnam.
Like in the case of Nixon, President Obama’s policies included reassessing U.S. global interests, reducing defense spending, shifting more security responsibilities to allies, and reaching diplomatic deals with adversaries, all while continuing to project and sometime use American military power abroad.
In a way, the cry of betrayal sounded by Japan and other allies in Asia in the face of American withdrawal from Vietnam and the diplomatic opening to China recalls a similar irritation on the part of Saudi Arabia and Israel as President Obama was taking steps to readjust U.S. policy in the Middle East to changing strategic realities, steps such as launching diplomatic negotiations with Iran.

What Stephens describes as neoisolationism is the pursuit of nuanced Realpolitik policies.
But in Stephens’ foreign policy universe there is no place for nuance, only crude binarism.

His two villains, the alleged critics of his imaginary Pax Americana President Obama and Senator Paul, are compared to two historical figures and former presidential candidates, Democratic Vice President Henry Wallace and Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio.
In Stephens’ narrative, when it comes to foreign policy, there is a straight ideological line leading from Wallace (an early critic of U.S. Cold War policies) to Obama, and from Taft (who opposed U.S. entry into World War II) to Paul—with all the four being opponents of Pax Americana and exhibiting those “isolationist”—old and neo—tendencies.

But these faulty historical analogies are based on the assumption that al-Qaeda, Saddam’s Iraq, and Iran pose the same level of threat that Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union did, and disregards the differences between the idealist Wallace and the more realist Taft (who by the way were also strong supporters of Zionism and Israel).
More annoying is the way that Stephens deals with his Iraq problem: his failure to resolve the dissonance between his suggestion that his ideological mates, including President Bush, are deep inside actually hardcore realists and the reality of the ambitious Wilsonian Freedom Agenda that Bush and the neoconservatives promoted after 9/11.
In order to resolve this cognitive dissonance, Stephens, in an exercise of mislabeling and historical revisionism, contends that, well, you see, there were actually two Bush Doctrines.

There was the Realpolitik Bush-Cheney doctrine that was seeking to “uphold, defend and improve world order, not transform and improve human society” and only wanted to prevent Saddam Hussein from having access to WMDs.

And then there was Bush Doctrine II that “promised to work toward the elimination of dictatorships the world over” and that Bush embraced only after it was discovered that there were no WMDs in Iraq.
But anyone who followed the debate in Washington before and after the Iraq War recognizes that the Freedom Agenda and the Wilsonian fantasy of turning Iraq and the Arab World into thriving liberal democracies while disregarding the political and cultural realities of Mesopotamia and the rest of the region, was an integral part of the drive to intervene in Iraq.

It had very little to do with Realpolitik, and if anything, ended up harming U.S. (and Israeli) strategic interests by strengthening the power of Iran and its regional satellites.
Stephens doesn’t even try to confront the strategic catastrophe that the neoconservative agenda has created in the Middle East, and instead suggests that it is Obama that has been trying to advance a Bush Doctrine II in the Middle East by embracing the Arab Spring and abandoning Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

This is a legitimate criticism, but not a very credible one coming from Stephens, who now calls for using military power to depose Syria’s Assad and provide support to his opponents.
But then, America in Retreat, like other neoconservative foreign policy literature, isn’t supposed to make sense since it’s not based on any clear elucidation of how the world works and how to deal with it other than arguing for the need to show “resolve” and militarily threaten anyone who doesn’t share America’s values and interests (as defined by Stephens and Co).
In fact, by the time the book came out, many of its assumptions had already been overrun by events like the emergence of ISIS that actually played into the hands of the pro-interventionists in Washington, or the plunge in oil prices that weakened revisionist powers like Iran and Russia.

Actually, much of what the book argues has not been overrun by reality; it never corresponded to it in the first place.