Sunday, September 30, 2007

You can't buck the market

A cautionary tale comes from – of all places – the New York Times. It is offering a tale of woe about a glut of ethanol in the United States, which is having a devastating effect on prices.

Ethanol, as our readers will know, is now being produced in huge quantities Stateside, mainly from corn, after Congress enacted an energy law in 2005 that included a national mandate for the use of renewable fuel in gasoline. In the manner of "lawmakers" who believe they can make a law and everything falls into place, they dictated that the market must consume 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2012, compared with 3.5 billion in 2004.

That was enough to get the farmers and distilleries into gear and the NYT illustrates the effect. With the industry already set to produce 7.8 billion gallons by the end of 2007 and 11.5 billion gallons by 2009, Lincolnway Energy (pictured above), a midsize distillery in Iowa, it writes - was once virtually alone in the region. Today, though, competing distilleries are operating and pouring even more ethanol onto the market.

But, while many are speaking of a new "gold rush", the ethanol market has suddenly been plagued by a glut. Guess what. No one thought to invest the huge amount of capital needed to distribute the product. As a result, the average national ethanol price on the spot market has plunged 30 percent since May, with the decline escalating sharply in the last few weeks.

Furthermore, because there has been such huge demand for the corn to make the stuff, the price of this raw material has risen since 2005 from $1.60 a bushel (don't you love these measurements) to $3.27. On the other hand, the price of ethanol on the local market has fallen to $1.55 a gallon from about $2. "The end of the ethanol boom is possibly in sight and may already be here," says Neil E. Harl, an economics professor emeritus at Iowa State University.

The problem is that, unlike oil, ethanol is corrosive and soaks up water and impurities. It cannot, therefore, be shipped through the country's fuel pipeline network. So it must be transported by train, truck and barge, a more expensive transportation network that is suddenly finding it hard to keep up with the surge in ethanol production.

There is a long backlog in orders for specialised ethanol railway wagons to move the production, many rail terminals at the ethanol plants do not have spurs large enough to accommodate the long trains needed and pumps from the storage tanks to the terminals often do not have sufficient capacity to load trains quickly and efficiently.

On top of all that, gasoline wholesale marketers have been slow to gear up ethanol blending terminals, in part because they had to invest simultaneously in equipment to manage low sulphur diesel and tougher product specifications, also required by Congress – there's joined-up thinking for you.

Nor can the problems be solved easily or quickly. The backlog in railway wagon orders has grown to 36,166 rail cars by the end of the first quarter in 2007 from about 10,000 in the third quarter of 2005 and, says Chuck Baker, of the railroad construction association, "You just can't scale it up overnight".

Even if this hurdle was overcome, the regulators have not finished. In some southern states like Florida, stiff blending requirements have slowed down adaptation of the distribution system. And so far, only about 1,000 of the 179,000 pumps at gasoline stations around the country offer E-85, a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, intended for the five million "flex-fuel" vehicles on the road that can run on high-ethanol blends.

Needless to say, these problems are being seen by the industry as "temporary growing pains", but others are not so sure.

Yet, back in Washington, the Senate has approved a bill that would require gasoline producers to blend 36 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline by 2022, an increase from the current standard of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

And, if the famously "can do" US culture is having these problems, imagine how the European Union is going to cope with a ten percent biofuels quota by 2020.


In the national interest

Not that we counted but, according to one report, Gordon Brown mentioned "British" or "Britishness" no less than 71 times in his conference speech last week.

It takes Booker in his column today, however, to illustrate exactly what this means in practice to our prime minister and his Labour government, in an issue where one of his ministers is allowed by EU law to prevent other countries doing serious damage to British interests, and is failing to do so.

This issue comes to a head tomorrow when, at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Jonathan Shaw, the fisheries minister, will meet the Bass Action Committee. This represents fishermen from all over England and is led by two Devonians, Dave Pessell and John Butterwith (who runs the North Devon Fishermen's Association).

Their problem is that, in recent years fishing for bass in Britain's coastal waters has been worth £40 million a year but 80 percent of these fish are caught by French trawlers sailing in pairs, towing nets up to half a mile long between them.

In the name of conservation, Defra has proposed a new minimum landing size for bass, significantly larger than that set by Brussels. But under the very limited powers left to Britain under the Common Fisheries Policy this can only apply to UK vessels fishing within the 12-mile limit.

The minister, writes Booker, will be shown a recent study which concludes that, if Defra enforces its new law, British fishermen will have to "discard" (ie chuck back dead) up to 45 percent of the bass they catch, whereas French vessels will catch many more fish and be free to keep almost all of them. Defra will thus force our fishermen either to destroy huge quantities of saleable fish, or to fish outside UK waters, and leave them to their French competitors.

Mr Butterwith will also raise with the minister another example of how he is helping to disadvantage British fishermen.

In the Bristol Channel between England and Wales, large Belgian trawlers have been catching huge quantities of "non-quota" fish, claiming their entry into UK waters as a "historic right", as EU law allows, because small Belgian boats traditionally fished these waters. But as Mr Butterwith has been trying to explain to Defra for more than a year, the situation has now been transformed by the much greater catching capacity of the new Belgian vessels.

At first Defra claimed that the Belgians were briefly experimenting with new nets. But a year later, their numbers have grown, and they catch so much that it threatens stocks, and the livelihood of small fishermen in Devon and in Wales.

Mr Butterwith points to two Brussels documents, including Regulation 2371/2002, allowing action to be taken to "protect the traditional fishing activities of coastal communities". But in June, as he reported in Fishing News, a Defra official replied that to take action to stop the Belgians would "sour our relations with our European fishing partners". Mr Shaw has now in effect endorsed this, refusing to use his power to protect the fishing communities which depend on these waters for most of their income.

Thus Booker concludes, "We are used to our ministers obeying Brussels to the detriment of UK interests, claiming that EU law gives them no alternative. But when a minister will not use an EU law which would allow him to protect our interests - for fear of offending the 'partners' who do the damage - we have indeed come to a curious pass."

