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Tory Diary has picked up on the Cameron statement on the treaty ratification (also retailed by The Daily Mail). If anything, though, it is even less impressed than we were. The words used by David Cameron, it says, are almost identical to those used by William Hague last month.
"They are not bankable," it adds. "Eurosceptics who saw much firmer promises made about EPP withdrawal in 2005 are unlikely to be reassured by what looks like tactical wording."
Worse still, we are told: "Although all of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet are sceptical about the EU there is no stomach for a big fight with Brussels … they would not allow a Cameron government to be engulfed by the same 'Euro-strife' that shipwrecked John Major."
What they need to realise, however, is that if elected under the current regime, it would not be a "Cameron government". First and foremost, it would be a Brussels government. They may be happy with an electorally-mandated reshuffle, but if that is all that is on offer, an awful lot of people will not bother to turn out for the vote.
This is the time of year, in case you had not noticed, when the media goes into overdrive with its reviews of the last year and its predictions for 2008 – if for no other reason than – Pakistan apart – there is no other hard news that the media can be bothered with, and they have to fill the airwaves and the pages of their newspapers with something.
One listens, therefore, with only half an ear to the radio as the high and the mighty drone on with their prognostications and it was in that mode that I caught something on BBC Radio 4's From our own correspondent programme. It had gathered its foreign correspondents from near and wide, asking them each for their predictions for the coming year, but what made me sit up was blunt warning from the Asia correspondent that there would be "food riots in China".
By coincidence, England Expects picks up another strand of the same story, retailing a report in the Financial Times that China is to introduce taxes on grain exports "in the latest attempt to rein in food-driven inflation that reached an 11-year high in November."
From this we learn that exporters of 57 types of grain, including wheat, rice, corn and soya beans, will have to pay temporary taxes of between 5 and 25 percent. Furthermore, this move comes less than two weeks after China, the world's biggest grain producer, scrapped a 13 percent rebate on major grain exports in an effort to increase domestic supply and rein in inflation that hit 6.9 percent in November, well above the government's three percent target.
Elsewhere, we see from Xinhuanet that China's grain subsidies were up 66 percent in 2007, to 51.4 billion yuan (6.9 billion U.S. dollars). Despite that, production was short of demand, even with a harvest of more than 500 million tons of grain, the fourth consecutive year of growth.
Then, we also learn that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been visiting farms and rural enterprises in the northeast province of Shaanxi (pictured top and below right), while his administration is pumping money into land reclamation programmes in a bid to increase the amount of land available for cultivation.
On top of that, the influential Central Economic Work Conference has decided that that prevention of "current price increases from becoming evident inflation" would be a primary goal of macroeconomic control in 2008, leading the government to focus on "national grain security" and the continuation of boosting farmers' income next year.
To add emphasis to that message, Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu on Sunday attended a ceremony honouring "advanced grain producers", when he urged for more effort to be devoted to agricultural modernisation.
Bearing in mind that China is by no means an open society, and has strict control over its media, the underlying message coming through is that there is a sense of crisis over food supplies. The BBC foreign correspondent may well be right in predicting food riots – otherwise one would not be seeing this huge concentration of effort by the Chinese government on the issue.
But, what applies to China also applies to the rest of the world yet, as England Expects remarks, none of the political leaders make any reference to the growing crisis in their New Year messages – despite the obvious and very real effects it will have on the economy and the poorer sector of our society.
As we have remarked many times (for instance here and here), this lack of engagement reflects the lack of engagement on the EU front, where European politicians have not even begun to address the seriousness of the situation. Instead, they have been raiding the CAP account to pay for their Galileo vanity project - a monumental act of folly.
Lacking political leadership, the food security issue is not being picked up in any serious sense by the national media, which means that when polling organisations like You Gov construct their questionnaires to discover what they think are the issues of importance to ordinary people, they fail to include issues like "food security" and "food inflation" on the list of options. Thus, as we saw in the survey for The Sunday Times yesterday, the top three in the list of concerns were, "anti-social behaviour", immigration and terrorism, with "global warming" coming sixth on the list (see below).
The bizarre detachment of this list belies the fact that the EU is still pushing ahead with its insane plan to demand member states meet a 10 percent quota for biofuels, despite even environmental groups warning that it will be a disaster.
Yesterday though, Christopher Booker in his column remarked that when history comes to be written, "2007 may well be marked as the significant year when it first registered that the disaster-movie threat posed to the planet by global warming might not be roaring down on us quite as predicted."
In the nature of scares – and such is the concern over global warming – these do not die out, as such. They are most often driven out, to be replaced by a greater or different concern. Thus, when the history of 2008 comes to be written, this may be the year when food security displaced global warming and the number one concern, as the reality of global food shortages finally struck home (although it may take a little longer).
With that realisation, one hopes, we will also begin to understand that successive British governments have transferred their powers to deal with such a crisis to Brussels, where agriculture is a sole "competence". Thus, as the crisis begins to bite, we will have the familiar but still unedifying spectacle of British ministers rushing off to Brussels to plead for relief.
There, one suspects, we may get short shrift. Although Britain is a major importer of food (bringing in some 60 percent of our annual requirements), other countries in the EU – most notably France – are net exporters. What will be catastrophic for the British economy, and the well-being of our people, will be good news for the French economy, which means we will be out on our own.
In addition to the shift in concerns, therefore, 2008 may well be the year – if the media wake up to the fact - when we as a nation realise just how much our governments have given away to Brussels, and the true cost of so doing… just at the time Mr Brown has agreed to give the EU even more powers.
Despite omitting any reference to the Lisbon treaty ratification from his New Year message, David Cameron has shared his views on it with The Daily Telegraph. The paper excitedly tells us that he has "given the strongest signal yet that the Conservatives would consider holding a post-ratification referendum", offering the following:
While this Treaty is still being debated and other countries are having referendums or whatever, it is still open for Britain to have a referendum. If we reach circumstances where the whole Treaty has been not only ratified but implemented, that is not a situation we would be content with. We wouldn't let matters rest there.To be blunt, that is not very much further than the position articulated by William Hague in October, but it does suggest some progress, which we discussed last November.
The Telegraph says that Cameron's remarks "will hearten rank-and-file Tories, angry at what they see as the handing of more powers to Brussels and Labour's broken promise…". That is as maybe, but any positive sentiment is undoubtedly tempered by frustration at the glacial progress.
Cameron is going to have to do a lot more if he is to get the Eurosceptics on side.
How useful it is to have blog readers who also attend to many other media outlets. Once again I register my gratitude to one of our readers who called our attention to this nifty little story. (As I am spending this week partly in South London, which is another country altogether, I have fallen behind in my reading and writing.)
So here is part 1 of the nifty little story, as published in the Jerusalem Post. Yesterday the Israeli announced that the IDF and Shin Bet had found “6.5 tons of potassium nitrate hidden in sacks that were disguised as aid from the European Union”. If we go by the picture, it was disguised as sugar but, clearly, something alerted the Israeli security services.
