Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Putin, Crimea and Ukraine

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

UPDATE: Michael Totten has an update on Crimea.

The new ruler is a former gangster whose street name was “Goblin.”

Lawmakers were summoned, stripped of their cellphones as they entered the chamber. The Crimean media was banished. Then, behind closed doors, Crimea’s government was dismissed and a new one formed, with Sergey Akysonov, head of the Russian Unity party, installed as Crimea’s new premier.

It if was a crime, it was just the beginning. Akysonov’s ascent to power at the point of a gun presaged all that has happened since — the announcement of a referendum on Crimean independence and the slow, methodical fanning out of Russian forces throughout the peninsula, ostensibly to protect Russians here from a threat no one can seem to find.

But here’s the most interesting bit: Aksyonov’s sudden rise as Moscow’s crucial point man in Crimea has revived simmering allegations of an underworld past going back to the lawless 1990s, when Akysonov is said to have gone by the street name “Goblin,” a lieutenant in the Crimean crime syndicate Salem.

Putin is dealing from a weak hand but Germany was near bankruptcy when Hitler invaded Poland. Holman Jenkins at WSJ, has a nice summary of where we are.

Vladimir Putin probably would not have spent 90 minutes on the phone with President Obama on Saturday if he intended to make a grab for eastern Ukraine. He would not have jawed twice on Friday and Sunday on the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who subsequently doubted his grip on reality.

He is not going to try to annex the eastern Ukraine where Russian speakers are alleged to be crying for rescue from The Ukraine.

He is even using fake videos like the Palestinians have done before to make his argument. The Russian speakers are not buying.

The Russian speakers are only about 17% of the whole Ukraine population.

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They are concentrated in the eastern portions which are also the poorest and least productive. Ukraine could do without them except for the precedent set.

Western leaders are a risk-averse, short-term-minded lot, but if their decisions are dictated by a conviction of Mr. Putin’s iron grip on Russia, they make a mistake. Many sanguine voices, in fact, already note how the U.S. shale revolution has weakened Mr. Putin’s hand. If Western leaders were so inclined, they might surprise themselves at how vulnerable Mr. Putin’s petro-dependency makes him.

Ukraine has signed contracts with western oil firms to explore what seems to be a large area of oil shale. This is a big threat to Russia’s sole export and prop of its declining economy.

Withdraw Europe’s support for pipelines Mr. Putin wants to build. These, by way of the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, aim to reduce Ukraine’s leverage as transit path for gas exports that generate much of his regime’s income. Mr. Putin might like to shut off the gas but he can’t. He needs the money.

Get moving on the pending U.S. trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade partnerships, which grant member countries automatic approval of U.S. liquefied gas exports. The mere prospect of U.S. exports has already eroded Russia’s pricing power.

Let Exxon and other Western oil firms queuing up to explore Siberia and Russia’s Arctic know their efforts are not currently appreciated. A single caustic hearing on Capitol Hill should do it.

They could do as well in Ukraine.

Ukraine, with its control of strategic pipelines, moving toward energy independence and even energy competition with Russia (it recently signed shale deals with Shell and Chevron ) was not acceptable.

Most of all, “Putin lost Ukraine” would have been a powerful meme in the hands of his enemies, who are numerous and don’t actually care about Ukraine.

The West followed down his path, which bears passing resemblance to the petro-regime of Saddam Hussein, because Russia has nuclear weapons and Mr. Putin seemed preferable to chaos. The West may eventually get chaos anyway. Secretary of State John Kerry managed to put his finger on a truth. Mr. Putin knows no more about the true sources of 21st-century wealth and power than a swordfish knows about macramé. No, the Cold War is not returning. Russia does not have the heft to sustain a Cold War even against placid Europeans or a strategically listless President Obama. His current Western enablers just hope Mr. Putin self-destructs on somebody else’s watch.

The Russian speakers in east Ukraine are not convinced this is the right course.

But in Monday’s survey, 82% of his party’s loyalists rejected any such generosity. Even the adherents of the Communist Party, who tend to feel entitled to all of Russia’s former Soviet domains, said with a broad majority — 62% — that Russia should not jump into Ukraine’s internal crisis.

