29 September, 2011

Happy birthday Silvio

Today is Silvio Berlusconi's 75th birthday.

One of Silvio's less than endearing habits is to slip into a bill before parliament some clause designed to help him personally. I am surprised none of his opponents has tried to recommend quietly a 'retirement at 75' clause for senior public figures.

No one wants an election right now (except for the electorate, of course), so the old boy will struggle on for a bit more.

The Tobin Tax

One of the strangest things about the proposed European Transaction Tax is the wishy-washy reaction of the British Government.

The transaction tax is supported by members of the general public and many politicians who have never held down a proper job, largely on the basis that it is a tiny percentage - 0.1%. What harm could that do? Mr Barroso, one of the three presidents of Europe, is of course in favour. He says it could raise €55 billion a year. Got to be magic, hasn't it? 0.1% and €55 billion.

The position of the UK Treasury apparently is that it would be all right if everybody imposed the tax. There is some reasonableness to this: but New York, Zurich and Singapore are not going to impose it. They're not that stupid, seeing a wonderful opportunity here to break the dominance of London.

At whatever level a transaction tax is going to raise the costs of borrowing and reduce the liquidity in the market, things we really don't need right now. And the Treasury should be aware, and be making the point, that 80% of this would fall on London. It is quite easy if you are France or Italy, with no capital markets to speak of, to support the introduction of a tax on Les Anglo-Sassons.

Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, belatedly in my view, has said he will veto the tax. He shouldn't have let the debate get so far: the answer right from the start should have been not 'maybe', not 'we can talk about this' but simply 'NO'.

28 September, 2011

The new Manichaeism

The other day some Republican commentator described President Obama as the Antichrist.

In the Amanda Knox case in Perugia, the prosecuting counsel described her thus: 'She was a diabolical, satanic, demonic she-devil. She was muddy on the outside and dirty on the inside. She has two souls, the one you see before you and the other.'

Does this medieval language stem from the fact that we see so much detail these days that we have to distil everything into a concentrated form? Is this a new Manichaeism deriving from a surfeit of internet facts and TV soap-operas, so that everything has to be unbelievably good or unbelievably bad, God or the Devil, for us to understand it?

Are we losing our ability to be shocked, so like a drug addict we need an ever stronger dose?

Obama is not the Antichrist, Amanda Knox is not a she-devil. That doesn't make them necessarily good people, just people like us.

PS translation by The Guardian, spelling by me, character size by Google

The king with no clothes

I suppose it is inevitable that the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor should be televised, but I think it is unfortunate. In the news reports you can sense the prurient voyeurism. You wonder whether the people, his fans, wanted him to live a normal life, wanted him indeed to live, or whether they prefer it this way. It seems to have been the latter but now he is dead there are regrets. Did they have to publish a photo of his corpse? Was this the prurience or a lawyer's trick to shock?

And you can sense the desire for a guilty verdict. People don't want to think of their hero as a weak minded, drug dependent automaton who could be got on stage with the right cocktail. So he must have been killed.

I suppose for many this must be compulsive viewing. For me it is repulsive. Michael Jackson allowed himself to be pushed into an ever more artificial life. He was killed by his fans.

27 September, 2011

A crisis of leadership

Bankers are impatient souls. I know, I worked for what was then a very conservative bank for a decade, and we liked things decided - plenty of caution and deliberation in the decision, of course - but decided, so we knew how to act.

As I have remarked before, the markets are tolerant of the Eurozone, believing it will all come out OK in the end, but this tolerance is beginning to fade.

There was a meeting, if you remember, on July 21st, where the whole damn thing was going to be settled. Now two months later, it still isn't. A greatly delayed decision to give the Greeks another €8bn has still not been approved. Just to put things in perspective, Greece's funding needs over the next three years were forecast at the time of the July meeting to be €172bn (yes, that's a bit more than an eighth of the British economy) over the next three years. Now it would seem to be more. How much more? They haven't a clue.

I seem to remember writing recently that the only people who don't understand that Greece is going to default are the people who matter.

