Saturday, 28 April 2012

Staying Close to Your Oil and Gas Supplies

The Prime Minister has been in talks with the Secretary General of NATO Rasmussen, who is in Rome for a number of meetings prior to the NATO summit in Chicago in late May.  Senator Monti noted:

"Italy assures a financial and manpower undertaking committed to the training of Afghan forces...until now taken on by Italy in helping the security of that accordance with the agreement signed by me with President Karzai on 26 January last."

It is no surprise that the Italian forces in Afghanistan are centred on Herat.  Where else?  The lovely city, the best carpets...
What is surprising (or perhaps more interesting than surprising) is their determination to stay after 2014.

It must be the proximity to all that  oil and gas.

Still On the Rocks

The Costa Concordia, now almost wholly submerged and lying on her side off the island of Giglio, is to be removed by a firm from Ravenna.  Tuscany is outraged. 

Not only has the removal contract gone to Emilia-Romagna but the port where repairs will be made after the gash in her side has been closed, the water removed  and  the ship made towable in situ, will not be Livorno but Civitavecchia.  There she will be refloated and will then be taken to Sicily where Fincantieri will sort her out  - probably by dismantling her - in the Palermo shipyards.

Chances are the numbers of  holidaymakers in Giglio will  rise.  There's so much advice to be offered to the salvage workers from the serried ranks of watchers on the quay, so much to discuss about how not to hit a large island with a large boat on a moonlit night with calm seas - Elba must be wondering what attractions it can offer to compete.

Rules of the Game

Rome. Half past five in the morning.  Two jewellers get into their car with the new collection they are taking to Munich for a jewellery fair.  These are the entrepreneurs, the kind of Italian family firm that makes up so much of the Italian economy through thick and thin.  The brothers are armed - as they should be carrying 75 million euros-worth of preziosi.

They note a white van as they drive up the ramp from the garage and are ready when it is rammed into the side of their car.  Before the pistol-waving robbers can wrench open the car doors the brother in the passenger seat has shot two of them - one dead and  another wounded. 

That  jewellers and gold couriers go armed is widely known and wholly accepted; the brothers have not been detained or charged.   The third robber is being hunted by Carabinieri throughout the neighbourhood -  they are even using helicopters over nearby open countryside.  There has merely been an official announcement that the dead robber was a Roman and had a long criminal record.

"Speak as you eat." is the Roman saying.  So they did.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

End the Public Funding of Political Parties

Morphing into full vamp-face is as  nothing in effect when compared with the visceral distaste induced by watching Italian political parties justifying their continued drawing upon tax-payer funding.  The last tranche of the more than 2 billion euro payout for this legislature is due.

Without it the Partito Democratico - centre-left, ie. left-over communists and socialists, mixed with triangulating centre opportunists,  will become insolvent.  They seem to have spent their share of our money on travel, hotels, conferences in various more desirable parts of Italy and the world; a steady stream of petty upgradings of their politicians' and apparatchiks' living standards.  The Northern Leagues went for gold ingots, diamonds, villas, central city appartments and supporting the Bossi family and friends with handouts, business start-ups, and jobs all round.  The Partito della Liberta' have a more bunga bunga approach to spending our money.

The Prime Minister now stands accused of running not a 'technical' government backed by a grand coalition in Parliament to straighten out the economy and deal with welfare debt, but a full blown political administration that is taking on the real problems of  the country: an enormous submerged black and grey economy; organised criminality embracing the judiciary and local governance (towns and cities are having their administrations suspended from Ventimiglia to Palermo for mafia involvement); what looks like an entire programme of arrests for clan and family heads of organised criminality - they're hauled up into the daylight from their underground hidey holes at least once a week on the Eight O'Clock News with Carabinieri officers wearing 'at last' expressions and toting submachine guns; bemused-looking diners, shoppers, yacht owners, Ferrari drivers looking for their receipts under the gaze of Financial police (with golden wings on their hats!); and night after night enraged trade union special interest groups join various professional  -well, guilds, I suppose - spitting various kinds of moral high ground venom and demands that their particular interest group's ends and means should continue to deny the rest of the potential workforce a chance of a reasonable job, pension, health service, business start-up.

The population is cheering him on.  He's committed to no more austerity and the use of all his Executive power - which is considerable - to lower taxes once the evaders' revenues are in the kitty, lose the regulations designed to keep economic activity for the privileged and connected, bring Italy's highly-skilled, and largely maintained in functioning groups during the recession, workforce into  productive contact with the European economy (indeed the international economy, given the high propensity to export to the rest of the world).

The trouble is he's determined not to continue past this year.  The disgraced political parties have been warned to clean themselves up and sort out their relationship with the institutions of the state - you know, Parliament, the Judiciary,  the Constitution, the Law, the People - and stop  setting themselves up as all those things if not more.

So now we can see them as they really are, fighting for their kind of Italy; our country that they nearly bankrupted in their incompetence and corruption; their incorrigible, self-seeking pursuit of personal gain.  By next May there will be elections for the new Legislature  and for the new Head of State.  Both the Prime Minister and the President have stated they are not available again.  And we, the people, will not put up with political parties as they were (and still are trying to remain).

