Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Home For Sale ?


LONDON (AFP) — The Maldives' newly-elected president said in an interview Monday that his government will begin saving to buy a new homeland in case global warming causes the country to disappear into the sea.

Beloved by tourists for their white sandy beaches, palm trees and clear waters, the 1,192 coral islands that make up the Indian Ocean country risk devastation by rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed, who won the Maldives' first democratic presidential election last month, told The Guardian his government will start putting aside part of its billion-dollar annual tourism income in case the worst happens.

"We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome," he told the newspaper.

He added: "We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades."

Nasheed said he had already broached the subject with a number of countries and found them to be "receptive". India and Sri Lanka are targets because they had similar cultures and climates, while vast Australia was also an option.

He told the newspaper he intended to create a "sovereign wealth fund" from the money generated by tourism, much like Arab states had with oil revenues. "Kuwait might invest in companies -- we will invest in land," he said.

Outgoing president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader, launched a book in April to highlight the threat to the Maldives posed by global warming.

He said at the time that they could only adapt to the problem by relocating citizens to safer islands. The alternative, building protective walls on the 193 inhabited islands, was too expensive.

The issue is - will anyone sell a chunk of their territory with full sovereignty ? What would Sri Lanka think, say, if then their Maldive Republic then did a land-for-assistance deal with the Tamil Tigers ? Or created an army and moved it to the border ? Or bought all their goods and services from Tamil Nadu, or denied their airspace to Sri Lankan tourist overflights ?

Only asking. The idea of recreating the old country elsewhere might appeal to some Brits as well as some Maldivans. Trouble is, where's habitable land to be had these days ?

Russia is one answer, or Ukraine/Belorus. Empty land, shortage of people, good soil. But I don't think the British Volga Republic is a terribly good idea, any more than Vladimir Putin is likely to. In the Tsar's day thousands of Germans moved there to farm, and a very good fist they made of it too. Come the 1917 revolution, the Volga German Autonomous Republic was created. And it was all downhill from there. The empty lands round Penza might be related to the fact that the last lot of foreign famers ended up in Siberia.

Candles In The Wind ?

This is going to be one of those weekends where I ask the commentariat for help.

I hear on the news today that the EU are imposing import duties on Chinese candles, because they're selling to the EU at 'below cost price'.

"Brussels launched a probe after candlemakers from Germany, the Netherlands and other countries complained that they were being hurt by illegal pricing practised by Chinese rivals and accused them of getting unfair export aid"

Hmm. So we'll help "Germany, the Netherlands and other countries ". When I lived in South London in the 80s I used to be cheered by seeing a classic Victorian factory near the Battersea Heliport which announced "Price's Patent Candles".

Oh dear.

Up until the 1970's Price's also had an international reputation for designing and manufacturing candle-making machinery; this ceased in 1980 and the engineering workshop space was vacated. Increasing production costs, the logistics of transporting raw materials into and goods out of a central London location and the increase in value of what is now a prime riverside location led the company to reconsider its position. In 1998 it relocated its UK candle manufacture to Bicester in Oxfordshire, and in 2001 Price’s Head Office moved to Bedford to join the Distribution Centre. On the original site, a Price’s retail shop remains, sharing the Wilsons' original Battersea site with elegant riverside apartment blocks and a heliport.

I see that the factory became a building site (and it actually incorporated some bits of a 15th century moated house) and that Price's went bust, the Bicester site closed and the company was bought - well, the brand name was bought - by an Italian company who manufacture in Italy.

But that's not what I wanted to ask about. How does this 'dumping' work ? I presume the manufacturers aren't going to sell below cost price - and they wouldn't last long if they did.

How then is their export subsidised ? Do the Chinese Government pay a candle export subsidy or give the candle firms grants ? Or are the EU telling porkies again ? Do they just want to protect the candle industry for their own reasons ?

After all, in the new energy world, candles could be a strategic resource again. With no EU candle industry and North Sea oil running out, what if the Chinese blow out the candles just as the Russians turn off the gas ?

UPDATE - via anonymous in the comments, dirty candle-related EU deeds and an insider's view of Trade Commissar Mandelson :

Warming to the subject, he explained that Mandelson had, in the past, made so many errors in promoting free trade that he had no choice now but to introduce protectionist measures.

He said: “His wish is to remove barriers for trade, but unilaterally. Only to remove barriers at any cost. And in the real world this is, of course, not possible . . . He showed his sometimes radical, extreme positions so that member states that did not share his views were really scared and this you can’t do.”

He also poked fun at Mandelson: “He has a vision — without to be nasty — to be always on the front of the Financial Times. This is a problem with a visionaire. Ha? Someone who has vision, they don’t listen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More on Afghanistan

Further to my post yesterday, a couple of points.

Firstly that creating a modern society by brute force certainly didn't work first time round, if wikipedia is at all accurate. Apparently :

Once in power, the PDPA implemented a socialist agenda. It moved to replacing traditional and islamic sharia laws with secular ones. Men were now not obliged to wear beards, women to wear a burqa, and mosques were placed off limits. It carried out an ambitious land reform, waiving farmers' debts countrywide and abolishing usury - intended to release the poorer farmers from debt bondage.

