Blogoir (blŏg·wαr)sb. 1. A digital hybrid of blog and memoir presented on a daily basis, or not. 2.fig. A quixotic attempt to make sense of the senseless; a spark of hope. 3.v. To narrate in a not necessarily coherent way one’s life and views. Also attrib. 3. Behold yon ambassador, once indeed thus ample and conceited yet now so meagre, wan with care – methinks he doth b. too long Hen IV Pt III
My latest piece for Telegraph Blogs looks in (very) broad terms at Ukraine:
In 1994 the EU Ambassadors had a meeting in Moscow at which they opined on the then reforms under President Yeltsin. The Belgian Ambassador grumbled that Russia was just too big, too communist and too "Asian" to change its ways and adopt modern pluralism: “Russia will always be on the edge of Europe”. The wily German ambassador replied that this was the wrong way to look at it: “Europe will always be on the edge of Russia”.
They were both right. And once again Ukraine finds itself unhappily divided on that tense civilisational borderline.
Ukraine is part of the vast geographic flatness that stretches from the North Sea over to the Urals. For centuries Ukrainian-speakers have found themselves squeezed between Russian power to the East, and Polish or German power to the West. Ukraine had no independent existence as a state until the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. So whereas in Poland a national memory of independence between the World Wars helped drive resistance to Soviet communism, until 1991 no one in Ukraine had experienced anything other than rule from Moscow. [Note: as a commenter at Tel Blogs fairly points out, this last claim is not 100% true]
When the USSR dissolved, Ukraine struggled to get moving as a new state. The fact that up to 30 per cent of Ukrainians spoke Russian gave Moscow considerable weight in Ukrainian politics. Many of the smartest Ukrainians stayed in Moscow and took on Russian citizenship. At one negotiation in the early 1990s between Russia and Ukraine over the decaying Black Sea Fleet, there were more Ukrainian-speakers on the Russian side of the table than on Ukraine’s.
In the two decades since communism ended the Ukrainians have seen Poland and other former communist Slavic countries start to move ahead fast and join first Nato than the European Union.
This has given Ukrainians a new existential choice. Are they first and foremost Europeans and part of the democratic tradition to their West? Or are they rather part of a Russia-led Slav community of peoples that shares some features of European pluralism but takes its lead dutifully from Moscow? Above all, who decides?
That last question is of course the key one. Kto kogo?
Interesting generational issues are now emerging. Any Ukrainian under the age of 30 has only at best hazy youthful recollections of the Soviet Union - those under 25 have none at all. So these web-savvy young people are a lot less interested in Soviet-era iconography and adoring V Putin, wanting instead some of the hope and obvious prosperity they can detect across the border in Poland. Just as Poles are moving to the UK to find better jobs, plenty of young Ukrainians are popping over into Poland to do the same.
The problem they face is that the EU in current mode can offer Ukraine nothing but a long shopping-list of dull if not painful reforms, and not much money to support them. That said, the Association Agreement package on offer with the associated changes in many aspects of the law to help harmonise the Ukrainian economy with EU standards gives Ukraine a chance to do far better. This fine piece by the always insightful Anders Aslund over at Foreign Policy gives a lot of gritty detail about the scale of the corruption now dragging Ukraine downwards.
There is no reason to think that the feisty demonstrators command a clear majority of support across Ukraine as a whole. If the current elite falls (as they richly deserve to do), a new set of oligarch-friendly leaders may well replace them with no real change. The Aslund piece warns that the Ukrainian economy and its foreign exchnage reserves are now badly depleted, so if there is no serious confidence-building reform package in sight it is unclear how long the whole sorry mess can stagger on without much more radical disruptions and upheavals.
Above all, there is not much we in the EU all can do, even if we were minded to do something which we mainly aren't.
Ukraine is just too big to be helped if it does not massively help itself. Perhaps if Russia sees the prospect of instability across Ukraine it will decide to throw its weight behind something more sensible? But for this purpose what or who is 'Russia'? The situation there is no less grim according to many economic and social indicators. The decadent KGB-oligarchocracy may just prefer to plunder the whole space into the ground?
Check out my Telegraph Blogs piece and the many deranged comments from rentanastyrussiantroll.ru and deranged UKiPpers it has prompted:
Charles Crawford - another Eton chump whose own diplomatic career was a resounding failure
Let's burn an effigy of Charles Crawford - the neocon numpty keen to dismantle democratic government in Ukraine, in favour of erecting a huge statue of Herman Van Rompouy in the centre of Kreschatik
Comrade Charles Crawford - a mindless simpleton - told to think the way his masters in Brussels tell him
What utter foolish gutless GARBAGE you prattle, Crawford. You are a spineless sack of neocon SCUM, paid to talk-up Mr Barrosso and Mr Rompouy. In better days, the heads of TRAITORS like you were chopped off and displayed on London Bridge.
Plus some rather more helpful ones about the whole business, including from some people who actually know something about Ukraine and the wider drama it represents.
Helpful as I am, I have written a short but comprehensive guide for Universities on the issue of inviting External Speakers.
It is intended to replace the wretched rambling 44 page effort put out by Universities UK that after much huffing and puffing came down on the side of accepting non-discriminatory (sic) gender segregation at meetings if certain 'ultra orthodox religious speakers' (the preferred real-life phrase is 'extremist Muslims') demanded it.
My new version fits nicely on two sides. Here it is. Key points:
It is normal courtesy on the part of event organisers to let the appropriate University authorities know that an outside speaker is being invited to University premises to address an audience.
If the organisers of an event with an outside speaker have any reason to think that the event concerned may create undue controversy or attract protests or negative media coverage, they should talk to the University authorities and make a suitable plan.
A speaker is a guest at a University, and guests can be expected to respect the rules laid down by their hosts. Certain speakers nonetheless may seek to impose conditions for their participation in an event. Organisers of events should accept no conditions that have the effect directly or indirectly of achieving any segregation of the audience on grounds of race, gender, appearance, belief, age or any other specious if not unlawful criterion.
(Note: these considerations need not apply if a speaker is invited by a University society that (a) has its own rules consistent with University practice, and (b) is limiting the audience to its own members who have freely accepted those rules.)
If any speaker asserts that the University’s refusal to meet such conditions is ‘discrimination’, the organisers should let the appropriate University authorities know that this issue has arisen, and inform the speaker that to accept these conditions would infringe basic University principles. The speaker can decide whether to accept University principles or decline the invitation.
When in doubt, all concerned should go for the option that allows the most freedom. No concessions should be made to organisers or speakers who seek to limit the freedom/choices of others.
Assertions that a ‘genuinely held belief’ entitles a University member to limit the choices of others at the University or eg require some form of audience segregation should be ignored on principle.
Nothing much else to be said on the subject, I think?
The ‘Guidance’ document External Speakers in Higher Education Institutions put out by Universities UK (‘the Voice of UK Universities’) is attracting attention, and rightly so, for its proposed approach to ‘segregation’ of men and women at speaking events involving speakers whose religious views require such segregation.
Such as this assertion: “Institutions must ensure that their external speaker processes adapt in response to geopolitical or socioeconomic events, legislative changes and other factors”. What does that even mean? Why ‘must’ they ‘adapt’? The thought-process behind that repulsive sentence is a totalitarian land-grab to bring intellectual activity under the direct control of those few anointed invariably progressive High Wizards who proclaim the correct ‘geopolitical and socioeconomic factors’ that fall to be considered.
It’s hard to decide what part of this text is the most horrible. Yes, it takes 44 pages to 'guide' Universities on how to invite a speaker. The winner by a clear head is the flowchart in the Chapter Effective External Speaker Processes (sic) that purports to describe the steps needed to invite a speaker to an event and then host the event: the ensuing detailed description of the different ‘steps’ needed to accomplish this task takes 11 pages of impenetrable micromanaged bureaucracy.
This whole section was drafted by Professor Ceausescu with helpful contributions from Rector Stalin and Sub-Deans Kafka and Khomeinei. It simply does not wash to open a document with the bold assertion that “freedom of speech lies at the heart of universities’ missions” (sic) but then propose procedures for bringing in external speakers that in substance are so convoluted and oppressive as to deter any normal person from wanting to take part in them.
If you have somehow managed to get through all this rubbish, the main interest lies in the External Speaker Case Studies, where the text looks at possible tricky scenarios to suggest how they might be handled.
Let’s be generous here. Universities do have some specific problems in that assorted extremists and lunatics within the student masses (or the academic staff) are always looking to advance their respective causes by bringing to the University notorious fanatics and/or disrupting speakers they dislike. A precedent in one area will be seized upon to drive wedges in other areas. And merely managing the intended furore healthily and safely can be awkward if enough conflict is deliberately stoked up by rival views for PR purposes. So these Case Studies are of interest.
The first Case Study (No Platform Policy) has the British National Party being invited to speak, in the face of a ‘no platform’ policy adopted by the local student union. Here the advice appears to lean in favour of the event proceeding with some careful planning, as freedom of expression trumps the student union’s puny politics. Good.
