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
Iran's Elections: Missing the Point
22nd May 2013
UPDATE This piece below ("Short, pithy, packed with more wisdom than you find in bloviations ten times the length") has been picked up by the Browser
Here is my latest piece over at Commentator, looking at the startlingly poor performance by a clueless State Department spokeswoman when asked to give a view on what ought to be a simple question: if Iran bars women for campaigning for President, are Iran's elections 'free and fair'?
As a former pro in this sort of thing, I am really surprised at how lame the prepared lines were for this question. It's almost as if some dopey desk-officer had strung together some word-processed platitudes without giving a scrap of thought to how anyone might use them in front of journalists and not sound absurd. Is this what the Amazing Shrinking US Leadership of Obama is now giving us?
Let's give them a shred of probably undeserved credit, and imagine that the State Department has pondered over how best to respond to the latest round of farcical 'elections' in Iran. They have concluded that one or other aggressively anti-Western tendency is going to win again, and decided that there is nothing to be gained as things now stand for ratcheting up public pressure on Iran. The economic sanctions regime on Iran is already severe and painful.
So, what to say instead?
How about something measured like this:
- in almost every respect that matters we Americans disagree with the undemocratic way Iran chooses candidates for its elections
- the fact that now women candidates are barred from running for the country's top office shows that the ruling Iran elite is showing no respect to half the country's population, and no respect to the many international undertakings and obligations that require equality of opportunity for women and men that Iran itself has accepted
- it is therefore hard to imagine any country accepting that these forthcoming elections in Iran have been free and fair - by proceeding in this manner the Iranian regime is further isolating itself
- the USA wants a normal relationship with Iran. Restoring that after everything that has happened will be a long hard job
- but if whoever comes to power after these elections, gravely flawed and undemocratic as they obviously will be, opens the way to a sincere and sensible programme of normalising relations, Washington will be ready to respond
That sort of language manages to combine a firm sense of disagreeing with Iran's so-called elections with a signal of engagement if Iran's next leader manages to achieve a change of course.
Simple, clear, principled and flexible. Always the best combination. It's called diplomacy.
Poland, Jews and Justice
19th May 2013
I expect that very few readers here have heard of Helena Wolinska-Brus.
Here she is. A Polish Jewish woman (or even a Jewish Polish woman) who narrowly escaped death in the Warsaw Ghetto and went on to become a ruthless post-WW2 Stalinist prosecutor, sending various Polish patriots to their murky deaths.
The Marxist Wheel of History turned. Poland's communist elite also turned against even the most loyal if not servile Jewish members in their midst. Thousands of 'Zionists' were effectively driven out of the country. Wolinska-Brus and her husband alas made it to the UK in the mid-1960s and stayed here until they died, enjoying benign liberal middle-class academic life in Oxford.
The one problem they faced was the end of communism and later attempts by the new democratic Polish authorities to extradite Wolinska-Brus back to Poland to answer for her Soviet-era misdeeds. Amazingly W-B used the argument that as a Jew she should not be returned to the “country of Auschwitz and Birkenau” where she would not have a fair trial.
Here is Anne Applebaum back in 1998 carefully if not generously describing her story and the case against her:
It is also true that she was a war hero of sorts: she escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, and later escaped again from a train headed for a concentration camp. “I slipped off and just walked away slowly,” she says. “I knew I would die anyway if I stayed on the train. But they didn’t shoot.” Eventually, she came to be in charge of the office of the General Staff of the People’s Guard, and was afterwards duly decorated by communist Poland, and, according to her husband, by communist Hungary as well.
It is also true, however, that many Poles deeply resent Jews who use their Jewishness as an excuse when they are accused of other crimes. Maria Fieldorf Czarska, the General’s daughter, says bitterly that she doubts Mrs Brus will ever come to trial: “she will say she is old, she will say she is ill, she will say we are anti-semitic.” ...
This Polish view matters, because it is Polish justice which is at stake. This isn’t an Anglo-Saxon debate, anymore than is the debate about the extradition of General Pinochet: the exploration of a totalitarian past isn’t a British passion.
One Polish government official formulates the problem like this: “Just because Jews were victims of crimes against humanity, does that mean they cannot be tried for crimes against humanity themselves?” That is not a British question, and few British people would ask it. But now it will be Britain’s problem to resolve.
In the end the many procedural hurdles that an extraditing state needs to overcome proved too high for Poland. HW-B battled away in the English courts and the case drifted to and fro depending on how zealous successive Polish governments were in pursuing it. The case crossed my desk when I was Ambassador in Warsaw and Radek Sikorski was Defence Minister - he made another push to effect a successful extradition before it was too late.
Eventually HW-B died in late 2008, and that was that.
This is an extraordinary story, when you think about it. Vigorous efforts continue to track down and bring to trial elderly Nazi war crimes suspects while they are still alive. I can't think of a case of a former communist monster being extradited to face justice.
As the HW-B case shows, in such cases the individual accused of crimes against humanity typically turn the tables, using liberal legal defences to fend off extradition and making the general case that after so much time any trial for events decades earlier in utterly different circumstances can not be substantively fair.
This trite appeal to 'fairness' argument may win some instinctive sympathy from the public, as well as benefit from active support from those who for one reason or another want to see Soviet crimes left quietly unearthed.
Yet we never hear much of the 'fairness' argument as delivered on behalf of the victims of such people by their surviving friends and relatives. Nor do we hear much about the value-in-itself of symbolic justice - the very fact that people like HW-B stand on trial and have to stare at the documents they themselves signed, describing their wicked deeds as servants of a wicked system.
European Speechwriters Network: Women Speakers
17th May 2013
The latest European Speechwriters Network event in London has passed off well. Many top names from the world of British and wider speechwriting (Phil Collins, Max Atkinson, Martin and Martha Shovel) and others did their stuff.
I was pleased to meet Denise Graveline, over from the USA. She has two websites: Don't Get Caught and The Eloquent Woman. These successful and insightful sites look at all sorts of communication skills issues, especially where they relate to women. I have passed by The Eloquent Woman site in hot pursuit of examples of good women's speeches - Denise has one of the best available lists on the Internet, even if it does not always follow that because the speech is (more or less) 'famous' it is also good. Plus her list has only one(!) by Margaret Thatcher, the most successful woman politician ever. I have pointed her at some excellent examples.
Denise's own presentation to the conference looked at various issues arising for women moving into the public speaking arena, not least an unending tendency for many in the audience to dwell more on what they are wearing than what they are saying. She told me today about an especially grisly example where a woman speaker was (unbeknownst to herself) the subject of obnoxious live Tweeting that was being put up on screens at the very event where she was speaking.
Grisly indeed. But do such episodes tell us that such things are in fact steadily getting rarer? I've been to plenty of top events with good top women speakers where nothing of the sort happened. That said, maybe the concern that it just might happen serves to unnerve some women? If so, what's the answer?
As it happens, I have given private coaching to two women wanting help with public speaking. It did not occur to me to ask them about any 'womanly' concerns they might have about being treated in a sexist way. I gave them exactly the same advice I'd give to men or Martians. Keep it simple. Signposts. Stories. Structure. The usual basic principles that work a treat.
Was I missing something? And would it have been unwittingly male-privileged sexist on my part to ask them about any 'extra' problems or anxieties they as women might have as a public speaker? Eeeeek.
One of the tedious complaints about Margaret Thatcher was that she more or less completely steamrolloered past such considerations and therefore 'did nothing for women'. And that her own very often frumpy appearance (yes, Leftists, you too can snigger about a woman's public appearance) and supposedly patronising rhetorical manner reinforced conservative old-fashioned gender stereotypes.