Space prevents Booker further exploring this issue but we can vouch that Mr Butterworth's problem is prevalent throughout British inshore fisheries, most of which suffer from predatory raids by boats owned or operated by variously Belgians, Dutch and French, who bend the law and occasionally break it, with our national authorities standing idly by, in their fine new patrol boats (pictured).

One of the favourite tricks is to sail exactly along the national fishing boundary - which can be done with extraordinary precision using GPS-aided navigation - and, when no official patrols are present, to dart inside national waters, scoop up a net full of fish and then turn out to sea. This behaviour has been witnessed by many British fishermen, but their complaints come to naught. You would be better off reporting a burglary to the police.

On the other hand, we continually hear reports of the officious, intrusive behaviour of British enforcement agencies, in their dealings with British fishermen, which makes the apparent laissez faire attitude when it comes to dealing with our EU "partners" all the more intolerable.

There is something very weird about the way our government and its phalanx of officials behave.


The debate that never happened

click here to go to the blog Lead headline on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph today is, "Labour's secret plans to slash the Navy". The paper thus reports that Ministers have drawn up confidential proposals to slash the number of ships in the Royal Navy. But is there more to this than meets the eye?

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

Do as I say…

It is perhaps a little unfortunate for The Times (on-line edition) that it should be running an ad for the gas-guzzling Hummer, newly arrived in Britain in the right-hand drive version – for a cool £26,495 (starting from).

Slated as an icon of wasteful consumerism, what is particularly delicious is that the paper is running the ad alongside an article extolling the virtues of energy saving light-bulbs, the programme for phasing out incandescent bulbs having been announced at the Labour Party Conference – despite their very obvious problems.

If I could afford one of these beasts, I would go out and buy one tomorrow, just to piss off the Greens (and the Labour luvvies) and use up all that energy I have been forced to save on light-bulbs I do not want (less the energy lost on replacing perfectly good light fittings because they cannot take the CFL bulbs).

Unfortunately, according to this report, on a "dust-to-dust" basis, the Hummer uses less energy than a Toyota Prius hybrid, which rather takes the edge off it – although the Greens would never be so cute as to accept that.

But, what is really seriously irritating is a Labour government yet again interfering with our freedom of choice (at the behest of the EU) instead of knuckling down to sorting out our energy policy and getting some pebble bed reactors up and running.

The trouble is, though, that we can't expect any better from the Green (Boy) King - much less little rich boy Zac Goldsmith.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The end of hope

So, the current Conservative Home survey of grassroots members has them putting a referendum on the EU Treaty as the top pledge that they would like to see in the Conservative manifesto, attracting 91 percent support.

How apposite then that Lady Thatcher should have come out in support of The Sun's campaign, reported today by the Daily Mail, with the former premier urging Brown to allow a referendum – thus proving that she still keeps that magic political gift of sensing the mood of the people.

Reported also by The Daily Telegraph (which manages, once again to avoid mentioning The Sun), she tells Brown not to ignore voters' anxieties and that he should not be fooled by assurances from Brussels that the changes to the treaty are "technical", or that the existing opt-outs are sufficient to protect British sovereignty.

"Yet again," she adds, "the British people are being told that the changes in the Treaty are not important, that they are technical, and that in any case we have either blocked or gained opt-outs in all the worst cases." And, in a sentiment that we can only applaud, she continues: "Well, we've heard it all before only to see more and more powers grabbed by Brussels."

One again though, the puzzle is that, if this does articulate the sentiments of the British people (and there are any number of polls that tells us it does) – and David Cameron clearly supports a referendum – why is it that the Conservatives are doing so badly in the polls?

Is it because, as North Jnr asserts, we still don't trust him, is it because domestic issues hold greater sway and that the referendum campaign (the latest example from the Sun illustrated) is just a media "storm"?

Certainly, there is genuine concern out there for, away from the hype of The Sun, the No.10 petition - with no media promotion at all – has finally broken the 20,000 barrier, slightly ahead of The Sun's on-line count - which stands (at the time of writing) at 19,426 – and the I want a referendum effort, which seems to have stalled at 18,781.

As election fever intensifies over the weekend, however – with a torrent of coverage expected in the Sundays, an air of gloom descends on the Tories in the certain expectation of two things: an early election, and a complete wipe out. We would like to think that the Tory support for a referendum could make the difference and salvage Cameron's declining fortunes, but life ain't like that. The Boy has completely blown it, as we always knew he would.

But, not only will a Tory defeat mean the end of Cameron, it will also mean the end of any hopes we ever had of a referendum. Not even Lady Thatcher can change that dismal prognosis – it will be the end of hope.


Concern is just another commodity

click here to go to the blogWe flagged it up in May and today, four months later, the MoD website officially announced it – the arrival of the Hermes 450 Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) in Iraq. The utility of this equipment is well proven and, after the MoD's disastrous excursions into UAV design and development, this represents a welcome turn-round ...

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Upping our game

If there's an election, it'll be fought on the web, writes Alex Hilton in The Daily Telegraph.

Hilton describes himself as a "new media adviser" and is editor of And he is right. But it is not only the elections, it is also the referendum, if ever we have one. In fact, the forum for political discourse on all issues is no longer the monopoly of the MSM but is increasingly taking place on the internet.

Interestingly, of the internet, Hilton notes that political parties - like much of the corporate and not-for-profit sectors - know that there is something there that they should understand, something that will be of benefit to them, but they just don't get it - yet.

"Blogs, online video and social networking," he writes: "this seems to be the extent of the political parties' dabbling with new media. This has culminated in a Ming Campbell blog, the Conservative publication of interminable policy discussions on YouTube and Labour's widely-detested 'MPURL' system, a facility that's a bit like Facebook for Labour Party members only with less functionality and a horrific colour scheme."

His main message, therefore, is that although political parties realise the importance of the internet, they are not very good at using it.

However, he does not offer any real insights as to how they can exploit the medium and one just has to look at his own site to realise why. It has that same dull, leaden feel of all the other "corporate blogs", or "clogs", as we call them. On the other hand the site is well-designed, fresh in appearance (if you like red, white and black) so, in media terms, it should work.

