Category Archives: UK

Special Relationship II

Back in 1887 the famous poet and storyteller Oscar Wilde quipped: ‘We [English] have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’. We got another example of this malediction in the blah-blah-blah which has attended Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. What is most apparent to all but the Talking Heads is that London’s negotiating a two-year exit from the EU will result in a revival not only of the vestiges of empire – as much legend as reality – but a renewed emphasis on the Anglo-American alliance, “the Special Relationship”
Like so much of traditional diplomacy, Pres. Barrack Obama and his former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, gave that relationship short shrift. Obama, imbued with the Left’s religion of anti-colonialism – a view of the world which is not only unrealistic but ignores the actual relationship of the Metropoles of Britain, France, Italy, and once Germany, to their 19th centuries acquisitions. True, they were exploitive relation ships but they also accelerated the arrival of at least portions of modernism to pre-industrial societies.
As Obama’s attempts to “transform” American foreign policy have either miscued or collapsed over the last seven-plus years, his attempt to derail the historic relationship between the U.S. and Britain has also gone astray. Common language, shared democratic values and concepts, special interests throughout the work, have made a working relationship between Washington and London an irreplaceable part and parcel of U.S. internationalism.
The combination of Obama’s war on this tradition, his buffoonish attempt to influence British voters on withdrawal from the EU which boomeranged, and the U.S.’ expanding interests in the post-World War II world have tended to eclipse that relationship. That illusion was enhanced when London seemed to be throwing in its lot with the movement for a united Europe, one which had been a special project of American strategy for a half century, but not always with its final destination in view.
Now, the latter project is in deep trouble. Few Europeans want to face the reality of German domination as by far the largest and economically the most powerful of the EU states. That will halt the perfectly “logical” calls by Berlin that the EU must go forward to further political integration or collapse. But the French, once Germany’s twin partner in European unity, in a miraculous and real transformation, are for the first time abandoning dirigisme, French promotion of economic planning and control by the state, under the pressure of the competitive drive of “globalization” is being abandoned – and that under a socialist government! The concept had defined the distinctive character of French politics, inherited in part from its royal and multi-republican past, and which it had passed on to the Brussels Eurocrats it had largely supplied and still dominated.
London ‘s withdrawal — although it will continue to bargain for special trading and other economic rights inside the EU, whatever it means in the short-term — means a return to Britain’s diminished but continuing role as a world economic power. The good sense and good luck that kept Britain out of the EU’s now faltering monetary union means that once again, in parallel with the dollar, sterling will resume an stronger international character.
London’s City, which was ceding its role to Frankfurt and Zurich, will be reinvigorated in the longer term by the British withdrawal. That role of London as the world’s second financial center after New York will be felt all the way through the Middle East oil countries [with their traditional ties to the Colonial Office] to Hong Kong and beyond. [What the Japanese will do with their heavy investments in British manufacturing as a base for the EU remains to be seen. But it would not be the first time that Japanese business has had to make major adjustments to its successful formula for being the only non-European power to have made it to First World status].
The revival of the Special Relationship will have new and totally different aspects – again, despite Obama’s original high-priced energy policies, the U.S. and its Shale Revolution has put a new floor under world energy prices. It is one the Mideast producers can meet, of course, but not without cutting back on their enormously spendthrift policies of the past. It could well be that Special Relations II will see the U.S. as Britain’s major supplier of energy and energy technology for development of its own shale resources, environmental freaks notwithstanding.
Prime Minister David Cameron may have to go as a sacrifice on the altar of City business interests and the universal “internationalization” panacea which has dominated both U.K. and U.S. politics under his Conservatives – as well as the Democrats in Washington. And that may introduce new uncertainties along with some disturbing personalities.
But the dye is cast: Special Relationship II has begun with the British voters’ decision that they wanted autonomy and not collaboration at too high a price in cultural values with a Continental bureaucracy and its economy That bureaucracy, too, is now fatally wounded and events will lead to new and likely unpredictable changes in Paris, Berlin,.Brussels and the other EU capitals.