Putin’s captive media in Russia can convince Russians in Russia that the west was behind the coup in Ukraine.

Moreover, 45% blamed western influence for bringing people on to the streets of Kiev, where the “Euromaidan” protests that were originally in favour of further European integration later turned into a general condemnation of the corrupt regime.

The results are still in doubt.

Ukraine

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

UPDATE: Max Boot, who I also respect, adds some thoughts.

The Orange Revolution failed because of corruption and inertia in the economy. What now?

This is, after all, the second popular uprising against Yanukovych, the first being the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Although thwarted in his attempt to steal that election, Yanukovych returned to power in 2010, managing to win a fair election after his political adversaries failed to show results while in office.

This is a second chance for the pro-Western parties in Ukraine to deal with the deep-seated malaise of the economy, the pervasive corruption, and all the other ills that afflict this troubled land. They had better do better than last time–and all the while fending off what are sure to be determined attempts at sabotage emanating from Moscow.

What to do about Ukraine ? Michael Totten has some ideas.

Ukraine's Day Infamy

He has several suggestions about other sources. I pretty much rely on him as he has been all over and has a good eye.

I spent a week in Ukraine a few years back when I traveled by car from the Polish border through Lviv to Kiev and down to Odessa and Yalta. I wrote about it at length in my book, Where the West Ends. So I feel obligated to write about it now that the capital is on fire.

Kiev is a magnificent city, and it pains me to see it like this, but I should not be surprised. Almost every country I’ve ever written about is either in hell, has only recently recovered from hell, or is on its way to hell. I hoped when I visited Ukraine that it was on its way out, but I did not have a good feeling about it, as you’ll recall if you read my book.

From his recommended source,

First let’s consider the bad reasons for a breakup—Ukraine’s diversity in general and the regional, ethnic, confessional, and cultural divisions between its “West” and “East” in particular. A good place to start is a recent article by Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London, “Is There One Ukraine?” Figes, who should know better coming from the UK, writes about Ukraine’s divisions as if they were unique and as if diversity alone justified or led to breakup. He’s wrong on both counts. Ukraine’s diversity is pretty much the norm for all stable states everywhere.

He has some excellent points. One is about The Party of Regions.

What is unusual about contemporary Ukraine is that it’s exploited by a criminal gangster regime—Yanukovych’s— in cahoots with another criminal gangster regime—Putin’s. Many countries have the misfortune of being misruled by homegrown camarillas. Many countries have the misfortune of being dominated by predator states. Ukraine has the double misfortune of being misruled at home and “mis-dominated” abroad.

The president, who has now fled Kiev, is described a a “criminal madman.”

Remove the southeast and Ukraine’s treasury experiences an immediate boon; its demographics, energy consumption, and health improve; and its politics automatically become more democratic and less corrupt.

Although lopping off the Donbas would benefit the rest of Ukraine, Yanukovych’s mafia regime desperately needs Ukraine to be whole. If Luhansk and Donetsk were to split away, their rust-belt economy would collapse without Kyiv’s financial support and the Regionnaires, trapped in their polluted bailiwick, would have nothing to steal. And what would Yanukovych’s multibillionaire pal, Rinat Akhmetov, do without easy access to Ukraine’s resources?

There appears to be no good solution to Ukraine, including partition although that may be what will happen.

The moral for the democrats is simple. If and when they return to power, the democrats should call the Regionnaires’ bluff. Next time the Regionnaires threaten to leave, the democrats should point to the door, and say, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

The same might apply to Quebec.

The Wall Street Journal had a good piece yesterday comparing Ukraine with Georgia 5 years ago.

The West dragged its feet on financial sanctions against the Yanukovych circle, but on Thursday last week a move by the EU—after 77 protesters were shot dead in broad daylight—helped bring down the Ukrainian leader. Fearing for their assets and visas, his cronies quickly dropped him.

and: At every opportunity, Mr. Saakashvili says that Ukraine’s best defense against Russian pressure is a successful move to European-style rule. This is what the revolution was about. “Change must come fast,” he says. “I’m worried about Crimea, but I’m more worried about Kiev. If Kiev goes into protracted political crisis, then everything else will explode.”

If Ukraine starts to go after its oil and gas reserves with fracking, a lot may change.

