Thursday, May 25, 2006

Our boys' voices

There is a programme on BBC2 next week, featuring the stories of people returning from Iraq with injuries. The Radio Times asks, why are their voices so seldom heard. I would have thought their voices have been heard much more frequently than in almost any other conflict.

I will not be blogging for the next week and a half.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Clearstream in English

The BBC had... this  
General Philippe Rondot, seen as a key witness, was taken by police to appear before investigating magistrates.
Gen Rondot, a 69 year-old senior intelligence official, has given evidence to the inquiry, but stopped answering questions after parts of his notes - implicating the prime minister and President Jacques Chirac - were leaked to the media. On Monday, he again refused to answer magistrates' questions, the French news agency AFP reported. His lawyer Eric Morain said Gen Rondot "reiterated his demand to be questioned in the presence of his lawyer, which was turned down, so he refused to answer the judges' questions".
Caroline Wyatt added that the French public were rapidly losing interest in the affaire (Europe Today, Monday), which was also reported by the Financial Times, Saturday (20 May). Peggy Hollinger in the FT also had a profile of Jean-Louis Gergorin (requires subscription), which explained some of the background. 'It all began with a tip in 2003 from a security contact, who suggested there had been unusual share dealings in the Lagardère group in the weeks before the death of its owner, Jean-Luc Lagardère.' Gergorin had worked with Lagardère on deals in the French aeronautical / defence industry, culminating in the merger that established EADS.

Gergorin 'called on a computer expert to trace transactions in Lagardère shares.' He found 'a complicated web of financial transactions, conducted through the Luxembourg-based clearing house [...]'

Sunday, May 21, 2006

You're nicked

Under provisions set out in section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the police can arrest you for a non-arrestable offence only if general arrest conditions apply. One such condition is a reasonable belief that you have given a false name. Nevertheless, even under these circumstances, before the police can arrest you they must also ask for, and presumably check, your address. In Mr V's case, the officers failed to do so.
At the trial, I argued that the police hadn't had reasonable grounds for making an arrest as they hadn't asked Mr V for his address once the reasonable suspicion about his name arose. If general arrest conditions didn't apply, then the officers had no power to arrest him and their actions were unlawful. Mr V was therefore entitled to resist. The magistrates reluctantly agreed and the charges were dismissed. For Mr V it was a moment of triumph: he'd been wronged and the court made it right. The officers were dumbstruck.

The distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences is important—it is a statutory limit on police powers. Or at least it used to be. On 1st January, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act came into force. Buried away in part 3 of the act, section 110 removes the distinction. The effect is that the police can arrest you for any offence, even speeding. The reason for the change in the law was that the police, amazingly, found the distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences confusing and therefore inconvenient. If I were representing Mr V today, he wouldn't have the legal protection he was afforded 12 months earlier.
Alex McBride's Common law column in Prospect, April 2006.

Neo-conservative watch

This is what Andrew Moravcsik has to say about Jeremy Rabkin warning in The Case for Sovereignty about 'the European threat':
Rabkin is not a conservative so much as a legal reactionary. He believes that the American federal government should be scaled back to its role in 1930, before the new deal decisively expanded its domestic role. He would have the US government return to an exclusive focus on national defence, trade policy and a few infrastructural activities. The federal government, Rabkin has written in detail elsewhere, has no business regulating the environment or social policy. Over the past century, in his view, the supreme court has betrayed the traditional American anti-statist ideal.

It is because international norms might impede this process of reaction that Rabkin so viscerally opposes them. This is why he is so selective in his criticism. Free trade and defence alliances, he believes, do not threaten sovereignty—even though they unambiguously restrict the legal and political autonomy of nations. Rabkin has only positive things to say about Nato, as well as traditional Gatt/WTO trade liberalisation. Only "left-wing" policies, in Rabkin's view, restrict sovereignty. Thus he viciously criticises the WTO appellate body's recent efforts to regulate the relationship between free trade and environmental policy.