Potassium nitrate is banned in Gaza for obvious reasons. Oh all right, I shall spell it out. There is this rather unpleasant prejudice in Israel about terrorists in Gaza or, for that matter, the West Bank using the chemical for the manufacture of explosives.
The statement was very cautious about the EU:
This is another example of how the terror organizations exploit the humanitarian aid that is delivered to the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip with Israel's approval.24 hours later the EU denied everything. But before everybody choruses the words “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?” let us have a look at their argument.
The EU official, however, said that the bags could not be confused with bona fide EU aid for a number of reasons, including that the EU does not export sugar as part of aid to the Palestinians, and that food assistance to the PA - funneled through UNRWA or the World Food Program - clearly carries the 12-star symbol of the EU and the name of the European Commission on the bags.Undoubtedly that is true. One cannot imagine that there might be a situation in which the EU omits the flaunting of those stars. There will be a lot more of it, as the EU is pledging another $650 million of aid in 2008. We wrote about all those fruit machine numbers here.
The question does remain as to who decided to use those carefully if erroneously printed bags for the transportation of potassium nitrate instead of sugar. There is some comfort to be taken from the fact that the bags were printed wrongly and the people who were trying to smuggle the chemicals through (or possibly into) the West Bank are a tad careless over certain details.
A little less comfort is to be taken from the surmise that somebody somewhere in the vast EU aid giving machine must have passed a certain amount of information on as to when and where sugar was going to be taken through (or possibly into) the West Bank.
Looking at it from another point of view, one cannot help wondering what other findings the Israeli security services will announce before President Bush’s forthcoming and probably completely pointless visit to the region.
Unless there are very specific issues, the EU agenda is never very prominent in the UK agenda and even during the year it is sometimes a struggle finding newsworthy EU-related items which are the staple fare of this blog.
Over Christmas period, this is doubly the case, when the EU agenda usually disappears completely – not least because the political system has shut down and all the Eurocrats are on holiday.
However, this year is not typical – or should not be. We are facing a year during which a new treaty must be ratified. Furthermore, it is one which has special significance in that we were promised a referendum on what is in all but name the EU constitution, which has been denied by our current prime minister.
At the very least, therefore, we have expectations of coming parliamentary battles, where the Conservative opposition attacks this government for its breach of faith, making the ratification battle the highpoint of the political calendar.
On the other hand, there is that lingering suspicion that Mr Cameron and his Parliamentary colleagues do not have their heart in the battle, and would sooner harry the government on domestic issues, merely going through the motions on "Europe" – enough to be seen to be doing something but without any great conviction.
There are those, of course, who tell us otherwise: that Mr Cameron is a principled politician who is playing a canny game and will fight the good fight when the time comes.
For those, their cause is not helped at all by their leader's New Year message, brought to us courtesy of the BBC website.
He wants, or so he tells us, 2008 to be "the year in which we offer the people of this country the hope of real change, by setting out a clear and inspiring vision of what Britain will look like with a Conservative government."
That vision includes a message on the NHS, an antidote to “Labour's hopeless acceptance of mediocrity in education,” the hope of “civilised communities which are safe for everyone, based on radical police reform and more prison places in prisons which actually reduce re-offending,” and a commitment to “strengthen families, reform welfare, and make British poverty history.”
There are, we are also told, "tremendous challenges ahead" on the economy, on the environment, on defence and fighting terrorism, so says Mr Cameron, "This will be the year in which we show that there is hope for the future, that there is a clear and credible alternative to this hopeless and incompetent Labour government."
"We," says the man, will "offer a clear vision of the Britain we want to see, and a clear idea of how we will govern differently." And "we will inaugurate a new era in government - government for the post-bureaucratic age, where we devolve power to people and communities because we understand that a government that tries to control everything ends up not being able to run anything."
All stirring stuff, but there seems to be one rather glaring omission. Mr Cameron chirps happily away about devolving "power to people…" but what about the referendum? And how will "we" govern differently if the power resides in Brussels?
In November, we wrote of the new law framed by the Italian government aimed at expelling large numbers of Romanians from its country – a reaction to the horrific murder of a 47-year-old woman by a Romanian immigrant.
We were then remarking on the obvious non conformity of the law with EU legislation, and the apparent refusal of the EU to condemn it. We also observed that it helped to have the EU commissioner responsible for the (EU) law firmly on your side.
If the EU was fudging the issue, however, so was the Italian government – making this new measure a double fudge. We learn from the Romanian Focus News Agency that the Italians did not pass the new law, because of a "technicality", and has now brought out a new law, which – we are told – "eases expulsions" of EU nationals.
With that, according to UPI, a mere 1,200 Romanians are to be deported, of the 342,200 Romanians officially registered as currently living in Italy. Furthermore, each is now to be given an opportunity to appeal against deportation, as required by EU law.
This contrasts with the 5,000 expulsions that were to go ahead as the first tranche, promised by La Repubblica newspaper – which we recorded at the time.
Effectively, the climbdown by the Italian government confirms that the law was indeed contrary to EU and is indicative of behind-the-scenes pressure from Brussels to prevent former commission president Romano Prodi – no Italian prime minister – from going too far astray.
But, given the bellicose utterances from the politicians in response to what was seen as the menace of Romanian immigration, this also means that the Italian public have been hoodwinked – again.
So far, no popular response has been recorded, but one does wonder what the public response will be when they learn that the politicians have failed to keep their promises and are simply deporting a token number of immigrants.
Perhaps, since it took a particularly gruesome murder to trigger the last outrage, another might provoke an even greater outrage – and this time the politicians might not get away with it so easily.
Asked for his views on an alternative to the EU, Alan Sked, the founder of UKIP, famously noted that the alternative to suicide was simply not to commit suicide.
The logic of this is absolute. Such are the dynamics of trans-national organisations that, even if the EU was replaced with a completely different structure, the new organisation would, in the fullness of time, end up with much the same world view and aspirations as the body it replaced – presenting just as much a threat to the survival of nation states.
Today, John O'Sullivan in the Telegraph op-ed gives sustenance to that view, advocating the concept close to the heart of this blog, namely the Anglosphere.
As a long-term supporter of the idea, he frames it to perfection, describing it as a "network civilisation" which has the capability to mature into a more formal arrangement creating what a "network commonwealth". These, says O'Sullivan, may end up being more integrated - psychologically and socially, as well as economically - than consciously designed entities such as the EU.
Strangely enough though, we get another of those dichotomy of views between the headline writers. The print edition sports the title, "The Anglosphere could be the making of Britain if we dare", while the online version heads up with the question, "A British-led Anglosphere in world politics?"
The latter title is highly misleading. A loose "network" that would encompass such nations as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and India, would never accept British leadership. As to India, the growth in its economy and its emergence as a regional power are set to make it a greater economic and military force than the UK in the foreseeable future.
The question is, therefore, not whether Britain could or would lead the Anglosphere but whether indeed it could even participate in it, as we are drawn inexorably into the European sphere with the advent of the Lisbon treaty and treaties yet to come.
Already, as we have pointed out, there is a strong defence component in the Lisbon treaty, which brings us that much closer to creating a common defence structure, and pressures within the Union are building up to make this a reality.