Twilight for social democracy

Ironically, at a time when American politicians are flirting with social democratic concepts, their historic parties are fading in Western Europe where those political slogans originated.
The prime example is Spain. There the PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrero Español], the Party of the Spanish Worker, the country’s oldest, has weathered many crises. During the 40-year-long Franco dictatorship, it maintained its role as the principal anti-Communist left opposition operating among refugees in France.
After governing in Madrid 21 of the last 39 years, the PSOE will probably lose its commanding position in this month’s elections, even losing role as leader of Spain’s left where the majority of the voters self-identify. Shorn of their old Soviet attachment and command structure, a revolutionary movement on the left, Podemos, and a right of center party, are likely to reduce the PSOE to less than 20% of the vote. Spanish political theory is highly influential throughout the whole Ibero-American world, and Latin American styles are almost certain to follow – as already demonstrated in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and soon in Venezuela, where left-wing regimes are being ousted.
The loss of popularity of the social democrats in Spain echoes throughout Western Europe where for more than a half century they have played a dominant role. In Germany, the original home of social democratic concepts, the socialists are polling new lows. The ruling French Socialists have become increasingly unpopular under their Pres. François Holland, in part because he has adopted a program of economic and labor reforms ignoring traditional socialist nostrums.
In the early 90s, Italy’ socialists – in the early postwar years with a Soviet line by far the largest party, an ally of the Communists — under their first prime minister, Bettino Craxi, was almost wiped out by corruption. Three Socialist deputies committed suicide as a result of the scandals. Splinters of the early socialist parties, from anti-Communist to those fellow-traveling in the Soviet era, have joined forces forming the Socialist Party (PS), renamed Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in 2011. But many former social democrats have deserted the socialists for four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s bigger tent, largely a right-of-center grouping.
Europe’s social democrats have become discredited through their growing association with the policies of the moderate right — austerity, deregulation, liberalization and free trade. Virtually the whole technocratic community has seen these as necessary economic measures to restore prosperity. These have been increasingly seen by the media and among many younger politicians as the cause of Europe’s present economic decline.
But as voters of the traditional left have grown bitter as they saw their party of the welfare state, the public sector and of the blue-collar workers, reverse its governing strategy. That feeds a growing separation between social democratic politicians who view these policies as the only options as jobs have disappeared and economies flattened and the street, always ready to find leaders for protest and violence..
In Spain, an inconclusive general election last December left the socialists in a dilemma: either adopt the centre-right promises of tax cuts and more supply-side reforms, or bend to a new left that calls for an end to austerity and channels the anger of the mob.. In the U.K., this dilemma has produced a new leftwing leadership in the Labor Party, But whether, even with the conservatives in disarray over the question of withdrawal from the European Union, they have a formula to gain power is dubious.
It seems unlikely that this paradox won’t be present for the European socialist movement for the indefinite future. Whether it has application to the American scene – current political fashions to the contrary – seems highly unlikely. The U.S. economy, while not roaring forward, still is the envy of most of the Western world, with few calls even from the “progressives” for the nationalization and “socialization” of the major industries.

Polls cannot be a science

The growing plethora of polls is becoming a menace.

What is being presented as “scientific polling”, or in some instances begging off an obvious limited sample by calling it “nonscientific”, is patently ridiculous. The essence of science is a controlled experiment.

Analyzing the public mind is an attempt to scrutinize a vast body of personal opinions out there, obviously held, often only temporarily, by a very wide assortment of individuals about whose thinking processes we ultimately can know very little.

Yet polls are increasingly being used as an instrument for public decision-making and action or, indeed, for running the activities of government..

Polling is the perfect example of the widespread current belief that statistical analysis – which the digital revolution has made possible in infinitely greater quantity and in vastly quicker – is the ultimate measure of issues. Yes, the noted philosopher Hegel says “quantity changes lead to quality changes”. But simply toting up the numbers supporting an issue or an individual – when even the phraseology of the question can easily determine the response – is a road to disaster.