It took me a long time to realise (call me slow, if you like) why this and the many like it do not, cannot, and never will.

The point about the internet is its intimacy. Whereas the television brings the presenter into the front room, the computer is much more intimate. It is one person sitting at a keyboard, communicating his or her thoughts. And they are read by other individual sitting at a screen. It is a one-to-one dialogue.

The moment the corporate ethos gets stuck into this, it destroys the intimacy. Its very polish, having gone through the layers of bureaucracy and approvals, destroys any sense that there is a conversation going. A "clog" may have the appearances of a blog, but it is not the real thing.

Blogging, therefore, if it is to work as a political force, has to be carried out by self-motivated individuals, writing directly to the screen without the corporate filters which guard and polish what they say. That is what happened in America and, if it is going to happen here, this is also the way it must be done.

Individuals, on their own, however, do not have the deep purses of the corporates, or the "reach" that will get them noticed, and must rely on people happening on their sites, or through other bloggers linking to them, in the hope that their blogs get read. Many do not – or get far less traffic than they deserve – simply because they are crowded out.

This is one of the reasons why we have set up Umbrella Blog - to give individual bloggers a bigger platform, while allowing them to retain their own unique identities as individuals.

Now a week since our "pre-launch", we have been working with a small number of volunteers, trying out the systems. The experiment has been successful. All the bloggers on the site have experienced significant increases in their traffic and have been able to keep a steady flow of material coming to the Umbrella site.

Thus, we are in a position to extend the offer to other bloggers who feel they have something original or interesting to say.

Our commitment is to help you improve the way you present your message and give you that bigger platform, capitalising on our experience of three year's blogging and the modest but significant success of this site.

If you are interested, click the link, read the offer and get in touch with us.


Is this real?

Full marks to The Sun again, for stoking up the EU referendum issue, its latest piece rehearsing the well-worn but entirely apposite theme of Brown refusing to listen.

To counter this, the newspaper claims that the "clamour" for a referendum "was growing last night … after 25,000 more Sun readers signed up to our campaign in just 24 hours." This "tidal wave of support" it says, "brings the total demanding a say on the Brussels power-grab to nearly 65,000."

Then while Brown and Miliband are trying to ignore the calls, "angry Labour MPs and trade union bosses warned them last night that they cannot ignore the calls for a vote. They are planning a council of war within the next two weeks to decide how to force Mr Brown to think again."

It says something that the paper has been able to galvanise more support in a few days than the Eurosceptic movement has been able to mobilise in decades, but – without in the least bit wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth – one wonders how real it is.

Brown has been able to face down newspaper campaigns before, and with each of the newspapers and groupescules doing their own things, there is nothing of a sense of national unity behind The Sun. This is, after all, a Sun campaign, another step in the long haul, where successive groups, from Open Europe to the Tory Party have all attempted to "own" the referendum, their real agenda being self-promotion.

And, just as quickly as they can pick up something, these groups can get bored with the issue, moving on to pastures fresh, whence their rhetoric becomes as stale as er… yesterday's Sun.

The test will probably come when Parliament resumes. Then we will see if there is really any political heat, or whether domestic politics and election fever take over, and the calls for a referendum are swamped.

There is also the possibility that Brown has a few side deals in the wings, with the "colleagues", staging a few high-profile theatrics at the IGC, all carefully calculated to give the impression that he is looking after "Britain's interest".

Certainly, the "colleagues" have far too much invested in this treaty to let a mere newspaper push them off course and they will be urging Brown to hold his nerve – and giving him every opportunity to shine on the domestic front.

This all makes for very strange politics, where even the most experienced "insiders" are finding it difficult to read the runes. More than ever, ordinary people are simply spectators on the sidelines, while the drama plays itself out, dictated by issues beyond their control and understanding.

But, deep down – in fact, not so deep – there is this niggle. Is this all real? What really is going on? For once, the political compasses are not really working, the pundits are all over the place and all the certainties have gone. "Uncharted waters" doesn't even begin to describe it.



As we have written before, George Soros, the indefatigable and unsuccessful warrior against President Bush, whose entirely legitimate and somewhat left-of-centre presidency he has compared to the Nazi regime, is planning to set up a European Council on Foreign Relations.

Its website has the catchy address of onevoiceforeurope. Its aim is to unite and strengthen "Europe" for it to stand up to the terrible United States, particularly as long as Bush is President.

Sadly, if things go on as they have done, there may well be a new President by the time Mark Leonard, the europhile wunderkind can take over as Director of this new organization. The website is still just a temporary one with the real one promised late in 2007. Make that very late.

We must assume that the plan will come to fruition at some point and we shall have this very well funded think-tank trying to influence politics within the European Union, which means in Britain among other countries.

In that connection, it is worth having a look at this posting on a blog called Sweetness and Light. The title, I assume, is meant ironically. Steve Gilbert, the author, got hold of some documentations, which the Open Society Institute presumably is obliged to make public, about its income.

According to that temporary website it will be the Soros Foundation Network that will be donating money to it, not the Open Society Institute but there seems to be a certain overlap, financially speaking, between all these different bodies.

It is interesting to note that money had been received from the Federal Government, an astonishing idea when one considers Soros's frenzied attempts to destabilize its constitutional structure, and also from the United Palestinian Appeal, a relief charity whose name speaks for itself. What does not speak very clearly is any reason why the Soros outfit should be getting money from them.

I just thought our readers might like to know this.


Strength or weakness?

click here to go to the blog It was just over two years ago that we picked up a report on how president Bush had issued a decree changing US national disclosure policy, upgrading Australia to the highest rank of intelligence partner that the US has in the world. This unprecedented move brought Australia's new status into line with Britain ...

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Never a dull moment

I don’t like to say I told you so but the fact is, I told you so. Nicolas Sarkozy, I said, would be a hoot as President of France. And I was right. We have had endless entertainment since he was elected whether it be his wife jetting off to Libya to free the Bulgarian medics who were “French in her heart” or him sharing burgers with President Bush.