Despite the advances triggered by the 1998 St Malo agreement between Chirac and Tony Blair, however, the process of European defence integration has largely stalled. We have noted an increasing lack of enthusiasm, amounting to direct obstruction of the European ambitions, to the extent that the UK can no longer be counted as an active partner in the process.
Interestingly, although the active promoter of the European defence identity in the days of Blair was France, Sarkozy does not seem to be demonstrating the same enthusiasm as his predecessor either. Possibly as a result, the guardianship of the flame seems to be passing to Germany, from which the most strident voices can be heard.
German enthusiasm for a European army, however, is not all it seems. Rather than being an expression of strength – and a desire to dominate Europe, as some fear – it is a sign of the country's continued weakness. Still haunted by its conduct during the Second World War, Germany's leaders wish to take a more active role in world affairs, but lack the self-confidence to do it alone – not least because of the reaction of its neighbours to a resurgent Germany.
Thus, German policy is the same now as it was in 1954 which saw the first attempt at forming a European army – to clothe its military and foreign policy ambitions in "Europe", vesting control in a supranational authority, to reassure it neighbours that it has no ill-intent towards them.
Some progress has been made over the last fifty years since 1954, but it has been glacial and, even today, the European army is regarded as a long-term project. Therein lies the bigger problem for the Europeans. Events await for no man, and certainly not for the Europeans to get their act together and field a credible force.
Furthermore, the nature of the threat is changing and, while the Europeans gaze studiously at their navels, those forces which are actually engaged in fighting the new threat – the war against terror – and evolving new equipment, tactics and doctrines, leaving the European further and further behind.
Added to that, there is an anti-militaristic ethos pervading Europe, with a widespread reluctance to spend the necessary sums on equipping and maintaining modern armies, further diminishing the capabilities of the European forces. And, some of the EU member states which do show enthusiasm for defence integration see in the project not an opportunity to exert greater power, but a means by which they can spend even less on defence than they do at present.
Thus, the reality behind the ambitions of European military might is that the member states cannot deliver, neither individually nor collectively, and there is no prospect of them doing so in the foreseeable future. And, so far are they slipping behind that, should they ever be able to develop the political and command structures that would allow them to operate on a European level, their capabilities will be substantially less than optimal.
That brings us back to the Anglosphere. The UK, having taken a more robust and proactive role in world affairs, cannot wait for the Europeans to get its act together. After a flurry of activity post-St Malo, European co-operation has weakened while the UK's adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have strengthened co-operation with Anglospheric partners such as Australia and Canada, as well as the United States.
The degree of US co-operation has emerged from the accounts of the recent re-taking of Musa Qala where, not only were 600 troops from the US 82nd Airborne Division deployed – using more helicopters in that one operation than have been deployed by the British in the whole theatre – but the US command was intimately involved in the planning and execution of the operation.
It is perverse, therefore, that just at the time when the UK is working so closely with the Anglosphere, it should be signing up to a tranche of further European integration, in the Lisbon Treaty. In the final analysis, though, deeds may be worth more than words on a piece of paper. The threats we face are real, while the treaty remains a European fantasy which cannot deliver.
On that basis, the print edition heading of O'Sullivan's article may be close to the truth: "The Anglosphere could be the making of Britain if we dare". But there may be another truth. The Anglosphere could also be the undoing of attempts to draw the UK deeper into the maw of European integration. As an alternative to committing suicide, it has much to commend it.
At first sight, there seems little that one can add to the torrent of news and comment on the events surrounding the death of Benazir Bhutto, although it is worth pointing our readers in the direction of this post from the Free Muslims site.
However, one of the comments there is particularly interesting. It refers to the demands for the election in Pakistan to continue, arguing against the "liberal ideologists" who demand blind adherence to democratic principles "even when those who would destroy us are benefiting most from these freedoms." This, the commentator argues, is "reckless democracy".
The man has a point, which has implications for all of us. It is neither the time nor place to discuss the issues in detail, but it does make you think whether those who so strongly advocate "democracy" really know what it means, and whether it is to be maintained at any price.
We often see this with members of the EU parliament, who argue that, because they are elected, their "toy" parliament is necessarily democratic. But, as many have argued, there is more to democracy than mere elections. Furthermore, as my co-editor has argued, good government is often the more important issue.
Arguably, democracy is the only means by which good government can be assured over the longer term but, as we know to our cost in this country, even this is not a guarantee. Winston Churchill described it as the "least worst" form of government but this was a man who, during the Second World War, effectively ruled as a dictator.
Certainly, during that period, no one could sensibly have described the UK as a democracy, the normal rights of the citizens – and even elections – having been suspended. However, arguably, we had tolerably good government and certainly one which had the general consent of the majority of people.
It is worth asking, therefore, whether we should be pressing for immediate elections in Pakistan. That is one of the issues that the Free Muslims piece considers. It is one that deserves more attention, as do the broader issues of where we are going with our slavish adherence to the trappings of democracy, without thinking about what we are trying to achieve.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the UN trying to get some credibility. According to a report in the Financial Times
In a move reminiscent of storylines developed during the second world war, the UN is joining forces with Marvel Comics, creators of Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, to create a comic book showing the international body working with superheroes to solve bloody conflicts and rid the world of disease.One wonders whether the Incredible Hulk or, for that matter, Spider-Man might not be better employed sorting out the real problems why the UN’s image is, ahem, a little tarnished.
The comic, initially to be distributed free to 1m US schoolchildren, will be set in a war-torn fictional country and feature superheroes such as Spider-Man working with UN agencies such as Unicef and the “blue hats”, the UN peacekeepers.
It is not, pace Deborah Brewster of the FT, the United States government alone who find the UN a somewhat unpalatable organization. The reasons for that tarnished image might lie in stories like this. A week ago the Washington Post, among others, reported that
A U.N. task force has uncovered a pervasive pattern of corruption and mismanagement involving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for fuel, food, construction and other materials and services used by U.N. peacekeeping operations, which are in the midst of their largest expansion in 15 years.The story is not precisely new and that may be why most of the media, old and new, leaves it wearily alone. But think what Spider-Man could achieve if he teamed up not with the “blue hats” who have been known to rape women and children or buy sexual favours for food in countries such as DR Congo but with Claudia Rossett, the woman who has doggedly pursued every scandal and every investigation that, somehow, never manages to lead to anything except for a few arrests and the odd conviction here and there.
In recent weeks, 10 procurement officials have been charged with misconduct for allegedly soliciting bribes and rigging bids in Congo and Haiti. It has been the largest single crackdown on U.N. staff malfeasance in the field in more than a decade.
Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, not to mention Superman and Batman could all team up with Ms Rossett and divide between them the various scandals, such as the membership of the Human Rights Council or of the Committee for the 2009 UN World Conference against Racism, that is likely to become another America and Israel-bashing anti-Semitic, anti-Western performance.
While Spider-Man and Superman could help Claudia Rossett (after all, Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, is a journalist), the Incredible Hulk could rush into meetings of various UN organizations and ensure that there was freedom of speech. Otherwise, you never know, the organization’s image might be tarnished.