Take one especially famous example: a younger Margaret Thatcher producing a feather duster at a Conservative conference to demonstrate her practical busy housewifely intent to sweep away socialism. Thus Conservative Underground:
Of all the images of her as a leader, this is the one that's stuck in my mind since yesterday. What a deft use of imagery -- sweeping away old ideas, dustbin of history, a woman leader ready to clean up the nation, etc. -- and how very dated! The idea of a female party leader today in the West using a feather duster as a prop -- impossible to imagine
But maybe so much the worse for modern female part leaders. The very power of this gesture by Mrs Thatcher is that she took a banal stereotype - and owned it, but on her own terms. See also her speech 'owning' the Iron Lady insult. Is not this one form of defiant empowerment - of strength - that is no less relevant today?
Part of the typical Left-progressive analysis that sneered at Mrs Thatcher for her attitude to women came from the very fact that she disagreed with the way they framed the most basic issues in society. It's hilarious in a depressing way to see the long line of women in the Guardian now railing against pornography as exemplifying (they insist) the humiliation of women, when the very same people and/or their unpleasant mothers a couple of decades ago were jeering at reactionary middle-class fuddy-duddy petite-bourgeoise Mary Whitehouse and Margaret Thatcher for saying exactly the same thing.
You feminists helped create the 'anything goes' morality-free pornographied Western world we now have. Accept your share of responsibility for that.
Women don't even have to speak to create confusion at public speaking events. Here's a famous example where the speaker is a tough US army officer brieifng pilots on a WW2 mission, but the male audience's nervous minds get side-tracked by the woman Army nurse on the platform, to calamitous effect:
Denise has kindly invited me to write a guest post at her site. I'll try to find an especially good Thatcher or other woman speech as the basis for exploring some of these things rather more coherently.
In the meantime, does anyone have any strong examples of a woman's speech from a movie? Not a piece of strong dialogue but a speech of some sort, where a woman is addressing an audience to make a powerful point. And one that does not use bad language and so might work in a professional masterclass context...
Update: Reader Jim Hankey wisely points me to this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35djJpYpP7k - Queen Elizabeth 1 at Tilbury. Stirring stuff. But not language that works easily today!
Why the State Fails at Complexity
9th May 2013
I have rambled on here on many occasions about how we all grapple increasingly badly with Complexity.
I take my hat off to Kevin Williamson over at National Review Online for this magnificent readable analysis of just that issue. He explains why failure is vital to success, and why no one person who has ever lived knows how to make a pencil - yet there pencile a-plenty are.
So many quotable lines:
When I am speaking to students, I like to show them a still from the Oliver Stone movie Wall Street in which the masterful financier Gordon Gekko is talking on his cell phone, a Motorola DynaTac 8000X. The students always — always — laugh: The ridiculous thing is more than a foot long and weighs a couple of pounds.
But the revelatory fact that takes a while to sink in is this: You had to be a millionaire to have one. The phone cost the equivalent of nearly $10,000, it cost about $1,000 a month to operate, and you couldn’t text or play Angry Birds on it. When the first DynaTac showed up in a movie — it was Sixteen Candles, a few years before Wall Street — it was located in the front seat of a Rolls-Royce, which is where such things were found 25 or 30 years ago. By comparison, an iPhone 5 is a wonder, a commonplace miracle.
My question for the students is: How is it that the cell phones in your pockets get better and cheaper every year, but your schools get more expensive and less effective? (Or, if you live in one of the better school districts, get much more expensive and stagnate?)
Markets work for the same reason that the Internet works: They are not organizations, but disorganizations.
More precisely, they are composed of countless (literally countless, blinking into and out of existence like subatomic particles) pockets of organization, their internal structures and relationships to one another in a constant state of flux. Market propositions are experimental propositions.
Some, such as the iPhone and the No. 2 pencil, are wildly successful; others, such as New Coke or Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt Shampoo, are not. Products come and go, executives come and go, firms come and go. The metaphor of biological evolution is an apt one, though we sometimes draw the wrong conclusion from that — Social Darwinism and all that nonsense.
I could cut and paste the whole thing. But instead I order you to read the original.
Then ponder on the fact that almost everyone taking any political decision over us does not understand what Kevin is saying.
This, by the way, is why the EU is failing. It adds all sorts of the wrong sorts of complexity in all the wrong places. This concluding passage was not written with the EU in mind, but it hits the target spot on:
They fail because they attempt to substitute a single brain, or a relatively small panel of brains organized into a bureaucracy, for the collective cognitive firepower of millions or billions of people.
Put simply, they attempt to manage systems that are too complex for them to understand. Complexity is humbling, but politics is immune to humility.
The Ambassador Partnership
9th May 2013
This is to let everyone know that ADRg Ambassadors LLP is now renamed The Ambassador Partnership LLP with a completely new (and simpler) website.
Basically, after I left the FCO and qualified as a professional mediator, the idea emerged of setting up a new and unique distinguished panel of ambassador-mediators. This was done in 2010 as ADRg Ambassadors LLP.
From that standing start we have built up a business that has grown to the point where a new look and to some degree change of emphasis were required. The original name derived from the fact that we were linked with leading UK mediation providers ADR Group (where ADR stands for Alternative Dispute Resolution). We have found that an independent wider international problem-solving and consultancy model is where the demand is - the world of formal set-piece mediations is dominated by major practitioners, who rightly see us as serious competition.
Thus the new look, based on offering three main (and to some degree overlapping) products:
- problem-solving (including mediation as required)
- technique - top-end diplomatic skills such as Negotiation, Speechwriting and so on
One key point of diplomacy is to build friendly relationships without knowing exactly when they may be needed. So with international business - much better to work patiently on making high-level local contacts so as to be ready sensibly to address issues before they start to grow into problems and then expensive disputes. As problems mutate into disputes, the costs expand exponentially and all too often the original issue fades into insignificance compared to the costs burden of continuing the battle, or not. It is FAR cheaper (and a lot wiser) to call in an outside expert to help brainstorm the questions concerned and look creatively at how to manage them. This is where our mediation skills combined with diplomatic wisdom give us a unique advantage.
The new site gives examples of the sort of work we are now doing under each heading, and the expanded team of people available to do it. As well as the original core of former UK Ambassadors we have colleagues from Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Ghana and Czech Republic, with others to follow. It is hard to describe in puny words just how effective this is as a global network - in principle and usually in practice we can find you incredibly quickly a well-connected former senior diplomatic expert (British or otherwise) for almost any problem you can think of.
Through these networks we know how find just the right diplomatic/political entryway into most governments round the planet, and help make sure that messages to the right part of that government are cast in a way that is appropriate but effective. This of course does not guarantee success, but it saves formidable amounts of messing around, and much increases the chances of a message being taken seriously.
On the Technique side, the list of our clients is long and getting longer. We bring high-level training and coaching experts armed with front-rank personal experience of some of the world's toughest negotiation environments, delivering workshops and teaching sessions that have enough 'theory' to make sense but plenty of roleplays and real life scenarios to make the sessions highly operational and interesting. An 'unstuffy' open-minded British style goes down well in many organisations where people are used to strict hierarchy and formality.
In short, if you have a business or other problem with an international dimension, or you see a large hole looming and need smart advice, or you want front-rank support for your team in developing world-class 'diplomatic' skills, you know what to do.
Call the experts in corporate diplomacy.
Meanwhile, Back on Earth
8th May 2013
So much going on these days it is scarcely worth bothing to opine on it all.
The Nigel Lawson call for the UK to think seriously about leaving the EU is a huge shift. The Unthinkable is being Thought.
The US and Russia are trying to get the warring factions in Syria to talk to each other. What could go wrong?
North Korea's threats to blow us all to smithereens have subsided for a while. Phew. I was getting worried.
Slowly but surely the Obama administration's terrifying performance in Benghazi is being exposed. Watch in amazement if not horror as Clintonian cynicism combined with Obamistic cynicism in front of the families of the victims to blame the murders of the US Ambassador and others on "an awful Internet video" when all concerned - above all Hillary Clinton herself - knew that this was just not true.