So in the next couple of weeks (no hurry, chaps, don't shorten your lunch) someone will put a figure on how much Greece needs. Clue: it won't be less than the €172 bn thought of before. And then they will start the decision making about what to do. I know, it seems scarcely credible, but that's how it works.

Rumours were pretty heavily spread that the bailout fund would be increased to €2 trillion, but the Spanish finance minister (a possible beneficiary) has said no one has suggested that.

Er..just a tip chaps, if I'm not interrupting lunch or dinner, but the markets were hoping for a bit of leadership. No? OK, then, no. Fair enough, we don't want the political elite to panic.

24 September, 2011

That's fast

There was a young lady called Bright
Who could travel faster than light.
She went out one day,
In a relative way,
And came back the previous night.

I have just a suspicion that the discovery in Gran Sasso, Italy, of a particle exceeding the speed of light, should be taken with a nanogramme of salt. It was probably a FIAT jumping a red light.

Statistic of the week

Before this benighted global warming stellite fell to earth, NASA said it had a 1 in 3,200 chance of killing someone.

Now I live near a town of more than 3,200 people, so.....

By the way we are now likley to be hit by a German telescope falling out of the sky. Much more of this and I shall be statistically likely to be a goner.

23 September, 2011

A step backwards

Italian magistrates have demanded the arrest of Marco Milanese, a deputy of the ruling party and principal adviser to Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, who is accused of corrupt practices.

Unfortunately Mr Milanese cannot be arrested without the approval of Parliament, and the Majority have voted against releasing him to be tried.

I have written before that the Italian people are losing faith in their governing class, La Casta, and this is going to exacerbate the matter even further. Demonstrators outside the Parliament building wanted to know why he should be treated differently to the rest of the population.

This really has got to stop. Italy desperately needs a new revolution - it had thought Berlusconi was one - and corruption, underperformance and overly generous remuneration amongst deputies needs to be ended. Berlusconi has made a serious mistake here: if the people have no confidence in their rulers they will get rid of them.

22 September, 2011

A satellite falls

The Americans have no idea where their satellite is going to fall - they gave some co-ordinates but it turns out they cover almost the entire inhabited portion of the planet.

We now learn that the satellite was there to monitor global warming. So, not content with telling you life as you know it was about to end, the damn thing might land on your head.

According to the Telegraph: 'NASA has warned people not to touch the debris if they come across it because it is likely to have sharp edges.'

I should have thought sharp edges were the least of the problems you might encounter.

What's in a name?

The FT's Brussels blog asks why there is no nickname for the euro, like a buck for a dollar or a quid for a pound.

What about calling it after the ECB President: a trichet?

In French tricher is to cheat; tricher avec les chiffres is to doctor the figures.

Troy Davis

We cannot, of course, know for certain whether Troy Davis was the man who killed Police officer Mark McPhail, but his appeals were turned down at every stage, including the final one to the Supreme Court, last night. All but a handful of American States have the death penalty and Davis was executed..

However the crime was committed in 1989 and Davis was convicted in 1991. He has spent 20 years, from age 22 to age 42 knowing that his life was at the disposal of the Justice System. Twenty years. I should have thought that was a 'cruel and unusual punishment' as the Eighth Amendment calls it.

21 September, 2011


Mahmoud Abbas, otherwise known as Abu Mazen, Prime Minister of Palestine, is to present a petition to the UN asking to be a recognised state.

I can't help thinking this will do nothing for the people he represents, but plenty for him.

It cannot succeed, in the present form, at least. Everyone believes in a two state solution to the problem, but it must come through negotiation. The Americans, and the British if Cameron has any courage, will veto it. Other Arab countries will vote in favour, but none of Palestine's neighbours, such as Syria or Egypt can do anything practical to help: they have too much going on within their own borders. In any case Arab countries have traditionally shown a reluctance to get involved.