So there he was, addressing the UN General Assembly [link in French] with a bunch of wonderful though “not very detailed” ideas about how the world should be run.

France, he told the assembled delegates, has always looked for ways of producing greatness for people than herself (one assumes the guffaws were restrained but one cannot be sure). Therefore, in the name of France he appealed to the United Nations to
provide the means for all people across the world to have access to vital resources such as water, energy, food, medication and learning. [my translation]
And, of course, in the name of France, he will call for the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy the many different protectionist regulations that prevent the developing countries from trading with us and will insist that the EU will buy agricultural goods from countries that use strictly controlled domestic spraying of DDT in order to vanquish malaria. Well, since you ask, he did not say any of those things.

Calling for a closer international co-operation against terrorism he also called for the UN to create a new world economic system, which would entail greater redistribution, greater control, “a New Deal of economics and ecology”. As Le Monde rather sourly points out, details came there none.

Perhaps, President Sarkozy is gearing up for the next stage of his battle with the European Central Bank; if he does not win through the Constitutional Reform Treaty, he will go to a higher authority.


They still don't get it

In an archetypal example of opinionated drivel, The Daily Telegraph leader today pontificates about the CAP and set-aside, redolent of the very worst of ill-informed "man-in-pub" talk.

The paper takes as its "hook" yesterday's EU agriculture council approval of the commission's proposal to suspend the requirement for compulsory set-aside of arable land, for the forthcoming planting season.

As an aside, the story itself is written up (briefly) elsewhere in the paper by Bruno Waterfield. He is a journalist for whom we have some respect, but no agriculture specialist is he.

Thus, Bruno writes that EU agriculture ministers, "have suspended for one year a subsidy that pays farmers not to grow anything as they attempt to bring down soaring wheat prices," something which simply not true. Since 2005/2006, under the Single Farm Payment scheme, there has been no specific payment for set-aide, the "subsidy" being subsumed in the overall payment, with the set-aside requirement being part of what is known as "cross-compliance".

The grave error of the story, however – repeated in the leader – is that it takes at face value the commission propaganda that the release of set-aside is intended to stabilise "soaring wheat prices". This, as we have pointed out previously, is something it cannot do as most of the land is already under cultivation, dedicated to non-food crops (pictured - look at the pictures – that's your set-aside – respectively oilseed rape, maize and hemp).

This is something which the media seems to be having extraordinary difficulty in getting its head round. "Set-aside", does not mean a prohibition of cultivation. The regime was and is designed to take land out of food production as part of the historical attempts to reduce food surpluses. But it is entirely legal (and now common practice – as Booker wrote recently) for farmers to use this land for non-food uses, and especially crops for biofuels.

But, with the idée fix locked in the mind of the leader-writer, that somehow, this land is left idle, to the benefit of diverse flora and fauna, he (one assumes) prattles on about it affecting "bio-diversity and wildlife conservation" – from which we get a vacuous polemic about the merits of land and food management, and the CAP in general.

Unfortunately, in his story, Bruno enlists Neil Parish, Tory MEP and chairman of the EPU parliament's agriculture committee, to offer the ritual "renta-quote", this time arguing that the set-aside policy should be "scrapped". Says Parish (as quoted) "We want farmers to be more responsive to the demands of the market place … yet we are tying one hand behind their backs by forcing some of their land out of production."

What this dismal display of ignorance conceals, of course, is that the commission has been caught out. It is thrashing around with conflicting policies, offering a band-aid to cover a gaping wound and, in so doing, concealing both a gross management failure and a complete inability to address the real and serious prospect of global food shortages.

Thus, while the stupid agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, preened and postured at the Council yesterday (pictured), the true dereliction of the media – and especially the so-called Eurosceptic press – becomes apparent. In failing to employ specialists (the Telegraph no longer has a dedicated farming correspondent), and failing to do its homework (reading the Booker column would be a start) it completely misses the point and lets the commission off the hook.

And, when it comes to the debate over the EU constitutional reform treaty, this is important. The CAP, like the CFP and other EU "legacy" policies, is a monument to the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the form of supranational government that is the EU. To make a case for a future free from the dead hand of the EU, all you have to do is look to the past. Yet, our media cannot even do that.


Not even Burma

The world is watching in some shock as the police kills monks, raids monasteries, beating and arresting their denizens and no, I am not talking about Tibet for a change. Nobody is too shocked about what happens there.

This is Burma, the bad boy of international politics that has been criticized by all and sundry, whose opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been the pin-up for all right-minded people and even for trendy Hollywood fruitcakes and their followers.

The outrage has been voiced, with a strange unanimity, by all politicians, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, President Bush and EU leaders. What is the one organization that is being a tad mealy-mouthed?

That's right, it is the United Nations, which has just spent some time hosting such luminaries as President Ahmadinejad (to be fair, so did Columbia University) and whose SecGen has been holding forth at great length on the need for all to fall into line and be controlled by transnational organizations on the question of man-made climate change.

What of its supposed role to deal with human rights and democracy? Well, um, that depends on how you look at it.

As the Scotsman reports, China and Russia, as usual have blocked any thought of sanctions against Burma (not that these work or affect the right people, anyway) and the Security Council
… last night pressed Burma's leaders to permit a special UN envoy to visit the south-east Asian country as they urged "utmost restraint" be shown towards peaceful protesters.
Not, in other words, outright condemnation. This is not Israel, after all. SecGen Bah ki-Moon has not been particularly forthcoming on Burma (Myanmar) during the unfolding crisis of the last couple of weeks.

Don't get me wrong. I do not think condemnation by the UN would amount to a hill of beans but this is an organization who claims and on whose behalf others claim absolute moral authority.

Meanwhile, there is some indication that the UN Development Programme (UNDP), already in trouble about its operations in North Korea and busy sacking one whistleblower after another, has also been handing over funds in Burma (Myanmar) and has refused to open up its books.