He might prevent this bit of censorship, for instance, when a well-researched, carefully argued speech by Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch was deemed to be “inadmissible” by the President of the UN Human Rights Council. With or without the Incredible Hulk, we referred to the incident when it happened.
Sadly, the Financial Times does not refer to any of this or speculate as to how the Marvel Comic heroes might deal with a lost cause like the UN’s image. Instead, there is a sneering reference of American use of comics during World War II.
The latest UN initiative is not the first time US comics have been used for political purposes. During the second world war, superheroes were shown taking on Germany’s Nazi regime. Marvel’s Captain America, together with other characters such as Superman, were shown beating up Adolf Hitler.And that just goes to show how superior the UN’s goals are to that of the US government in that bit of unpleasantness in the early forties. Beating up Adolf Hitler? Oh my, my, my. How violent and insensitive. Pass me the smelling salts. Failing that, pass me the sick-bag.
The UN’s goals are somewhat different: according to its website, it hopes the comics will teach children the value of international co- operation and sensitise them to the problems faced in other parts of the world.
Mention of Captain America (not one I know except by hearsay) reminds me of another attempt to harness the power of comic strips to tranzi political propaganda. I am sure our readers will reall Captain Euro, the intrepid and distinctly Aryan looking fighter for peace, harmony and European integration.
Captain Euro and his cohorts were part of an attempt at a concerted effort by the EU’s propaganda machine to use our money (no agreements with Marvel Comics for them) to produce propaganda for our children. As Daniel Hannan describes here, it failed miserably.
Captain Euro’s great enemy was Dr D. Vider (gettit?) a truly evil man. The Free Will blog had a good deal of fun at the expense of the whole concept [you’ll have to excuse the language].
Now let's meet Captain Euro's archenemy, "Dr. D. Vider". (Get it? "D. Vider"? He divides people! He's anti-unity! He's bad! The only thing missing is his girlfriend, "Uni L. Ateral".)In other words, the evil enemy of the wondrous Captain Euro and his superlative team that consists of people who are Gaia enthusiasts, fabulous gymnasts and people who get their scientific ideas from science fiction is - ta-dah – a businessman, who is clearly crooked, as all businessmen are.
DAVID VIDERIUS is a former financier. He is a multi-millionaire, used to making money no matter if it might involve the suffering of others. Banned and ostracised from the financial world for unprofessional conduct he managed to escape arrest despite his involvement in financial scandal.
I shit you not, the villain who threatens Europe is a wealthy "corporate criminal".
Having disappeared for many years, he reappeared as DR D VIDER. He manages a holding company, DIVIDEX, controlling hundreds of different businesses across Europe and beyond. His son and only family, Junior, helps him in his quest for power. His ambition for his son sometimes clouds his judgment.
THE GLOBAL TOURING CIRCUS, a huge travelling company that he secured when it was on the edge of bankruptcy, is now DIVIDEX'S base. Dr D Vider uses the circus as a cover for recruiting new members to his evil team from all over the world.
So, let me get this straight. He runs an evil Euro-circus? Couldn't possibly be... What about Junior? Why is he so evil?
The lack of attention he received as a child, has turned Junior into a sociopath.
These people are for real. Other villains in Dr. D. Vider's little circus include a midget with a yo-yo and an Amazonian parrot that likes caviar.
The man who creates employment, provides financial services and adds to the wealth of wherever he happens to be (incidentally, what is wrong with international business which breaks down national barriers?) is evil, evil, evil. The goodies are people who prat around as parasites on the body politic, financed by the taxpayer.
Despite a certain amount of excitement the idea did not take off. To be fair, even the Guardian thought it entertaining rather than a serious educational idea.
This article points to the main problem with the comic – the looks of the characters. Captain Euro and his cohorts are superb specimens of physical attraction mostly on the Aryan side. Even the scientist is sexy and attractive.
The good Captain is invested with the sort of history only a marketing company besieged by focus groups could devise. 'Born Adam Andros - the only child of a famous European ambassador and a professor of palaeontology,' reads his resume.
'Travelling the world with his parents, Adam learned to cope with the adult social world from an early age. As a child, participation in an experimental language programme enabled Adam to become a polyglot.' Ah - so that's how to become a good European.
But it's not all plain sailing for Captain Euro. Shunning the life of canapés and ambassadorial receptions that surely awaited him, he has taken a vow: 'to use, wherever possible, intellect, culture and logic - not violence - to take control of difficult criminal situations'. Oh, and in his spare time he paints European landscapes. 'The fingers that tap scientific data into Captain Euro's palmtop computer are often stained with paint.'
Yet despite the glossy packaging, it remains unclear just what Captain Euro is promoting. A single currency? Sure. But with his strong jaw and clean-cut morals, there is something more. Is Captain Euro a proponent of fortress Europe, an us-and-them world, secure for the haves and inaccessible to the have-nots? Asylum-seekers, take note.
Their main enemy Dr D. Vider has a distinctly semitic look and resembles the villains of cartoons in Der Stürmer of evil memory. He is assisted by “moustachioed, dusky-skinned cohorts”. Ooops!
Setting aside the political problem there, the creation shows a certain lack of knowledge. Comic heroes are not handsome. Superman may be clean-cut and strong-jawed but his alter ego is distinctly nerdy. Captain America is well-hidden behind his mask but his alter ego is weak and sickly.
Batman and Spider-Man are on the weird side and the others, such as the Incredible Hulk are complete fantasy. Nothing clean-cut or handsome about them.
As for the best-known European comics the idea of good-looking heroes does not arise. The only remotely handsome character in Asterix is Cacophonix, the poet, who usually ends the story gagged and trussed up as he is about to spoil the feast of roast boar by singing some new-fangled composition.
Tintin, whom I like a good deal more than Mr Hannan seems to, is a funny-looking boy reporter. His friends, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and the ineffable Thompson twins, are not handsome gymnasts though the good captain has plenty of muscle power. Some people might admire Bianca Castafiore but for my money the only good looking character is Snowy the dog (Milou in French).
One can’t help feeling that there might be a reason for this. Maybe the creators of Captain Euro should have spent less time in focus groups and more time reading successful comics.
That leaves us with the UN and Spider-Man who “is preparing to take on a group that might be his most formidable nemesis: the likes of former American Ambassador John Bolton and other major critics of the United Nations”.
Here is a much better idea, developed by this blog without any focus groups or taxpayers’ money. Instead of producing idiotic stories about Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and whoever else being sensitive and Gaia-focused, why not have them fight the real baddies in the world, for example people who go around assassinating former prime ministers and present opposition leaders as they travel round some fictitious country on an election campaign?
Or here is another storyline that might work: how about Superman setting up a super-organization that whizzes round the world rescuing real journalists and bloggers who are trying to tell the truth about certain countries and political systems.
There would be plenty of righteous indignation and a great deal of pow! Wham! Kerpow! In fact, just like Captain America during World War II these comics could be so popular, they would not have to be sent out free to anybody using, one assumes, taxpayers’ money. Kids would queue up to buy them.