World War 2.5

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

UPDATE: I don’t seem to be the only one worried about a 1914 situation.

China’s current coercion of Japan over the islands is but a symptom of a larger illness in the international system. China has been leveraging its naval modernization to increase its movements through the seas and choke points surrounding Japan to break out into the Pacific. Last November, for example, flotillas of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy destroyers and submarines backed by air power encircled Japan for the first time, as PLA officers bragged about splitting and demolishing the first island chain. China is changing the regional balance with little resistance from the United States. Counter to Chinese public claims of surprise at a U.S. “overreaction,” recent discussions with Chinese officials over Beijing’s December air defense identification zone announcement suggests that the United States’ response was much weaker than the response the Chinese leadership had expected.

This is worrisome.

Last month I posted an observation that another world war may be coming. I noted that this summer is the 100th anniversary of the First World War and that the present situation is similar to that which preceded the 1914 war. I may not be the only one.

I concluded last month’s post as follows: The “two Ps” are Pakistan and the Palestinians. We live in an incredibly dangerous era and we are seeing an American president who does not understand geopolitics. God help us.

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A recent column provided from someone attending the Davos Economic Forum discusses yet another potential fuse that is sputtering.

During the dinner, the hosts passed a microphone around the table and asked guests to speak briefly about something that they thought would interest the group.

One of the guests, an influential Chinese professional, talked about the simmering conflict between China and Japan over a group of tiny islands in the Pacific.

We live in an era in which the US elites are largely ignorant of history and of other peoples. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt had spent summers bicycling around Europe before he suffered the attack of Polio in 1920. President Eisenhower had, of court, commanded the armies in World War II. He knew intimately most of the people who mattered in the world. We now have a president who does not know how little he knows about the world. He thinks a few years as a child in Indonesia make him a expert in international relations. His inner circle describes him as the smartest man ever to become president.

There is little evidence to support it. Mr. Obama went to Harvard, but so did George W. Bush, who some liberals consider dumber than dirt. The president won’t release his transcripts, so we can’t judge by his grades. Mr. Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review, but when he was selected, popularity mattered more than scholarship.

Mr. Obama joined an undistinguished law firm, where he tried no cases. So no help there.

Many cite the president’s oratorical skills, but he often rambles when he speaks without a teleprompter. That’s because his brain “is moving so fast that the mouth can’t keep up,” wrote Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times.

Most telling is the following exchange:

Barack Obama is the smartest man with the highest IQ ever to be elected to the presidency, historian Michael Beschloss told radio talk show host Don Imus in November of 2008.

“So what is his IQ?” Mr. Imus asked. Mr. Beschloss didn’t know. He was just assuming.

We are all guessing but some of us think we know. Obama thinks we need Arabic translators in Afghanistan.

Obama posited — incorrectly — that Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan — forgetting, momentarily, that Afghans don’t speak Arabic.
“We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then its harder for us to use them in Afghanistan,” Obama said.
The vast majority of military translators in both war zones are drawn from the local population.
Naturally they speak the local language. In Iraq, that’s Arabic or Kurdish. In Afghanistan, it’s any of a half dozen other languages — including Pashtu, Dari, and Farsi.

Oh well. That is over and we have new problems.

He then explained that the general sense in China is that China and Japan have never really settled their World War 2 conflict. Japan and America settled their conflict, he explained, and as a result, the fighting stopped. But China and Japan have never really put the war behind them.

The Chinese professional acknowledged that if China asserted control over the disputed islands by attacking Japan, America would have to stand with Japan. And he acknowledged that China did not want to provoke America.

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion.

Remember that Austria planned to punish Serbia for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand who was shot by Serbian conspirators. How did that end ? One of the reasons for the appeasement of the 1930s was to avoid a war by mistake.

“Do you realize that those islands are worthless pieces of rock… and you’re seriously suggesting that they’re worth provoking a global military conflict over?”

The Chinese professional said that, yes, he realized that. But then, with conviction that further startled everyone, he said that the islands’ value was symbolic and that their symbolism was extremely important.

Challenged again, the Chinese professional distanced himself from his earlier remarks, saying that he might be “sensationalizing” the issue and that he, personally, was not in favor of a war with Japan. But he still seemed certain that one was deserved.