In the end Rabkin all but admits that it is not Europeans he fears. It is other Americans—Americans who do not share his libertarianism.
From Prospect magazine. Rabkin is 'a former protégé of John Bolton's at the American Enterprise Institute. The book comes splashed with effusive praise by leading conservative intellectuals such as Robert Bork, Robert Kagan, and George Will'.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Spinning it

It is strange that both the Guardian and the Independent should pick this day, when Iraqis have agreed upon a permanent government (almost), to splash across their front pages stories about sectarian strife, spiralling into civil war, whatever.

A conspiracy or just 'great minds' thinking alike ?

This is not to say that articles by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, for example, are not worth reading. Just disregard the sub-editors' spin.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

le Manifeste d'Euston!

The EM in French. It's almost finished.

Now here's an interesting bit of translation (from C. Elaborations). It's those R-words again:
We defend liberal and pluralist democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and totalitarian and other tyrannical regimes.

Nous défendons les démocraties libérales et pluralistes contre tous ceux qui relativisent les différences entre elles et les régimes totalitaires ou tyranniques.
OK, so French and English are just different languages, you may say.  But here's NormG (sorry, Euston) at one point saying,  'We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples',  at another,  'We stand against all claims to a total — unquestionable or unquestioning — truth'.  No wonder we're all so confused.
I haven't had much time the last few days to make my own posts here,  but, apart from making some comments on the translation and doing some tidying up and corrections of recent posts,  I have also commented on the French media.

A final note:  concerning relativism,  I did get a hit for one of my posts on the subject from a search for "It holds his estimate and dignity" (As well wherein 'tis precious of itself). The same lines are quoted in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World  (along with half the rest of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare).

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Remembering Andijan

Remembering the events of Andijan a year ago This programme had a report. Uzbeks are now said to be living in a climate of total fear ...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Double French

I see from an incoming link that someone has tried putting my weblog through Google's translation tool. The results are sometimes amusing  -  'the FT' becomes Le pi - but generally not too bad - Il a sorti de la poche intérieure de sa veste un papier.

When it tries, however, to translate my - not infrequent - passages of French, it produces complete gobbledygook.

Anyway, see for yourself... 

The prime minister went willingly, but left the country in a mess
This self-perception is probably too rosy, as that of 1976 was too gloomy. Germany and France are not doing so badly, and Britain is not doing as well as many Brits like to believe.
I  tried to comment on this, but 'Comment is free' messes up the formatting. So here it is, below
I was listening the other day to an interview on France Inter with the author of Le Royaume enchanté de Tony Blair. One of the magic tricks, of course, was to turn the unemployed into the long-term sick (starting under Thatcher, increasing under Major). He argued that if you added those claiming long-term sickness benefit to the 5 per cent unemployed, you get a figure of 9 per cent, not far below France's unemployment rate. You would of course also need to take into account the 'the long-term sick' in France, but the impression given was that the figure was very low.

However, it is true that the rate of economic inactivity of the young is much higher in France than in the UK.

The book is supposed to be unremittingly negative, but in the interview the author did say that Britain was much more open for ethnic minorities, compared to France (nothing like the périphérique, forming a 'rampart' to exclude the immigrants).
Another comment: on Watergate sur Seine , Leader , Thursday May 11, 2006, The Guardian
But Mr de Villepin is in much deeper trouble. Under the French system he can be dismissed by President Jacques Chirac and replaced by his bitter rival Nicolas Sarkozy
It doesn't seem now that Sarkozy wants to replace de Villepin as Prime Minister: it looks more like he is positioning himself for the presidential election next year.

Update: in the comments, I mentioned Emmanuel Todd's views, carried in Libération. Here is the link. He says
l'affaire Clearstream est un épisode politico-policier relativement mineur [...] enfin, ces faits devraient occuper un espace raisonnable dans les pages intérieures des journaux. Or, nous assistons à une hystérisation, une focalisation totale du système politico-médiatique sur cette question mineure. Pour un sociologue, il est impossible de ne pas voir cet emballement comme une tentative de fuite hors de la réalité. Parce que nos dirigeants ne sont pas capables d'engager les débats qui comptent ­ sur la globalisation économique, sur le rôle de la France et l'Europe dans cette globalisation ­, ils se donnent en spectacle.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Countering fascist apologists

In Dispatches, 8 May , on Channel 4, the first part deals with the region of Al-Qaem(*), near the Syrian border.
Strangely enough, there was a piece in the Financial Times, 6 May, about this area.