At the time, infant mortality was 269 per thousand, average life expectancy just 35 years and about 90% of the population were illiterate. Free emergency medical care was introduced. A mass literacy campaign was begun, 5000 unemployed university graduates being recruited as teachers. By the end of 1979, 600 new schools had been built, many of them in rural areas, and up to 500,000 adult Afghans were attending basic literacy classes (another 500,000 had enrolled but dropped out). Working hours were reduced, low-paid workers were given higher wages and trade unions were legalised for the first time in Afghanistan's history.

In late 1978, Nur Mohammad Taraki, President of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan, promulgated Decree #7 which aimed at a transformation of the marriage institution by attacking its traditional monetary basis and promoting equality between men and women.

The government also made a number of other decrees on women’s rights, banning forced marriages, giving state recognition of women’s right to vote, and introducing women to political life. Women took leadership positions in the regime and fought social conservatives and islamic extremists on various issues. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous New Kabul Times editorial (May 28, 1978) which declared: “Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country .... Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”

A programme to warm any Guardianista's heart, and even Laban's pretty keen on a lot of it. Not sure what that 'mosques off limits' bit meant though. How did they go about overcoming political opposition ? Oh. I see. Even unity might think twice about this - wouldn't he ?

The destruction of Afghanistan's former ruling elite had begun immediately after the seizure of power. Execution (Parcham leaders later claimed at least 11,000 during the Taraki/Amin period), flight into exile, and later the devastation of Kabul itself would literally remove the great majority of the some 100,000 who had come to form Afghanistan's elite and middle class. Their loss almost completely broke the continuity of Afghanistan's leadership, political institutions and their social foundation...

The Khalq leadership proved incapable of filling this vacuum. Its brutal and clumsy attempts to introduce radical changes in control over agricultural land holding and credit, rural social relations, marriage and family arrangements, and education led to scattered protests and uprisings among all major communities in the Afghan countryside. Taraki and Amin left a legacy of turmoil and resentment which gravely compromised later Marxist attempts to win popular acceptance.

The human rights violations of the Khalq extended beyond the educated elite. Between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, Afghan Communists executed an estimated 27,000 political prisoners at Pul-i-Charki prison six miles east of Kabul. Many of the victims were village mullahs and headmen who were obstructing the modernization and secularization of the intensely religious Afghan countryside. The Khalq leadership introduced to Afghanistan the "knock on the door in the middle of the night", previously little known in that country, where the central government usually lacked the power to enforce its will beyond Kabul.

Well, it worked for Stalin, didn't it ? But the Russian people were accustomed over centuries to autocratic despotism. The Afghan tradition was one of heavily armed local autonomy. Results - teachers and doctors were shot, schools and clinics burned, power lines brought down. Heroic Man 1, Economic Man 0 (n.b. - that doesn't mean I think it's heroic to shoot teachers and doctors).

So repression on a pretty hefty scale - and by their own people - didn't work. The Allies aren't capable of that kind of represssion, not would I want them to be. So that's out. Trouble is, the Afghans - especially the Pashtun - look on non-violent persuasion as weakness. And they don't like infidels. And they're great fighters. With some nasty lines in the mutilation and torture department. As I say, it's like trying to introduce democracy to 14th century England.

The other thing. In the comments, 'Revolution Harry' pointed out to 'gradualist Laban' that while Reagan and Thatcher certainly armed the mujahideen fighters, the whole thing was kicked off by Jimmy Carter.

On July 3, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order authorizing the CIA to conduct covert propaganda operations against the communist regime.

Carter advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated "According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise." Brzezinski himself played a fundamental role in crafting U.S. policy, which, unbeknownst even to the mujahideen, was part of a larger strategy "to induce a Soviet military intervention." In a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled:

We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would...That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap...The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.

Additionally, on July 3, 1979, U.S. President Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan. As a part of the Central Intelligence Agency program Operation Cyclone, the massive arming of Afghanistan's mujahideen was started.
What's particularly striking is that Zbigniew Brzezinski isn't some forgotten Cold Warrior of the past - far from it. He's apparently one of Barack Obama's closest advisers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is This A New Stealth Tax ?

Let's get this right. Tell me if I've got it base over apex.

HMG give the banks big wodges of dosh in exchange for preference shares (with a high rate of interest) or lend the dosh and get interest.

The BoE then slash interest rates.

But the banks don't slash their rates to borrowers by anywhere near as much. Some haven't cut rates at all. "We are not charities" they say.

The money the banks are making by not cutting rates is being used to pay back HMG as quickly as possible, so that the banks can get back with all haste to the traditional dodgy asset valuation, inflated profits (due to dodgy asset valuation) and related bonuses.

In the meantime the banks nail the punters and pass the cash on to Gordo, who needs all the income he can get. Competition is long forgotten (the head of the 'independent' Competition Commission is the dog that doesn't bark), and by some osmotic agreement the few well-capitalised banks graciously refrain from lowering rates to lure customers from their weaker brethren - don't want another Northern Rock, do we now ?