I wish we had a competent president instead of a narcissistic fool.

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times tweeted the following about an interview with Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan. In case you’ve forgotten, 1914 is when World War 1 started.

Just interviewed Shinzo Abe @Davos. He said China and Japan now are in a “similar situation” to UK and Germany before 1914.

The Next World War

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

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This next summer will be 100 years since the fatal August of 1914. We live in a similar era of “history is over and everybody is happy.” See above. In August 1914, Germany was trading partners with Britain and France. There were people who believed that democracies that did business with each other never went to war. Sound familiar ? Here is a discussion of the same topic. I am concerned that the spark will be in the middle east but this is another area to think about.

The Telegraph has an excellent piece on the present world situation.

As we look forward to the First World War commemorations, three stark conclusions are hard to refute. First, that in the course of this century we will need a great deal of luck to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Second, that the Enlightenment has failed. Third, that this can all be traced back to the Great War.

As a result of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that mankind might make a decisive break with the scarcity and oppression that had characterised previous eras. There was, admittedly, one early warning. The French Revolution proved that a radical reconstruction of society on abstract principles was likely to end in tyranny and bloodshed. But after 1815, the 19th century developed into one of the most successful epochs in history. Living standards, life expectancy, productivity, medicine, the rule of law, constitutional government, versions of democracy – there was dramatic progress on all fronts, and in the spread of civilisation across the globe.

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Spengler on Obama and Iran.

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

A columnist for the Asia Times, who has called himself Spengler, has for years written insightful articles about world events. His latest column is no exception.

He considers Iran’s obsession with Israel and the Jews.

Iran’s motive for proposing to annihilate the Jewish State is the same as Hitler’s, and the world’s indifference to the prospect of another Holocaust is no different today than it was in 1938. It is the dead’s envy for the living.

Dying civilizations are the most dangerous, and Iran is dying. Its total fertility rate probably stands at just 1.6 children per female, the same level as Western Europe, a catastrophic decline from 7 children per female in the early 1980s. Iran’s present youth bulge will turn into an elderly dependent problem worse than Europe’s in the next generation and the country will collapse. That is why war is likely, if not entirely inevitable.

There is good evidence that the people of Iran have no enthusiasm for the regime and some of this concerns religion. There is also the matter of fertility and Iranian women have been voting with their uterus.

“Iran’s low fertility rate has produced a rapidly aging population, according to a new U.N. report. The rate has declined from 2.2 births per woman in 2000 to 1.6 in 2012. This has pushed the median age of Iranians to 27.1 years in 2010, up from 20.8 years in 2000. The median age could reach 40 years by 2030, according to the U.N. Population Division. An elderly and dependent population may heavily tax Iran’s public health infrastructure and social security network.”

In 2005 and 2006, I was the first Western analyst to draw strategic conclusions from this trend, the steepest decline in fertility in the history of the world. Iran must break out and establish a Shiite zone of power, or it will break down.

Further evidence is the precipitous fall in religious observance.

In recent years Iran has spent millions of dollars building new mosques and refurbishing old ones, but attendance has declined sharply. Leading religious leaders are now suggesting that they should show feature films in order to attract more people to prayers.
In the other hand religious authorities of Iran have acknowledged that the young generation is becoming more and more interesting in Christianity. They also announced that the Bible have penetrated into the most of the Iranian houses.

Here is a prior Spengler column on the topic.

Iran resembles the Soviet Union just before the collapse of communism. It turned out that there were no communists in Russia outside the upper echelons of the party. There are very few Muslims in Iran outside of the predatory mullahcracy. According to Zohreh Soleimani of the BBC, Iran has the lowest mosque attendance of any Muslim country; only 2% of adults attend Friday services, a gauge of disaffection comparable to church attendance in Western Europe. Iran’s fertility rate of about 1.6 children per women, coincidentally, is about the same as Western Europe’s. Iran has a huge contingent of young people, but they have ceased to have children. They have faith neither in the national religion nor in the future of their nation.

What drives Obama’s desire to placate America’s enemies ?