And then there's the Cleveland House of Horrors. Watch closely this beyond wonderful interview with the man who kicked down the door to help Amanda Berry and the other two women finally escape: Charles Ramsay.
This interview stands out for several reasons. First, the vivid language he uses to describe what happened and his relationship with the man keeping the women locked up. No speechwriter on Earth with the possible exception of Quentin Tarantino could have written those words down.
Then watch his gestures as he brings the story to life. At one point in the interview a nearby police or ambulance siren goes off. Is it my imagination, or does he give the slightest hint in his eyes of teasing panic that they might be coming to arrest him?
And finally, behold how the interviewer quickly ends the interview in panic as Mr Ramsay gives his forthright views on the amazing unlikelihood of a little white girl running to a black man for help:
'I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl runs into a black man's arms, I said, "Something is wrong here". Dead giveaway'
Only 'blacks' can do scathingly politically incorrect racial wit at this high level of art. Fame and fortune await him. Already happening in fact.
Back in Too Much Business
8th May 2013
My foray to Geneva last week to give a two-day Speechwriting in Action masterclass to international officials went well:
The workshop you facilitated was truly exceptional. The drastic improvement one could observe from one day to another was more than convincing
My instincts did not let me down when I decided to follow the entire programme myself. It was definitely one of the highlights during my 5 years in charge of staff development
This one featured the luckless participants both drafting and delivering short speeches. In the final exercise they had to produce a short speech and then watch someone else do their best to deliver it. Vivid! It showed just how tricky it is to turn words on paper into something that sounds like a conversation with the audience, not a lecture. What works, what doesn't.
Plus the hosts were good sports, allowing me to take one of their former speeches and go through it paragraph by paragraph, showing how small drafting changes could bring it to life.
The main problem for many speechwriters is, of course, the propensity of the speaker to use good material. The culture of international organisations is crushingly risk-averse on many levels simultaneously - it's just so much easier to slump into vacuous platitudes and above all say nothing that might be taken by anyone on Earth as 'controversial'. Motivating speechwriters to lift their game in such circumstances is not easy.
That said, even the dullest international functionary might be willing to sound like a real human being now and again. And there are many easy ways to use a text to make that happen. So, despair not. Well, not too much.
In June I go off on a Baltic cruise during which I give some lectures on the End of Communism. While afloat I hope to have a stab at writing a short book on Speechwriting, drawing on my own experience of watching top people give top speeches, organising venues for top speeches and even drafting a few.
The point is that you have to look at the whole process, from getting the first letter of invitation through to what the final text looks like on the Internet. What is the whole speech really about? Where does it fit in to everything else going on? What tone does it need to adopt, and how to make sure that on the day the words and the presentation of the speech do in fact hit just that tone?
To this end I have been running some FOI requests past the friendly FCO and retrieving some telegrams I sent reporting on big-ticket or otherwise noteworthy speeches:
• Prime Minister John Major in Moscow in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2
• Pope John Paul II in Sarajevo in April 1997
• French FM Vedrine and German FM Kinkel in Sarajevo (December 1997)
• US President Bill Clinton in Sarajevo (December 1997)
• French President Chirac in Sarajevo (April 1998)
• Serbian PM Zoran Djindjic at the LSE (23 April 2002)
• Russian President Putin, HRH The Earl of Wessex and others at Auschwitz in January 2005
• Pope Benedict XVI at Auschwitz on 28 May 2006
• Polish President Lech Kaczynski during an official visit to the UK (November 2006)
Good to see some of this material reappearing. Brings back memories.
The problem in the meantime is that I have to zoom off today to a school to lead a session on Difficult Conversations, then I head back to my own old school on Friday to harangue the sixth form on Some Lessons for Life. Then I have to prepare a draft presentation for someone at a fancy business dinner, before racing to Stockholm to give a workshop on Presentation Skills. Then it's off to Torun in Poland for this year's YoungMarkets event, before I dash to the ship and become a cruiser. And the rest.
While all that is going on, I am leading a session on Speechwriting at the forthcoming European Speechwriters' Network conference in London on 15 May. Tickets are still available. So be there. Or send your colleagues. Or be square.
Diplomatic Speechwriting: Coaching by the World's Leading Diplomatic Speechwriter
27th April 2013
There is a veritable tsunami of interest in my training/coaching skills as the World's Leading Diplomatic Speechwriter ©.
Tomorrow I fly to Geneva to give a two-day course on Speechwriting in Action to a group of international officials who have the tough job of writing speeches for some of the UN organisations based there.
That sort of speechwriting is unusually challenging, as people representing the UN or other international organisations necessarily must pronounce on behalf of their organisations, not themselves. This is taken by all concerned as limiting their scope for energy, wit and insight. Above all - never say anything controversial! Far, far better to be safe than sorry. And that usually means clunky nouns, meandering sentences and interminable jargon.
That said, I am confident that these international community speeches need not be quite as numbing as they alas so often are. At a minimum, I see no reason why the speaker might not make a good shot at coming across in a friendly, positive, 'human' way.
A core problem in places like Geneva and Brussels is that many speeches are delivered in English by non-native English speakers who have asked other non-English speakers to draft them. This can and almost invariably does lead to bewildering mixed metaphors, where the enthusiastic drafter plunges deep into clever English idioms and is never seen again:
"The open door policy of the Alliance is not at the forefront of today’s discussion. I expect though that it will also remain one of the cornerstones of our approach to promoting security around our borders"
Get that? A open door policy is not at the forefront of a discussion - but it is a cornerstone of an approach! Aaaaiiieeeee.
Separately an approach has come from Asia to explore training diplomats there in Speechwriting. And soon I am off to Scandinavia for a corporate client who wants pepping up on Presentation Skills.
Then there's a chance to sign up for a Masterclass in Speechwriting as Leaders Like It in London next month at the next European Speechwriter Network event. And if that does not work, try my Masterclass Gold seminar in September on Public Speaking led by government knowledge.
Finally, I have reasons to suspect that the wonderful Specialist Speakers will soon be adding Public Speaking coaching (by me) to their website and general offering.
Readers! Sign up! Get your friends and relatives and colleagues to sign up. It's just too good to miss.
Honest. Would I lie? To you?
Normal service here may or may not be resumed on Wednesday. In the meantime, there's always @CharlesCrawford on Twitter.
27th April 2013
Here I am again, this time quoted in the Daily Telegraph on the always interesting subject of Balkan apologies:
Charles Crawford, a former British ambassador to Belgrade, said the language used by Mr Nikolic represented a drastic change from his previous questioning of the scope of the atrocity.
Coming a week after Serbia sealed a deal with Kosovo to end a stand-off over who governs ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, the statement will boost Serbia's ties with the EU as it bids to join the bloc.
"He's gone a long way. Certainly for someone from his nationalist background to have struck this tone is impressive," Mr Crawford said.
Well, of course I said a number of other things too, but that was the one line they used.
This story is all about Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic telling a Balkan TV journalist that he "goes on his knees and asks for forgiveness for the crime that was Srebrenica", and then apologises "for all crimes done in the name of Serbia or the Serbian people by any individual from our nation". Pressed to agree that Srebrenica was really an act of genocide, Nikolic replied that everything that happened in the wars of the former Yugoslavia had the characteristics of genocide.
Here is the B92 story with the link to the video of the interview. In Serbian, for those who like their Balkan meat raw.
Nikolic's intention here was to put some clear water between this statement and his very different view expressed last year:
"Genocide did not take place in Srebrenica. This is about individual guilt of members of the Serb people. The Serbian parliament condemned this crime, but did not say it was genocide. No Serb recognizes that genocide took place in Srebrenica, and I am no different."
He wanted to strike a note of humility and constructive reconciliation with Bosnia, complementing the much praised deal between Serbia and Kosovo and the European Union a few days earlier. Most people would think that he did a good enough job here. Yet was he even now choosing his words rather too carefully?