The beauty is that the banks get nearly all the blame and Gordo gets nearly all the money.

OK, what's wrong with this picture ?

Mass Immigration AND Mass Unemployment !

The Home Office yesterday announced a so-called "shortage list" of 800,000 jobs which employers will be allowed to recruit for from outside the European Economic Area.

Another big rise in UK unemployment is expected in official figures out later. The jobless total is expected to pass 1.8 million, reaching its highest level since 1998. The total was 1.79 million in the last figures up to August.

They Really Do Think We're Stupid

There is a certain method in Labour's madness. Only the dumbing down of the education system (for which see here) could possibly allow John Hutton MP to think he'd get away with this :

The need to stop Taleban control of Afghanistan is as significant as resisting Hitler's invasion of Poland, Defence Secretary John Hutton has said.

Speaking on Armistice Day he said if the Taleban won, Britain would have to face the consequences of terrorism.

"In one sense, it has the same significance as the invasion of Belgium in 1914 and the invasion of Poland in 1939," he said.

Let's take that a bit at a time :

a) no it isn't - and for his info we didn't resist Hitler's invasion of Poland (we were not physically capable of resisting it, to be fair) - we declared war on Germany, which was not at all the same thing. Poland remained an occupied country for the next 50 years.

b) no matter what happens in Afghanistan, we'll continue to be at risk of terrorism. Even in WW2, while few German agents managed to do much damage in the UK (thanks to internment and a non-porous border), the IRA were still able to detonate bombs on the mainland, because the enablers were there - a large Irish population in which to hide and traffic across the Irish Sea between the North and the mainland. Similar enablers exist for Islamist terror.

c) no it doesn't. Not unless the Taleban acquire nuclear technology from across the border. Even then they can only kill some of us, not conquer and occupy us as Germany threatened to do. Any threats of conquest and occupation which exist - and there are some - have their root causes in our own cultural weakness, not Taleban strength. As Toynbee puts it, great civilisations are not killed but commit suicide.

I've said my bit on the Taleban and on Afghanistan. We're wasting our time there doing anything but duffing up terror camps - and even there, as I said above, the solutions lie within our borders rather than in Helmand or the NWFP.

One passing point - the problems of reconstruction and the battle against feudalism are pretty much precisely those the Soviet-backed Afghan Government, then the Soviets themselves, faced in the 1980s. The mujahideen were killing doctors and teachers, burning schools just as they are today, while the Soviets were building generators and trying to keep the power lines up (pylons are terribly vulnerable things). And Reagan and Thatcher, for 'strategic reasons', armed them. I thought at the time (I was a lefty then) it was morally indefensible and I still do.

Take a quick look at the history of Afghanistan from the arrival of a left-wing (in Afghan terms) regime in 1978, through the Soviet intervention and the post-Soviet civil war to which a Taleban administration was, initially at least a blessed contrast. Not a lot of hopeful stuff there. Even the good guys are bad guys.

There's a Radio Four series about Afghanistan - the current one is called 'Into The Morass' which gives you an idea where they're coming from. Nonetheless it's worth a listen. It'll probably only be there a week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Post or Two ...

At Biased BBC.

Reading the Booker Rising blog made me want to find out more about Booker T Washington, for whom the blog is named.

I've started reading his autobiography, Up From Slavery. Fascinating stuff.

After that I'll start on another great man - Frederick Douglass. Just check out these quotes.

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.

A Few Flash Floods Down the Curate's Lane ...

The Obama win doesn't mean that a thousand years of peace and love (Guardian style) are upon us quite yet. Steyn and the Pub Philosopher on the Proposition 8 vote, in which Californians who voted Obama also voted to keep marriage heterosexual.

Obama's chief of staff is a chap who's dad was an Irgun terrorist against the British , and who volunteered his services to the Israeli military in Gulf War II (i.e. the first American Gulf War - Gulf War I was the far bloodier Iran/Iraq conflict). Whatever that tells us, I think we can assume that Obama's unlikely to be proposing the dismantling of the State of Israel in the near future. He will stick to the two-state solution which has been so conspicuously successful to date.

Domestic politics post-credit crunch are increasingly unpredictable. Gordo has indeed recovered somewhat in the polls - and it looks as if, after years when Labour would attack the Tories for proposing "unfunded, uncosted tax cuts", asking rhetorically on which hospitals the axe would fall, the two parties are in competition to see who can promise the biggest unfunded tax cuts.

Back to Obama - my best scenario would be for the US to enter upon a period of military and economic isolationism - not good for 'the world economy' but perhaps good for us, making us face problems which we're going to have to face sooner or later anyway. The US security blanket has infantilised the nations of Europe - perhaps they need a bracing period of chill. If Obama was serious (which I'm not at all sure he is) about rebuilding US industry, maybe a UK government might get the hint and do something about UK manufacturing. We've been dismantling it for 30 years under both parties. They would fail in their efforts - but at least they'd be acknowledging a problem. Diagnosis is the first step to treatment.

It's all terribly interesting.