Even if it had not happened in the Christmas trough, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto would have dominated the news – as indeed it is doing now. Amongst the reports is the reaction from political leaders throughout the world.
One such is José Manuel Barroso, EU commission president, who condemns this "callous terrorist attack" perpetrated less than two weeks ahead of election day in the strongest terms. He adds: "This is an attack against democracy and against Pakistan."
Also adding his comments was our prime minister, Gordon Brown, who calls the assassination, "a sad day for democracy …".
One remains sympathetic to Benazir Bhutto - who, whatever her faults, never lacked courage - and the Pakistani peoples, but one cannot avoid also expressing a wish that these two gentlemen, who speak so freely of "democracy" had a look in their own back yards.
Barroso is the man who fronts the unelected EU commission that forms part of our anti-democratic supreme government, and Mr Brown is refusing us a referendum on a treaty which hands greater powers to that commission, despite having promised us one in his party's election manifesto.
What know these men of democracy?
All agencies are reporting that Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in a suicide attack that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi.
A party security adviser is reported by AP as saying Bhutto was shot in neck and chest as she got into her vehicle to leave the rally. The gunman then blew himself up. There is a full report, with pics, on the Daily Mail site.
Iain Dale perhaps reflects our view, declaring, "I make no pretence of understanding the ins and outs of Pakistani politics", while the commentariat on Conservative Home have been quick to wade in with a variety of opinions.
Michelle Malkin, however, is conveying reports that al Q'aeda are claiming responsibility for the assassination, while the Independent is retailing comment from Riaz Malik, of the opposition Pakistan Movement for Justice party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf). He is warning that, "The impact will be that Pakistan is in more turmoil - it will be the start of civil war in Pakistan."
In this global village of ours, this is an event we cannot afford to ignore – whether we understand the politics or not. Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf is held as a major ally of the West in the war against terrorism, and Bhutto was slated as being an even tougher opponent of the Jihadis.
The porosity of the border with Afghanistan has already made dealing with the insurgency there much more difficult and major instability in Pakistan can only make bringing peace to Afghanistan even more perilous. Not least, the Afghan National Army will be increasingly drawn into guarding its own borders – and perhaps engaging with Pakistani forces – reducing its efforts in securing internal stability.
Not only that, our main logistic lines, supporting our troops in Afghanistan, are routed through Pakistan.
With probably over a million Pakistani immigrants in this country, there is also a strong domestic dimension. There are justified fears that violence in Pakistan might spill over into the streets of Bradford, Coventry and other major British towns and cities, or that perceived wrongs to Pakistan will visit the sort of action meted out to Benazir Bhutto.
Either way, the assassination of Bhutto is a profound and dangerous development, and one from which no good can come.
According to the Independent in a piece published just before Christmas, around 11,000 tons of unused mobile phones sit dormant in drawers across the UK. Furthermore, that figure is likely to rise this Christmas as people upgrade to better devices.
Factoring in old laptops, games consoles and portable music players, the paper says, the environmental implications of celebrating Christmas with a new digital toy start to look ominous, as most of the older electronic products will end up in landfill sites, leaking dangerous chemicals into the earth.
Of all the newspapers in this country, however, the Independent should know better than to make that claim. Courtesy of the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE) Directive and the increasingly expensive landfill tax, driven by the EU's Waste Framework Directive, very little of this obsolete equipment will end up in landfill. Instead, it will be exported to China and other developing countries where it will be recycled, the basic materials stripped out to feed the ravening demand for new consumer goods.
In today's Telegraph, the human costs of this process are made clear, in an article featuring Guiyu, the "Chinese town where old presents go to die". Described as a "giant scrap-yard" the whole town is so dangerously polluted that its children are being clinically poisoned.
According to this article, a study at nearby Shantou University found that of 165 children aged between one and six in Guiyu, 135 - 82 per cent - had clinical lead poisoning.
Even the Daily Telegraph admits that the problem is not new, its journalists having first visited Guiyu seven years ago. Moreover, the trade has been covered extensively by Greenpeace and other newspapers, featured in this blog. Since its first visit, however, the Telegraph comfortingly assures us that, "the European Union has banned exports of E-waste".
And therein lies a vast core of hypocrisy. As the paper points out, this has not made the slightest bit of difference – the problem goes on unchecked. According to the Environmental Agency, "unscrupulous middle men" are exploiting a loophole by defining the material as second-hand goods for resale rather than as waste – despite their intention to break it up.
The hypocrisy stems from the simple fact that the loophole was readily evident at the time the EU implemented its ban, which took effect on 1 July last year, three years after being promulgated and two years after the Chinese government implemented its own ban on waste imports, with equally minimal effect.
The fact of the matter, therefore, is that the EU – like other legislators – is going through the motions, being seen to do something about the problem, but not taking any action that might actually be effective.
In terms of preventing the scandal of Guiyu and towns like it, it would be eminently possible to devise systems that ensured the protection of workers’ health and of the environment. Wielding a big stick, the EU – with the approval of its member states – could either ban the import of goods from any country which did not maintain health or environmental standards (something it could do under existing WTO rules) or it could simply ban completely the export of used electronic equipment, whether defined as waste or not.
As an alternative, a more complex scheme could be devised, where the material could only be exported under licence, direct to an approved recycling establishment, where standards conformed with all current EU health & safety and environmental laws. To ensure conformity, these would have to be subject to full-time supervision by EU appointed inspectors – as is the case with slaughterhouses in third countries which are permitted to export meat to EU member states.
The problem with any of these solutions, though, is cost – and much else. A ban on the export of waste (combined with the current waste laws) would force member states to deal with the waste themselves, and confront the massive cost of so doing. A ban on imports, on the other hand, would cut off EU member states from a source of cheap consumer goods and have a massive effect on their economies and competitiveness.
The alternative option, however, would be feasible, except that the costs would be so huge that there would be no takers for the materials recycled. The EU would either have to subsidise the recycling plants, or extract a levy on imported goods to pay for them, neither of which would be politically or economically possible.
For want of effective action, therefore, the EU contents itself with useless laws, dumping the problems on third parties, while congratulating itself over its own environmental credentials. In so doing, it turns a blind eye to the human cost and environmental damage caused by its inaction, wringing its hands over the suffering, while doing absolutely nothing which might bring it to a halt.
This, one can assert, is yet another of the EU's magnificent achievements for the year of 2007, one which it is set to repeat in 2008.
Time Magazine has done it again – annoyed a very large number of people by its choice of Person of the Year. Last year it was the inane choice of “You”, that is the blogger, as long as he or she was of the left-leaning variety.
This year the magazine and its editors have surpassed themselves by nominating President Putin. Why exactly President Putin? What has the man achieved this year? He has not even been particularly successful at running a fraudulent election. A vote of 64 per cent on a 63 per cent turn-out is almost a defeat by Russian standards.
It was quite clear during his rather hysterical election campaign when he accused everyone who thought of voting for someone other than One Russia of being a traitor to the country that he was hoping if not for Stalinist votes of 99.7 per cent, at least for something in the eighties and on a higher turn-out.