The point is that most Bosniacs want the Serbian President to acknowledge not just that Srebrenica was a 'crime' or a 'war crime'. They want to hear him agreeing and accepting that it was specifically an act of genocide, and that Serbia as a state played a part in committing that act of genocide.
Nikolic of course does not want to use that formulation for various reasons, some political and some legal, so he carefully skirted round it using the language above. Plus he used a familiar tactic to 'relativise' the Srebrenica massacre by citing it in the context of the wider supposedly genocidal wars that marked Yugoslavia's disintegration.
All that aside, perhaps more immediately significant than this interview was the pragmatic and non-confrontational tone that emerged from a visit to Belgrade by two of the three-man BH Presidency, namely Bakir Izetbegovic (Bosniac, son of Alija Izetbegovic) and Nebojsa Radmanovic (Serb). Nikolic this time sent a not-too-subtle signal to the Bosnian Serbs to work with Sarajevo: "for me, Serbs from Republika Srpska are Bosnians, even if some of them don't like to be called that".
Let's have a little sympathy for President Nikolic in all this. He's just doing what any Western chattering pundit does. If you're embarrassed or dismayed about what someone has done that your political rivals are exploiting, you quickly rush to argue that that person was a 'lone wolf' or some other form of nutty individual - nothing to see here folks about any wider issues, so move along.
So a murdering gunman unambiguously proves the case for banning most if not all guns, whereas a murdering abortionist tells us nothing whatsover about scaling back abortion. Organisations like the police are denounced as 'institutionally racist' because of what a few bad apples do, but radical Islamist organisations are essentially benign even if rather too many of their members gorge themselves on terrorist propaganda.
If we all agree when it suits us to do so that most bad stuff just comes down to the horrible behaviour of a few deluded or even wicked individuals, why should anyone else apologise?
Serbia v Kosovo v EU
23rd April 2013
Here's my Commentator piece on that important Serbia/Kosovo/EU deal.
Kosovo did better on symbolism than substance. It won agreement that Serbian officials in the municipalities concerned would henceforth be paid by Pristina, not Belgrade, and come under Pristina’s overall legal and political authority. And by the very fact of Belgrade and Pristina signing an ‘international’ agreement, the Kosovo Albanians can now assert that de facto Belgrade has recognised Kosovo.
But to get this, Pristina conceded substantive autonomy to the ethnic Serbian communities in most major policy areas (health, education and especially police – in the Balkans control over the police is all). And it gave Serbia the chance to press on with its EU membership without recognising Kosovo.
Serbia in turn did better on substance than symbolism. Northern Kosovo and other Serbs in Kosovo have been promised far-reaching devolved powers that need never be ceded and allow them to work very closely with Serbia. Nothing real has been conceded on Serbia’s bottom-line issue of principle, namely Kosovo’s independence. And Serbia can get on with its EU integration processes without Kosovo-inspired blackmail.
Yes, the Albanians’ argument that Serbia has de facto recognised Kosovo is vexing. But Belgrade still has the diplomatic firepower to hold the line in the key capitals that matter (Moscow and Beijing) to stop Kosovo joining the United Nations except on Belgrade’s terms.
Brussels ended up with some substance (the prospect of easing wasteful tensions in that part of the Balkans, and getting the impossible Balkanites bogged down in EU accession bureaucracy) and some symbolism (a much needed diplomatic triumph amidst all that Eurozone misery and a show of leadership for the EU method).
Of course, this is just one way of looking at it. Back in real life plenty of people in the Northern Kosovo Serb community are feeling well and truly sold out, suggesting that Serbia lost heavily on both Symbolism and Substance. But NB it may be the case that Serbia qua the current Serbia leadership did a relatively good job in the negotiation but Serbs in general and Kosovo Serbs in particular did much less well.
So, goes the argument, Serbia surely has effectively renounced its claim to control that last part of Kosovo it (sort of) controlled. That must mean that Serbia has given up on Kosovo finally? And does that not mean that Kosovo 'therefore' is now accepted by Belgrade as independent?
Maybe. But in international law and politics a lot turns on what people say, as well as what they do.
Belgrade will find plenty of sympathetic ears out there in the world community of nations when it complains that it had 'no choice' but to go along with this bullying EU-led push, and that whatever happens it will not recognise Kosovo's 'illegal' secession. Note President Nikolic's carefully chosen words describing the deal: “the only possible way to guarantee to Serbia that Kosovo will never be a state accepted in the United Nations”.
This is Serbia's bottom line, and as diplomatic bottom lines go it is quite a good one. Even if Kosovo is a state 'accepted' by many countries, Kosovo will (he asserts) never be recognised as a full member of the international community without Belgrade's consent. Unless Russia and China agree, Kosovo can not enter the United Nations as a normal country just as all the former Yugo-republics have done.
This in turn means that Kosovo is highly unlikely ever to get accepted in world sporting bodies and most international organisations. It will have a sui generis twilight-zone status, recognised by roughly half the countries in the world but not the other half, including some of the biggest heavy-hitters in the 'non-Western' camp. Palestine, now recognised as a state by over 130 countries, is in a similar ambiguous position but with most of the states that have recognised Kosovo on the other side of that argument.
Meanwhile Kosovo is hoping that Serbia's concessions this time round will help persuade the likes of China/Russia/India/Brazil that Serbia is giving up the fight - why should they be holding out against recognising Kosovo, when Serbia's core position is eroding and (arguably) negotiable?
My guess is that Kosovo will not get much further down the international recognition road as a result of this agreement. Why? Because those large countries holding out against recognising Kosovo can't care less about the Kosovo/Serbia problem itself. They are making their stand against the idea that international borders can be changed by Western powerplay (where does that end?), and because it is never a bad idea to oppose on principle what 'the West' wants. Apart from anything else, the more you oppose it the more likely you are to get something in return for eventually changing position!
Anyway, soon the fun over local symbolism begins. It is one thing agreeing that Pristina henceforth will have ultimate responsibility for what happens in northern Kosovo and a growing grip on people there by paying salaries to public sector employees. It is quite another to expect that those Serb employees put up a picture of the Kosovo president in their offices or wear Kosovo insignia or otherwise doff their caps to symbols of Kosovo authority and legitimacy.
All that will drag wearily on. And on.
The point is that unless and until there is a deal involving Belgrade on Kosovo's independence the whole idea of Serbia and Kosovo joining the EU edges towards either complete stalemate or a new outcome of unfathomable diplomatic ingenuity. Back to Commentator:
Well into the future the European Union will have to decide whether to admit Serbia without recognising Kosovo and/or to admit Kosovo that is not a state recognised by the international community as a whole: A Euro-style Mexican stand-off.
This week Brussels, Belgrade and Pristina joined forces to kick decision-day well down the road. They all know that that fateful moment will come. But they’ll double-cross that bridge when they finally reach it. Oh, and who knows what the European Union itself will look like then?
That last one is a good question.
Framing Political Opponents
23rd April 2013
Over at PunditWire my latest piece, this time on how to use subtle framing and reframing skills of the sort used by mediators to create a subtle bad smell around people and policies you don't like, all the while pretending you're being reasonable and objective:
Framing is all around us these days in politics. Organisation activist Saul Alinsky featured it prominently in his Rules for Radicals: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
A classic version of this is the dead cat denial. You untruthfully accuse your opponent of having a dead cat on the front doorstep (or some other seemingly heinous offence).
When your opponent exclaims crossly that this is utterly untrue, you slyly reply “Ah – so now you’re denying that you have had a dead cat on your doorstep?” The ensuing hoots of anger and frustration from the opponent create a general mood that this person is a bit crazy, always banging on about dead cats. After all, if there isn’t a dead cat or other dead animal there at the house somewhere, why is s/he getting so worked up about it?