The third Case Study (Controversial Views and Charity Legislation) looks at whether a speaker from Saudi Arabia who advocates the introduction of Sharia Law in the UK might damage the university’s reputation as a charity (why this reputation might be so damaged is not explained). Again, the advice leans towards letting then event proceed, “taking into account the Equality Act, including its Public Sector Equality Duty obligations”. Lawks.
The fourth Case Study features Israel and Palestine, where a pro-Palestinian speaker is threatened with disruption by pro-Israel hecklers and is indeed heckled by some people are asked to leave the meeting and do so voluntarily. The fact that in the real world of academic life it is overwhelmingly pro-Israel speakers who are shouted down by anti-Zionist elements is not used here. Still, once again the speaking event proceeds, albeit with some small excitement, and life goes on.
So what of the now legendary second Case Study, on Segregation? This is a belter.
Here the speaker is an ultra-orthodox religious type who expresses the wish that the event be segregated according to gender. Feminists and others oppose this. The idea offered is to have segregated seating organised in a way that no one gender is disadvantaged, eg by having an area for men and an adjacent area for women: “On the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds”.
Hmm. Maybe there should be a non-segregated area side-by-side with those segregated areas, as without that the legal protection of feminist ‘beliefs’ might be undermined! But this in turn might lead to the speaker having his/her beliefs ‘curtailed unlawfully’. So on balance the views of those who oppose segregation do not require an institution to stifle (sic) a segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief. Aaargh.
The conclusion reached by this Guidance in this Case Study is important for two reasons.
First and foremost, it is exactly the wrong conclusion.
Faced with a request for segregated seating, a University should just say no. There is no good reason in law, logic or practice why a speaker’s request to segregate people should trump the right of all members of a university audience to sit where they damn well like.
Why should your right to offend me by demanding segregated seating trump my right to be offended by your rudeness? You can have your way only by denying me reasonable options. That is unfair. If some women or men want to sit ‘separately’ to express their religious or other eccentric convictions, they can get their early and bag some seats accordingly. Then take their chances on who sits next to them, like everyone else.
Second, it defers to mumbo-jumbo. Those religions that insist on gender segregation of this crude sort are running on belief, not reason:
“Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions, his edicts, his wishes, his whims … what he seeks is power over reality and over men’s means of perceiving it.”
Giving in to this sort of thing by accepting gender segregation means ceding intellectual and moral space to irrationality at the expense of rationality, precisely what universities should not be doing.
Note that basing decisions on fairness and good sense does not deny any speaker the chance to speak, or ‘stifle’ his/her puny religious convictions. All it does is say that if some hard choices need to be made, we lean in favour of maximum freedom of choice for everyone.
And that’s that. If you don’t like that, too bad. Go and be irrational somewhere else.
Memo to University Vice-Chancellors: If you are thinking of promulgating guidance like this, don’t outsource it to lawyers. Get in on two sides at most. Civilisation and freedom are not about rules. They’re about principles.
All negotiations boil down to a few existential issues: Security, Resources, Control, Reputation/Recognition and Time/Risk. Plus, depending on how the other aspects are tackled, Trust. Skilful negotiators trade both within and between these ideas.
Basically, for years Iran has given every impression of being bent on developing nuclear weapons under guise of a civil nuclear programme, and cranked up provocative anti-Israel rhetoric. The West with varying support from Russia and China has leant hard on Iran through economic and political sanctions to try to head off "weaponisation". These sanctions have hit Iran and its people hard, to the point of bringing to power a "relative moderate", Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani indicated that he was ready for a new start.
Hence this deal. The essence is simple. Iran promises to take certain specific steps consistent with scaling back its nuclear programme and denying itself nuclear weapons processes, promising explicitly that “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons”. In return sanctions are eased. This agreement lasts six months while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.
Right at the heart of the agreement is Trust: how can the West trust the Iranians not to cheat? This is answered by bringing in an unusually intrusive international inspection regime led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose expert inspectors will have daily access to key Iranian installations. In return Western governments will need to do what they have promised by way of suspending/easing sanctions to show Iran that they too can be trusted.
Thus Iran gets Resources (eased sanctions), shares Control over its programme (with the IAEA), and wins new international Recognition as a sane partner with a right to nuclear energy. The Time/Risk factor is managed by phasing in the agreement over this first six months period, in a step-by-step building of new mutual Trust.
The West plus Russia and China (and Israel) get the Security and Control that come from keeping a tight watch on Iranian nuclear activities, and (hope President Obama and the EU) the Recognition at home and around the world arising from a major diplomatic success. The fact that Russia and China have been closely involved in negotiating this deal significantly raises the stakes at the United Nations for Iran if any future Iranian leadership tries to wriggle back from its promises on weaponisation.
What about Israel? What security margin can Israel accept when it comes to Iran and its civil nuclear programmes? There is no good or principled answer to this. If Israel thinks that Iran (a) might quickly develop a nuclear bomb and (b) use it against Israel, any outcome that leaves a substantial Iranian civil nuclear programme intact is potentially dangerous.
To this extent Iran has achieved a key success in this war of nerves, by winning explicit acknowledgement of its right to nuclear energy and associated technology. Israel now finds itself in a new balance of Security and Risk: having to live with a civil nuclear Iran that is never far from speedy weaponization but, thanks to those busy IAEA inspections, never quite gets there...
It's noteworthy that this year I have been part of the Ambassador PartnershipTechnique team that gave Negotiations Skills training to both OPCW inspectors (now deployed to Syria) and IAEA inspectors (now going to be very busy in Iran). These are are all smart, sensible people who have to do amazingly delicate and important work and show studious professionalism plus good faith as they do it. So good luck to them.
What does it all mean?
Perhaps the Arab Spring traumas in their very different shapes and sizes are leading to a new constellation of forces across the Middle East. Iran for years has opted to be a large part of the problem, exporting terrorism and odious rhetoric. Under new management, elected into office in part because of sustained sanctions pressure, it appears to have concluded that for the time being it is better to regain its economic strength by cooperating politely with international opinion on its nuclear programmes. As neither Israel nor Iran's potential to move fairly quickly to a weapons programme if all else fails are going to disappear soon, why not play this one rather longer?
Down the road the Saudis are fed up with American flirting with Iran and vacillation in Syria/Egypt. And the USA is fast becoming less dependent on foreign oil imports. So that traditionally friendly relationship is now wobbling. But is that such a bad thing in the greater scheme of things? What do the Saudis bring to international relations that we all can't do without?
Russia again does well out of this process, having positioned itself craftily between Iran and the USA and so being a solid part of the final deal that in its 'optics' mainly reinforces the UN Security Council P5 members as the driver of the outcome. China too gets part of the praise and shows that it is willing to be part of constructive wider international security negotiations.
The EU here has shown what can be achieved by colleactive action when Germany/France/UK join forces to drive the policy and the rest of the EU dutifully signs up. Catherine Ashton has a good personal style, and some female instincts have no doubt helped create a rather different and better mood at key moments, even with the overwhelmingly male Islamistic Iranian delegations. France has raised its reputation by playing tough at an earlier stage to stiffen the package.
Israel? Israel gets a nuclear Iran but an Iran tied down by IAEA inspectors and pondering the fact that serious deviation towards weaponisation now risks Iran losing any lingering support from Russia and China once and for all. Not a perfect outcome for Tel Aviv, but a perfect outcome was not available. And arguably Israel is a tad safer today with this agreement than it was last week without one.
In short, one of the things I learned from my career is that the idea of a 'window of opportunity' really does exist in diplomacy. Sometimes for no obvious reason or against all expectations the diplomatic kaleidoscope twists and creates a new pattern that allows quite new steps to be taken. But they must be taken quickly.
In this case Western capitals (yes, armed with lots of tough intelligence information) decided that the new Iranian leadership were sufficiently sincere about wanting to change course that it was worth investing in serious diplomatic effort to achieve a sharp change of course. This sort of thing is always risky, as the 'true' intentions of the other side may never be known. Plus the other side itself may not know its true intentions.
On this occasion the risk (so far) has been worth taking. If somehow the agreement sticks and a full settlement is reached in the next year or so, an impressive step forward towards normalising other relationships in that troubled region will have been accomplished.
Or not. Maybe the very fact of this agreement will encourage those forces who want to take advantage of the studied detachment if not weakness shown by President Obama and press on with destabilising Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Will the UN P5 + Germany + EU be able to summon again enough unity of purpose and pressure to deal with those awful messes too?
Update: For the contrary view that the whole thing is a ruinous surrender to Iranian extremism that leaves all of us worse off, try John Bolton.
Meanwhile it looks tricky even to get these hazardous materials to the Syria coast from where they they might be sent somewhere, or other:
A senior American official said: “That’s the problem — no one has attempted this before in a civil war, and no one is willing to put troops on the ground to protect this stuff, including us."
Good point. Therefore what?
Syria’s chemical weapons material may be on the high seas for a long time, as officials seek a country willing and able to destroy it. Already there are fears that the cargo ships bearing the material could become the weapons equivalent of a barge loaded with garbage that left Long Island in 1987 but could not find a place to unload for four months.