He deeply identifies with the fragile, unraveling cultures of the Third World against the depredations of the globalizing Metropole. So, I suspect, does his mentor and chief advisor, the Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, and most of his inner circle. This goes beyond the famous declaration of Jimmy Carter’s advisor Hamilton Jordan—“the Palestinians are the n****ers of the Middle East”—and Carter’s own mainline-Protestant reverence for the “holy men” of Iran’s 1979 Iranian revolution. It goes beyond the post-colonial theory of liberal academia. For Obama, it is a matter of personal experience. His father and stepfather were Third World Muslims, his mother was an anthropologist who dedicated her life to protecting the traditional culture of Indonesia against the scourge of globalization, and four years of his childhood were spent at an Indonesian school. The same point has been made by Dinesh d’Souza, among others.

He does not identify with America and its history.

Obama’s commitment to rapprochement with Iran arises from deep personal identification with the supposed victims of imperialism. That is incongruous, to be sure. Persia spent most of its history as one of the nastier imperial powers, and its present rulers are no less ambitious in their pursuit of a pocket empire in the Shi’ite world. The roots of his policy transcend rationality. Israel can present all the evidence in the world of Iran’s plans to build nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and the Iranians can cut the Geneva accord into confetti. Obama will remain unmoved. His heart, like his late mother’s, beats for the putatively oppressed peoples of the so-called Third World.

We have never had a president like this. Many of us sensed this in 2008 as this unvetted and mysterious candidate was pushed by the news media and the white guilt of American elites. It will not end well. Perhaps the coming catastrophe of health care collapse will get the attention of American voters, if nothing else will. I hope it does not take the form of a nuclear device going off in New York harbor or a suicidal war with Israel. How this came to be will be a topic for history books, assuming history will still be written 50 years from now.

Flashdance

Monday, October 7th, 2013

falshdance

I watched the 1983 movie “Flashdance” tonight. It was the big movie of 1983 and I was in England with my kids that summer. I had six teenagers and my wife Jill with me and we spent two weeks driving around the country in a VW van. We spent the first week in London and I got the kids all 7 day passes on the Underground. We rented two apartments in a building at 202 Kensington Church Street where I had stayed many times before.

202 kensington

The building is in the Notting Hill area which has become very fashionable since I first stayed there. Portobello Road is nearby but is no longer the antique market attraction it was when I first visited in 1977. The Notting Hill Underground station is around the corner and the kids were able to go everywhere in London from that base. We had three boys and three girls so I told the boys they had to stay with the girls but they could otherwise stay out late and go where they wanted to go. The oldest was my son, Mike Jr. who was 18.

One place we went for dinner, another old haunt, was Geale’s Fish Restaurant.

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I have been going there when in London since the 1970s and it is always good. The neighborhood is a bit fancier now. Another wonderful restaurant, which is gone now, was a South African place a few blocks away. We found it because of a profile in Gourmet magazine and when I told the owner about it, they gave us free drinks. I can’t remember the name anymore.

The kids all stayed out until 4 AM and we could never get them up in time to do the tourist things. Leicester Square was the big movie center and I suspect they spent most evenings there. We went to nice restaurants and they went to fast food places and everybody was happy.

One night we had tickets for Cats, which was still a big hit then. I had seen it two years before and it had morphed into a children’s event with the cats remaining on stage at intermission so the kids could go up to them.

cats

During the show, one cat, Rum Tum Tugger sat in the lap of one of the girls and we all had a nice time.

Another day was devoted to a side trip to Richmond and Hampton Court palace. The kids all went and we toured this old Tudor palace. Elizabeth of York had rowed across the river to reach the palace and her son, Henry VIII, used the palace which has many paintings of him.

hampton-court

When we were ready to return to London, Gary, Jills’s son who was 15, somehow got lost and he finally came running to the boat with considerable worry on his face.

After a week, we picked up our rental van and set off for the Isle of Wight. I had stayed there before on another trip although the owner ship of the B&B had changed. It was located on the grounds of Osborne House, the summer residence of Queen Victoria and her children.

osborne

The guest house was called “New Barn House” and it was on the grounds of Osborne House. I can’t fnd it anymore and haven’t been there in years so maybe it is gone. There is a “New Barn Street.” Maybe this is it as I can’t get to a photo. The first time I was there, Osborne House was still one half museum and one half veterans home. The vets stayed in the old servants quarters of Osborne House but their wives could not stay with them and New Barn House was a B&B for the wives. The proprietor was Captain Brooke-Smith a retired naval officer whose son worked at Jeremy Rogers yacht builder in Lymington. When I asked the son for a recommendation on the island, he called his father and verified that they had room for the four of us.