You tip-toe away. Mission accomplished. A sneaky reputational frame-up.
This applies in all sorts of areas:
A popular framing buzzword these days is ‘fairness’. Those who rhetorically champion fairness want a double framing. First, to get it established that they – and they alone – are fair, and everyone who disagrees with them is ipso facto unfair. But second, they assert the right to decide what is fair and what isn’t, and thereby grab intellectual and emotional sway over whatever issue is up for discussion. It pretends to be about substance. It’s really about control.
Another vivid example from the hard ‘progressive’ end of the spectrum is to accuse anyone who disagrees with you of being ‘privileged’ and so disqualified from being taken seriously on the issue in question (or perhaps at all).
So if you are a white male, you should just shut up completely. White professional, able-bodied, Christian women with husbands need to ‘check their privilege’: only non-white, poor(er), disabled, non-heterosexual, non-Christian women are truly aware of oppression, and so qualified to pronounce on what society must do to address it.
This proposition gains traction because it has more than a ring of credibility: it is self-evident that given the history of the past few centuries ‘black’ people are better placed to talk about and identify racism than ‘white’ people. Likewise that women spot patronising sexist discourse and behaviour more readily than most (if not all) men.
But it also leads us inexorably to a ridiculous place, namely ever-shrinking squabbling grouplets of allegedly oppressed people demanding that they and they alone are at the ultimate oppresses and so should tell the rest of us what to do. Isn’t this just the latest iteration of bullying Leninist vanguardism wearing non-gendered undergarments?
Conclusion? Obvious to any professional speechwriter:
Conclusion for us speechwriters? Only that honest, subtle reframing of issues with a view to achieving compromise is one thing. Dishonest, subtle reframing of issues with a view to emphasizing division and grabbing power is another.
Both, alas, work.
China on European Welfare Incentives
14th April 2013
Have a look at this magnificent AJ interview from late 2011 with Jin Liqun, head of China's Sovereign Wealth Fund.
The whole thing is impressive for Jin Liqun's steely logic and sense of effortless authority. But it moves into overdrive at 11.40 or so when he starts to talk about why investing in Europe is not necessarily a good idea as the welfare model is 'out of whack':
"If you look at the troubles which happened in European countries, this is purely because of the accumulated troubles of the worn out welfare society. I think the labour laws are outdated. The labour laws induce sloth, indolence, rather than hardworking. The incentive system, is totally out of whack.
"Why should, for instance, within [the] eurozone some member's people have to work to 65, even longer, whereas in some other countries they are happily retiring at 55, languishing on the beach? This is unfair. The welfare system is good for any society to reduce the gap, to help those who happen to have disadvantages, to enjoy a good life, but a welfare society should not induce people not to work hard."
He goes on to say that China has accumulated its money through hard work over three decades. Is it fair to the Chinese people to risk that money by investing in a Europe where hard work is not so obviously a dominating feature?
Bruce Sterling on Technology
13th April 2013
Here is a towering example of modern American freewheeling public speaking. Bruce Sterling of Beyond the Beyond shares with us in a ramblingly insightful way all sorts of ideas and insights about technology and its impact on us.
This sort of thing would shrivel and die if you attempted to write it down in advance. He must have had a structure in mind and even some of the imagery too when he rose to speak at the SXSW2013 event. But the power of his speech comes from the sheer energy and improvisation he displays, building on his underlying confidence in himself and his ability to pour out thought-provoking ideas.
Thus he starts as all good US speeches start. With a story:
Walnut Canyon, an extremely Southwestern place. It happened to have a little civilization in it once, from about 1100 A.D. to maybe 1250 A.D. The most high-tech guys in the Southwest.
Now the interesting thing about these ancient cliff-dweller guys is that they were much, much more high tech than South By South West. Because if if you’re in Austin for South By: yeah it’s pretty high tech. But: it’s not absolutely the most high-tech place that anybody’s ever heard of, ever.
But if you’re in Walnut Canyon in 1150 A.D., these guys are totally amazing! They’ve got canals, stone buildings, and advanced ceramics. They were so far ahead of everybody they knew, that they are absolutely the smartest guys anybody has ever heard of.
They’re the pinnacle of human achievement. They’re the Stone-Age Stanford. They’re the MIT of black and white pottery. Now, of course they are not “high-tech” compared to us today. However, compared to everyone around them at the time, they are just amazingly progressive ...
Their worst problem is actually their best advantage. They’ve got no water — but they hacked it. It’s a desert. There are tremendous droughts. So, in response, they just make these big ceramic pots and they fill them up with snow.They just hold on to it while everyone around them dies of thirst. They’ve got urban water tanks in their little cliff community. Whenever it rains, they just run out and top off all the jars. They’ve got Cloud Storage in there ...
And links the doom of the Walnut Canyon people to the modern computer, making the point about how long incredibly successful things really last:
I don’t think I heard any speaker at any panel here ever use the term “PC.” Where are they? It’s just vanished like the word “Computer” in the name of “Apple Computer.”
Why does nobody talk about them? Because nobody wants them, that’s why. Imagine somebody brings you a personal desktop computer here at South By, they’re like bringing it in on a trolley.
“Look, this device is personal. It computes and it’s totally personal, just for you, and you alone. It doesn’t talk to the internet. No sociality. You can’t share any of the content with anybody. Because it’s just for you, it’s private. It’s yours. You can compute with it. Nobody will know! You can process text, and draw stuff, and do your accounts. It’s got a spreadsheet. No modem, no broadband, no Cloud, no Facebook, Google, Amazon, no wireless. This is a dream machine. Because it’s personal and it computes. And it sits on the desk. You personally compute with it. You can even write your own software for it. It faithfully executes all your commands.”
So — if somebody tried to give you this device, this one I just made the pitch for, a genuinely Personal Computer, it’s just for you — Would you take it? Even for free? Would you even bend over and pick it up?
Isn’t it basically the cliff house in Walnut Canyon? Isn’t it the stone box?“Look, I have my own little stone box here in this canyon! I can grow my own beans and corn. I harvest some prickly pear. I’m super advanced here.”
I really think I’m going to outlive the personal computer. And why not? I outlived the fax machine. I did. I was alive when people thought it was amazing to have a fax machine. Now I’m alive, and people think it’s amazing to still have a fax machine ...
So, farewell then books:
I recently wrote a new novel. Funniest novel I ever wrote. It’s an ebook, you can go and look for it if you want. It doesn’t make much difference if you do or you don’t. We just don’t live in a world where novels can be important in the way that novels used to be important.
Nobody reviews them. There are no paper periodicals that talk at great length about paper novels to people who spend their lives reading paper.
The bookstore chains have been disrupted. They are collapsing. I am a novelist. I myself don’t go into bookstores very much now. They have become archaic, depressing places. They are stone cliff houses. They are half abandoned.
If I don’t go in there, certainly my readers are not going to go in there. I know where the readers went. They’re all on the internet, or in social media, just like me.
Structure by contrast (Particular to General):
People like to say that musicians reacted badly to the digital revolution. They put a foot wrong. What really happened is that the digital revolution reduces everybody to the state of musicians. Everybody — not just us bohemian creatives, but the military, political parties, the anchor stores in retail malls, academics subjected to massive open online courses.
It’s the same thing over and over. Basically, the only ones making money are the ones that have big, legal stone castles surrounded with all kinds of regulatory thorns. Meaning: the sickness industry, the bank gangsters, and the military contractors. Gothic High-Tech ...
I have seen disruption in music, literature, the arts, entertainment publishing, the fourth estate, the military, political parties, manufacturing — pretty much everywhere except finance, health, the law, and the prison/military industry. Which is why they’ve got all the money now and the rest of us are pretty much reduced to disrupted global peons.
Computers were really, truly disruptive. Mobile devices are so radically disruptive that they even disrupted computers. They’re a bigger deal then the dead bookstores. We’ve got guys who own cell phones in this world who can’t even read.