American law prohibits the importation of chemical weapons for destruction here, and Russia says it is still overwhelmed by the task of destroying its own stockpiles.
The more immediate concern is that over the next six weeks, the material — more than 600 tons of precursor chemicals, mostly stored in one- and two-ton containers — will present a huge, slow-moving target for the Syrian opposition groups at war with the Assad government — and sometimes in conflict with one another.
Curious how President Obama can waive parts of Obamacare legislation but not this prohibition on importing CW for destruction in such a good international cause.
And poor little Russia, so proud of its diplomatic triumph in securing this Syria CW deal and rich enough to pile huge sums of money into building more weapons systems, yet so 'overwhelmed' with its own Cold War CW stocks that it can't find somewhere in its 11 mainly empty time-zones to store this stuff and sort out the problem as and when.
Why not bring the CW materials to the UK for destruction, if only for the delicious spectacle of watching the Lefty-Greens freak out as they try to reconcile their adoration of Obama + hatred of nasty weapons + lofty internationalist principles with the need to object to anything the government proposes?
Anyway, let's worry about where this stuff goes once it is actually, you know, going:
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or O.P.C.W., which announced the plan for removing the material late on Friday, is expected to train Syrian forces to package, seal and safeguard the containers for transportation in truck convoys to the port from 23 declared weapons sites. Then the organization has to oversee the maritime voyage — assuming that a destination can be arranged.
The plan “sets ambitious milestones to be met by the government of Syria,” Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the disarmament organization, said Friday. “This next phase will be the most challenging, and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons.”
Under an agreement reached in September, Russia and the United States are to work closely with the disarmament agency and Syrian officials to develop a plan for “the security of the monitoring and destruction mission.” But the accord noted the “primary responsibility of the Syrian government in this regard.”
In other words, the key part of this scheme from the Russian point of view is well on track - the USA has to invest in Assad to make progress!
“This material would obviously be a target for any opposition element,” one senior Defense Department official said. “But we have seen reporting — both O.P.C.W. and others — that indicates the regime is serious about security.”
Well, I daresay they are. Especially their own.
Isn't this a good time to use market forces? Russia and USA proclaim a huge sum of money available to any country willing to take these stocks and destroy them properly under OPCW supervision. Then see who most needs the money and associated jobs/prestige. And who most cares about 'international solidarity'?
Failing that, doesn't Saudi Arabia have a lot of money and a lot of nice safe desert?
But, as with so many other things, Obama always gives the vague impression that routine features of humdrum human existence are entirely alien to him.
Marie Antoinette, informed that the peasantry could no longer afford bread, is alleged to have responded, “Let them eat cake.”
There is no evidence these words ever passed her lips, but certainly no one ever accused her of saying, “If you like your cake, you can keep your cake,” and then having to walk it back with “What we’re also discovering is that cake is complicated to buy.”
That contribution to the annals of monarchical unworldliness had to await the reign of Queen Barry Antoinette, whose powdered wig seems to have slipped over his eyes...
We Brits are bemused by the Obamacare saga in the USA.
The overwhelming mass of Brits (including me) have no idea at all how the national health service actually works. All we know is that the State has taken on the responsibility to fix us if something goes wrong. It may all be increasingly bedraggled in some places to the point of killing you through neglect or incompetence, and more and more taxpayers' money intended to pay for medicine and doctors seems to be siphoned off into medical negligence compensation fees for lawyers. But it is at least there, day and night, and you don't have to think about paying anything for it directly.
Over in the USA there is simply a different way of looking at healthcare. It is YOUR responsibility to make provision for it through assorted private insurance schemes, augmented with different state-backed schemes for those in need. Hence Obamacare - a sprawling impossibly complicated way to solve two problems: not enough people are paying enough money into the US health pot to pay for growing healthcare costs, plus many people can not get or afford insurance cover at all.
If there are in principle clear advantages of the Obamacare model over the current system, the Obama team have done a good job of not selling them. Previous major US healthcare reforms have been passed (and repealed) with varying degrees of bipartisan support. The ginormous Obamacare law was passed with no Republican votes at all. This might show that the Republicans are all evil uncaring monsters. Or it might show that the Democrats were greedy and vain, bent on lurching all US healthcare towards something more resembling a 'European' model eventually and prepared to take bold if not reckless political risks to achieve that.
Anyway, the sheer complexity of what the new law tried to do appears to be causing it to crash. If Americans in large numbers do not sign up to the new system, it will be hopelessly unbalanced and enter a 'death spiral' - it will be paying out for people with chronic and expensive conditions, but not taking in lots of money from people who currently are in goodish shape. The core website needed to launch it all has been a spectacular disaster, and Democrats up for election next year are starting to panic as they try to fend off Republican 'we warned you this would happen' arguments that look pretty darn good.
Meanwhile millions of Americans are receiving letters telling them that because of Obamacare their insurance policies are no longer valid. This flies in the face of repeated explicit assurances by President Obama that anyone who wanted to keep their insuance scheme and their existing doctor would be able to do so. Ghastly, horrible lies? Or as the main bastion of Obama media supporters desperately call it at the New York Times, merely an 'incorrect promise'?
National Review has a lively round up of conservative critiques of Obamacare. Try this practical one by one by Deroy Murdock:
Imagine if Obama simply had offered vouchers, or Health Stamps, to America’s uninsured. Let’s say each needy individual without coverage received $5,000 to purchase insurance. Those with severe conditions could receive additional support. They then would have been encouraged to visit ehealthinsurance.com and similar websites. The uninsured could compare prices and buy whatever plans suited their circumstances. So post-menopausal women need not purchase birth control and maternity coverage, as Obamacare mandates. Childless male 23-year-olds would not be forced to buy pediatric dental insurance, as Obamacare requires.
At roughly 29 percent of Obamacare’s cost, this rational approach would have fulfilled Obama’s promise to cover the uninsured. Conservatives would have been pleased to see freedom and choice central to this arrangement. Those who liked their health-care plans could have kept their health-care plans. Period. And ehealthinsurance.com would have let America avoid the humiliation of launching an unworkable website as the whole world was watching.
Obama could have enjoyed all of this. Instead, and ironically, his massive, statist scheme has soiled the reputation of big-government liberalism — perhaps for decades.
But the prize goes to Jonah Goldberg whose Obamacare Schadenfreudaramapiece is a masterpiece of modern sustained political polemic - and all the more devastating for being learned and witty:
In every tale of hubris, the transgressor is eventually slapped across the face with the semi-frozen flounder of reality.
The Greeks had a god, Nemesis, whose scythe performed the same function. It was Nemesis who lured Narcissus to the pool where he fell in love with his own reflection. Admittedly, most of Nemesis’s walk-on roles were in the Greek tragedies, but in the modern era, comeuppance-for-the-arrogant is more often found in comedies, and the “rollout” of Healthcare.gov has been downright hilarious. (I put quotation marks around “rollout” because the term implies actual rolling, and this thing has moved as gracefully as a grand piano in a peat bog.)
But, as the president says, “it’s more than a website.” Indeed, the whole law is coming apart like a papier-mâché yacht in rough waters. The media feeding frenzy it has triggered from so many journalistic lapdogs has been both so funny and so poignant, it reminds me of nothing more than the climax of the classic film Air Bud, when the lovable basketball-playing golden retriever finally decides to maul the dog-abusing clown...
... The other possibility is that he is such an incompetent manager, who has cultivated such a culture of yes-men, that he was completely in the dark about the problems. That’s the reigning storyline right now from the White House. Obama was betrayed. “If I had known,” he told his staff, “we could have delayed the website.”
This is how you know we’re in the political sweet spot: when the only plausible excuses for the administration are equally disastrous indictments.
The president did his level best to explain that he was as in the dark as anybody about the problems with his signature legislation.
He explained that he was not “informed directly” that the Healthcare.gov website was about as ready to run as a three-legged horse at the Preakness Stakes. Apparently, the old saw that the “buck stops” with the president never took into account the possibility that the buck could get lost in interoffice mail.
The law is really quite clear. It was so clear that the Congressional Budget Office — their own in-house think tank — said that millions would lose their health-care plans. Obama even said so with the Democratic leadership in the room.
More to the point, the law was intended to cause millions of people to lose their existing plans so they would enter the exchanges.
Now the same people who literally wrote the law feel betrayed when the law does exactly what they intended. That’s like getting mad at a remote-control car when you crash it. Yes, the website’s failures make the panic more acute, but the fact remains that the Affordable Care Act is doing precisely what it’s supposed to do.
Maybe the Democrats will somehow survive this mega-debacle and slowly but surely the new Obamacare insurance regime will get enough people to make it just about viable.
But in the meantime the law has done a startling job in creating a vast crowd of annoyed Americans who need to steer 100% of their vexation at any Democrat running for election. Precisely because it is so vast and inflexible a 'reform', it is open to a terrible - and growing - barrage of angry sniping from both unhappy friend and unrelenting foe alike.
The way the Democrats tried to reform healthcare through such a massive, complicated, top-heavy law was precisely the wrong way to go in modern circumstances. Smart networked effects of far smaller less controversial reforms (letting insurance companies sell across state borders, tort reform, encouraging crowd-sourced techniological health care and remote treatment modes and so on) would have been much wiser.