The experience the first time was fun. We were the only Americans and were the object of considerable curiosity in the dining room. All the other tables were taken by individual wives with a few visiting husbands. Before the call (with a bell) to dinner, Captain Brooke-Smith conducted a small cash bar where one could get a glass of sherry for 50 pence.

When we went back in 1983, the house was still there but the proprietors, and the atmosphere, had changed. The wives could apparently stay with their husbands in the rehabilitation facilities in the old servants’ quarters. The new proprietors were a young couple, Toby and Jenny, who had connections to the London art and music scene. The food had improved and the entire scene was very different and much more fun for the kids. In fact, they insisted on staying longer than we had planned. One night, one resident took the girls out on a pub crawl as he checked out the various rock groups entertaining on the island’s club scene. The girls were 14 and 15 so I was a bit concerned but they got back about 4 AM and told us they had seen this new group called Duran Duran.

We finally dragged the kids away from the island but not before we had visited Cowes and saw the Admirals Cup crews, including Ted Turner who gave my wife an appreciative eye.

Our next stop was Broadway in the Cotswalds. Because we had all the kids, we stayed at the Broadway Hotel, which is very nice and one step below the Lygon Arms. The latter is luxury and too expensive for the crew we had. The Broadway Hotel is very nice and we were there again a few years ago with Claire and her husband, Derek.

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The hotel had one large room in back, almost like a bunkhouse, and the kids stayed there.

Broadway was the home of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, the play and novel. It is a delightful village, heavily over run by tourists in summer. Claire and her husband Derek met Kate and me for New Years at Heathrow airport when they were spending a year in Spain. We spent New Years Eve at the Broadway Hotel and had a great time.

Our next stage was to return home so we checked into a cheap hotel near Heathrow and planned to drop off the van at the airport in the morning. The next day we were driving to the airport when I saw a sign “Stoke Poges.” That, of course, is the village whose church yard was immortalized in Grey’s Elegy. We turned off and stopped at the church, St Giles.

All the kids, except Kate who refused to get out of the car, trooped into the church where there were copies of the famous poem.

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There is an old photo which better shows the churchyard.

So, I will end this small reminiscence with the poem. It is alleged that General Wolfe, as he was rowed to shore for the invasion, recited the poem and said, “I would rather have written this than take Quebec.

Margaret Thatcher

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Thatchers

It is a bit presumptive for me to mention my opinion of this great lady. I have been to England many times, some of those visits were during her time as Prime Minister, though I never saw her. She was brought into government in the traditional “woman’s post” as Secretary of State for Education by Ted Heath. I have always been a fan of Heath because of his great sailing achievements but he was not a very good Prime Minister.

In 1975, she went to Heath and told him she planned to stand for the leadership post against him. He told her “You’ll lose of course,” but she didn’t. He was hostile to her for the rest of his career in Parliament. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the election over a failed Labour Party which had presided over a decline in Britain unchanged for the better in 25 years. That was “The Winter of Discontent.”

Her early life included living as a child above her father’s grocery store. She attended Oxford on scholarship and graduated in 1947 with second honours in Chemistry. Her senior work was on x-ray crystallography, under the supervision of Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin. She worked as a research chemist and became involved in Conservative politics. At one meeting, she met Denis Thatcher whom she married in 1951. Soon after, she began studies in law and she qualified in 1953, specializing in taxation.

She stood for office twice in 1950 and 51 but was defeated as the seat was a safe Labour seat. However, she attracted a lot of interest because of her sex and her losing margin was smaller than previous candidates.

In 1959, she was elected for Finchley, a safe Conservative seat with many Jewish residents. She became active in pro-Israel organizations although she condemned (as everyone did) the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reaction in 1981. Many of the condemning politicians were secretly pleased at the action.