The Scotsman also reports that the Burmese bloggers are on the job, reporting the situation as they see it. These people's courage never ceases to astonish and overwhelm me.


How little they understand

One of the great pre-requisites for being in favour of the European Union, it seems, is knowing little or nothing about how it works.

That much certainly applies to the bulk of the MEPs who infest the EU parliament who, in the wake of the Chinese toy recall, are demanding improvements to the safety system. In so doing, they seem unaware that the current system is part of a core policy, already hedged by hundreds of laws which they themselves have approved.

Even though such a demand represents a massive system failure, there was not even a blush as 660 MEPs voted in favour of tighter controls, with only 18 against and seven abstentions.

The EU commission was urged to improve the enforcement measures of the toys directive, including effective sanctions for non-compliance and to present the planned revision of the Toys directive by the end of this year, making sure "efficient and effective requirements for product safety" were included.

Amongst the members calling for such action was our own David Martin, who wanted the commission to, "push manufacturers to take a greater interest in their supply chain and, if necessary, apply penalties to those who do not take that interest." Then he wanted the commission to "bring together the Member States to ensure tougher inspections in Europe, to ensure adequate customs control and to ensure the application of the existing European Union laws."

The resolution itself asked the commission to ensure strict enforcement of product laws, to step up efforts to improve market surveillance and especially national inspections and to make available sufficient resources to be able to undertake comprehensive and effective controls.

But the whole point of the system, of course, is to obviate the need to have customs controls, to make national inspections redundant and to minimise the need for controls – all in the name of promoting cross-border trade in furtherance of the EU's fabled "Single Market".

What the MEPs are suggesting, therefore, fundamentally undermines the very system on which the EU relies to achieve one of its most fundamental and treasured policies, the nature of which is clearly alien to MEPs. Now they are, effectively, asking for its destruction.

How little they understand, but how fortunate it is for them that their ignorance is shared by most of our own legislators and media.


There is a new one every day

Well, we missed it. Tant pis. Yesterday was European Day of Languages and we had all sorts of pronouncements from the Commissar for Multilingualism (I kid you not), Leonard Orban, and Wolfgang Mackiewicz, President of the executive committee of the European Language Council (sans blague).

What did these grave signors say? Apparently, Europeans must learn more and more foreign languages to promote the motto “united in diversity”. Learning just one lingua franca (usually English) is not enough.

Nor is it particularly admirable, said they, that 44 per cent of Europe’s population speak only their mother tongue.
The situation is much more diverse than one could think and speaking English is not enough in today's Europe, said Mr Mackiewicz, who was presenting a report on multilingualism drawn up by a group of 11 experts.

"In the 1990s, the EU's language policies focused on individuals (…). Today, it is the European project that needs multilingualism", not just the individuals, Mr Mackiewicz pointed out.
Frankly it would be a good idea if some of these eurocrats of different hue learned to speak even one language and infuse what they said with some sort of meaning. What they produce is what the Russians call dubovoi yazyk (wooden or oak language).

Of course, Mr Orban had to be given some kind of a job as Romania joined the EU but the words barrel and bottom and scraping spring to mind. The Bulgarian one was given Consumer Protection, since you ask.

Meanwhile the European Language Council, though located in Berlin, has a website that is only in French and English with the odd document translated into Spanish. Tsk, tsk. And there I was thinking that only benighted eurosceptics were monolingual. Or something. É basta.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Headline chasing?

click here to go to the blog It was last Friday that Gen. Dannatt asked how many local authorities had considered planning "welcome home" parades for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, it has taken this long for the The Daily Telegraph to contact "more than a dozen" councils and find that none have arranged parades.

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

A reminder

Every now and then, though not recently, what with the growing and necessary obsession with a referendum here and an equally strong obsession with the remaking of this little corner of the blogosphere, we feel that there needs to be a reminder as to what we are really fighting for.

Helen writes on Umbrella Blog 3


There is a certain amount of excitement on Toryboy blog about Georgie-Porgie Osborne telling Fraser Nelson in an interview that he is not an über-moderniser. To be fair, the excitement seems to have engulfed some of the clog-writers like the Daily Mail’s Ben Brogan, much quoted in Conservative circles.

Is this the first crack between the two leaders (well, three, if you count Steve Hilton, according to some the real power in the Party Formerly Known As Conservative)? Is Osborne positioning himself for a leadership challenge? Has he lost his marbles? These are the questions people are asking themselves.

Much good may it do them. For myself I should like to know what being a moderniser means. Answer comes there none, whenever I ask this question, apart from the odd waffle about having different candidates. Actually, I am in favour of that and so are many Conservatives on the grounds that the candidates picked by the local associations in the last ten years have been utter losers. Think Bob Neill, who reduced one of the biggest Conservative majorities to a margin of just a few hundred. Think Steve Norris, who lost to Hizonner Ken Livingstone twice.

What is Osborne’s definition of what he is not an über-member of?
I don’t take the kind of über-modernising view that some have had, that you can’t talk about crime or immigration or lower taxes. It is just that you can’t do so to the exclusion of the NHS, the environment and economic stability. I have always argued for a more balanced message, and that is what I hope you would see at this party conference.
Errm, who actually says that Conservatives must not talk about the NHS, the environment or economic stability? In any case, are those ideas not somewhat old-fashioned and anti-modern in the way they are presented by the Boy-King and his pet modernisers (the name Goldsmith springs to mind)?

If any of these people were really radical and modernising they would start talking about health care and not the NHS; they would abandon 1970s shibboleths and talk about the environment prospering in private hands and through new technology; they would stop blathering about economic stability and lower taxes being antithetical. Alas, they are not modernising enough. In fact, they are not modernisers at all, whether they wear ties with their expensive shirts or not.