As it is, President Obama is sinking fast in public esteem. Good. It all goes back to his winner-takes-all style attitude immediately after his first election:
In a meeting with the president, Mr. Cantor—then the No. 2 Republican in the House—discussed the economic recovery plans that the post-2008 GOP remnant favored. “Elections have consequences,” the president responded, “and Eric, I won.” The White House promptly leaked the remark to the media.
Yes, Mr President, you did win. So now you 100% own the grim consequences of divisively ramming through Obamacare despite many well-founded objections to it.
A horrible new addiction enters my life: live World Championship Chess.
The Anand/Carlsen match is being played in India, but now you can watch it live on the Internet with streans of analysis and expert Grandmaster commentary as each game proceeds. See eg on Chessdom the Hindustan Times site. Open Chessbomb in a separate tab and you have more than enough.
In this match there are no Russians! So instead we have youthful Norwegian Magnus Carlsen taking on the reigning world Champion from India, Vishy Anand.
Garry Kasparov beat Anand back in 1995 in the 10th game of their World Championship match with a series of unexpected pyrotechnic sacrifices.
Kasparov later told me that he had prepared this variation before the match with his team, but they and the (then) computer had ruled it out as there was not enough compensation for the sacrficed material. However, Kasparov had had an instinct that there might be a way through the jungles of options and had told them to leave the computer whirring away overnight.
In the morning they found that the computer had pointed the way to a winning line. Watch Game 10 with commentary here. Just wonderful. It is not diminished by the fact that much of the opening brilliance was pre-prepared - both sides were exploring opening variations, and Kasparov still had a lot to do to convert the advantage into a spectacular win. Plus today's computers no doubt would have found the key variations in seconds, not hours.
That of course pales into insignificance compared to the legendary 1985 Kasparov 'Octopus' game against Karpov. Kasparov manages to install his knight deep in Karpov's position and it then squeezes Karpov to death, covering eight squares at once.
What happened today?
Carlsen had White. He did nothing to win in particular, but did everything to win in general.
Anand emerged from the opening skirmishes with rather more small pawn weaknesses, but nothing that was obviously vulnerable to attack. Perhaps fearing that he would be ground down or perhaps just pushing too hard for a win, he ended up with his rooks in front of his pawns in what looked like a dangerous attack on the White king. But Carlsen patiently defended, covering the key weak squares in his own position. Anand found himself over-extended, and resigned in a hopeless simplified endgame as Carlsen drove forward two passed pawns.
Play through the game here. The Queens are swapped off early on (move 15) and the position looks flat and dull. But that's why these two people are at the top of the world game - they found ways to start accumulating tiny small advantages until finally Carlsen prevailed. It was as if he had just seen deeper into the position and 'really' knew what was likely to happen.
This is only a 12-game match. Back in my day the World Championships were 24 games or until one player accumulated 12.5 points. But Carlsen who is now the highest-ever ranked player looks to be unbeatable - Anand now has to strive for a win, and that will leave him open to Carlsen's deep dark error-free manoeuvring.
Over at the Ambassador Partnership we are busy developing our corporate diplomacy Technique portfolio. The broad offering is now something like this:
Impact and Influencing
• Key Principles of Impact and Influencing
• Active Networking
• Active Influencing
• Core Presentation Skills
• Public Speaking with Impact
• Speechwriting with Impact
• PowerPoint and Presenting with Impact
• Core Drafting Skills
• Policy Work with Impact
• Speaking Notes with Impact
• Press Releases with Impact
• Core Negotiation Skills
• Mediation Skills with Impact
• Active Listening
• Actively Framing Issues
• Chairing and Controlling Meetings
• Leading Difficult Conversations
Impact and Influence under Pressure
• Crisis Management
• Conflict Mapping
• Coping under Stress
• Diplomatic Change management
Impact and Influence in Thematic Areas
• Multilateral Work
• EU Negotiations
• Influencing EU Outcomes
• United Nations and International Organisations
• NATO and OSCE
• Conflict Prevention
• Energy Security
Region/Country-Specific Masterclasses on influencing and negotiation, with first-hand case studies of what worked or didn’t work in such cases as:
• Saudi Arabia
• Republic of Korea
The focus in the personal communication suites of masterclass is squarely on achieving operational impact, above all by looking at psychological and 'cultural' factors rather than dwelling on (say) the usual business school negotiation acronyms (ZOPA, BATNA, WATNA and all that). We give enough theory to set the tone, then drill down into vivid examples, case-studies and role-plays. We find that core elements of the professional mediation skill-set go a long way in helping get strong results in many other areas.
The other day I ran a masterclass on Negotiation Skills. The participants were divided into groups of four for a roleplay negotiation. It was striking to see how such simple factors as the way people sat at the table had a major influence on how far the different participants managed (or not) to get and maintain 'control' of the discussion and thereby advance their own negotiation goals.
This idea of controlling the process to help deliver the best outcome is central in many areas (negotiation, public speaking, drafting, chairing meetings, speechwriting and so on). Yet so many conventional courses ignore it or seem to be unaware that it exists or don't know how precisely to help people improve the way they exert control.
One really easy Whitehall trick that startles many of our foreign masterclass participants is the old ploy of being the first person to table draft conclusions for a meeting. The smart Chair of any meeting appears at the gathering armed with draft conclusions of it, and gets the draft in front of people fairly early on. That document frames the discussion both operationally and psychologically. Plus if someone violently disagrees with something it is better to find out sooner rather than later. But, of course, you don't need to be the Chair to produce draft conclusions; if you fear that you are going to be outgunned at a meeting, having something like this pre-prepared is a good way to improve your chances somewhat, if only by muddying the waters.
We also go into just why and how people are 'difficult' in eg negotiations. My favourite scheme to be difficult: be utterly charming, sympathetic, reasonable-sounding, apparently open-minded - and be 100% inflexible on substance. Gets impressive results(!).
Anyway, any Diplomatic Academies, Communist Parties, oligarchs or senior private or public sector C-suite people out there wanting some of this expert, fascinating and performance-transforming Technique work only need to contact me and it will be delivered.
My latest piece at Commentator is up, this time about Iran and why it is so difficult to build trust:
Have sanctions against Iran worked as intended, by causing intense economic and other pain to the point of persuading Iran’s population and leaders alike to change course and cooperate normally with international opinion? Perhaps yes.
Or perhaps the Iranians are merely ducking and weaving to buy themselves the space to give themselves a nuclear weapons option, this time by throwing out all sorts of superficially attractive ‘compromises’ that leave their key goals unhindered.
Or perhaps they are torn between choices – they are ready to back down on weaponization if (but only if) they are persuaded that the West is sincere in normalising relations.
Or perhaps the negotiators are sincere in offering to back down, but they simply don’t know that hard-line elements back in Iran are pressing on with their weapons programmes.
This is where intelligence is vital – a lot is at stake in this one (not least Israel’s very survival) so we need to strive to find out everything we can about what is actually happening in Iran’s inner policy circles and deep within the key installations concerned.
But that means using MI6 and GCHQ and all that howwid undemocratic eavesdropping, including on German citizens with known connections to the former KGB doing their stolid best to sell honest civilian nuclear technology to Iran? Can’t have that!
This is another issue that is very hard for most of us to follow as mere human beings, since a lot turns on highly technical interpretation of specific tehnologies and associated processes: is it 'safe' or not to accept that if Iran continues to use these technologies with those proposed safeguards and verification, there is no serious risk that Iran will 'weaponise' its uranium?
Plus, of course, what we in the UK might regard as 'safe' may differ sharply from what Russia, the USA, France, Saudi Arabia and above all Israel regard as 'safe'. Because safety is partly about measuring objective capabilities, and partly about assessing current and future intentions/ambitions. What if we now give today's more moderate Iran leadership the benefit of the doubt, but then they develop with our acquiescence supposedly peaceful-only technologies that can be used by the next generation of hardliners to build nuclear weapons?
Thus the final point of my article. These issues are at the far cutting-edge of our intelligence efforts, and what we find out - or fail to find out - may have momentous implications for global stability. This means MI6 and GCHQ working flat out on their own and with partners to scour for clues of all shapes and sizes to help us assemble a picture of what is 'really' happening on many fronts simultaneously.
This in turn requires both SIGINT/COMINT ('signal' and 'communications' intelligence) and HUMINT ('human' intelligence) of the highest order. The bravest people in the world may well be the people deep in the Iranian system secretly working for Western intelligence agencies, risking their lives to get key information to us and knowing that if something goes wrong they will die in a horrendous way.
Thanks to Snowden and all that, their lives are now even more precarious. The facile Western chatterati moaning about 'eavesdropping' do not appear to care much about their fate.
My latest piece for DIPLOMAT is up, this one on Syria. A subject about which I know nothing at all, not that that stops me saying something about it, and failing that Yugoslavia:
Back in 1980 I attended my first event at Wilton Park, the FCO country house conference centre near Brighton, an in-house gathering to brief youthful British diplomats on the Menace of Communism. In those days I was a fat-headed idealist bent on achieving a world peace within which the communist tendency would play a glorious role. Stern warnings about the malevolence and inefficiency of Soviet communism did not impress.