And whom does Abbas speak for? Gaza, supposedly a part of Palestine, is ruled by his opponents, Hamas. If Palestine were to become a member of the UN, it would be a country without borders - the demarcation lines are, at best, in dispute. And for there to be a land bridge between Gaza and East Jerusalem, the consent of the Israelis would be required. A solution as in Northern Ireland where each country recognises the other's independent existence through its constitution would exclude Gaza.

Abbas must know all this, and thus the only possible conclusion is that he is pursuing statehood in order to bolster his own position, at the expense of peace among his people.

This demarche is the last thing Palestine needs.

19 September, 2011

DSK down and out

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has admitted on French television that his liaison with a chambermaid in New York was 'une faute morale', and that he will not be able to challenge for the Presidency.

Presumably he will have done some private polling and concluded that what with a few other little 'fautes' pursuing him, even the tolerant French electorate will not put up with it all. He will be 68 at the time of the next election and that is probably too old.

DSK's big advantage, of course, was that he wasn't Nicolas Sarkozy. But strangely, his troubles rather obscured his policies. Had he stood, it would have been a case of whether you could put up with all the baggage or whether you couldn't, not whether you liked his policies.

In fact DSK is an old fashioned corporate socialist. He likes big government, plenty of interference, and mistrusts free trade. Pretty well exactly what France doesn't need now.

Who will benefit from all this? Sarkozy, of course, who should have an easy run into a second term (barring disasters) and Marine Le Pen, who is likely to beat one of the lacklustre socialist candidates to become the contender.

Passport to anonymity

The UK Passport Agency is considering allowing people not to enter their gender on their passport application, in order not to offend 'transgender' people.

One's gender is, like it or not, part of the identification procedure. It seems an invitation to Muslim terrorists to appear in a burqa, saying they are female.

I should like passports not to contain a photograph, lest it upset ugly people.

16 September, 2011

Danish Democracy

Denmark has had elections. I have a nice picture of the Danish flag, which due to the incompetence of Google I am unable to show you. Anyhow it is a white cross a little left of centre on a red background.

The election result is difficult so follow me carefully here.

The largest party in the Folketing (parliament), which had a slight increase in its support, will no longer form the government. That will be done by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, whose party, the Social Democrats, had their worst result for 100 years. Such are the vagaries of the proportional representation system, which the poor loves fondly believe is democracy. Still nobody knows exactly what government policy is, because they are in a huddle working out their coalition. Anyway, Ms Thorning-Schmidt is what they have got.

Known as Gucci Helle for her posh clothing, Ms T-S is the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, the former British Labour leader, whose nickname was ‘the Welsh Windbag’. Her solution to Denmark’s problems, quite original given what is going on in Europe, is more government spending.

Poor Denmark.

15 September, 2011

Italy's budget

Those who were listening to BBC Radio Solent at 7am UK time this morning (OK, not that many, I admit), could have heard my dulcet tones explaining what is going on in Italy.

There was a small riot outside the Parliament building as they passed the budget; at least it was small by Roman standards. Some imaginative soul threw a pig's heart (although the Corriere della Sera says it was a veal heart: I think we should be told; an end to cover-ups!) but otherwise not much. The savings to be made, which are about double those being made in the UK, are, to a large extent agreed by Italians. They are persuaded, in my view correctly, that without these savings Italy would not be able to stay in the euro.

I think it important to think a little about the Italian psyche here, and it applies to the budget and to the Berlusconi case which is warming up nicely (more later). The Italians are not a nation of economists and they are not a nation of puritans. What is of great concern to Italy is the way the world sees it, its bella figura. They believe they must be a part of the euro not for some technical reasons - anyone who knows the least bit of the mechanics of the thing thinks they are mad to stay in - but because they want to retain a seat at the top table. Equally Berlusconi can get up to whatever he pleases until it  gets to the point that he is bringing down Italy (and I believe it may be getting to that point now).

So, there must be savings and there will be suffering. What the disagreement is about, and it is shared by the left and by the Confederation of Industry and by the ordinary people, is that it is too much in the way of taxes and not enough in the way of cuts. In fact, of the €54 billion in the budget, around two thirds is increased taxes and one third is cuts. VAT goes up by 1% immediately.