It took four months for the present Prime Minister to pull the economy and public finances into some semblance of order, to get the rules of the game sorted out, to vanquish the vicious vested interests.  But the minute the politicians saw a little room for themselves they are rushing to fill it with their usual poison.  In the end their funding must be cut off.  It's the only way to kill them so we can have parties that depend upon public support and answer to our political choices.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Colonial Archives and the Art of Concealment

The dismantling of empire is never a pretty sight.  Today the Foreign Office has begun to release some of the files held secretly in Buckinghamshire (where else but Le Carre country?) and the Guardian is up in arms.  So it should be.  Much of what is extant from the files that were held in former colonies is as disgraceful as might be expected.  And much that is worse has been destroyed.

Except that these seem to be just the files from the colonies - those not destroyed in situ.  Savingrams poured into London day after day recounting, analysing, warning, seeking decisions, recording, panicking even; diplomatic bags and deliveries of copies of material arrived by slower routes.  Allies, most particularly the United States, and other decolonising European states, were fully embedded in matters of interest to them.   The destroyed data were not unique documents - merely those copies kept in local archives and offices.

Yet we are led to believe that they are lost, evidence of colonial wrongdoing gone forever.  They are not.  They are merely in another place (another part of Bucks?) and all the more secure because of the misleading emphasis on local destruction.

And if you ever wondered where the arrogance and enormity of the British secret state derived, start by looking at these damaged, partial, redacted archives that have been wrung from your ruling classes.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lenin's Question Again

Generalised austerity is producing recession; and structural reforms alone are not going to make it better.  Not least because some structural reforms are not necessarily for the better.  Furthermore they are effective over the long term - ten to twenty years.  In the meantime the absolute requirement for fiscal consolidation reinforces lack of demand.  Which is made worse by taxation levels that render the financially competent poor.

Europeans are suffering from social and political parasitism.  Certainly today's economic environment  is competitive, but parasitism as a concept  can be borrowed from Lenin.  Indeed, for our economies too, much can be learned from the experiences of state planning and the centrally planned economy that failed the moment its objectives were not the creation of basic development but the creation of a modern consumer-driven economy.

For our capitalist societies to fail because of income inequality and mal-distribution of wealth is as miserable an end for us as the destruction of the dream of realised socialism.    However, even though the failures of state planning are well-known and well-documented,  the failures of market capitalism are, unfortunately,  in part the result of the economically naive and unaware attempting to use the failed techniques and ideologies of  realised socialism through an antidemocratic take-over of the state, and its enlargement beyond any local, democratic control.

Yet the hyper-liberal response to the ills of market capitalism is creating the gross increases in inequality that are at the root of our recession.  What is to be done?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Lenin Makes it Through Siberian Winter Cold

The tortoise is eating flowers in the garden.  There were great fears for survival after the February temperatures and deep snow.

When is a Dove Not a Dove?

Imagine calling an Airbus 319 a dove.  No matter what colour you paint it, it's an ugly Airbus. 
(And artists are supposed to have some sense of beauty.  And history.  Aren't they?)

This is a Dove.  From de Havilland.

The UK Needs More Than 'Privacy From State Snooping'

Fresh legislation on surveillance of individual's communications is a red herring when considering what needs to be done or undone or not done to end the United Kingdom's democratic deficit.  This deficit is nothing to do with the UK's membership of the European Union although the EU democratic deficit interacts malignantly with that of the United Kingdom to produce a peculiarly authoritarian and surveillance-ridden European state in the UK.

First to be reformed must be the institution of an hereditary head of state. The feudal governance structures carried in the train of an hereditary monarchy have no rightful place in an advanced capitalist European democratic state.  Crown prerogative and Crown privilege (or Public interest immunity these days) are democratically uncontrolled and their distribution between the Executive, Judiciary, and the Head of State in person are unsettled and shifting to the advantage of secrecy and the manipulation of those parts of the state that are accessible by democratic means.

Which leads to the lack of a codified constitution.  The UK has no constitution.  A constitution that is capable of taking on almost any form under guise of being 'unwritten' but to be found in many sources accessed by specialist knowledge and interpretation, and whose content is undefined and without criteria for inclusion and which, further, can be wholly altered by legislative or Executive act, is no constitution at all.

There is no readily accessible route to any resolution of conflict between the individual and this monstrously over-powered and ill-defined state.  Without a constitutional court, defined as such and sitting as such any party to a conflict finds themselves without straightforward redress, lost in a fog of interpretation and application of unclear rules and precedents.  Which is precisely how sovereign, Executive and Judiciary want it.

Redress, for UK subjects, sought through the Court of Human Rights is grossly inadequate and it is here that some of the the worst aspects of the malign inter-relationship of European structures and UK structures occur.  If domestic remedies must be exhausted first and there are none or are defective UK subjects are further disadvantaged by the nebulousness of hard to realise possibilities dressed as real opportunities or even rights.  Other European states' citizens know precisely where they stand and how to get from there to somewhere else (so to speak).

It is long past the time that this pernicious, mutually reinforcing State in the UK was reformed to make all of it,  not just parts of legislature and parts of local government, open to democratic vote, scrutiny and  control.  If all the other member-states of the European Union can produce forms of democracy enabled through institutions and constitutions open to democratic control, so can the United Kingdom. 

The UK needs:  an elected head of state; an elected second chamber of Parliament; a codified constitution; a constitutional court; and local level tribunals readily accessible to the population  for early resolution of abuses of power by state officials.

Perhaps then the Union itself will no longer be so noxious to the United Kingdom through the over-zealous and selective application of its practices and policies, which are held in check in other member-states by the proper functioning of their democracies.