One presentation nonetheless did make an impression, namely the late Chris Cvii? (a British journalist of Croatian extraction) explaining communist Yugoslavia. He befuddled us on Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Albanians, Bosnians and Muslims. He explained the fine constitutional distinction between narod and narodnosti, Yugoslavia’s impenetrable socialist self-management ideology and the ekavski, kajkavski and ijekavski dialects of the even more impenetrable ‘Serbo-Croat’ language. We all reeled away stunned that anyone could hold so much bizarre information in his head.
Yugoslavia later crashed under the weight of its internal contradictions and is now six or seven small countries (depending on who’s including Kosovo, or not). Could the same fate befall Syria?
To an ignorant outsider such as myself, Syria too is impossibly complicated. Wikipedia assures me that most Syrians are Arabs with the rest comprising Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians and Syrian Turkmen. 90 per cent of Syrians are Muslims, mostly Sunni but with sizeable Shia, Alawi, Ismaili and Druze communities. The ruling Assad family are supposedly secular Alawites whose Ba’ath Party traces its ghastly intellectual roots back deep into Nazi and Communist ideology.
Decades of incompetent Ba’athist socialist authoritarianism have held back normal economic growth. Before the civil war started, Syria’s GDP per capita was a pathetic US$5,000. The ‘opportunity cost’ to Syria of the civil war is said to be US$100 billion and rising, as the economy slumps, infrastructure is wrecked and hundreds of thousands of Syrians flee the carnage. Even if peace and harmony break out tomorrow, it will take Syria long decades to recover – if it ever does...
... Washington and Moscow have now decided that they cannot do anything useful together about the layer of the Syria onion that is mainly about Syria. Instead they are focusing on the layer that is mainly about their own relationship and trying to cooperate on a specific layer of the Syria problem (namely chemical weapons) that has little if anything to do directly with the wider calamity.
The cruel genius of the Russian plan thereby reveals itself. The fact that the Assad regime has a heavy case to answer for war crimes is brushed aside by both factions. Global media attention shifts from the misery of the situation in Syria to statements from US and Russian diplomats poring over detailed chemical weapons texts under United Nations auspices.
Back in real life, the painstakingly complex task of controlling and destroying chemical weapons can happen in war-torn Syria, if at all, only with the full, generous and sustained cooperation of the Assad system. The political dynamic has in effect been flipped, from ‘Assad must go!’ to ‘Assad must stay!’
As for Syria itself? The misery drags on. Maybe the time is coming when the rival internal forces and their sundry external sponsors decide that a costly stalemate is bad for business, so a new peace process must start. But how can that happen without a massively expensive international intervention to monitor a ceasefire that ends up legitimising the current facts on the ground and so presages the informal partitioning of the country? Some diplomatic onions are just too big to be digestible.
Fascinating how ever since the US/Russia 'understanding' on Syria the world seems to be a lot more muted about what is happening there. But as I predicted, one big effect of that major move is to re-legitimise the Assad regime:
The question is whether President Obama and his advisers have fully examined the implications of rejecting a strike and endorsing a political settlement under Russian auspices to dismantle Syria’s military chemical capabilities.
In practice, this has caused a fundamental and dramatic change in the nature of the conflict in Syria – the collapse of the framework uniting the opposition; the acceleration of the process of Syria’s disintegration into areas controlled by Assad’s forces, al-Qaeda groups, and radical Islamic organizations; and the establishment of Islamic territories based on sharia rule in some 50 percent of Syrian territory.
This creates exotic problems for the world's diplomats trying to work out how to achieve a ceasefire then some sort of political process at Geneva II: the problem is now so fragmented that it is next to impossible to work out whom to invite, as there are too many factions and many of the stronger ones are insane Islamists.
Plus we see the usual paradox as any negotiations loom when conflict is raging - the closer they get to sitting down to talk, the greater the inventive to grab more territory and so reduce whatever small trust may be building. See eg how the Kurds in Syria are busy establishing 'their' space.
And the trickiest of all: how to empower moderates, when it's the extremists who are defining the problem?
If anything is certain in this horrendous mess, it is that no one tendency is strong enough to deliver a knock-out blow to the others. And that it will now suit external meddlers of all shapes and sizes to keep it that way. So the agony drags on indefintely?
My creative juices are at a low ebb these days. It must be Global Warming. Hence the feeble presence here and indeed everywhere else apart from off forays on to Twitter.
Anyway, I am off to Budapest today to give a presentation on Eavesdropping and Diplomacy. The gift that keeps on giving, if fatuous grandstanding is what you want. We may or not have reached Peak Oil. But do I sense that we have reached Peak Stupidity where ravings about government spying are concerned?
The Brazilians and Germans are joining forces to go to the UN General Assembly to push a resolution on the illegal (sic) collection of personal data as " a highly intrusive act". Haha - a footling PR gesture. Any government bathing in the world's data oceans does that 'legally' under its own laws. Can you see any government of consequence abandoning its right to protect its citizens through electronic surveillance of some sort? No, me neither.
Then there's John Kerry mumbling that some NSA spying went 'too far'. That's an interesting Goldilocksy idea. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right! Kerry implies that there is a technical or even moral way to spot precisely what is 'just far enough'.
If it's bad to listen in to Mrs Merkel's text messages, is it OK to listen in to those of her Private Office? Not to ignore the fact that if you're listening to V Putin's telephone calls, you're also necessarily listening to the person he's talking to, who may be A Merkel.
Meanwhile the EU huffs and puffs, ignoring its own intelligence pooling 'cell' in the External Action Service, and its supporting hi-tech capability SatCen that provides (my emphasis)
early warning of potential crises to decision makers in order to enable timely diplomatic, economic and humanitarian measures, including the generic planning for and follow-up after an intervention. Apart from the SatCen’s role within the CSDP, the Centre’s activities also support: arms control; non-proliferation and treaty verification; counter terrorism; humanitarian aid missions; contingency planning of peacekeeping missions; counter crime and general security surveillance.
OMG! What??!! European governments cooperating with GCHQ on 'mass surveillance'. Whoever knew until the Guardian breathlessly told us?
In short, we have to decide whom to trust.
People in our government who may or may not be clever, stupid, venal, intrusive, sloppy, wise, sneaky and everything else, but (a) are British and (b) are paid to look after our security and indeed have a personal interest in our country doing well.
Or people in Russia and China and Saudi Arabia who work for elites that sneer at Western pluralism and who are being paid to undermine us and make us weaker, and working at it non-stop.
While you are thinking about that, read this magnificent speech by Dan Geer, a US IT guru who lays it all out - hard to imagine a better account of the world we are creating where things that were never even imagined are now becoming possible and so challenging every rule/code we have. One fine insight after another:
the workfactor for the offender is the price of finding a new method of attack, the workfactor for the defender is the cumulative cost of forever defending against all attack methods yet discovered
the more technologic the society becomes, the greater the dynamic range of possible failures ... as technologic society grows more interdependent within itself, the more it must rely on prediction based on data collected in broad ways, not targeted ways
How do you feel about a Smart Grid that reduces your power costs and greens the atmosphere but reports minute-by-minute what is on and what is off in your home? Have you or would you install that toilet that does a urinalysis with every use?
Is there any real difference between a system that permits easy, secure, identity-based services and a surveillance system?
All we have to go on now is the hopeful phrase "A reasonable expectation of privacy" but what is reasonable when one inch block letters can be read from orbit?
The price of freedom is the probability of crime. But as technology progresses, your choice will not be between Big Brother or no Big Brother. Rather it is already between one Big Brother and lots of Little Brothers. Think carefully, yours is the last generation that will have a choice.
Wow. Read the whole thing.
Then ask John Kerry how he plans to calibrate 'too far'.
Then watch this video about clever British scientists rigging up cameras in remote parts of Africa to monitor wildlife via satellite straight to our iPhones in real time..
To me as a speechwriting technician there's something oddly 'thin' about it. It ticks the usual boxes - the speechwriter has made an effort to find some not-obvious French angles to weave in, the policy is what it is (with some flirtacious hints at how London sees EU institutions reforming, eg to give national parliaments new powers to stop EU-level legislation in its tracks), and the language is mostly direct.
Yet there are some glumly clunky passages.
The science 'bookends' of the speech (opening and closing sentences) are contrived and bear no reference to the heart of the speech. They read as if someone was searching over-hard for something 'lively' to say and could come up with only this curious attempt to show happy brainy Europeans working together. The speech itself endearingly acknowledges that this opening makes no real sense:
I have been invited here today to talk about the Future of Europe, so you may be wondering why the focus on science. First, it is a good news story, for which I make no apology. But it is also a demonstration of what Europe’s finest minds can achieve when they set themselves to it.
And what does the final thought actually mean in the context of the European Union's many unhappinesses:
Last year we found the “God particle” that holds the physical fabric of the universe together. If that’s not a reason for optimism, I don’t know what is.
Not a clarion call the miserable Greeks want to hear?