The reasons for the mistrust of the balance of this manovra are twofold: firstly, as Emma Marcegaglia of Confindustria says tirelessly, Italy's problem is lack of growth. Italy needs government expenditure cuts - in many areas the State chokes out private enterprise - it needs a sell off of State owned assets which amount to many billions and are only there as pieces on the political chessboard, and it needs an overall reduction in day to day costs of the State, a reduction in payroll and a general reduction in activity.

The other side of the argument, held by the left and by the ordinary folk, is that Italy needs to tackle its vested interests. In many ways the budget is targeted at ordinary people and leaves the rich off the hook. A VAT increase hits a family trying to clothe its children, it does not hit the rich and powerful, who don't pay much in the way of income tax either.

This blog agrees with both views: the budget should have been 75% cuts and sell-offs and efficiency drives, and the remaining 25% could have been covered easily by making the ruling class pay its taxes. Many people think they might have done well to copy Mr Cameron and be seen to reduce the costs and numbers of MPs. Vested interests again, and there's no one with the balls to tackle them.

14 September, 2011

Waking up the dreamers

An astonished euro supporter, that is to say a supporter both of the single currency and of the rest of the ‘Project’ asks what has gone wrong. Sometimes I try to see this in terms of human nature.

There is a certain sort of person who believes that if something is desirable, it must be achieved. They say the magic words ‘it must be achieved’ and sit back waiting for it to happen. Tony Blair was a little like this: he would say something like ‘we shall eliminate child poverty’, hand over the big picture to technocrats who, too scared of telling him it can’t realistically be done, chug along, nudging themselves in the right sort of direction until he has forgotten about it. But at least Blair never pursued something he knew to be impossible – you see, he was a pragmatist and never really believed in anything.

If you couple this dirigiste dreaming with religious fanaticism, however, you have problems. And religious fanaticism is what the euro is all about. Never mind that anyone who understood these things told them it wouldn’t work, a single currency was desirable, we would have it, it was part of The Project. Even now, when it is crashing round their ears, they can’t listen. Tony Blair would have dropped it a while back with a deft speech on how it was a jolly good idea, but one for the future. The people who run Europe can’t seem to do that.

To believe that Greece could have the same currency as Germany you have to be a fanatic, an idiot, or someone who has never left his own small town. The Germans strive to get ahead, they invest for the future, sacrificing present gratification, their system is, largely, incorrupt. It is quite the opposite state of affairs in Greece. This is obvious, but I am saying it now because it is particularly relevant.

Suppose a household has some sudden one-off expenditure but is fundamentally sound. It borrows, against its other wealth, say the unmortgaged portion of the house, and pays those borrowings off in time. That is solving a liquidity problem and borrowing is a very good thing for it.

Greece does not have a liquidity problem, it has a solvency problem. It is as if the members of the household had become unemployable: increasing the debts isn’t the answer. Greece needs to get working: it needs to cut expenditure, let the private sector flourish, collect its taxes.

And yet our euro-masters persist in presenting debt as the solution, because they can’t bring themselves to believe that Greece is different to Germany – they’re both Europeans, aren’t they? So Greece will get worse every year: as it lags further and further behind the others, bogged down by its sclerotic inefficiency. Already it has been unable to meet the targets of the last bailout.

Mr Barroso has stated that the solution to Europe’s problems is further integration. The Commission has proposed eurobonds as a solution, even though a decision of the German Constitutional Court only last week has said they would be unconstitutional.

French banks, immersed in the crisis of 2008, were told they had to hold more liquidity. Very good. What constituted liquidity for these muttonheads? Why, euro sovereign bonds. They chose Greek ones because Greek ones paid the best (they didn’t ask why – surely the bonds of all European countries are the same, aren’t they? I mean, they’re all European). When Greece started to get into trouble the French and European regulators told them to write down 20%. It should have been at least 45% then, and it should be at least 80% now. So this morning the French banks are downgraded.