And I’m very intimate with this spectacle. I’m very keen on all its little ins and outs.
The thing that bugs me about your attitude toward it is that you don’t recognize its tragic dimension.
And so to the heart of the argument. About taking responsibility for 'disruption' and understanding what it means:
And then there’s this empty pretense that these innovations make the world “better.” This is a dangerous word. Like: “If we’re not making the world better, then why are we doing this at all?”
Now, I don’t want to claim that this attitude is hypocritical. Because when you say a thing like that at SouthBy: “Oh, we’re here to make the world better” — you haven’t even reached the level of hypocrisy. You’re stuck at the level of childish naivete.
The world has a tragic dimension. This world does not always get better. The world has deserts. Deserts aren’t better. People don’t always get better.
You personally: once you’re over middle-age, when you’re becoming elderly, you don’t get better everyday. When you are elderly, you are in metabolic decline. Every day you get worse. It’s the human condition. It’s a simple truth. It is fatuous to think that culture, or politics, or society, or technology always get better. It’s just not true ...
“There’s an app to make that all better.” Okay, a billion apps have been sold. Where’s the betterness?
... You don’t have a better-o-meter. You can’t measure the length and breadth and duration of the “betterness.” “Better” is a metaphysical value judgement. It’s not a scientific quality like mass or velocity. You can’t test it experimentally. We don’t know what’s “better.” We don’t even know what’s “worse.” Which is good. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Google doesn’t want to be “evil,” but they don’t have an evilometer. They don’t have an evil avoidance algorithm.
Ending with more startling imagery that takes the speech back to where it started - Walnut Canyon:
I think the first step, really the proper step, is to accept that our hands are not clean. We don’t just play and experiment: we kill.
When you disrupt the stone box, the stone box goes empty. It’s not merely irritated or disturbed, it’s dead. It’s dead media. It’s dead, it has been killed, and to be a phoenix you have to admit your complicity in the barbecue fire.
It’s your fire, it’s not somebody else’s. Yes, we killed the past. We didn’t pull the trigger on it directly, but it died for our benefit, it died through things we did.
Own up to that. Own up to that: yes, we burned it up. No one is historically innocent. Yes, we are carnivores at this barbecue. Yes, it died, we roasted it, we ate it. And the saving grace here is we eat what we kill.
Go on, eat it. No, don’t pretend to be the child bride in white lace who thinks that babies are found under the cabbages. You’re not that young, you’re twenty-six years old. You ought to be slaughtering the hog of the twentieth century, roasting it over a bonfire. Live up to it, come on.
To kill it and pretend that that was some kind of accident, that is shameful. To kill and eat it is fierce, but it’s honorable. Because you are taking the substance of the past and making it part of yourself. You are giving it new form and allowing it to take flight.
The past is ablaze, the sky is full of smoke, but the phoenix takes wing. The phoenix is a desert eagle. The phoenix is a bird of prey.
Wow. Nice work.
Slovenia and the Green Parrot
12th April 2013
Back in Belgrade in communist Yugoslavia in 1984 or thereabouts, the then Ambassador and an unusually smart Ist Sec Econ pored over a diplomatic despatch that sought to draw attention to the dismal state of the state's finances.
The basic problem was that Yugoslavia did not have Honest Money. Yes, dinars sloshed through the economy and you could buy things with dinars. But the intellectual underpinning of a successful currency was not there.
One particularly big problem was that under the so-called Yugoslav socialist self-management system responsibility for anything in particular was dispersed to the point of vanishing completely. This meant that what looked like normal banks were 'really' extensions of the enterprises that had parked their money in these organisations. So when a bank lent an enterprise a lump of dinars to (say) build a new factory, in effect the enterprise was lending money to itself on its own terms.
This in turn meant that there was no real business distance between a bank and the borrower to check how far a new investment might or might not be commercially viable. So loans could accumulate to finance stupid projects for the aggrandisement of enterprise bosses and their political sponsors backed by ... not much.
Add to all this intrigue the untransparent and corrupt ethno-political machinations between the different republic leaders, and there was everything needed for a complete fiasco. As duly occurred.
Thus the Ambassador finally sent his long and of course prescient report back to London. He warned that accelerating economic crises in Yugoslavia might lead to dangerous political tensions in this plucky post-Tito country that presented itself to a naive FCO as 'a pillar of stability in the Balkans' haha. To make it readable he made a reference in the title and text to the Green Parrot game (where you look at a complicated picture and try to find a green parrot hidden in it). The idea was that there was a lot more to the Yugo-banking scene than met the immediate eye.
This droll drafting duly amused the FCO mandarins, but did nothing to change their complacency about the prospects for Yugoslavia. What could go seriously wrong there? Nothing! Everyone knew that the place was a "pillar of stability in the Balkans"! Gad, sir, the FCO's own briefing said so!
Multifarious ruinously expensive catastrophes later, we know just how wrong they were.
Meanwhile back in 2013 Slovenia (now a full EU member and general EU goody-twoshoes) we see the Financial Times scrutinising the unfolding Slovenian banking crisis in terms that seem oddly familiar (my emphasis - link may be paywalled):
Just as in the Cypriot case, Slovenia’s troubles originate in its wobbling banking sector. The former communist country never fully privatised its lenders. These took excessive risks and gave preferential treatment to other state-owned companies. The recession exposed the limits of the cosy ties between politics and banking. Non-performing loans have jumped to 14 per cent of the banks’ portfolios, or about €7bn.
That pesky Yugoslav/Commy Green Parrot. It just never flies away.
Eurobonds - The Time Comes? Fine Soros Speech
9th April 2013
You have to hand it to George Soros. When he goes for it, he hits the target big.
Look at this speech arguing that the introduction of Eurobonds is by far the best way to solve the Eurozone's (and EU's existential crisis).
I myself have no idea what a Eurobond looks like or why it might or might not work. But what I like about this presentation is the way he comes across as taking seriously a good many alternative arguments (both substantively and politically) and working through them in terms most reasonably expert people might understand:
Germany is opposed to eurobonds on the grounds that once they are introduced there can be no assurance that the so-called periphery countries would not break the rules once again. I believe these fears are misplaced. Losing the privilege of issuing eurobonds and having to pay stiff risk premiums would be a powerful inducement to stay in compliance. Indeed the penalty would be so painful that the rules would have to call for small doses in order not to aggravate the offending country's financial position too abruptly. At the same time a the fiscal authority in charge would exercise stricter controls and disobedience would be punished by further reductions in the amount of eurobonds allowed to be issued. No government could resist such pressure...
Guarantees have a peculiar character: the more convincing they are, the less they are likely to be invoked. The US never had to pay off the debt it incurred when it converted the debt of individual states into Federal obligations. Germany has been willing to do only the minimum; that is why it had to keep escalating its commitments and is incurring actual losses. The fiscal compact, backed up by a well functioning fiscal authority would practically eliminate the risk of default. eurobonds would compare favorably with the bonds of US, UK and Japan in the financial markets.
Admittedly, Germany would have to pay more on its own debt than it does today but the exceptionally low yields on Bunds is a symptom of the disease plaguing the periphery. The indirect benefit Germany would derive from the recovery of the periphery would far outweigh the additional cost incurred on its own national debt.
The main limitation of eurobonds is that they would not eliminate the divergences in competitiveness. Individual countries would still need to undertake structural reforms. Those that fail to do so would turn into permanent pockets of poverty and dependency similar to the ones that persist in many rich countries. They would survive on limited support from European Structural Funds and remittances.
But Germany accepting eurobonds would totally change the political atmosphere and facilitate the structural reforms that are also needed. Reforms work better when trading partners are prosperous than in conditions of widespread decline. Eurobonds offer a promising environment to structural reforms that are also needed...