Then there are the baffling mixed metaphors and ugly language:
I believe that if we can harness our greatest minds and face up to the difficult decisions that confront us then Europe will grow and prosper. We are at a turning point...
We need to tighten up this directive and improve enforcement so that French and British companies face a level playing field as they do business across Europe...
Flexibility is part of the EU’s DNA. [Huh?] Flexibility simply reflects the diversity of EU countries, which is something that we need to recognise and preserve.
We agree that there is a core to Europe, namely the single market, where we must all act together. But we think that flexible, willing cooperation is a much stronger glue than compulsion from the centre
a worrying disconnect between those who spend EU money and those who earn it – the taxpayers
The whole thing is grimly musty - too many empty exhortations:
... if there is one change we can make to improve our long-term prosperity, it must be to increase our external trade
France and Britain must show leadership
We must seize this opportunity
... we must reduce the burden on small and medium-sized firms
... there is a core to Europe, namely the single market, where we must all act together
And the shifty comparatives:
in a Europe that is more open, more competitive, more flexible and more democratically accountable
Our starting point is a more open Europe
... national parliaments ... need to play a farmore active role in the functioning of the EU
Why all these 'mores'? Don't we want a Europe that is in fact open, competitive, flexible and accountable?
All in all, there is something missing here on the intellectual level. It feels underpowered, making some safe noises but studiously avoiding all the key Big Questions about the limits of EU economic and political integration.
No doubt that's partly deliberate. In Whitehall it's up to Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers to weigh in heavily (if they can) to define national policy, while Ministers of State loyally keep things ticking over.
But I can't help feeling that even within those constraints speeches like this to a sophisticated audience ought to have some real substance and tighter language suggesting a steely intelligence behind the scenes and indeed on them.
Most of all on the key problem for HMG and other capitals: that in fact murky EU-level regulation-making is subject to regulatory capture by powerful vested interests who don't care less about consumers or competitiveness.
And that to make the EU 'more' flexible and competitive maybe you in fact need more powers at the EU level, and less nation state?
I reproduce the whole comment here. See especially his concluding thoughts (my emphasis)
An understanding of the current issue with the News of the World (with voice-mail-boxes and other issues not so clearly explained) is currently somewhat beyond me. This is not least as to the evidence, uncontaminated by legal argument and other opinion, and to the law (similarly obscured).
Intermittently, and multi-momentarily, I have tried to hold to the view of Richard North, that there are many more important things for us to be interested in, and that perhaps government views this issue as a multiplicity of 'good news days': though not for new news, just for relief from rerunning of old news that is to the ongoing discredit of government. [And aside that other MSM vested interests would like the Murdoch bid for BSkyB to fail.] Though I cannot hold only to that view, I cannot take it as lacking in any merit. Also, as government policy, it does not seem to be going too well as a beneficial diversion.
But there is more to be said: this is on the general topic of spying. Also around the ethics of spying and, purely by coincidence (as in co-location) around the ethics of government spying, and the example set by that.
I have yet to come across a government that does not undertake spying. Certain countries have given a veneer of legitimacy to the practice, though the experience of that makes me wonder why they do so: to keep the spying under control, or to further legitimise more of it? Maybe even some of those involved thought one, and some thought the other.
In the UK, under the government of John Major, the activities were legitimised (that is put on a statutory footing) of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6), the Security Service (also known as MI5) and Government Communications Headquarters (always known as GCHQ).
IIRC, the central government agencies of SIS and GCHQ were once restricted from spying on those within the UK. They were principally targetted against foreign nations who presented some sort of threat against the UK as a nation state. However, since the Major initiative of 'bringing them within the remit of open government', their 'legitimised' targets have been extended to cover organised crime (and particularly drug running). Also, their activities within the UK have been permitted (or should that be extended), and particularly beyond their involvement in terrorism originating in Northern Ireland.
Now, I can see some logic in that extension of geographical coverage. These intelligence organisations each have their own specialist technologies that support their operations. It is less than financially efficient to multiply provision of this skill-base and the very expensive associated equipment, when it is needed by one of their 'sister' organisations that does have legitimacy to use such skills and technology within the UK, and particularly 'against' UK citizens and other UK residents and visitors.
In the UK, in addition, there is spying by other government agencies. These include the police (and especially their special branch), with the (usual) legitimacy of a search warrant, where the information they seek might be otherwise the private property of the then innocent, only suspected of criminal activity. Increasingly, other government agencies, including particularly local government and utility companies (through claims to the urgency of safety investigations) have the 'right' to treat those that pay them as mere appendages to their 'businesses', who must be watched like hawks for any inconvenience caused, no matter how trivial, and then re-herded to their proper place
Now we have this terrible fuss over non-government spying.
But we are confused. For us, surely this investigative journalism is good when directed against the bad guys (including those abusing government authority) but is not good when directed at satisfying the prurient interests of newspaper readers (unless one is such a reader).
Quite a while ago (starting in 2006), I commented extensively on the NO2ID website concerning the then government's proposed National Identity Scheme. One of my earliest comments (IIRC as the original comment eludes my search) was along the lines that government is advantaged by developments in high technology; that this advantage exists and grows is unavoidable.
I wrote further, along the lines that the protection (from government) for the public will never truly be available through controls on the technology (which is always advancing). Such protection will come only from constraints on government: whether these constraints be formal or informal, whether written or unwritten, and whether (usually) self-imposed by government or by being (always necessarily) imposed upon them by constitution and adequate oversight.
Spying too (by both government and the private sector) makes much use of hi-technology. There is no avoiding it. As each new bit of hi-tech comes along, there will be more spying: more spying on those who use the new hi-tech for ordinary living; more spying using the new hi-tech as the tool for doing it. As such spying becomes public knowledge, there will (as now) be some terrible fuss: new technology, but the same underlying problem.
Government, of course, does like to control everything: firearms, identity, cameras - and now spying (especially that on government).
What is to be done?
Well, there is nothing new to be done with the same old problem. We must accept that spying will always take place, both by government and by the private sector. We must disapprove of it, in general terms, and keep it outside of the law. When such spying is disclosed, we must view those who carried it out as operating outside of the law, in the wrong, and liable to due process and punishment.
That is unless they can produce a strong case in defence, that the exposure of worse wrongdoing was in the public interest: the end justified the means.
In order to do this, the extensive legitimisation of spying should be avoided. There is no possibility of getting it right, as the lawful legitimisation can only specify the boundary between rightful and wrongful means: the definition of what is and what is not spying. The law can no longer specify in advance, the boundary between rightful and wrongful purpose, though it once could do better than now.
And the reason that the law can no longer well specify in advance, for government, the boundary between rightful and wrongful purpose is this. Over the last few decades, government has totally compromised the law on such specification. It has repeatedly passed laws that 'legitimise' more and more spying and has ignored, circumvented and got away with the previous legal protections against wrongful search and intrusion against privacy. Far too much control has been passed unnecessarily away from judicial authorisation, for alleged offences that are far to trivial to justify such means as spying.
And the reason that the law never could well specify in advance, for the private sector, is because the final decision rests with a jury in a criminal court. So it never could.
The best we can hope for is threefold:
(i) that those who spy keep a strict sense of proportion between their means and the wrong of which they believe they have probable cause to suspect;
(ii) that no harm is done by spying on those judged ultimately to be innocent (mostly by keeping secret the results of the spying);
(iii) that those who spy and disclose their results are subject to full scrutiny (as the normal course of events) and to serious punishment if they cannot justify that their spying and disclosure was in the public interest and was proportionate in the totality of its application.
This should all apply to government spying as much as to private sector spying, noting particularly that the costs of government spying are borne by the taxpayer
Impressive stuff. As good as anything else I have seen on the subject.
The point about all the preening Snowdens and Greenwalds and their supporters is (a) that they are basically only destructive, and (b) that in fact their behaviour basically helps only the real enemies of any sort liberal freedom.
Here's my challenge to them and to anyone who agrees with them:
If you are not happy with the current way these things work, propose a detailed alternative. Show us an ideal draft law and supporting regulations, such that if the government then follows them and you find yourself or someone you know being 'watched' you'll then NOT kick up a fuss and rail against 'oppression'.
Instead, you'll smile resignedly and say that in an imperfect democracy sometimes tough decisions need to be taken - and that in the most difficult cases we the citizens have no choice but to trust the state to make them, and hope for the best.
In case you missed it, and I have done my best to miss it, there has been a puny but noisy row in the UK media over a piece in the Daily Mail that pointed out that Ed Miliband's father, Ralph Miliband, was a communist whose ideas - has they been implemented - would have destroyed this country.
Shock! Ralph M was a NICE PERSON! How dare the evil Daily Mail launch such a personal attack on the father of the leader of the opposition!
The Guardian weighed into this brawl on the side of all true progressive patriots who need to be protected in their right to hold insane collectivist opinions and impose them on the rest of us. But, being a smart paper that gets the Internet, it gave the Mail's Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre the space to explain himself, and so he used it:
The genesis of that piece lay in Ed Miliband's conference speech. The Mail was deeply concerned that in 2013, after all the failures of socialism in the twentieth century, the leader of the Labour party was announcing its return, complete with land seizures and price fixing.
