Qatar: It’s Where the Money Comes From

Karl Marx said that ideology is part of the social superstructure, merely a decorative overlay on the brutal truth of the economic base. Millian liberalism was really just an expression of the pounding steam engines, Jacquard looms and downtrodden apprentices of 1840s Manchester, just as absolutism had been built on the assumption that society would always consist of peasants and landlords.

But what does it tell us about the chief proponents of “Eurabia” that a healthy chunk of their money comes from, well, Arabia? We don’t need to spend too much time flogging this sack of horseshit; Randy McDonald has already debunked it with rapier sharpness in this post at Demography Matters, following up on his classic 2004-vintage spanking of Mark Steyn. The short version is that there are not enough Muslims, the ones who are in Europe are progressively exhibiting more European demography, the countries whose demography is most worrying attract large numbers of non-Muslim immigrants, and not all European countries’ demography is anything like the same.

The Nation‘s Kathryn Joyce takes a look at the politics of Eurabia; nobody should be surprised that it’s pretty ugly. Essentially, there’s a gaggle of thinktanks/campaign groups/whatever closely connected to the Mormons and Senator Sam Brownback, and specifically to their extreme “quiverfull” wing, which advocates having absurdly (8+ kids) large families. It looks a lot like an effort both to find a new market for their politics in central Europe (Kazcynski’s Poland was Target One) and also to gin up a foreign-policy scare that would energise their base in support of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Well, that went well.

It’s also amusing that Joyce describes their view of Poland as “the anti-Sweden”. I don’t know to what extent this is a true misrepresentation, but it’s worth pointing out that they’ve placed their strategic bridgehead on the wrong side of the Baltic. It’s as if the Normandy landings had taken place somewhere on the coast of Portugal or Ireland. In yet another cracking DM post, this time by “AFOE Principal Investigator” Edward Hugh, we learn that Sweden is the last place in Europe that needs to worry. Well, except for France. Poland, on the other hand, is solidly in their problem group of countries with very low total-fertility rates (the data is here (XLS)). France? Sweden? You can almost hear the authoritarian personalities creak and groan with the cognitive dissonance. Of course, there’s a very good reason why they didn’t go to either France or Sweden, which is that they would have been laughed out of town.

But what especially amuses me is this:

The result is the spread of US culture-war tactics across the globe, from the Czech Republic to Qatar–where right-wing Mormon activist and WCF co-founder Richard Wilkins has found enough common cause with Muslim fundamentalists to build the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.

Doha? As in Qatar? Yes. Unless you’re in the oil or natural gas business, there’s one reason to locate a new institution – especially a profoundly subsidy-dependent one like a thinktank – in Qatar, which is that the sheikh is probably paying for it. Marx would have understood what’s going on here – nothing happens without the means of production, after all. Money, not Coke – it’s the real thing. But what would he have made of the World Council of Families?

Kosovo, Kosovo, blah blah blah

So Kosovo continues to creep — soooo slowly — towards some sort of independence.

Serbia is having a Presidential election this weekend, with a runoff two weeks later. There’s a tacit agreement that nothing should happen before then… the assumption being that Kosovar independence might tip the balance between the incumbent President (moderate and basically decent Boris Tadic) and his challenger (odious populist-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic).

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica — who, honestly, seems to be getting dumber and more stubborn with each passing year — has said that if the EU sends a mission to Kosovo, Serbia won’t sign a Stabilization and Association agreement with the EU. Brussels has said it will wait a bit (i.e., until after the election). I can see the case for that, but once the election is over… well, this strikes me as the sort of bluff that’s crying out to be called. “Oh, we won’t take the next step towards EU candidacy!” “Fine… don’t.”
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Euroscepticism does not get you elected

Jamie Kenny and Nosemonkey wonder why Labour is pro-EU. Enlarging on this post a little, I think it’s worth looking at some data. I suspect the data support that post. For example, despite all the bashing, a solid majority supports EU membership and has done consistently over time.

Further, the public does not worry very much about Europe; some 4 per cent according to a recent poll. However, this is historically low; in 1997 that figure stood at 43 per cent, and it was around 25 per cent during William Hague’s ferociously Eurosceptic 2001 election campaign.

But it’s not enough to say that the British simply don’t care, and that Euroscepticism is latent until activated by shouting sufficiently. 1997 was the election when John Major’s campaign ran huge posters of Tony Blair as a poodle on Helmut Kohl’s knee; and it wasn’t a great year for Eurosceptic Tories, was it? Of course there are confounding factors. Euroscepticism in 1997 involved either voting for the proto-UKIP Referendum party or a Conservative party as popular as nuclear waste; probably the issue was buried under the Labour landslide in places.