The rhetorical craftiness of this speech lies in the way he makes his preferred conclusion seem calm and reasonable by whittling down the arguments against it. He even throws in the heresy that maybe Germany should leave the Eurozone and allow the remaining countries to issue Eurobonds:
Obviously, it would be better for Germany to leave than Italy and equally obviously, it would be better for Germany to agree to eurobonds than to leave the Euro. The trouble is that Germany has not been put to the choice, and it has another alternative at its disposal: it can continue along the current course, always doing the minimum to preserve the euro, but nothing more.
If my analysis is correct that is not the best alternative even for Germany, except in the very near term. The situation is deteriorating and eventually it is bound to become unsustainable. The longer it takes, the greater the damage. Nevertheless, that is Germany's preferred choice, at least until after the elections.
There is a strong case for Germany to make a definitive choice whether to agree to eurobonds or to leave the euro. That is the case I came here to argue.
And this sense of his agonising over how far to speak out and when is also cleverly done:
I reflected long and hard whether I should present my case now or wait until after the elections. In the end I decided to go ahead, based on two considerations.
One is that events have their own dynamics and the crisis is likely to become more acute even before the elections. The Cyprus rescue proved me right. The other is that my interpretation of events is so radically different from the one that prevails in Germany that it will take time for it to sink in and the sooner I start the better
So he concludes in a generous 'reaching-out' way that allows those in Germany who might utterly disagree with him to change their minds graciously. He appeals to a human sense that yup, sometimes we just get things wrong, for the best possible reasons - if so it's OK to change course.
To state my own views, my first preference is eurobonds; my second is Germany leaving the euro. Either choice is infinitely better than not making a choice and perpetuating the crisis. Worst of all would be for a debtor country, like Italy, to leave the euro because it would lead to the disorderly dissolution of the European Union.
I have made some surprising assertions; notably how well eurobonds could work even without Germany. My pro-European friends simply cannot believe it. They can't imagine a euro without Germany. I think they are conflating the euro with the European Union. The two are not identical. The European Union is the goal and the euro is a means to an end. Therefore the euro ought not to be allowed to destroy the European Union.
But I may be too rational in my analysis. The European Union is conflated with the euro not only in popular narratives but also in law. Consequently the European Union may not survive Germany leaving the euro. In that case we must all do what we can to persuade the German public to abandon some of its most ingrained prejudices and misconceptions and accept eurobonds
I should like to end by emphasising how important the European Union is not only for Europe, but for the world.
The EU was meant to be the embodiment of the principles of open society. That means that perfect knowledge is unattainable. Nobody is free of prejudices and misconceptions; nobody should be blamed for having made mistakes. The blame or Schuld begins only when a mistake or misconception is identified but not corrected. That is when the principles on which the European Union was built are betrayed.
It is in that spirit that Germany should agree to eurobonds and save the European Union.
Pow! Always praise good technique.
But will it work? If I were a German, would I trust other tricksy EU countries not to find a way to freeload on any shared Eurobond system and send me the bill?
The Words for Remembering Lady Thatcher
9th April 2013
My latest piece over at Punditwire recalls a fine speech by Teresa Potocka in honour of Lady Thatcher at the Conservative Friends of Poland in early 2010:
Lady Thatcher, in those dark years of martial law you were a symbol of hope and freedom for the Polish people. I grew up in the eighties and remember when you visited Poland on November 3rd, 1988 and became the first British Prime Minister to make an official visit to Poland. A momentous event.
Working closely with Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa, you helped bring freedom back to Poland - and bring down the Iron Curtain once and for all. A towering achievement in the history of Conservative politics.
As you said in your speech to the Polish Senate on October 3rd 1991: For both of us the idea we have of our country is inseparable from our mission to defend and extend the reign of freedom. The defiant words emblazoned on the banners of Poland's freedom fighters in the nineteenth century would find an echo in any British heart: "For Your Freedom, and Ours".
People rarely say Thank you to politicians. Let me say it today on behalf of CFoP. Thank you for what you did for this country, and for Poland.
A large distinguished crowd were there at the Carlton Club, and hardly a dry eye.
I also link to the curious phrasing of President Obama's words in Lady Thatcher's memory:
By contrast part of the statement of President Obama on Lady Thatcher’s death struck a rather odd note, to my British ear at least:
As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has (sic) always been the hallmark of Britain at its best.
Imagine saying about a just deceased Barack Obama something like, “As an African-American who rose to be the first black American president, he stands as an example to all people of color that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.” Does it not somehow subtly qualify a lifetime of achievement, by defining it in terms of a diversity target cliché? The whole point of Margaret Thatcher’s life was that she just did not think like that, and had little time for people who do.
The moral? When in doubt in public speaking as in Life, always pick the right tool for the job.
Thatcher in Gdansk: Turning back the Wheel of History
9th April 2013
So, there I was in Gdansk in August 2005 for some impressive ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1980 August agreements that showed the Solidarity movement gathering strength to negotiate successfully with the Polish communist regime.
The UK was represented by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who growled at some length to me in the margins about just how ghastly it had been for him back in the 1980s to hear Polish trades unionists lauding Margaret Thatcher when she was busy shutting coal-mines. Even worse, when Polish shipping union workers from Solidarity had come to the UK for fraternal discussions, they all had been 'bluddy professors'!
Still, when the time came he managed to emit some words that finessed the point well enough during an erection act ceremony (sic):
As a lifelong trade unionist I'm proud that Solidarity showed the power of trade unionism as a peaceful path to democracy and justice, British deputy PM John Prescott said at the signing of an erection act ceremony. The courage of the men and women of Solidarity, who put forth demands for simple, but how meaningful changes, aroused our admiration then and makes us proud to be able to honour them today, Prescott said in his address.
Here is a beautiful short clip of Mrs Thatcher's historic visit to Gdansk in 1988, where she insisted on meeting Lech Walesa and helped push forward the downfall of one-party rule.
This visit built on the visit by Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe in 1985 when he laid flowers at the grave of Father Popieluszko amidst cheering Solidarity supporters - as he told me later, one of the greatest moments of his political career.
If there is one thing the Left really can't forgive about Margaret Thatcher, it is the fact that she strode straight into the face of European communism and said Stop, to tremendous popular acclaim from workers and intellectuals alike.
She turned back the Wheel of History.
Corruption at the UN?
9th April 2013
Many years ago when I was at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy I had an American friend call Jim Wasserstrom, a lively quirky character.
And he is continuing to be lively and quirky, to the point taking on the United Nations and its policies on people who reveal corruption in its own ranks:
James Wasserstrom (pictured), was posted to Kosovo to fight corruption. In 2007 he started raising concerns about what he saw as misconduct involving links between UN officials and a local utility company. His worries were ignored. After he complained to the UN's oversight office, he says, his boss cut his staff, in effect abolishing his job, and had him investigated for misconduct. That culminated in his detention, the search of his house and car, and other indignities.
He appealed to the UN's Ethics Office. After a year-long investigation it ruled that Mr Wasserstrom's maltreatment was perhaps excessive, but did not count as retaliation against a whistleblower.
On June 21st, after a long and costly legal battle that unearthed documents backing Mr Wasserstrom's case, the UN's new Dispute Tribunal overturned that. Without ruling on the alleged corruption, Judge Goolam Meeran, in a blistering judgment, said “any reasonable reviewer” would have spotted the clear conflicts in the UN's evidence and demanded, at the least, more investigation of the complainant's treatment. Now an anti-corruption officer at America's embassy in Kabul, he stands to gain $1m in damages, plus costs. The UN must now negotiate on that, and other remedies
The UN has indeed negotiated on that but in a more than grudging way, to the point where Jim is applying punchy public pressure on the US Administration to Do Something:
A United Nations whistle-blower who prevailed in a landmark case that exposed evidence of retribution against internal criticism, but who was awarded only a tiny fraction of his claimed financial losses, sought help from Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, asking him to withhold 15 percent of the American government’s United Nations budget allocation.