Compare that with Islam Karimov’s victory in Uzbekistan where the turn-out was over 90 per cent and the opposition candidates all “publicly endorsed the incumbent president”. Of those who turned out 88.1 per cent voted for Karimov. Mind you, even that was down from the 91 per cent in 2000. They just don’t make ‘em the way they used to.
So what else did President Putin achieve? He has effectively suppressed any opposition to his rule and destroyed any independent media. Then again, he has not succeeded in either of those entirely nor have they been the achievements of this year. There has been a long process.
Economic growth and stability? Hmmm. Again, not the achievements of 2007 and, in any case, not much has been achieved economically except the garnering of high prices for oil and gas. There are now questions raised as to whether Russia will be able to go on producing sufficient amounts of gas though at present international negotiations seem to be riding high.
There is little evidence that any of the money earned from the oil and gas is being invested in diversification of Russian economy.
There is chatter among the international chattering classes that under Putin Russia has once again become a power in the world. That is a matter of opinion as there is no tangible evidence for this.
Unlike the Soviet Union present-day Russia has nothing to offer to anyone outside the country and precious little inside as witnessed by the hundreds of thousands of people who are leaving it for distant and not so distant shores. The only people who are going to Russia from the West are employees of businesses who take up temporary residence.
Where has Russia triumphed on the international stage? The Kosovo crisis is likely to be resolved, at least temporarily, early in the year in a manner that Russia is not going to like, though with a little diplomatic finesse such a situation could have been avoided.
Bullying of neighbouring countries from Georgia to tiny Estonia has not brought Russia anything, not even submission. That bronze soldier in Tallinn was moved and the Estonian government did not resign, despite demands to that effect from Russian politicians.
His unpleasantness to Britain is small scale and petty, documented by us here and here, hurting nobody as much as the people of his country.
There is the wondrous friendship with Iran, which is not necessarily the most sensible thing for a country that has the odd problem or two with terrorists, Chechnyan separatists and Islamists in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Furthermore, it undermines President Putin’s credentials as a participant in the war on terror.
So what is it that makes him Man or Person of the Year? Could it be his ever more strident anti-Americanism? Certainly, he became almost hysterical with it during the electoral campaign and in his attacks on the many “internal enemies”, an ominous expression in Russia.
There was a good deal of discontent with Time Magazine’s choice, though most of that was because of Putin’s unpleasant characteristics not because, as we maintain on this blog, he is unpleasant and has achieved nothing.
Some people on both sides of the Atlantic have said (even better on Gateway Pundit and in the Weekly Standard) that General David Petraeus, the commander in charge of the surge in Iraq that has brought levels of sectarian and terrorist violence sharply down and, among other things, allowed Iraqis attend churches on Christmas day, should have been given the accolade. I have no problems with that except that I imagine General Petraeus might not like to be made Time Magazine’s Person of the Year on the Groucho Marx principle.
Apart from General Petraeus who is there? Who could be nominated to be Person of the Year 2007 in any field that one knows of (allowing, of course, for the fact that few of us know about great breakthroughs in, say, medicine that are happening all the time)? Can anyone help? Or, maybe, we, too, should say unequivocally that General David Petraeus is the only one who deserves the title, whether he likes it or not.
In the natural trough over Christmas, the European Union has been quick off the mark on the propaganda front, churning out what amounts to a "State of the Union" address for any media outlet that cares to take up the offer - a multimedia yearbook "presenting ten of the European Union's achievements of 2007".
I am at present working through this document, producing a list of alternative "achievements", but it struck me that this is far too good an opportunity to miss. We should be preparing our own glossy pamphlet for wider distributions, to counter this naked propaganda.
More immediately though, input from our readers would make this a much better document so, if you are bored with Christmas, now is your chance. I have opened a thread on the forum for you to post your favourite EU achievement (not) of the year – or send me an e-mail if you do not want to go on the forum. We'll factor in the best offerings into the piece being written, and then we'll think about how to publish it in hard copy.
It is a tradition on the blog that both my colleague and I write Christmas messages on Christmas Eve and do not open our computers on the day itself (except that my colleague did last year because he was given a digital camera).
So, in true Christmas tradition I shall use this posting to display my annoyance with the world, both eurosceptical and otherwise. Actually, let me not mince words – mostly eurosceptical.
One of my favourite sites in all the world is Libertas – a conservative blog run by complete film fanatics. The main blogger, Dirty Harry, produced this year a list of top 25 Christmas movies. It had all sorts of goodies in it, like several Bing Crosby musicals (can’t go wrong with the old crooner), a Bob Hope comedy thriller, which I recall seeing many years ago and an astonishing number of versions of “A Christmas Carol”.
Why would anybody keep remaking that story? The writing is superlative even for Dickens with the most eye-popping descriptions and metaphors, not to mention similes. But the story itself is irritatingly silly. And the films are about the story, not the writing.
Has anyone ever asked why the Cratchits have so many children if Bob is incapable of earning a decent wage? No? Well, I rest my case. Feckless underclass, that’s what they are. And how exactly do Scrooge and Marley make all that money? Hmmm?
Of course, even Alastair Sim’s version of “Scrooge” (idiotic title though Mr Sim was one of the best actors around and made a remarkable Scrooge) cannot come top of a list of Christmas movies. That has to be “It’s a Wonderful Life”. If you can catch it this Christmas, do so, especially if you have not seen it yet. The film is a revelation – dark, ambivalent and yet full of hope and redemption.
As Dirty Harry says on Libertas, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is not about the redemption of a bad man unlike “A Christmas Carol”. George Bailey is a good man, which is the point of the story but a very frustrated one. His great plans are thwarted and he is stuck in a small Middle American town, leading a very restricted life.
It takes a crisis in his life and an angel called Clarence, who is desperate to get his wings for George Bailey to understand what his life is really about; what his achievements have been; and the truth that heroism is not just being a much-decorated pilot like his brother.
There is a similarity between the two stories in that both main characters are redeemed through the recognition of certain qualities inside themselves. It is not someone else who will create happiness for you.
And so, dear reader, I come to the point of this Christmas grumble. I am tired of people complaining about Christmas being commercialized, unfestive, vulgar, whatever. It has always been commercialized and ever since the feast of Saturnalia, which the early Church took over, it has been about consumption.
Don’t like it? Do something about it. You don’t think there should be so much money spent on presents and many things should be made at home? Fine. Make those things. Make your own pudding and get the children to stir and wish.
Above all, count yourself lucky you live in a country where there is a choice.
It is not someone else who creates problems for us – we are the ones who do so for the most part.
Remember those problems with British identity? Well, where do children learn history and a love and knowledge of the language? Yes, that's right, at home. If there are problems with our children, we are responsible.
It is now past midnight, so I shall stop or I might turn into a pumpkin though I have much more to say on the subject. A very merry Christmas to all our readers.
Like it or not, much of our Christmas cheer this year is provided courtesy of the People's Republic of China, a heathen land which is only too pleased to earn a buck or two, capitalising on the spending binge that has become the substitute for religion in this country – Blair notwithstanding. The picture, provided by Anoneumouse is an only too accurate reflection of our relationship.