Everybody knows Greece is going to default except the people who matter. These people need to be taken outside and repeatedly slapped until they come to terms with reality. Now they have left it so late it is not just Greece.

13 September, 2011

Libya - how we are helping

New Libyan Flag
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the Transitional Council in Libya has declared that Sharia Law will be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.

So we have fought a war to ensure public executions, mistreatment of women and homosexuality punished by death.

I said at the start that we didn't know much about the people we were helping and now we know a little bit more.

12 September, 2011

Ring Fencing the banks

Today the Vickers Committee on Banking published its report and, as predicted, came out in favour of ring fencing.

The idea here is that investment banking and commercial banking are two quite different types of risk and one type should not subsidise the other. The first instance of this was in America in the 1930s and called the Glass-Steagall Act (GSA). The GSA however simply forbade banks from operating the two different functions: they had to be one or the other. As I outlined in a much earlier post, total separation is not however necessary. Ring-fencing would mean Barclays Group could own Barclays Bank and Barclays Investment Bank but that one bit couldn’t subsidise the other.

I am broadly in favour of Ring Fencing but with a few caveats. The first thing is that it isn’t the be all and end all of solving banking risk. It really isn’t too difficult to go bust as a commercial bank, either by making too many bad loans, as several banks nearly did in the 1970s and 80s, or by getting the funding wrong, as Northern Rock did. ‘The Rock’, as it was mistakenly called, didn’t have an investment banking arm and no amount of ring fencing would have saved it.

And then, of course, when a commercial bank was in trouble, it might be useful to rely on the funds of a successful and profitable investment bank: I have repeatedly said ‘one shouldn’t subsidise the other’ and whilst the Vickers Report seems to think the risk is that investment banks will get into trouble and take away the capital of commercial banks, it can go both ways.

The other caveat is the cost. Some figures suggest that it might cost the City $7 billion to implement the proposals and whilst others come in lower there will definitely be a substantial cost to this, just at a time when we need the banks to be doing more lending to private sector companies so they will expand and take on workers formerly in the unproductive public sector. Competing financial markets in America, the Far East and Europe aren’t proposing ring fencing.

My view is that we should do this, but not until there are clear signs that we are through the worst. And that isn’t now.

11 September, 2011


As everyone in the world, I suppose, already knows, this is the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. It changed the world, mainly but not exclusively for the worse.

At the time, America had not suffered from terrorism and there was an uncharitable but understandable view current after 9 / 11 that it was probably better for all of us that they now had some experience of it. Something like 3,000 people died in the attacks, almost as many as died in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, which had in part been encouraged by American politicians such as Ted Kennedy. Still, the ‘Troubles’ lasted thirty years whilst 9/11 happened in a few minutes.

It was shocking not just for the loss of life but for its symbolic importance. The Word Trade Centre was a totem of America’s economic might, in the heart of its chief city. There was a feeling that nothing would ever be safe any more.

The Second Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan would probably not have happened without 9/11, and the N. Ireland Troubles would not have been nearly so bad if the Americans had known what terror attacks on the civilian population was like. I don’t think, though, that it pays to dwell on these things.

The projection of power after 9/11 was so quick and so unsuccessful that we can say that those few minutes ten years ago have made the world doubt the use of military intervention. That might, I suppose, be a good thing.

One strange development was the extraordinary attitude of the British and European Left, who professed that America had somehow deserved this. I think you have to be a pretty strange person to adopt this view, although the Guardian newspaper and the BBC portrayed it as normal.

Lastly we have the conspiracy theorists, who have had a good ten years. A short trawl of the internet can reveal that George Bush organised the bombings so he would have an excuse for a war; that Israel was in fact behind it, following the false rumour that no Jews died in the blasts, or that Dick Cheney wanted an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties. They are the only light relief in the whole sorry business.

10 September, 2011

Opportunities to remain silent (2)

Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly blamed the recent riots in England on a moral relativism which has swept the country.

He may well be right, but, and I have said this before, this is from a former member of the Hitlerjugend who turned a blind eye to child molestation in his church. Despite his exalted position I am not sure I want to hear about moral relativism from this quarter.