Then Georgie-Porgie became really daring and started talking about … deep breath …. immigration. I wish these people wouldn’t. They really have no clue what they are talking about, whatever they happen to be arguing.
I don’t think we were ready for the impact on public services of a very large number of people coming to this country. Immigration from eastern Europe was 100 times, well maybe 50 times greater than the government predicted it was going to be. So there was a complete failure to anticipate the impact on our public services or indeed the impact on our economy.’ Immigration has been a ‘broad benefit’, he says. ‘But it has put an enormous pressure on some of our low-skilled British citizens who have found themselves in some parts of Britain priced out of the job market. I don’t think we have done enough as a country to give these people the right education or skills. It is no good Gordon Brown saying, “British jobs for British workers”, when he has singly failed to prepare British workers for the ten year he’s been chancellor.
Well, of course, the previous Conservative government did not do much to prepare British workers for being able to get jobs but I have heard nothing from the modernisers about any radical ideas of reform in the educational sector. In fact, there seems to be a rather old-fashioned One Nation Tory attitude of making sure the poor stay in their social position and not think about achieving anything.

As it happens, there is another problem with “British jobs for British workers” as a slogan, apart from the practicalities (what if they don’t want to get jobs or are not qualified for them?) and that is the sad fact that it is illegal under EU rules. Yes, I am afraid, we are not allowed to discriminate against other EU citizens on the grounds of their nationality.

I wonder why the non-über-moderniser has not seen fit to mention any of this.


There's no story in this

There is absolutely no story in this. Let me repeat that: there is no story in this. The fact that six mounted police just happened to be travelling on the beach at Bournemouth, exactly in line with the slogan calling for an EU referendum written in the sand, and just happened to erase it, was entirely accidental.

The fact that it was written on the West Undercliff Promenade in Bournemouth, clearly visible from the Bournemouth International Centre and the secure zone around it, where the Labour Party conference was being held, is neither here nor there. The fact that Mr Brown could have seen it and might have been displeased is entirely an irrelevance.

We know that the erasure was accidental because a spokeswoman for Dorset police told us so. "They didn't know it was there. They were just returning from policing a demonstration along the beach," she says. Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting adds: "There's no story in this."

The Labour Party says it had not asked the police to remove the message and had no control over policing outside the secure zone. "We would not make requests of that sort," a Party spokesman said.

So there you are. There is absolutely no story in this. I told you so.


Labour isn't listening …

That is The Daily Telegraph leader today, bemoaning the fact that the Party is not responding to "public dissatisfaction" on the EU referendum. "There is at least one subject on which Labour ministers do not hedge," it says: "As David Miliband made clear yesterday, there will be no relenting on their refusal to grant a referendum on the European Reform Treaty."

But, when it comes to the tangible expression of that "dissatisfaction", the self-importance of the newspaper dribbles onto the page as it declares that "nearly 100,000 people have signed the Daily Telegraph petition demanding a referendum", then only adding that, "dissidence on the subject within Labour ranks and the trade union movement is growing."

"Most importantly," (but not more importantly) it then concedes that the refusal "flies in the face of Gordon Brown's much-touted commitment to people power, citizens' panels and to a Government that listens to public dissatisfaction."

Those with slightly longer memories, however, may remember the No. 10 petition on road pricing, started by a private individual. When the newspapers (including the Telegraph) got behind it, signature numbers soared to 1.7 million, a record which stands to this day. By any comparison, the current figure attracted by The Telegraph is pathetic – a sign more of indifference than any real passion.

Meanwhile, one of the original No. 10 petitions struggles manfully to reach 20,000 – lingering a few hundred short for some days now – ignored completely by the media, while Farage's "spoiler" languishes at 3,548 and Geoffrey Van Orden’s effort has attracted a risible 2,078.

With The Sun joining the fray (second time round), this brings a heavyweight player into the field but the sole recognition from the Telegraph is in the Daniel Hannan blog, noting that the tabloid's petition "hasn't yet done as well as that organised by the nation's leading quality daily".

Remarkably, although The Sun's campaign, from all accounts, took Bournemouth by storm – it being virtually impossible to miss the "battle bus", the "Page 3 girls", the 20 "ad-vans" and all the rest - it was a total non-event in the Telegraph report. And, for its picture, it chooses a contrived scene on the beach - the only bit not occupied by The Sun - a covert advert for the Open Europe clone, I want a referendum which, surprise, surprise, is also running its own petition.

Meanwhile, The Sun, having invested so heavily in the campaign yesterday, has already run out of steam, relying on a filler from David Cameron who tells us, "I'll give you vote". And who cares?

Miliband, of course, remains unmoved, with his boss standing by him. And, with Labour ahead in the polls by no less than eleven percent, the Tories in disarray verging on panic, and even the blogosphere totally uninterested in the referendum, Brown can afford to put two fingers up.

Why should he even bother to listen?


It gets better and better

As if the technical woes were not enough, Jacques "Wheel" Barrot's pet little project, the Galileo satellite navigation system, is coming unstuck on the financing – again.

After a bit of typical commission creative accounting, when dear old Jacques proposed to raid the EU budget to find the extra €2.4 billion needed to get the white elephant off the ground, member states are showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the idea.

According to AFP, they are particularly unhappy about sliding over €2.2 billion from the CAP account, with Germany in the lead, worried that this could set a dangerous precedent.

Germany, in fact, wants Galileo to be financed by the countries whose companies are building the network, although France is in favour of the commission’s proposal – which is hardly surprising as its companies are the main beneficiaries of any funding. Even then, it seems the French want "new" money, and are not that happy with using CAP funds.

Anyhow, next Tuesday is supposed to be decision day, when Transport ministers from the EU member states are scheduled to give the go-ahead. But, says AFP, "no big decisions are expected given the criticism the proposal has met with so far".

Looking at this debacle, and then confronting the forthcoming EU treaty, you really don't need to look at the detail of the treaty. All you have to note is that anything these goons touch, they screw up. They are not even beginning to get their act together on this one, and they want us to give them more powers?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shocking behaviour

While the world’s attention is focused on the Labour Party Conference events in Burma, it might be worth recalling that there is another country where Buddhist monks and nuns have in the past protested against political oppression and have been seriously maltreated.