Apart from living off the back of the Chinese, we are also living off the influx of immigrants who have driven down wages, plus historically low commodity prices – together with the availability if cheap consumer goods from China – have combined to keep inflation low, while the raft of consumer (and government) debt have kept the economy buoyant.
But all good things come to an end. While we still have a free flow of immigration, the social stresses are building up to such an extent that even our notoriously insular politicians are finding them difficult to ignore. This means they are having to find ways of reducing the inflow, with the effect that downwards pressure on wages will slacken.
Commodity prices, as we have charted on this blog, are increasing, not least the oil price, which is at an all-time high and set to go higher, while, as the demand for tighter standards and higher wages bites into the Chinese economy, prices can only go one way.
Thus, given the current "credit crunch" and the imminent – according to some – collapse of the world economy, there is little to be cheerful about, even without contemplating the Lisbon treaty and the carefully staged coup d’état by the "colleagues".
However, this day – Christmas Day – is not a time to be miserable. We have 364 days in the year to devote to “snarl mode”, the prevailing ethos of this blog – which finds enough favour with readers that we continue to demonstrate slow but steady growth. At this rate, in another six thousand years, we might actually match the Daily Mail circulation, albeit that The Sunday Times has predicted that, by 2022, blogs will be extinct.
In between then and now, I reckon that gives us plenty of opportunity to express our views except that, without our readers, the whole exercise would be somewhat pointless. Thus, it falls to me – my co-editor will speak for herself – to thank our small but loyal band who not only visit the site but, according to the dwell time recorded by our counter, actually read our stuff.
The experience of blogging itself has opened up a new vista in both our lives – what started as an exercise in projecting our thoughts has developed into a two-way exercise, bringing us many virtual friends who in many ways have enriched our lives - pace a message we received this evening (above right).
I must also thank the even smaller but dedicated group who joined us in our Umbrella venture, an enterprise which started with high hopes and, despite the technical and other difficulties involved, is maturing into a valuable community which has much to offer the blogosphere. I hope to have news in the New Year about how we can develop the initiative.
For this day, though, the one and only message we have for you all is that simple and enduring wish – Merry Christmas. It is too much to hope for a happy New Year, although their Lordships sticking to their guns and forcing a referendum on the loathsome Lisbon Treaty would do something towards bringing that about.
In December last year I wrote an open letter to the Members of the House of Commons as there was news that they were whining about how little they were paid (that's over £60,000 plus very generous expenses, not to mention the possibility of putting members of their own family on the salary list).
Another year, another pay demand by our MPs. The story and the accompanying storm broke yesterday when we found out that our so-called legislators (I'll come to that in a minute) are demanding a ten per cent pay rise, well above inflation level. I don't suppose that means a commensurate ten per cent cut in the average allowance of £134,000. No, I thought not.
After all, as the Mail on Sunday put it:
One reason for the big claim is that many Labour MPs fear they will lose their seats at the next Election - and want to boost their Commons pension rights before it is too late.Terrific. All at our expense, too, gentle reader.
Today there are lots of stories such as this one about Gordon Brown opposing the proposals and calling MPs selfish. Most of us can think of other, less pleasant descriptions but that will do to start with.
There is a good deal of predictable whining about the police not getting the pay rise they want. As it happens, that argument leaves me cold. As the think-tank Reform explained:
Discussion over this year's police pay settlement should take into account the fact that, over the last twelve years, police pay has risen at twice the rate of inflation and by more than the average of the public sector and the private sector pay increases.One cannot possibly argue that productivity has gone up with the same fantastic leap. Indeed, that is true about the public sector in general - money has been poured in, salaries have gone up, productivity stayed the same.
Back to MPs, however.
Inevitably, the blogosphere is also buzzing. Iain Dale, has come out on the MPs' side, as he usually does, arguing that
Surely we should pay our MPs at a level where few would actually be put off standing for Parliament. I'd like Parliament to be representative of a number of professions, but few people from those professions would think about standing for Parliament because they would have to take a pay drop. Relatively junior managers in industry or the public sector now command salaries in excess of what MPs earn. What message does it send out that we are happy to pay MPs the same as the Deputy Public Affairs Manager of an NHS Trust?On the whole, few of those who commented on the blog agreed with Iain (Peter Luff MP being one of those who did in a particularly whinging comment), pointing out that junior managers in the private sector do not earn that much, cannot command those expenses and cannot employ members of their family. If the Deputy Public Affairs Manager of an NHS Trust is on the same salary (plus expenses?) then he/she is seriously overpaid.
Tim Worstall, on the other hand, is demanding that MPs' salaries should be cut or reduced to zero on the grounds of supply and demand. There are very many people who want to be MPs and there will be even if they do not get the salaries they do.
I am not sure I accept Tim's argument entirely, though it makes more sense than Iain's about paying MPs as much as they could get in the private sector. Let's face it, most of them are MPs because they could not get much more than their train fares in the private sector. We are not talking potential captains of industry, hard-working GPs or anything of the kind. We are talking about people who have gone from one political position to another with an odd interlude of outside employment where they displayed no ability whatsoever.
There are many reasons why people who can do other things would not want to be MPs and they do not have much to do with the money. Maybe the company one has to keep.
Besides, why would we want to skim talented people off the wealth-creating private sector and send them into the parasitical public one?
It is curious that those parallels with the private sector concentrate, however erroneously, only on the pay, never on productivity or other problems like going out of business because of high taxes and an impossible regulatory structure.
What would a firm in the private sector do if it found that seventy to eighty per cent of its work has gone somewhere else? It would institute major cutbacks and many people would be laid off. Yet with that proportion of our legislation coming from Brussels and MPs not being able to reject it and not even reading it most of the time, we have no cutbacks; nobody is laid off; and a ten percent salary rise is demanded. I bet when that is debated, we shall have the House full to the rafters, unlike the time there is a debate on, say, the fishing industry and its destruction.
A year ago I wrote:
What is it you do, ladies and gentlemen that would justify yet another pay rise? Do you legislate? Well, not in the eighty percent of the legislation that comes, one way or another from the European Union and is passed on the nod because you do not have the right to reject or amend it. Let's face it, you do not even bother to read most of it. There is a lot of material there, I agree, but it is you and your equally greedy predecessors, who made sure of this state of affairs.And a good deal more. I stand by every word of it. Cut their salaries in accordance with the work they have voluntarily abandoned.
Let us not forget, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the House of Commons, that a good deal of that legislation does not even pass through Parliament. It arrives in the shape of EU Regulations, which are directly applicable and are put into place by Statutory Instruments, which you know nothing about, or regulations created by quangos such as the Food Standards Agency.
What of the remaining twenty per cent of the legislation? Do you live up to the expectations of the people, whom you are supposed to represent? Do you read the legislative proposals or Green Papers or Bills? Do you realize how badly drafted many of the last are? It would appear not, as those badly drafted Bills wing their way through the House of Commons and it is only when the (unpaid) Members of the House of Lords start scrutinizing them, line by line, clause by clause (something you ought to do, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the House of Commons) that the full shoddiness or horror becomes clear.