I recommend to His Holiness the words of Seneca: 'It is a great thing to know the season for speech and the season for silence.'

09 September, 2011

Structured Co-operation

Don't know what 'structured co-operation' means? But you should, you should.

As you can imagine from the almost meaningless juxtaposition of two words, it comes from the European Union. What it means is that the unelected political class which runs Europe found it difficult to get along with this tricky democracy business and decided to enable a system whereby if some countries didn't vote for their policies, others could go ahead and enact them.

In this case it is having a military headquarters. Not content with NATO, the quintet of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland have sent a letter to the amazing Baroness Ashton saying they are going to go ahead. Britain has of course said no and there can't really be a European military structure without Britain, but they have decided to spend the money anyway.

The reason is that their 'united' Europe has to have all the accoutrements of a nation state; an army, or at least the top brass bureaucracy of an army (apart from France none of these countries has anything like a significant military), is important.

Never mind the fact that Europe is breaking up, it's full steam ahead towards a disunited Europe!

08 September, 2011

Hypocrisy (No. 341)

John Galliano used to be the head of design at the fashion house Dior. At the beginning of this year he was sacked for having made anti-Semitic comments including, to the owner of a Paris bar, 'People like you would be dead today, your mothers, your forefathers would be gassed.' Today, because expressing your own opinions if they disagree with the State is illegal in France, Mr Galliano was given a suspended fine and told to pay the costs of a number of hangers on anti-racist groups.

In March this year, dismissing Mr Galliano from his post, the Chief Executive of Dior, Sydney Tolledano, said Galliano's comments 'totally contradict the values which have always been defended by Christian Dior'.

Er, no. Christian Dior made his name and his money during World War II dressing the wives and girlfriends of Nazi officers and collaborators.

For Mr Tolledano this would have been, as Jacques Chirac once put it, 'an excellent opportunity to remain silent'.

Abortion: the Dorries-Field Amendment

Nadine Dorries MP
Nadine Dorries MP is photogenic and also good copy, so it is perhaps not surprising that she should have received most of the publicity over the recent proposed amendment to the Government’s Health Bill, more than her co-promoter Frank Field, a long serving MP who seems to be about the only person in the House of Commons who is universally liked and respected.

Ms Dorries is a bit of a terrier, and refuses to let go of something once she has got her teeth in it, a quality perhaps better in an MP than it is attractive in a person.

Their proposal was that organisations who perform abortions for money should not also give ‘independent’ counselling: they are clearly not independent.

Unfortunately every suggestion concerning abortion is treated by the Left as an attack on abortion itself.

This was not, however, an attack on abortion, of which Ms Dorries declares herself to be in favour. There was no suggestion that a woman should not have the right to an abortion, only that the counselling she receives should not be from someone who stood to make money from her having the abortion.

I must say I had no idea that this could go on and was quite astonished. How many people do they counsel not to have an abortion?

Mr Cameron in particular has behaved disgracefully over this. He promised to support the amendment, and then when his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats said they wouldn’t agree, withdrew his support. At Prime Minister’s Question Time Ms Dorries had the courage to ask him when he would stop giving in to everything the Deputy Prime Minister demanded, and remind Mr Clegg who was boss. Mr Cameron began his answer with ‘I know the Honourable Lady is frustrated...’ and when there was a puerile outburst of giggles in the House, gave up and sat down.

Mr Cameron should apologise to Ms Dorries and explain to the public why he thinks it better that a woman should receive abortion counselling from the organisation which is going to operate on her for money.

PS Mary Wakefiled points out in the Spectator that one pregnancy in five is terminated in the UK, twice as many as in Germany. Why should this be so?

Four years

This blog began on 8th September, 2007 with a post on the fallout from the subprime fiasco, which seems less pessimistic than hindsight would demand. During these four years I have received some 33,000 page views.

There will be some changes to the format of the blog over the next few months but nothing dramatic.

I thank you all for reading it.

07 September, 2011

More changes....