I am, of course, talking about Tibet, that country conquered by China some decades ago, whose population has been purged, imprisoned and murdered; whose culture has been destroyed; and whose rights are not exactly acknowledged by the rest of the world. We do not want to be too unpleasant to the People’s Republic of China, do we now?

To be fair, the Maoist regime saw horrors in China itself that easily rivalled what went on in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, Enemy Number One for the PRC, is generally revered by all and sundry in the West and flaky Hollywood actresses tell us how much they admire his holiness.

Sadly, few people realize that the Dalai Lama is also a political figure of considerable importance. One of those who does is Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received him officially in the Chancellery a couple of days ago.

This was breaking ranks with the unofficial common European position on Tibet and has caused a great deal of anger in China, where Merkel has been attacked officially by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu for interfering “grossly” in China’s internal affairs and hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.

As Spiegel points out the people of China are unlikely to know a great deal about it, since the visit has not been mentioned in the official press. However, there has been one interesting development:
On the Internet, however, bloggers sharply attacked Merkel and even insulted her. "This woman has never been friendly toward China since she has been in power," was one of the milder comments. The harsh rhetoric is interesting because personal attacks on domestic and foreign politicians are usually not tolerated by the censors. The exceptions are the Dalai Lama and the Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who is fighting for the independence of the island from China.
One cannot help wondering why the Internet has been so voluble on the subject. After all, if needs be, those bloggers can always be disowned by the government.


Rum thing, politics

The rules on this blog change every time I turn round and I have some difficulty in keeping up. However, it would appear that if I want to write a more general rant about politics or lack of it in modern British life, I have to put it on Umbrella 3, which is what I have done.

Click here and you can read, should you wish to, a discussion of Gordon Brown's seriously unimpressive speech to the Labour Party Conference, his first as this country's Prime Minister.

Still, there is nothing new about unimpressive politicians. As if to remind us of this fact, yesterday also saw the most nauseatingly obsequious obituaries of Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, a man highly regarded for some reason, who was wrong on almost everything. There was one exception - it's on the blog.


The price of a soldier

click here to go to the blogWhether it is from sniper fire or and IED, it is often the top gunner of a patrol vehicle who is most vulnerable and is most often a casualty when insurgents attack. The US Air Force – no stranger to spending other peoples’ money – is therefore investing in a new "high-technology weapons system" – but at a huge cost. Is it worth it?

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

A Letter from Limburg

Inpakken en Wegwezen (pack up and move on)

There was a faint glimmer of hope for a referendum on the EU treaty yesterday when it was announced at the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) party congress that, to everyone's surprise, an almost unknown - Lilianne Ploumen - was elected as the new leader of the PvdA party instead of the tipped favourite and ex-Minister Jan Pronk. Lilianne was known to be in favour of holding a referendum, and so we waited with interest to see what the outcome would be of the party discussions today.

This morning, Mariëtte Hamer, deputy party leader announced that the PvdA has decided not to support the call for a referendum and, since the PvdA members of parliament are about as likely to go against the party decision as the chance of a politician being honest, the chances of the "initiative law" getting the majority it would need in Parliament for it to be considered for enactment as a law enabling a referendum are now zero.

Jacques Tichelaar, leader of the party in Parliament said that the party was full of praise for the changes that had been made to the constitution that the Dutch rejected in the last referendum in 2005. Secretary of State for Europe Timmermans, also PvDa, excused the party reneging on its election manifesto promise of a referendum by once again repeating the slogan that the treaty is "substantially and fundamentally different" from the original constitution and falling back on the Privy Council judgment that the treaty has "no constitutional aspects".

Of course, the new treaty will still have to be ratified by parliament ...


It's The Sun wot's doing it

The Sun is in full cry on day two of its campaign for a referendum on the EU treaty. No half-hearted plea this, the paper takes Brown on with a brilliant, full-frontal attack, devoting its whole front page to a pointed sneer, with a two-page spread on pages 4 and five and a full-page leader.

And, on each of the pages where it covers the Labour Party conference, it has a little inset, showing the iconic Brown in his "Churchill suit", giving two fingers to the nation. This is conviction journalism at its best. We could not ask for more.

His speech, lauded by the BBC and laboriously dissected by the chattering media classes, was summed up in one pithy phrase: "A poignant 63-minute speech by Brown but just 12 seconds on the EU treaty".

Putting its copious funds where its mouth is, The Sun has also hired a "battle bus" (pictured), plus a fleet of vans, to spread the message on the beaches of Bournemouth, complete with a bevy of "page 3" girls to convey the message in their own fashion.

Says The Sun, "Cabinet ministers looked on amazed as our Winston Churchill lookalike and 20 sidekicks in Gordon Brown masks took the Labour Party conference by storm," adding, "…echoing the real Winston's defiant World War Two message, the PM was left in no doubt we will NEVER surrender in the battle to give ordinary people their say."

The paper also offers a download of its inspired "two fingers Brown" pic, which we will be putting on our sidebar and we will offer the code shortly, with a clickable link to The Sun petition.

"Our battle for democracy", the paper concludes, "was backed by people on the streets of Bournemouth." Not only in Bournmouth. Well dun The Sun!

UPDATE: We have produced a panel link to the petition, now posted on the sidebar (see left). We have also spoken directly to The Sun suggesting they produce a more professional version. In the meantime, if anyone wants the code for this one, contact us and I will send it to you by e-mail.



Anybody who thinks that the EU can actually deliver anything worthwhile really ought to take a close look at its prestige project, the Galileo satellite positioning system.

Already years late and bogged down with financial woes, the "colleagues" at least thought they could get their second test satellite up and flying by the end of this year.

But no, not even that is going to happen. According to Heise online, having originally been scheduled to lift off in the Spring of 2006, Giove-B is not now expected to be launched until March 2008. The reason given this time is "delays in the completion of the Russian Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur launch site".

Whatever the excuse this time, the project was originally scheduled for completion in 2008 and, while the official target is now 2012, some analysts were already suggesting in March that 2014 was more realistic. Now, even that date looks in doubt.