First, the polls are often inaccurate on their face. How often recently have they not only been wrong measuring a forthcoming election but disastrously so? Eleven separate polling organizations not only totally incorrectly called the May elections in Britain. Not only did they fail by qualified amounts, but with a total inability to predict a dramatic outcome. Instead we got the unanticipated victory of David Cameron’s Conservatives with an absolute majority instead of widespread predictions of another “hung Parliament” forcing a coalition. .

The current Republican presidential campaign debates are a perfect example of misuse of polls vitiating ordinary common sense. They are an example of how polls are destroying or blocking more adequate solutions to life’s problems. The whole purpose of the contest among a dozen or so candidates for the Republican nomination is to examine individuals putting themselves forward who may or may not have been widely known previously in public life, and how their attitudes toward problems might contribute to the presidency were they nominated and elected.

In the end, in a very arbitrary manner, polls are being used to decide who are the frontrunners and therefore the more likely candidates for the nomination. But the very essence of having a large number of candidates for the nomination is to choose “hidden” abilities not yet recognized but desirable, or to discover the inadequacies of the more popular figures.

The comparisons sometimes made in the media of the current debates to the Lincoln-Douglas debates that preceded Abraham Lincoln’s election and the tragic events of the Civil War are ludicrous. The essence of those debates was a confrontation between two men on the issues and a vetting of their personalities.

The sorry spectacle of the MSNBC-sponsored debate demonstrated the inadequacies of the current program to join the issues and pick a candidate. The Fox Business news debate just concluded was better, but still left much to be desired.

It should not be the media’s role to stage and thereby control the debates.

Rather, some method ought to be found to put the individuals seeking the office into an arena where they and their audiences define the issues before the country and their differences about them. Perhaps a process of one on one with a staggering pyramid of encounters chosen by some sort of vote could be found.

But letting the media arrange the encounters for their maximum benefit – ratings and advertising revenue – and deciding who should participate on the basis of averaging polls with all their inadequacies is not the way to go.

Choosing the president of the United States is too important an issue to be left in the hands of this kind of petty manipulation.




From Beeb to Boob

It’s sad. I remember when the BBC was a light in the wilderness, how all my friends — local and visitors — in South Asia hung on its every word. Yes, there was Voice of America — but it was slower, clumsier, not really a news organization, one felt.

But listening to the “world news hour” rebroadcast through our NPR station the other morning, I heard how the might have fallen. The broadcast was dominated by an interview with someone — never did catch the name, but an old environmentalist reporter or a professor in some of the arts — who blathered on about climate change. He harangued the audience, and the interviewer who kept asking the same questions, for much too long. It gave new meaning to circular reasoning: the gentleman said that it didn’t really matter whether there was a human factor in climate change, although he thought there certainly was, climate was changing and we should do everything we could to work against it because of what human beings were doing to produce climate change. Hello!

Then there was a discussion of the current economic situation in the U.S. and in Euroland. The person again being interviewed [I believe he was a guru from Reuter’s]– hard to know as they hardly ever do the necessary thing of reidentifying him or her throughout the interview — was so partisan that he took a rather Pollyannish view of the just published dismal U.S. statistics and really seemed unaware that Europe was going from one crisis to conference to another crisis.

That inquiry into the partisanship — leftwing dingbat nonsense — which was undertaken some months ago came through with more integrity than one would have expected. But it is obvious, I am afraid, that it will have no effect.

Yes, from Beeb to Boob. But it has taken several decades and I suppose that is a natural pocess of integrations.

The Euro is dead, long live the euro!