Surely, we reasoned, the public had the right to know what influence the Labour leader's Marxist father, to whom he constantly referred in his speeches, had on his thinking.
So it was that Levy's article examined the views held by Miliband senior over his lifetime, not just as a 17-year-old youth as has been alleged by our critics.
The picture that emerged was of a man who gave unqualified support to Russian totalitarianism until the mid-50s, who loathed the market economy, was in favour of a workers' revolution, denigrated British traditions and institutions such as the royal family, the church and the army and was overtly dismissive of western democracy.
Levy's article argued that the Marxism that inspired Ralph Miliband had provided the philosophical underpinning of one of history's most appalling regimes – a regime, incidentally, that totally crushed freedom of expression.
Nowhere did the Mail suggest that Ralph Miliband was evil – only that the political beliefs he espoused had resulted in evil. As for the headline "The Man Who Hated Britain", our point was simply this: Ralph Miliband was, as a Marxist, committed to smashing the institutions that make Britain distinctively British – and, with them, the liberties and democracy those institutions have fostered.
Yes, the Mail is happy to accept that in his personal life, Ralph Miliband was, as described by his son, a decent and kindly man – although we won't withdraw our view that he supported an ideology that caused untold misery in the world.
The BBC link to the interview coyly describes Joe Slovo as a 'leading member of the ANC and the first Housing Minister in Nelson Mandela's government'. The point, of course, is that Slovo was the leading South African communist and formal head of the 'military wing' of the ANC/SACP alliance. Slovo was at the heart of ANC/SACP policy-making for years, plus a close suck-up of Moscow and vigorous apologist for Communism anywhere he found it.
So here we have the ghoulish spectacle of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband extolling the merits of this dark character, a great friend of his own Marxist father Ralph Miliband.
Slovo by the usual standards of Communists was something of a moderate and pragmatist. He had to be. Years of exile forced him to grasp that the South African masses were not to be mobilised for a brisk, amazingly violent surge aimed at toppling apartheid. And he seems to have been avuncular in large doses, chatting over Marxist ideology with assorted Milibands. What a great life indeed!
Yet Slovo has to bear a significant responsibility for the carnage inflicted by the SACP/ANC in the townships in its drive for sole power as apartheid ended, and the calamitous crime-rate thereafter. Not an issue I suspect the Miliband family has given much thought to, such is the Labour Party's fevered admiration for the ANC/SACP.
Plus, while Slovo was devoted to the cause of freedom for South Africans, he was openly and shamefully against freedom for those trying to cast off communism.
See how the SACP urged Moscow to suppress the pro-freedom movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Slovo later claimed to have had personal doubts about this, but fealty to Moscow was a prerequisite for leadership in the anti-apartheid struggle. And that was what counted, not some higher principle of real empowerment and freedom for all.
His ideological writings were ghastly beyond description. His famous piece Has Socialism Failed written in 1990 is a cracker of the genre. It agonizes over the ruin which has come to the classic Communist project as the Berlin Wall crashed, and meanders in a jargonised pseudo-logical way towards a purported condemnation of the 'Stalinism' which Slovo had championed for most of his life.
And has anyone mentioned the fact that the grandfather or some other direct ancestor of Ed Miliband fought with the Red Army to try to export violent Bolshevik Revolution to Poland and then westwards into Germany? Not something D Miliband bothered to mention when he visited Poland and gave his awful speech.
In short, it is trivially reasonable if not essential to point out that the Milibands come from a dangerous Hard Left family tradition, the more so when they clamour for high office and threaten us with more idiotic collectivism. Well done the Daily Mail.
Sorry to have dropped from the Blogosphere. Too much going on in the world and in the Crawf household, and not enough to say.
I had an interesting few days giving a Negotiation Skills masterclass at the IAEA in Vienna, then a shorter one-day version of the same to a sassy group of young Poles and Russians in Gdansk under the auspices of the Polish Russia Dialogue Centre.
The interesting thing about all this negotiation skills work is how difficult people seem to find it to push hard for the best possible result - soggy compromise comes much too easy.
I boil a negotiation down to the following options that anyone has: Yes - Maybe - No. The skill of a negotiator is not to get into the Maybe territory - it's to push relentlessly to the Yes end of the Maybe Zone and see if a deal can be struck there that gives you more and others (probably) less. There are ways to do this that come down to raw technique (bluff, intensity, persuasion, open questions, active listening and so on, but above all determination to succeed in this sense).
These points are always understood by course participants, but then promptly forgotten in the ensuing roleplays.
Anyway, it has been good to see the OPCW winning this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Such international organisations deploy clever diligent experts from around the planet to do hard-edge inspection work that almost never gets acknowledged even though it helps keep states honest. These inspections are part of the arms control ideas that emerged during the Cold War, namely to build trust through verification - checking that what a state said is happening is in fact happening, including by spot-check inspections of highly sensitive installations. This work trundles on unobtrusively and largely unrecognised, until now.
Perhaps some of the OPCW inspectors now going into Syria will have been through one of our Ambassador Partnership masterclasses. If so, they just need to remember to push to the Yes end of that Maybe Zone as they search for illicit weapons or processes. While, of course, staying alive.
On returning from all that I have been giving Public Speaking coaching to a senior businessman. Another interesting piece of work, that reinforced my belief that a speechwriter has to focus above all on helping a speaker get the right tone and structure if a speech is to be successful. It's not mainly about the actual words of a speech; they in fact are the easy bit, once the basic message has been identified. Basically, a speaker either strikes the right sort of conversational tone for the occasion, or not.The skill of a speechwriter is to help make that happen...
Anyone wanting a proper taste of all this has Options. Namely my two upcoming Guardian masterclasses, one on Negotiation next weekend and the other in November on Public Speaking. Places are going fast, so sign up now.
The BBC World Service World Have Your Say radio programme invited me on the other day to look at the US federal government shutdown in terms of negotiation technique. An interesting subject.
As usual the issue has Shrek-like layers. The alarming trajectory of US and Western public debt. Obamacare. The reputations of the key politicians involved. And, probably above all, the hopes of both Republicans and Democrats to 'frame' the issues and their opponents with a view to prevailing in the 2014 round of elections.
Thus President Obama accuses the Republicans of 'extortion' and the Republicans retort that Obama is ready to negotiate with all sorts of ghastly world leaders but not with them (this, by the way, is a fine example of using a visual prop to get across a message during a speech). Zzzzzz
Back in real life, the attempts by some parts of the US federal system to demonstrate the evil effects of the shutdown by oppressing people wanting to see national parks have reached stunning East German proportions:
But perhaps the most extraordinary story to emerge from the NPS is that of the tour group of foreign seniors whose bus was trapped in Yellowstone Park on the day the shutdown began. They were pulled over photographing a herd of bison when an armed ranger informed them, with the insouciant ad-hoc unilateral lawmaking to which the armed bureaucrat is distressingly prone, that taking photographs counts as illegal “recreation.” “Sir, you are recreating,” the ranger informed the tour guide.
And we can’t have that, can we? They were ordered back to the Old Faithful Inn, next to the geyser of the same name, but forbidden to leave said inn to look at said geyser. Armed rangers were posted at the doors, and, just in case one of the wily Japanese or Aussies managed to outwit his captors by escaping through one of the inn’s air ducts and down to the geyser, a fleet of NPS SUVs showed up every hour and a half throughout the day, ten minutes before Old Faithful was due to blow, to surround the geyser and additionally ensure that any of America’s foreign visitors trying to photograph the impressive natural phenomenon from a second-floor hotel window would still wind up with a picture full of government officials.
The following morning the bus made the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the park boundary but was prevented from using any of the bathrooms en route, including at a private dude ranch whose owner was threatened with the loss of his license if he allowed any tourist to use the facilities.
It's hard to work out what exactly Iran's President Rouhani said in the USA about Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions (or not) and/or the Holocaust.
We Brits see these events through the filter of our media bias. Luckily we have Press TV to explain what is happening:
Although the reports of both events on Tuesday have the same basis of information- dissemination, but (sic) they clearly contain some distortion as far as the British government’s policy of maintaining a “special relationship” with the US is concerned.
The Independent, a liberal to radical centre (sic) British newspaper, stepped over the mark and accused Iran of seeking a nuclear weapons capability in its report of the event. The report referred to president Obama’s address, saying Obama told the General Assembly to setup talks with “Iran over nuclear weapons”, when without a doubt the G5+1 meetings have been discussing Iran’s nuclear energy program, uranium enrichment and other medical needs for purified uranium and not what they paper refers to as “nuclear weapons”...