Meanwhile, the United States has quietly dealt another blow to the case for Galileo. Its proponents have long argued it was necessary because the US Navstar system was designed for military purposes and can be disabled for civilian use in time of war.

But the US Forces have now developed the technology for highly localised degradation of the GPS signal, to prevent it being used to target weapons against its forces, Thus president Bush was able recently to announced that the planned third generation of Navstar would not be equipped with a facility to degrade its own signal at source.

Therefore, even if it wanted selectively to degrade the system, the US will no longer have the facility to do so, allowing the White House to claim that it was "eliminating a source of uncertainty in GPS performance that has been of concern to civil GPS users worldwide".

By the time Galileo is eventually commissioned – if at all – third generation Navstar satellites will also be up and running, offering an accuracy at least that claimed of the as yet untested EU system.

Putting that all together, therefore, the EU’s system can best be described in one word: "stuffed".


A little less propaganda please

click here to go to the blogGen. Dannatt may bemoan the indifference shown to the Armed Forces, fighting in far away places but, if he wants more interest shown, he might look to his own MoD website and its account of the campaign in Afghanistan. If he wants our support, he is going to have to give us more information and less propaganda.

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Closing down the debate

Playing it firmly "on message", MEPs' leader, Gary Titley told the Labour Party conference today that the debate on the EU treaty "must be resolved" – i.e., ended. Yet, is this really the same Gary Titley who, at the end of August called on Brown to hold a referendum on the treaty, because it had breached Britain's key "red lines"?

Clearly, unless something really dreadful has happened and there are two Gary Titleys, the man has undergone a wondrous conversion and is now so content with the new treaty that he wants to move on.

Gordon Brown would ensure the treaty agreed in December "is one that represents the best deal for Britain", he purred, adding what is now emerging as "the line". Globalisation had brought with it the challenges of climate change, people trafficking, terrorism and the need to regulate corporations, if Britain was to have any chance of tackling these "21st century challenges" then the treaty was essential.

"The 21st century challenges are tough and if the EU is to face them, then we have to get away from debates about treaties, institutions and processes," he told the delegates. "That is why we need to ratify the reform treaty and move on."

Tony Blair, don't you know, had "ripped the constitutional heart out of the treaty," and the result shows, "once and for all that the European Union is not a state, it is a political process. A process which allows us to work together to meet global challenges more effectively and to protect ourselves from shared vulnerabilities."

People who oppose the treaty, "do so because they oppose the EU" and do not want environmental regulations or working directives "getting in the way" of free markets. "The truth is this: the battle over the reform treaty is a battle being fought against the neo-conservatives on the right," he said.

That much, of course, is debatable – but the one thing the Europhiles do not want is a debate. It really is fascinating, therefore to see how the likes of Titley are now tasked with closing it down.


A dose of reality

If The Sun is taking the referendum issue by storm, we get a downbeat piece from The Telegraph, headed "Election 'will not blunt EU vote call'".

Ostensibly, this is a warning from "rebel MPs" that a snap general election would not blunt the campaign for a referendum on the EU treaty. These MPs, we are told, have made it clear that the campaign for a national vote on the draft treaty would go on "even if Mr Brown called and won an autumn general election."

However, as the Labour Party conference gets into its stride, the reality comes further down the piece. One of the Labour "rebels" is cited as saying a decision had been taken not to rock the boat this week. "We're playing the unity card," he says.

Nevertheless, Ian Davidson, who is the public front for the rebels, is remaining bullish, telling the Telegraph that the referendum "will still be an issue after an election."

The point is, though, that if Brown did call an early election, the Labour manifesto would almost certainly include a commitment to Parliamentary ratification of the treaty. If Labour swept back into power on those terms, the referendum would be dead in the water. The election result would be treated as a mandate, even though it would almost certainly have been fought on domestic issues.

As you would expect, nor is Europhile David Miliband giving any ground. He is dismissing the referendum campaign as a "navel-gazing" distraction from the real issues facing Europe. He, says The Telegraph is known to be irritated at the head of steam being built by The Daily Telegraph's petition, and told a conference fringe meeting that the key challenges facing the EU were international terrorism, global inequality and climate change.

It was a "delivery deficit" on issues such as this that mattered in Europe, rather than the "democratic deficit".

As to the Telegraph petition, on the same page as the piece is a huge advertisement for the I want a referendum campaign (pictured), which just happens to be offering its own petition. Add that to the other petitions and the original - which is struggling to reach 20,000 - and you have the Eurosceptic movement in a nutshell. What did the man say? "Divided we stand".


The Sun has got its hat on …

You all know the next words, and at least a few cheers for The Sun which is taking the EU referendum issue on with a full-frontal assault in today's newspaper.

The graphic sums up Brown's attitude to perfection, putting two fingers up to the nation. He has the power, and he knows it – and is prepared to go ahead regardless of what anyone thinks.

Even if the paper's prose is a little over-blown, describing the new treaty as the "Greatest threat since WW2", it is correct in declaring that "Gordon Brown is about to sign an EU Constitution that would change for ever the way we are governed."

Thus, it is launching "a battle to win a referendum on the Constitution" and, in so doing, has published a poll which makes the threat personal.

Brown would "pulverise" the Tories in an election "with a staggering 17 percent lead," says the paper, "IF he gives the people a vote on the EU Treaty". On the other hand, Labour and the Tories would be "virtually neck and neck if he refuses to grant a referendum." A "massive 81 percent" want a referendum and two thirds — 64 percent — believe Mr Brown is going back on promises by refusing to grant them a say.

Tory Diary thinks that this creates "another risk factor" to add to the many, in Brown's calculations on whether to hold an early election.

But what is almost impossible to say is whether the increasing speculation on a snap election is simply media frenzy, which will evaporate with the end of the conference season, whether there is some substance to it, or whether the media is intent on creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

To try even to guess which way this is going to pan out is merely to add to the speculation, as there is only one man who can decide whether there is going to be an election – and he ain't saying. The "clunking fist" may be playing games – he may not but, if he is leaning towards an early election, The Sun may give him pause for thought. Or, maybe not.