Right at the last moment, Italy has given way to persuasion from its European partners and proposed what must be the fourth version of its budget in as many weeks. This time there is something to upset everyone: a wealth tax which Berlusconi initially refused to contemplate, a rise in VAT, which Tremonti the finance minister had previously rejected, and pension reform which Umberto Bossi, Berlusconi's main ally, said he would not tolerate.

So, that seems fair.

The problem is that all this uncertainty has painted a clear picture for investors of a government which hasn't a clue what it is doing.

More of the same

The German Constitutional Court, or Bundesverfassungsgericht, has, as expected, approved the Greek bailouts, rejecting a claim that they breached the Consitution.

This is good news in that a rejection would have thrown the markets into turmoil, but bad news in that it gives the green light to more of the same expensive and ineffective policies to prop up a currency which is entirely a political construct.

The Court has said, however, that future bailouts must be referred to Parliament, where Mrs Merkel is finding it difficult to maintain her majority.

06 September, 2011

Who are the rebels?

The case of Abdul Hakim Belhaj is nothing if not thought provoking.

What is alleged is that Belhaj was captured by the CIA in Thailand in 2004 following a tip off from Britain. It seems his associates told British diplomats in Malaysia that he wanted to claim asylum in the UK, that he got on a flight and was snatched by the Americans at Bangkok where he was tortured, and then flown to Tripoli where he suffered years of abuse in prison. He is now a rebel commander.

I am perhaps alone in the view that people get a little hysterical at the thought of torture. In this regard the chattering classes are not in the same place in the argument as the ordinary man: if someone knows of a plot to blow up a bus or train his daughter might be travelling on, the ordinary man wants the guy tortured.

In this regard Belhaj was a member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which had strong links to al-Qaeda. Whilst it is a little bit sneaky allowing the guy to board the plane in order to claim asylum – he had no visa – it was a bit sneaky of someone who had terrorist links to claim asylum in the UK in the first place.

The British and Americans wanted Belhaj removed from operations and who better than Gadaffi to do that: Belhaj was Libyan (albeit with a range of false passports) and the Colonel saw LIFG as a threat.

What I want to dwell on for a minute is that ‘Islamist’ in the title. Belhaj has renounced terrorism, he says, and severed links with al-Qaeda, but is he an Islamist, wanting, like the Taliban, to restrict individual liberty, by force if necessary, in conformity with their interpretation of the Koran?

I have written before that we don’t seem to know much about the people we are supporting, and this guy was not so long ago regarded as sufficiently nasty that we handed him over to Gadaffi.

04 September, 2011

A politician by any other name

James Perry
I have written before about British politicians such as Gideon 'George' Osborne, Alexander 'Boris' Johnson and John 'Vince' Cable who for some reason don't want to go under their given names, as if they were hiding from their creditors.

But it is not just a British phenomenon; I now learn that the front runner for Republican Presidential Candidate, Rick Perry, is in fact called James.

PS his wife is called Anita Thigpen, which nobody could have made up.

A service to the world

From the Daily Telegraph: 'They were the Tripoli rebel underground, the people who kept the resistance fire burning in the heart of Gadaffi's capital....And one of their main leaders was a NHS dental surgeon from Cardiff.'

Strangely enough Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, was an ophthalmologist in London, Col. Gadaffi received military training in England and almost every tinpot dictator on the planet has studied at Sandhurst.

Britain is obviously providing a service to the world, even if sometimes you wonder which side we are on.

01 September, 2011

Auxology and the aubergine

Auxology, not in my Oxford English Dictionary, is apparently the study of human growth, and according to the Auxology Institute of Milan, Italians are growing more than most. Outwards, that is, not upwards.

Despite being famed for its Mediterranean diet, Italy has the highest proportion of overweight children in Europe. The diet has, it would appear, been abandoned for the sort of fast food the rest of Europe eats.

One issue must be that more Italian women are working and haven't the time to cook for their children.

So as the British increasingly eat like Italians, Italians increasingly eat like British. It seems a shame, really.