Mind you, I thought that many commenters at Telegraph Blogs were a bit dotty. Press TV moves things up a gear (the capital letters are always a bad sign):
EXCATLY Press tv
Sep 25, 2013 5:59 PM
This is WHY an INDEPENDENT and TRUTHFULL news source, FREE from ZIONIST Control,and MANUPILATION is REQUIRED. PRESS TV is that channel and lives up to its freedom. Obummer and SATANIC Zionist core will always be the LOSERS. Go PRESS tv TELL them the TRUTH even if it HURTS them so much. FREE PRESS IS PRESS TV
Johnin reply to Defender
9/25/2013 9:10:42 PM
France, UK, AUS, NZ, CN, Israel and the US, among others are all controlled by the Bankers who own their debt. The US does not call the shots for the UK, if anything it is the other way around. The news in the UK is far more biased towards the Bankers interest than even the all but non-existent World news in the US. The broadcast media in the US is much the same as the BBC as far as propaganda goes, but the US, has not gained complete control of the Press in the US, unlike the Press in the UK that answer to the "Crown".
Good solid points all.
Meanwhile whereas some mainstream media outlets are presenting Rouhani's words (especially on the Holocaust) in a moderate new light, commenters in the West and in Iran itself are saying that what he said in the original Iranian was a lot more ambiguous.
Here is a tough-line US piece that drills down into some Iranian linguistic subtleties to try to find out what it all means:
But there is a mechanism by which Khamenei, as the “big cheese” in the Khomeinist system, can make his decisions binding on the government of the Islamic Republic.
That mechanism, called khat-e-hokumati (state decision), is the equivalent of a presidential edict in the United States or France. But Khamenei has issued no such thing on the nuclear issue. He has just expressed an opinion that he or any other mullah can contradict or cancel anytime.
If Khamenei weren’t playing tricks, he’d issue a khat-e-hokumati. And if he were truly serious, he’d ask Rouhani to submit a bill to the Islamic Majlis, the ersatz parliament, to make the development, deployment and use of nuclear weapons illegal.
He’s done none of those things, and does not intend to. All he is trying to do is to hoodwink gullible Americans and Europeans.
Not, one must say, implausible?
Nonetheless, sometimes for no obvious reason in diplomacy the 'mood' changes. Capitals that have been busy shouting abuse at each other start (perhaps for quite cynical or contradictory reasons) to see advantage in 'dialogue' and the impression of 'progress'. Maybe if Iran can't bamboozle us by belligerence, it will try to bamboozle us by charm.
It of course suits President Obama to present all this as being down to his open-handed approach and his ever-so-finely calculated willingness to threaten force. He is after all a Nobel Peace Prize winner
This conclusion from that New York Post piece spells out things with helpful clarity:
On Thursday in New York, the foreign ministers of the 5+1 Group, including Secretary of State John Kerry, will meet Iran’s new foreign minister, Javad Zarif. In speeches and interviews in New York, Rouhani has parroted the cliché about “talks without preconditions.”
Iran has used this tactic for decades, pretending that each round of talks starts with a blank page. Yet the nuclear talks do have preconditions — those five UN Security Council resolutions. If Iran complies with them, the dispute will be over; if it doesn’t, the dispute will continue.
Whether or not Rouhani ever shakes Obama’s hand, and whether or not he shows “moderation and flexibility” on American TV, are beside the point.
Ah. Maybe not.
It may suit all concerned to behave like chess players who decide to avoid risky gambits and exchanges and instead settle into a long-term game of patient micro-manoeuvring, hoping to gain small if not imperceptible advantages that, when the time is right, can turn quickly into dramatic gains of territory or material.
In other words, the implacable rivalry continues but using different methods.
That said, different methods in themselves bring different problems and opportunities. In particular, once two sides who have not talked for ages start to talk they may find that they have fewer differences than they thought, and even some unexpected things in common. And everyone else so likes the fact that they're talking - threatening to stop talking starts to carry a reputational or wider policy cost.
This is what diplomacy is all about. Spotting openings and hoping thereby to change the way the game is played if only to make it objectively less risky and, slowly but surely, rather more amicable. And as in chess, a very long subtle drawn game is not always a bad outcome.
This is a grim article to read, showing as it does how the more exotic parts of modern feminism have plunged deep into the worst sorts of coercion and stupid thought control that echo what goes on in North Korea.
Thus on one Canadian university campus - a space supposedly intended to support intelligent intellectual enquiry and openness of mind, and where university events are said to be open to all - even to suggest there may be such a thing as Men's Issues is heresy that needs suppressing using openly crude and oppressive techniques:
Suppose, though, you have a daughter who is a maverick and she wishes to start a club that incorporates a compassion for men. At Ryerson University in Toronto, two women applied to start a student group sensitive to men's as well as women's issues. The Ryerson Student Union's Board of Directors immediately passed a pre-emptive resolution that any group examining gender that was inclusive of "the concept of misandry" would be considered as "negating the need to center women's voices in the struggle for gender equity"...and therefore prohibited from the campus.
As is often case at colleges these days, there was no discussion, no debate and no input by the people trying to launch the club. The primary advocate of the ban was Marwa Hamad, a faculty member at Ryerson, and (ironically) Vice-President of Equity at the school..
The University of Toronto Student Union responded to the cumulative stimuli with a "Townhall on Sexism." First red flag: not a single representative of any group with a male-positive perspective was invited to speak. To the contrary, the only invited speaker, Danielle Sandhu, former president of the University of Toronto Student Union, immediately supported an audience member who said, "we know there are infiltrators..."they should just leave, I could point fingers....""
The search was on to identify and root our dissenters. Audience members shouted, "point them out" and "make them uncomfortable." A representative of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group) suggested a militant approach--"making this campus inhospitable to these people" by finding out "where they live." Intimidated, two representatives from a men's group left, though the event was paid for by student fees and was supposed to be open to all.
It is startling to imagine what happens to our to society as young women (or even men) steeped in this lumpen cultish fascistic/socialist drivel start their own long march through our institutions.
If there is one thing gained by the fact that our own students are expected to take out loans to pay for Uni, it is the prospect of these horrendous tendencies withering over time because the people in them and who study them are more or less unemployable in any competitive enterprise. But as that process unfolds, the systemic damage being done to our academic culture grows and grows.
I have been waiting to upgrade from my iPhone 4S to something notably better. That moment arrives with the appearance of the iPhone 5S and its fancy new operating system and fingerprint technology.
It turns out that I can trade in my two-year old iPhone 4S for £175 or so, ie rather more than it costs to buy the new 5S on exactly the same contract for minutes and data. Win! So, that's what I've done.
It's impressive if not eerie to see how swiftly the new phone uploads everything from my old one via iTunes, down to the same configuration of apps and the data within them (such as my business expenses app and my monthly car mileage total for this September). I popped in the new micro-SIM card and within a couple of minutes my old phone had stopped taking calls and the new one was working on my existing phone number. Well done Orange/EE and Apple.
The new operating system looks a bit over-designed and 'weedy' somehow, but we'll all get used to it. The iPhone 5 is superbly built and very light, and the latest improvements in how one gets at different parts of it (such as quickly switching on aircraft mode or finding the Search facility) are excellent. Photos and apps all look even sharper. The new camera works like a dream as you scroll through different functions. And so on.
The problem? Only that devices like these and all the Android/Kindle or whatever competitors are changing our brains, mainly for the worse. This magnificent Slate article about plunging attention-spans makes a profound point - that we need to learn how to concentrate:
The key point for teachers and principals and parents to realize is that maintaining attention is a skill. It has to be trained, and it has to be practiced. If we cater to short attention spans by offering materials that can be managed with short attention spans, the skill will not develop. The “attention muscle” will not be exercised and strengthened. It is as if you complain to a personal trainer about your weak biceps and the trainer tells you not to lift heavy things. Just as we don’t expect people to develop their biceps by lifting two-pound weights, we can’t expect them to develop their attention by reading 140-character tweets, 200-word blog posts, or 300-word newspaper articles.
In other words, the “short-attention” phenomenon is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. First, we tell ourselves that people can’t maintain attention. Second, we do nothing to nurture their ability to maintain attention. And sure enough, we “discover” that people can’t maintain attention.
A person who is my age can read a very brief and oversimplified discussion of a complex issue and note that it is brief and oversimplified. Such a person might even try to go deeper by consulting other sources.
But what of a person who has been raised from the crib on such material? For this person, there is no “brief and oversimplified.” There is no experience of “long and complex” to provide a contrast. Before long, people stop realizing that they have an intellectual deficiency that needs correction. Oversimplified becomes the only game in town, at which point, it stops being “over” simplified.
If people are fed a steady diet of the oversimple, it can’t help but affect the way they think about things. Before we know it, the complexity and subtlety of the world we inhabit will be invisible to us when we try to make sense of what is going on around us...
It's obvious that that tendency towards mass stupisation is massive and accelerating. We all find ourselves watching TV and Tweeting and generally fiddling with these gadgets non-stop. Those of us who already have obsessive-compulsive tendencies are hardest hit. We crave the next email or Tweet or gadget-game as much as we might crave sugar or alcohol.
But ... hot damn, this new phone is a magnificent civilisational achievement. The engineering and sheer cleverness are stunning. Fingerprint-recognition technology is a game-changer for all sorts of things down the line.
In Atlas Shrugged a professor of literature sees Francisco on top of a pile in a junk yard, happily dismantling the carcass of an automobile.
"A young man of your position ought to spend his time in libraries, absorbing the culture of the world."