It is not unknown for the Government to have to rush scores, even hundreds of amendments at a late stage, say Report, in the House of Lords, having not realized before what a mess the particular piece of legislation was. It is many years since the House of Commons has made any effort to scrutinize legislation with any attention. GPs who carried out their duties the way you do, ladies and gentlemen, would be struck of the Register of Medical Practitioners.
According to The Times, a brutal snow and ice storm has caused 11 deaths in the run up to Christmas, paralysing the American Midwest.
Gusts of icy wind reached almost 90 mph as they tore over Lake Michigan. Trees have been uprooted, tens of thousands of people were left without electricity, hundreds of flights cancelled and roads have been rendered virtually impassable.
Eleven people have been killed in series of road traffic accidents – the worst of which caused a pile-up of more than 50 vehicles including several tractor-trailer rigs in Texas.
Must be global warming! Time to call in the Goracle!
Another example of the media's inability to see a story staring it in its face came yesterday in the Booker column, as he charts the bizarre twists and turns of the continuing drama of the British government attempts to ban the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI).
Unrecorded by any mainstream journalist apart from Booker (seen here with our revered co-editor), he tells of how Gordon Brown was last week put on the spot over "a truly extraordinary act of serial illegality committed by his Government."
This is the nub of the story – that this government, our British government is acting illegally – yet the MSM in general does not seem to want to know.
Booker's story continues with Brown being personally accused in Brussels by senior members of the European Parliament of acting in flagrant defiance of both British and European courts – in, Booker writes, "a futile bid to appease a murderous tyranny that has recently stepped up its campaign of terror against its own people, and is also supplying arms used to kill British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Readers will recall that the British Government is flouting the law in all directions by refusing to remove from its list of terrorist organisations the PMOI, part of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the movement leading the peaceful struggle to replace the Iranian dictatorship with a secular, democratic government.
On November 30, in an action brought by 35 MPs and peers, the High Court ordered the Home Secretary to lay an order before Parliament removing the PMOI from the list. The court ruled that the decision to include the PMOI had been "perverse" and "unlawful", since it was not a terrorist organisation. It had only been outlawed alongside al-Qa'eda, as Jack Straw admitted, because this was demanded by Teheran.
The Home Office announced its intention to appeal against the court's ruling, and on December 13 Mr Brown told MPs on the Commons liaison committee that his Government would ignore the court judgment, as the Foreign Office informed Teheran. But on December 14 the High Court refused leave to appeal in unqualified terms.
The only justification the Government could now claim for disobeying the court was that the EU had, on British instigation, placed the PMOI on its own list of banned terrorist organisations.
But last December this decision too was ruled as "unlawful" by the European Court of Justice. In an unprecedented act of defiance, the EU's Council of Ministers agreed, twice this year, to ignore that ruling, again at Britain's behest.
If the British Government appealed to the ECJ against the High Court's ruling, it could expect little sympathy, since the ECJ has already ruled that the ban on the PMOI is contrary to EU law. Our Government has thus been comprehensively caught out in its reckless illegality.
In Brussels last Tuesday, Mrs Maryam Rajawi, the acting head of the NCRI, appeared before MEPs at the behest of an array of the European parliament's senior office-holders, including three vice-presidents.
"Do not let history judge you as it did Neville Chamberlain," she said, in a direct plea to Mr Brown to stop flouting the law by outlawing an organisation that enjoys huge support from the mass of the oppressed Iranian people and first alerted the world to their regime's plans to develop nuclear weapons (plans that she insisted are far from having been abandoned).
"Look at the carnage caused by the mullahs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine," Mrs Rajawi continued. "Do you not know that some day the British Government must answer to the people of the world for setting the stage for World War Three?"
More than 700 MEPs and MPs from all over the EU supported Mrs Rajawi's call for the UN to discuss a dossier that details the appalling human rights record of the current Teheran regime, ranging from mass executions of political dissidents and "the public hangings of youths and even women from cranes" to "stoning to death" and "horrific tortures".
Thus does Booker conclude that "the real puzzle" - as Mrs Rajawi pointed out - is who has benefited "from Britain becoming the main supporter of the mullahs' regime, the godfather of terrorism"? It is a question, he writes, to which Mr Brown really does owe us and the world an answer.
Needless to say, with the wider media completely failing to follow this story, Brown is getting an easy ride over what amounts to a scandalous and bizarre failure in British foreign policy.
A heart-warming tale is to be found in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus (no link) about how EU rules have killed off a winter bus link from Otley and Ikley to the Yorkshire Dales.
At a time when the National Park Authority is pleading for motorists to leave their cars at home because of the environmental damage, and to take public transport, the local bus company, Arriva, says it can no longer afford to run a popular bus service to the park.
The problem is that, under new EU rules, any buses operating routes of over 30 miles must be fitted with tachographs, and the drivers must follow a new set of driving hours rules. This is the only route operated by Arriva which exceeds 30 miles but, in order to operate it, all its fleet must be fitted with tachographs. It is, says the company, impractical just to reserve one bus for that service.
The Yorkshire Dales Transport Users Group is up in arms about the decision, calling on people to get in touch with their MPs "to let them know the damage these new EU rules are doing to rural bus services". We wish them luck.
Lead item on the front page of The Daily Telegraph today is a story about how "Schools cash [is] skewed by Labour".
Based on an adjournment debate called by Owen Paterson, Conservative MP for North Shropshire, the self-same story was run by this blog on 13 December and also picked up by Conservative Home, both of us seem to have a better news sense than the supposedly leading right-wing newspaper.
As we remarked at the time though, this was an adjournment debate, a genre almost completely ignored by the clever-dick media, which is more inclined to fritter away its time on the biff-bam, soap opera aspects of Parliament than any of the serious work that is carried out.
In an age when it is fashionable to deride politicians – and this we should, if only to keep them on their mettle – it would do no harm for the media occasionally to pay attention to what is actually going on in Parliament. Not least they might get some decent stories, instead of the tat that is so often on offer.
But, I suppose we should not complain. As long as the media indulge in gazing at their own navels, there is room for blogs like us, except that we would rather we were able to rely on a responsible and informative press. That way, we could leave the reporting to them and get on with our own lives.
I suspect, though, that this is not going to happen.
While the rest of the country is preoccupied with last minute arrangements for Christmas, the National Farmers Union has chosen this particular moment of the season of goodwill to talk about … manure.
More specifically, it is railing against the implementation of the EU's nitrate directive, submitting 45 recommendations to Defra for alterations to the regime supposedly intended to reduce water pollution.
Amongst other things, the NFU is arguing that the directive is outdated, complaining that the changes will cost farmers £240 million just to store their slurry instead of getting rid of it on the land, yet this will only achieve a 0.5 to one percent reduction in nitrate leaching. This, they say, is hardly rational or good value for money.
But amongst their 45 recommendations is one which would better be addressed to Santa – which might explain the timing. The farmers want grants to pay to construct the thousands of new slurry tanks required.
At least the EU has some use it would seem - solving that awkward little problem of what Christmas gift to buy a farmer who has everything. But how do you gift-wrap a slurry tank?