In the spring of 1947, I was on deck as one of that dying breed of transatlantic liners was tugged into Le Havre. Despite decades of experience there was incredible confusion as French stevedores hassled over tying up ropes. A rail companion, a French Jewish refugee returning from American wartime refuge, declaimed, “Eh voila! L’élan francaise”. My 90 hours Berlitz preparation for being a “sois-dissant” Paris student, unabashedly imitating my 20s predecessors, had done me well. But I hadn’t a clue what “élan” meant, so he went into a “cartésien” dissertation on how Frenchmen were individuals as none other, cooperation comes hard if at all, and the genius of the civilization resides in that peculiarity. [Gen. Charles DeGaulle: How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?]

As “Europe” falls apart, it’s natural each of its 27 members would be doing their thing. For the moment – while a search goes on for a missing one trillion Euros [$1, 400 billion] – the Euro has been rescued as a common currency for 17 members, and, hopefully, the whole Europe Project to unite a continent for peace and progress survives.

But continuing crisis, whatever its final outcome, is already rearranging geopolitical pieces on the European chessboard:

London smugly congratulates itself for refusing to enter what is now a failing common currency, preserving The City’s worldwide financial role. But Prime Minister David Cameron backbenchers’ called for a referendum on British EC membership. While put down, they will haunt his promised negotiations to rearrange the UK’s relationship with Brussels.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will fiercely resist efforts to rearrange London’s other “special relationship”, perhaps forcing a showdown on whether you can be half in and half out. She has rammed through a call for more EC economic and political integration, swapping it for her recalcitrant Bundestag’s veto over more bailout. But at her back are obstinate voters reluctant to pick up the chips for southern bankrupt members of a common market Germany’s export drive exploited so shamelessly.

Chancellor Merkel bested French President Nikolas Sarkozy, facing a tough election next year after failing to produce his promised marketizing of the French economy. He wanted a super-Q-easing by the European Central Bank to save the Euro and inflate. In that grandiose French play, he proposed “comprehensive” settlement while the methodical Teutons wanted step by step – even at the risk of more minicrises and general economic doldrums as austerity brakes growth.

Italy’s tragicomedy starring Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi featured parliamentary fisticuffs. Worse, his painful promised belt-tightening for the Italian welfare state built since it beat off a near successful attempted Communist coup d’etat in 1948 could get its ultimate test. Does the family, the cornerstone of Italian culture since the Romans, remain strong enough to buoy a society with the lowest birthrate in Europe, the mother of modern international immigration now facing invading hordes on the North African coastal periphery?

Initial market falderal was heartening. News that America, the heart of the world economy still for all the talk of shifting patterns, had grown in the last quarter instead of drooping into doubledip recession, heartened the optimists.

But there is bound to be a second look. And when the spectacles come out, analysts will find less detail to the Euro settlement than headlines. Germany is still keeping a staying hand on the throttle of the European Central Bank. The European Economic Stability Fund still looks more like an impoverished debt set-aside than a mini-IMF. And the controversial Eurobonds proposal hangs over the dusty debris left by two officials’ talkathons

President Sarkozy’s call to China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiapao for help in bailouts and recapitalizing European banks is fantasy. Beijing plays a completely mercantilist hand. With its exports threatened and repeated promises to its own increasingly restless to shift to a more consumer-oriented economy, China’s more than $3 trillion in monetary reserves [20% in vacillating Euros] is mortgaged by a deflating dollar and its own incipient inflation. Ditto, Brazil – in a welter of official corruption scandals – and India with seemingly uncontrolled inflation. President Barack Obama’s op-ed proposing a firewall against a European debacle added insult to injury. U.S. banks sometime back stopped Eurolending — with their exposure still unknown.

Help, if it comes, will look to those glorious European traditions – all of them, as varied and contradictory as they are.


“…And guardian A-a-angels sang this strain: Rule Britannia!…”

More than the United Kingdom’s future hangs on the success of David Cameron, the youngest [43] prime minister in 200 years. Whether he can overcome the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression, massive undigested immigration, and helping a U.S. partner besotted in self-doubt, is a world concern — not just London’s.