The principle, however, holds; nobody gets elected in Britain by being Eurosceptic. There are no votes in it; in a sense, Euroscepticism is a luxury. If you are actually struggling for office, you can’t be a true believer in it because you’ll have to take responsibility for it, and anyway, you have more productive things to do; if you have a safe Conservative seat, though, you are set for life and therefore free to spout any old tripe. The costs are minimal, and the benefits in terms of social approval in the kind of circles safe Tory MPs respect, considerable.

The same goes for the Eurosceptic backers, a small group of rich property tycoons (mostly – there are notably few industrialists) who amuse themselves by throwing money at politicians they like. As Winston Churchill said about small countries who insisted on proliferating battleships before the first world war, it is sport to them, it is death to us.

Christopher Caldwell: Untrustworthy on Facts

Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of neocon house journal the Weekly Standard, once wrote a six-page feature in the New York Times magazine in which he claimed that Robert Kilroy-Silk would “transform European politics”. Despite this, he is still taken seriously by some people; disturbingly, this includes the editors of the Financial Times. In his column this weekend, he issues a rant against trades unions and specifically French ones. I am not going to trouble my readers by taking issue with his ideological position; this is well-known, hence there’s no informational gain in arguing with it.

Instead, I’m sticking to his factual assertions.

Sixty per cent of SNCF cancellations are due to strikes.

The only source for this statement I can find is the French Government’s spokesman; anyway, as the overall 10-minute punctuality rate is of the order of 90 per cent (source: SNCF Annual Report 2006), this is equivalent to saying that 3 trains in every hundred are affected by industrial action. In fact that is a considerable overstatement itself, as not all trains that run 10 minutes late are cancellations. Anyway, this is a theoretical issue; Le Canard Enchaine published the actual figures, according to which strikes accounted for 140 out of 6,043 delays recorded in 2006 – about 2 per cent. Caldwell is wrong.

The young anti-union orator Sabine Herold drew tens of thousands to her speeches during the strikes of 2003.

Fortunately, I’d recently seen some of her old election posters, so I actually knew who she was, which puts me ahead of the vast bulk of the French public. It is actually possible that Mme Herold pulled in at least 10 kilodemonstrators; French Wikipedia claims she did, citing Le Monde as saying she got 30,000, but I can’t find a root-source for this anywhere; just a lot of wingnuts clapping each other on the back. It hasn’t stopped her claiming 100,000 in order to sell books. But it’s hard to be sure, as her political party didn’t get enough votes to be broken out independently in the official results of the 2007 parliamentary election. Neither could they find 500 local councillors willing to sign their presidential nomination. To place a lower bound on her popularity, though, we can say with certainty that she pulled some 345 votes on her home turf, the very bourgeois 16th arrondissement of Paris. That is, 1.4 per cent of the vote. Her fellow leader, Edouard Fillias, pulled a whacking 228 votes in the 12th – 0.52 per cent.

This didn’t stop various right-wing anglophone papers lionising her; fortunately she kept the tributes on her own website. Here’s Matthew Campbell of the Sunday Times predicting that if Segolene Royal wasn’t elected, she might be. Here’s the Daily Telegraph asking whether she really did speak for millions. I think you got your answer, son.

Anyway, moving swiftly on:

They rest on government-accorded privileges, particularly that of compelling membership, whether formally or informally – a privilege that, if it were exercised by a church or a political party, would horrify the public.

“They” are trade unions; it’s a pity Caldwell appears not to know that the closed shop has been illegal in France since 1956.

Business Week loves immigrants

As long as they’re in Spain, that is..

Less snarkily, the article asks the very important question whether this is an answer to the problem of aging populations, and contrasts Spain with Denmark and Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign. And it even tackles Edward Hugh’s concerns that the Spanish construction boom may pop with unpredicted consequences.

Meanwhile, Margaret Hodge successfully bears out Barnett’s crack that the British and French are “fearful” on this. The story is here:

At present we prioritise the needs of an individual migrant family over the entitlement that others feel they have to resources in the community,’ Hodge writes. ‘So a recently arrived family with four or five children living in a damp and overcrowded privately rented flat with the children suffering from asthma will usually get priority over a family with less housing need who have lived in the area for three generations and are stuck at home with the grandparents.

‘We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants.

To put it another way, more people should die of carbon monoxide poisoning in Rachmanesque squalor to save Labour/BNP swing votes in constituencies like…Margaret Hodge’s! You can’t begin to guess how much I despise this woman.