In 1961, Harold MacMillen’s government moved her to the front bench. She continued to rise in the party even after the loss of the 1964 election. She voted to decriminalize homosexuality and to legalize abortion, both libertarian rather than Conservative positions. In 1967, she visited the US with a delegation of government leaders from the UK and she was later added to the shadow cabinet by Ted Heath when the Conservatives were still in opposition. In 1970, Heath and the Conservatives won the election and she became Secretary of State for Education and Science.

During her first months in office she attracted public attention as a result of the administration’s attempts to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools[45] and imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in the abolition of free milk for schoolchildren aged seven to eleven.[46] She held that few children would suffer if schools were charged for milk, but she agreed to provide younger children with a third of a pint daily, for nutritional purposes.[46] Her decision provoked a storm of protest from the Labour party and the press,[47] leading to the moniker “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”.[46][48] Cabinet papers of the time reveal that Thatcher actually opposed the policy but was forced into it by the Treasury.[49] Thatcher wrote in her autobiography: “I learned a valuable lesson [from the experience]. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.”

She would later be forced out as PM in a similar controversy over attempts to change local taxation rules. In 1975, she defeated Heath as party leader after he lost the 1974 general election. After Labour postponed the general election to 1979, the Conservatives won a 44 seat majority in Parliament and Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister in British history.

I remember my first visit to London in 1977 and being vaguely embarrassed by the election of Jimmy Carter. I returned in 1981 and, at the time, the dollar and the pound were almost equal in value. That was the height of the Reagan-Volker squeeze of inflation in the US. Not long after, Thatcher instituted similar policies and I regretted not buying pound futures. The pound rebounded nicely and she cut taxes and began to run surpluses. Over the next few years, she paid down the British national debt until there were fears expressed that the “Gilt” bonds issued by the government might no longer be available for investment. The subsequent Labour governments solved that potential problem with wild spending.

Like Reagan, her initial economic actions led to recession and calls for a “U-turn” in 1980. She gave a memorable speech in which she said, “You turn if you want to; the lady’s not for turning.” Soon after the economy began to recover.

By 1987, unemployment was falling, the economy was stable and strong, and inflation was low. Opinion polls showed a comfortable Conservative lead, and local council election results had also been successful, prompting Thatcher to call a general election for 11 June that year, despite the deadline for an election still being 12 months away. The election saw Thatcher re-elected for a third successive term.

Her accomplishments included the Falklands War in 1982 that did a lot to reverse the British malaise and unhappiness with her reforms. The economy plus the evidence or revived British confidence was enough to determine the result of the 1983 election. Now, she began to accelerate the privatisation of nationlised industries. She sold off British Steel, and British Airways. She did not want to privatise British Rail but that was later done by John Major and was not a success.

Her downfall with Conservatives resulted from an attempt to reform local government.

Thatcher reformed local government taxes by replacing domestic rates—a tax based on the nominal rental value of a home—with the Community Charge (or poll tax) in which the same amount was charged to each adult resident.[97] The new tax was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales the following year,[98] and proved to be among the most unpopular policies of her premiership.[97] Public disquiet culminated in a 70,000 to 200,000-strong [99] demonstration in London on 31 March 1990; the demonstration around Trafalgar Square deteriorated into the Poll Tax Riots, leaving 113 people injured and 340 under arrest.[100] The Community Charge was abolished by her successor, John Major.[100]

This was an attempt to reform the radical left wing governance of London by Mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone, a far left Labour politician. In 2000 he was expelled from the Labour Party. His Greater London Council had been funding far left causes with increased property taxes on houses owned by opponents of his policies. In 1986, she abolished the GLC but Red Ken was subsequently elected Mayor.

After her resignation, she traveled the world until ill health and the death of her husband Denis in 2003 reduced her activities. She was heavily criticized at the time for her opposition to the Euro and European monetary union. Her recommendations were prescient and are now fully confirmed.

The Lost Boys

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Belmont Club has an unusually good post for yesterday. I could say that more than once a week, if truth be known. This one is quite to the point on Sequester Day.

The NHS, which its creators boasted would be the ‘envy of the world’, has been found to have been responsible for up to 40,000 preventable deaths under the helm of Sir David Nicholson, a former member of the Communist Party of Britain. “He was no ordinary revolutionary. He was on the hardline, so-called ‘Tankie’ wing of the party which backed the Kremlin using military action to crush dissident uprisings” — before he acquired a taste for young wives, first class travel and honors.