Once again British democracy proved it could outmaneuver a domestic constitutional crisis, a “hung” parliament where no party had a majority. Power may hold the ruling coalition together.[They have already promised to amend parliamentary government with a fixed five-year term.] But Cameron’s minority Conservatives rely on Liberal-Democratic partners, neither liberal [in the Scottish tradition] nor quite sure who they are.

More Eton-Oxford than any recent leader, Cameron is untested despite a Party apparatchik career. He speaks well. [No teleprompters needed]. His genes should carry Scottish commercial acuity with ancestors in everything from China Coast trade to stockbrokers and estate managers in The City. Despite British class-consciousness, he has shucked “toff” [upper class snobbery] charges. He flirts with pop culture. [He almost admits to marijuana and cocaine in public school highjinks.] And the public empathized with the bitter loss of a child last year.

With the Euro [and the EU] facing a life-and-death struggle, Britain again sits apart clinging to its own embattled pound sterling while France’s Nikolas Sarkozy flits from problem to problem and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a German electorate sorry for itself, now called upon to bail out the Continent with its beggar-your-neighbor subsidized export earnings.

Yet “the Greek disease” has jumped the Channel. London’s budget deficit is on a par with Athens’. The 2007 credit crisis recession lasted six quarters, longer than any other major industrial country. The economy shrank by 6.2%. Previous governments borrowed so heavily that Britain has the highest ration of government borrowing to GDP in the 20 largest economies. Sterling has lost around a quarter of its value since mid-2007.

But the U.K. is not Greece. Bankers, generally, trust in the U.K.’s ability to crawl out of this crisis. It has never defaulted. Unemployment looks better than elsewhere although it is not likely to ameliorate quickly. There is considerable labor unrest. But Britons pay their taxes. It remains the world’s sixth largest manufacturer. Its openness to trade, capital flows and migration will keep The City a strong competitor for a Wall St. facing Washington’s avenging controls. Even though Cameron, electioneering, shied from it, there is enough of the Thatcher Revolution left to permit flexibility that Continental societies don’t have.

Still Cameron has all the developed countries’ same conundrum – how to stimulate growth by trimming budgets that caused the crisis.

The outlook is not all black. Business groups expect growth of just over 1% this year and over 2% in 2011. Cameron has promised a strong role for the independent Bank of England’s Governor Mervyn King who kept “stimulus”, relatively, within bounds. King did set interest at 0.5% since March 2009 and threw £200 billion at the credit markets. Exports were helped by the falling pound, and domestic demand grew if temporarily with a reduction in VAT and subsidies to car buyers.

But just as important for the rest of the world is how Cameron handles the growing cultural crisis. Britain’s long and [sometimes too] intimate ties with the Arab and Islamic world – and relations with its own three million Muslims – are crucial in the continuing battle between the West and Islamic terrorism.

As a member of that dying breed of communicants in the wobbly Church of England and as a skilled public relations practitioner, Cameron has bobbed all over the map in the continuing dilemma between security and Britain’s unique personal freedoms. Confusion reigns in the conflict between individual rights – the hallmark of British culture gifted to the rest of the world – and everything from sharia law to sex and porn. Commenting on one difficult decision, Cameron said: “Not for the first time, I found myself thinking that it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more with the British Asian way of life, not the other way around.”

High priority is Cameron’s relations with Washington. Pres. Barack Obama’s post-election enthusiastic endorsement, hopefully, represents a turnabout. Mr. Obama has gone out of his way to denigrate “the special relationship” and chivvy the Brits. [No one inside the Beltway has an explanation for sending back an Oval Office bust of Winston Churchill, gifting the Queen an electronic gadget, snubbing former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, etc., etc.]

Cameron, for his part, given stringent economic restraints, won’t be able to make military commitments former Prime Minister Tony Blair made for Iraq and Afghanistan. But the British have a role to play and Cameron, in Britain’s great tradition of noblesse oblige, might be the one to play it skillfully.