The whistle-blower, James Wasserstrom, an American whose protracted legal battle with the United Nations ended a nearly 30-year career there, cited an American law that requires such withholding if the secretary of state determines that the United Nations is failing to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation
... Even though he won his case, Mr. Wasserstrom said a United Nations oversight panel judge’s decision last month to award him only $65,000 of his claimed $3.2 million in total damages had sent a message that “clearly tells U.N. staff that even when a whistle-blower wins, he loses.”
The coercive pressure of the withholding threat, Mr. Wasserstrom said in a letter to Mr. Kerry, could force changes in what Mr. Wasserstrom described as an organizational culture in which “U.N. personnel who are aware of misconduct, corruption and fraud are likely to remain silent.”
Surely not. At the United Nations? Tsk, is nothing sacred?
Hang in there, Jim.
If you want More, follow @GovAcctProj (the excellent Government Accountability Project) on Twitter - links to Jim's press statements and letter to John Kerry.
Thank you, Margaret Thatcher
9th April 2013
My own meetings with Margaret Thatcher are described at the Commentator:
My final substantive meeting with her came in 2009 at a small private dinner in London. She was frail but on lively form, making many religious references. There was a cheering consensus that Jesus had been ‘sound’ in his conservative principles. She wistfully said that she was so grateful to have friends who appreciated her work: “No-one ever says thank you to politicians”.
Well, some of us do. Thank you, Lady Thatcher, for your grasp of politics and fundamental principles:
I don’t see how one can be accused of being arrogant when one has, in fact, tried throughout the whole of the eight years I have been in office to give more power back to the people. We have abolished many controls because Government ought not to have had them.
The scale of Margaret Thatcher’s triumph – and failure – lies here: few if any politicians in any position of power or influence in the West are now capable of uttering those words. Or even knowing what they mean.
I have often mentioned here her Panorama interview in 1987 and its unswerving reference to 'honest money'. The full transcript at long last is available. It is hard to think of any politician ever giving a better sustained insight into the link between ideas and outcomes. Just stupendous:
On police numbers:
But, in the end, let’s face it, Government isn’t a dictator—we are a free country. Everyone has freedom of choice and everyone has personal responsibility for their actions. Yes, there is a good neighbour in everyone. What we have to do is to have a legal system such that those who take the course of crime have strong sentences—we have that—the right framework of law—we are doing that—a police force which co-operates with the public. All of that we shall do.
I wish, perhaps above all, to want to wave a magic wand and get crime down. In an ideal world I wish there were no crime, but man is given freedom of choice and, I am afraid the same thing that gives us power to do good is that same freedom that gives some the power to do evil. We have to deter that, and we do.
On trades unions:
The greatest division this nation has ever seen were the conflicts of trade unions towards the end of a Labour Government—terrible conflicts. That trade union movement then was under the diktat of trade union bosses, some of whom are still there.
They used their power against their members. They made them come out on strike when they didn’t want to. They loved secondary picketing. They went and demonstrated outside companies where there was no dispute whatsoever, and sometimes closed them down. They were acting as they were later in the coal strike, before my whole trade union laws were through this Government. They were out to use their power to hold the nation to ransom, to stop power from getting to the whole of manufacturing industry to damage people’s jobs, to stop power from getting to every house in the country, power, heat and light to every housewife, every child, every school, every pensioner.
You want division; you want conflict; you want hatred. There it was. It was that which Thatcherism—if you call it that—tried to stop. Not by arrogance, but by giving power to the ordinary, decent, honourable, trade union member who didn’t want to go on strike. By giving power to him over the Scargills of this world.
There is no Government in the free world which can guarantee everyone a job. I want to make that absolutely clear. Yes, you could guarantee everyone a job—in a Soviet society by total direction of labour. You do what you are told to do and you don’t have a chance of anything else. You go where you are told to go and you don’t have a chance to go anywhere else. You haven’t got any human rights and so on and so forth.
It’s in that society you can guarantee everyone a job. It wouldn’t be the sort of society worth living in. We are going about it the right way. We have got inflation down; we have got enterprise up; we are getting jobs up; we are getting unemployment down. I hope very much that that will go on. Jobs come from successful business.
I have worked too long—had to work too long—on the international scene with coalitions. My goodness me, I guess that some of them are pretty thankful that we have got in Britain a strong Government that can take decisions from which they shy away. Do you know what it is like? We will say, “What are we going to do?” to the non-governed [sic]. You will consult with them—“Oh, well we have got to meet every day”. “Oh no, we take some time to meet”. Then they go behind closed doors.
Do they decide on clear decisions? It is an argy-bargy between them. “What is the price you exact to keep you in the coalition?” Can you imagine it—a major party with a mixture of the SDP and the Liberals who are a miscellaneous group of views anyway, with the Scottish Nationalists, with the Welsh Nationalists, with several different Irish parties——
Britain governed by that? No. I would rather take it in the largest minority party, lay our programme before Parliament and say, “Deliver your judgment upon it”.
Gripping. And oddly moving, a glimpse through a murky glass at a long-lost time when our leaders really took the key decisions for our country and accepted political and moral responsibility for them.
Who leads UNESCO?
5th April 2013
I find myself taking a fleeting interest in the goings-on at UNESCO as the time comes round to choose a new Director-General. Never a dull moment there - it is an especially 'politicised' UN body.
Try this punchy piece about the way the Obama Administration may be manoeuvring to get US taxpayers' money into UNESCO despite a US law stopping funding of any international body that admits Palestine as a full member without Palestine directly negotiating with Israel.
And here is an excellent WikiLeaks US 2009 cable (yet another example of fine US diplomatic professionalism) describing the machinations surrounding the election of the current UNESCO Director-General. Envelopes with cash and the allegations of intimidation:
Egypt may have overplayed its hand as allegations of bribes offered to various delegations surfaced in the days before the elections. One member of the U.S. delegation witnessed an unfamiliar man carrying a large amount of cash in an envelope at UNESCO headquarters. Several Member States complained to the Director-General and to the Executive Board Chairman about an atmosphere of intimidation at UNESCO and not feeling comfortable talking to their colleagues without outside lobbyists immediately questioning them in the corridors at UNESCO. Elizabeth Longworth (protect), Matsuura's Chief of Staff, confirmed to the U.S. Representative that on September 21, the D-G banned an individual from further entry to UNESCO because of numerous allegations of unethical conduct by the individual related to the election.
The victory for Bulgaria's Irina Bokovo (needless to say someone from an impeccable communist family) seems to have owed a lot to China siding with the USA to block India and thwart a strong Egyptian candidate:
The Chinese ambassador was jubilant after the result and said to the U.S. Representative that "this victory represented a successful partnership between the United States and China in support of good governance in the international system. In the first rounds we voted in support of geo-political obligations. In the final round, we voted in support of the integrity of this Organization."
Note too the clumsy untransparent Cold War-style procedures to elect the new new DG:
In the 2009 election, candidates were allowed 20 minutes to address the Executive Board and 30 minutes to answer questions, with no answer lasting more than 5 minutes. Moreover, the meeting in which this occurred was closed. There was no opportunity for members of national cooperating bodies to view the presentations. While candidates did publish vision statements on the Internet and while many of them visited capitals of member states or participated in UNESCO activities, they remained largely unknown to the members of the national commissions of UNESCO's member states ... I believe it is time for UNESCO to open its selection process in order to assure that the most qualified candidate is elected Director General. Importantly, the National Commissions should be empowered to carry out their duties of advising their representatives at UNESCO on the qualifications of the candidates.
Lack of proper modern transparency in choosing top international officials is a major cause of corruption and mismanagement across the international community. But alas few governments want to do anything about it - better to keep up their sleeves the hope of patronage and/or behind-the-scenes manipulation
All the usual dirty international fun.
Engage Charles Crawford as