The NHS is dealing with the shortage of funds by pruning its tree of life, so to speak. He also does not tolerate anyone telling the truth about it.

it emerged he spent 15 million pounds in taxpayer money to gag and prosecute whistleblowers — often doctors and administrators who could not stomach his policies.

The public money spent on stopping NHS staff from speaking out is almost equivalent to the salaries of around 750 nurses.

It has recently been noted that NHS staff no longer recommend their own hospital for family members. Also one quarter report being harassed or bullied at work.

The other half of the equation involves the youth.

The European Youth will remain outside the Death Pathways for some time yet. But they will spend the time waiting for their turn at affordable, caring and passionate medicine in poverty and hopelessness. With the exception of Germany youth unemployment in Europe is over 20%. “A full 62% of young Greeks are out of work, 55% of young Spaniards don’t have jobs, and 38.7% of young Italians aren’t employed.”

Unemployment exceeds even our own Obama economy for failure. (more…)

The future of Islam and its absence

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Spengler has a new column that points out the coming collapse of Islam as a demographic entity. I have thought for years that Iran, if the population ever succeeds in overthrowing the regime, will abandon Islam as its first priority. Spengler points to a column by David Ignatius that belatedly recognizes a phenomenon that has been noted by others for years.

Something startling is happening in the Muslim world — and no, I don’t mean the Arab Spring or the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. According to a leading demographer, a “sea change” is producing a sharp decline in Muslim fertility rates and a “flight from marriage” among Arab women.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, documented these findings in two recent papers. They tell a story that contradicts the usual picture of a continuing population explosion in Muslim lands. Population is indeed rising, but if current trends continue, the bulge won’t last long.

The second class status of women in the Muslim world has led to important changes in their beliefs, especially about the religion that oppresses them.

Eberstadt’s first paper was expressively titled “Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed.” Using data for 49 Muslim-majority countries and territories, he found that fertility rates declined an average of 41 percent between 1975-80 and 2005-10, a deeper drop than the 33 percent decline for the world as a whole.

Twenty-two Muslim countries and territories had fertility declines of 50 percent or more. The sharpest drops were in Iran, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Libya, Albania, Qatar and Kuwait, which all recorded declines of 60 percent or more over three decades.

The present fertility rate in Iran is about equal to that of irreligious Europe.

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Reports of the economy’s demise are premature, but not by much.

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Russ Douthat’s column in the NY Ties today points out a few problems with the left’s gloating about winning the election. I apologize for my pessimism but I can’t help looking at the facts beneath the surface.

The re-election of Barack Obama has ended the possibility of a serious effort to deal with out of control spending and debt in this country. The “fiscal cliff” is coming soon and there is speculation that one side or the other will “cave” in negotiations. It doesn’t really matter as no serious proposal is under consideration. The tax rates on the top 2% of incomes don’t matter. It’s not worth the trouble for Republicans to defend these tax rates for a group that may not even vote for them.

The whole world cartel of spending is coming to an end and it may not just involve national bankruptcy. It may be the end of an era, maybe of democracy which seems to be incapable of managing debt. An article in Der Spiegel sounds to me like a prediction of the future.

In the midst of this confusing crisis, which has already lasted more than five years, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt addressed the question of who had “gotten almost the entire world into so much trouble.” The longer the search for answers lasted, the more disconcerting the questions arising from the answers became. Is it possible that we are not experiencing a crisis, but rather a transformation of our economic system that feels like an unending crisis, and that waiting for it to end is hopeless? Is it possible that we are waiting for the world to conform to our worldview once again, but that it would be smarter to adjust our worldview to conform to the world? Is it possible that financial markets will never become servants of the markets for goods again? Is it possible that Western countries can no longer get rid of their debt, because democracies can’t manage money? And is it possible that even Helmut Schmidt ought to be saying to himself: I too am responsible for getting the world into a fix?

The answer will not be pleasant to consider. We may have run the course on modern national financial competence. Japan, twenty years ago, was a warning we did not heed. Stimulus, as in spending billions on infrastructure, did not work. Japan had a real estate bubble and the response was to try to reflate the bubble. It failed.

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