Get Well Soon Tobias

Just a short line for Tobias:”God Speed Your Recovery”. We and Europe need you. BTW: doesn’t this make an even stronger case for good public transport and walking!

just a short note to let you know I will presumably not be able to write much for the next four to six weeks as I broke my left arm yesterday and am right now reeducating myself to get on with single handed typing, which is not too easy once being used to ten fingers on the keyboard. I will try though, as part of my physiotherapy ;). One tip from the expert: Don’t ever attempt ride a bycicle in autumn when the streets are slippery…


If I were you I would try the local zoo. See if they have any macacos, because with “Um n?mero infinito de macacos, com um n?mero infinito de teclados…………….”

The people you meet on the plane

You sometimes meet interesting people flying across the Atlantic, and this trip has to just about take the cake for it. On the way from Minneapolis to Amsterdam yesterday morning, my flight was carrying a group of Amish bound for Zurich.

Now, the Amish are perhaps another institution Americans are more familiar with then Europeans. They are not very large in number, but they have enough media presence that most people know who they are. The Amish are a Protestant religious group who, beyond just ordinary adherence to their faith, also live moderately segragated lives from the American mainstream. They speak a southern German dialect commonly but inaccurately called “Pennsylvania Dutch.” They wear a particular style of clothing, the men tend to wear long beards but not mustaches, and the women dress very conservatively and wear small bonnets, as commanded by Paul in the New Testament. They also don’t drive cars and restrict their access to quite a few other modern conveniences.

The Amish are widely seen as more isolated from the world than they really are, and their society is a great deal less idyllic than it is made out to be. Since I’m ethnically Mennonite (a related but more mainstream faith) and spent my college years in a heavily Amish area, I have a bit more experience with them than the average American and I can assure you that the Amish are good deal more connected to the world than they are made out to be. Quite a few leave their communities and join more mainstram life. There are drug problems, and I gather domesitic violence and child abuse are not rare. They are not subsistence farmers; they sell their crops for cash, put the money in banks and buy food at grocery stores. Apparently, roller blades are very fashionable in Amish communities right now, and I remember seeing a lot of horses and buggies at Taco Bell on Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, why would they be travelling to Zurich, and what does this have to do with Europe?
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What Does Europe Stand For?

Twelve golden stars on a deep blue field. Soon to fly alongside the national emblems in twenty-five states, with more than a dozen more conceivable in the medium term. Why should hundreds of millions of citizens want to join their futures to this project?

Are Europe, and its Union, just shorthand for peace and prosperity? Normality? Is that enough? What did the dissidents of the East want, when they wrote that they yearned for the return to Europe? High taxes and state day care? Is that all?

What hopes and dreams are bound up in that simple band of stars?

The trials of the Tories

Later today, Iain Duncan Smith, the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, will face a vote of confidence in his leadership that he’s widely expected not to survive. (For those of you looking for blogged coverage during the day, I recommend British Politics, Anthony Wells, Iain Murray and our own Matthew Turner. We’re yet to have a blogging Conservative MP, but there’s some interesting perspectives from inside Westminster from the MPs Tom Watson and Richard Allan.)
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Europe hors l’Europe

Since I’m on the subject of things extra-European today, I note that Le Monde is reporting that there will be a referendum in Guadéloupe and Martinique in December over changing the status and government structure of France’s Caribbean colonies. France has a tradition of being a very centralised state, but the last 20 years or so have seen the end of the old regime. Powers are now devolved to regional governments, and the DOM-TOM’s are increasingly autonomous. Corsica’s little set-back recently is, I suspect, just a speedbump in the decline of the centralised French state.

What I would like to propose is the idea that maybe there needs to be some debate on the status of Europe’s extra-European areas as whole.
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European free riding?

Doug and Elliot Oti brought up the subject of European free riding in the comment’s to Doug’s latest post.

Let me pose this hypothetical. After his landslide win in 2004, president Kuichinik, slashes the US military budget to a third of its current size.

Do you think the European countries would feel compelled to raise their own military expenditure? A huge or a modest increase? (Or perhaps they’d cut their militaries?) How would their security policies be affected?

For what reasons would they do whatever you think they’d do?

What should they do, i.e what would – if this were to happen – be in their best interest?

Life outside of Europe

So, today I’m blogging from Idaho where I’m visiting the in-laws. This is the first time I’ve been back in the States long enough for the place to feel foreign since decamping off to Belgium a couple years ago. Actually, the strangest part of this trip has been the feeling of being in a foreign country, even though it’s a country that I’ve spent almost half my life in.

Some of that could be Idaho. I’ve lived in California, Colorado, Indiana and New Jersey, and this is a bit like Colorado. Of course, I haven’t lived in Colorado in 20 years. But, considering that I’ve spent most of this trip either working on a white paper for my employer or planted in front of basic cable, I have to at least consider the possibility that Idaho isn’t really the problem.

[Warning: This post is long and will contain extensive references to life in America. The Americans will probably all get it. You may not.]
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Russia: ‘Managed democracy’ shows its true colors

Well, well. The richest man in Russia got arrested yesterday. Rather unusually brutally too, FSB raid, as demonstartions. What’s going on?

Let’s turn to not mainstream media but rather The Moscow Times who of course are all over this.

First, some kremlinology:

Analysts have said the attack is an attempt to curb Khodorkovsky’s political ambitions. Not only has the nation’s richest man has been openly funding opposition parties ahead of elections, but he also has attempted to push his own policy agenda on key state issues such as pipeline strategy.

The onslaught also comes amid a vicious battle for position between the old elite that came to power and wealth under former President Boris Yeltsin — including Khodorkovsky — and a hard-line faction known as the siloviki that arrived in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin.

Analysts said Tuesday that the new burst of activity from prosecutors came amid signs that the Kremlin faction backing the old elite, known as the Family, might be beginning to cave in. The head of the presidential administration, Alexander Voloshin, has been seen as the main protector of that group.

“Rumors of Voloshin’s upcoming resignation are continuing to come from the Kremlin and, judging by their frequency and their consistency, it seems he will not survive the elections. He is gradually losing real control over the Kremlin apparatus,” said Andrei Ryabov, political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. “What’s happening now is a sign of the shift in the balance of power.”

Ryabov added: “Another reason for the recent burst also appears to be Yukos’ increasing activity in trying to sell a stake to a foreign oil major. If such a deal happened, this would not suit the siloviki as YukosSibneft would then fall completely out of their control.”[*]

What will happen?

Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov said Khodorkovsky’s arrest could usher in new rules of the game for big business and the state.

“After Khodorkovsky’s loss there could be a change in the rules of the game,” he said. “Khodorkovsky will be made an offer he can’t refuse. He can accept the new rules of the game, or he can stay in prison.

“Those who do not agree with the new rules of the game will lose control over their property. That was what happened with [Vladimir] Gusinsky and [Boris] Berezovsky.”

Markov speculated that Khodorkovsky could be forced to give up his stake in Yukos and step down in favor of other managers more ready to cooperate with the state. He could not say exactly what the new rules for business might involve, apart from plans to raise taxes on extraction of raw materials.[*]