Ten Years On from 1 May 1997

Who can forget it?

I spent the day driving from Bosnia to Austria with an American colleague. We were on a mission to the IKEA shop in Graz, to buy furniture for our office. But we spent the evening discussing the collapse of the Conservatives and the imminent change of government; the constitutional reforms for Scotland and Wales, any possible changes in foreign policy. My colleague asked me how I thought the Lib Dems might do. Heart in mouth, I said that I hoped for a gain of five or six seats, to within striking distance of 30 MPs.

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Five Germanys I Have Known by Fritz Stern

Fritz Stern was born in what was then Breslau, Germany, grandson of Jews who converted to Christianity, son and grandson of physicians and researchers, at a time when medicine was truly becoming a science and Germany was leading the way. His godfather and namesake was Fritz Haber, who discovered how to fix atmospheric nitrogen, won a Nobel, led research into poinson gas as a weapon, and died shortly after his forced emigration from Germany.

Stern emigrated with his family to the United States in late 1938, in the proverbial nick of time. He rejected Einstein’s advice to stay in the family business of medicine and became a distinguished historian of Germany and Europe. Along the way, he also became an active participant in transatlantic relations, always retaining his liberal perspective.
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Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.

Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.

A bit more below the flip.
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Elections: Bulgaria

Bulgaria has a Presidential election this weekend. There’s no question who’s going to win, but there’s still some nail-biting suspense.

Why? Well, the current President is former Socialist Georgi Parvanov. (“Former” Socialist because the Bulgarian President must not be affiliated with any political party.) He seems to be a decent enough fellow. The Bulgarian Presidency doesn’t have a lot of power, but Parvanov looks good, says all the right things, and has generally acted Presidential. Earlier this year, he acknowledged that he’d “cooperated” with the State Security Service back in the days of Communism; perhaps because he was quick to admit it, nobody seems to hold it much against him.

Parvanov is reasonably popular. He’s not considered brilliant, but he’s energetic, peripatetic, and constantly in the public eye. (There’s a joke that if you want to see him, build a doghouse, and he’ll show up to cut the ribbon.) So, he will almost certainly win the election this Tuesday.

But. Under Bulgaria’s election law, Presidential elections go to a second round if (1) nobody wins 50% of the votes cast, or (2) 50% of eligible voters don’t turn out. Parvanov will probably get well past 50%, but low turnout seems likely — in the last national election, only 42% of the voters showed up. So there will probably be a second round.

This raises the interesting question of who’ll come in second.
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Virtual politics and real bullets

The Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, renowned for her reporting on the North Caucasus wars, was murdered yesterday in an evident assassination (three shots, two to the chest and one to the head) in the lift leading to her home. It was the birthday of the Russian President, and just after the birthday of the Russian-appointed prime minister of Chechnya, who she was about to accuse of torture. After a week of rising hysteria in the Russian media and state, with a wave of goon-squad assaults on Georgian businesses and the collection of sinister lists of Georgian-sounding schoolchildren – what, pray, is the purpose of this? – this ought to inter any lingering myths of Russian democracy. It is time to grasp that we are sharing a continent with a very large tyranny, in fact, that we never ceased to do so.

Exactly what will happen next is unclear, but the worst must be assumed. The reaction of Europe so far appears to be deafening silence. See the BBC report above for a tasty quote from the secretary of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, suggesting she was killed by “self-appointed executioners”. Self-appointed? I don’t think his Midlands constituents lost very much when they voted him out back in 2004. No Baltic gas pipelines were involved, so German silence is a given, France will presumably continue to find Russian support on the UNSC useful, and Britain will probably shut up – hasn’t Tony Blair prided himself on his personal relationship with Putin? (Personal politics, the great delusion of the last hundred years.)

If you need any convincing, I recommend Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World. This is a truly impressive march through a morass of deceit and state-sponsored bullshit, whose central thesis is simply that most of Russian politics, as it was marketed both to the Russians and also to the western politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats who funded it through the 1990s, does not exist. Parties do not have members, policies, or constitutions, and do not represent real interest groups. Even when, like the Communist Party, they actually do exist, they are frequently not actually trying to win the elections-sensationally, Wilson quotes a senior Communist as being horrified how close the party came to unwanted victory in 1996.

Instead, parties, movements and politicians are usually prepared from whole cloth for specific political projects, and created in the public mind by a barrage of TV advertising for the mass and outrageous web propagandists for the elite. It is possible to buy an entire political party, tailored to one’s specifications, from $100,000.
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