Husaybah and Karabila are two towns there. According to the FT, most of the local tribesmen have now turned against al-Qaeda. 2,500 US marines and 1,000 Iraqi soldiers, with the Hamza (a local milita) providing intelligence, took control of the towns (in November 2005).

The FT's correspondent says it offers 'a glimpse of how Iraq could function in a peaceful future.'  The article starts:
In the Syrian border town of Husaybah sit two fierce-looking brothers, one the chief of police, the other the colonel of the local Iraqi army brigade, both members of the powerful Albu Mahal tribe.

By their side is the commander of the US marine battalion in charge of this region, Lt Col Nick Marano. Before them sit the sheikhs of the region's tribes - Albu Mahals, Karbulis, Salmanis, Ubaydis, Albu Hardans and others, each in their robe and headdress.
If you want to read the rest, you have to pay.

To go back to the C4 programme, which was typical, one-sided propaganda, I saw that part of the town(*) had been destroyed. I also saw the woman who made the film encouraging children to 'continue the resistance'.

* There is some confusion over names: the C4 programme refers to Al-Qaem as a town. The FT describes it as an area, the hinterland of the two towns it mentions. There are some quite detailed maps available on the web. I found this one, produced by the CIA:
Husaybah [Qusaybah] and Iraq/Syria Border (tactical pilotage chart) original scale 1:500,000 Portion of Defense Mapping Agency TPC G-4C 1991 (638K) Not for navigational use.

On the map, you see Husaybah (Al-Qa'im). The other town the FT mentioned is shown as Al Karabilah.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tax havens (Part 2)

Even the FT says that, despite some recent apparently spectacular successes, 'tax collectors have a nagging fear they may be fighting a losing battle against tax evasion" (Vanessa Houlder, 6 May). Powerful pressure groups like the Center for Freedom and Prosperity argue that 'tax havens play a crucial role in putting downward pressure on tax rates in industrial countries.' Other keywords are 'market discipline', 'tax competition', 'fiscal sovereignty' and 'financial privacy', while those on the other side are characterised as 'advocates of tax harmonisation' and 'opponents of economic liberalisation'.
The OECD's efforts to constrain [the havens] were watered down after 2001, when the Bush administration complained this would stifle tax competition.

Tax havens

L’Humanité, according to France Inter's press review, Friday morning, focuses on the money-laundering claims behind the Clearstream affair. It took ages for the website to be updated, but finally it was -  Du scandale financier à la manipulation politicienne. According to this, Denis Robert denounces
 les pratiques d’une société luxembourgeoise, Clearstream, une des principales chambres de compensation du monde par laquelle transitent des millions de titres chaque année. Par l’intermédiaire de comptes secrets, elle servirait à blanchir l’argent sale, à falsifier les comptes des entreprises, à masquer des transferts mafieux.
It has to be borne in mind, of course, that l’Humanité is a Communist paper. Hervé Charette, for the ruling UMP, denied that Clearstream was a giant washing-machine for dirty money, but said it could be if it was not properly monitored and regulated.

L’Humanité also had this: Il y a plus grave que le corbeau (Interview with Denis Robert)
l’Humanité a voulu revenir sur le scandale financier sous-jacent qui a fait apparaître le nom de la société Clearstream, mettant en cause l’opacité des circuits de l’argent transitant par les paradis fiscaux.
Finally, Quand revoilà Frits Bolkestein ...

Monday, May 08, 2006

The spiral notebook

Looking further at the document that Le Monde published last week, (La déposition du général Rondot), this is the sentence that has been cited by much of the media: 'Parmi les personnes citées comme titulaires de comptes Clearstream, le nom de M. Sarkozy a été évoqué lors de cette réunion, mais il n’y a pas eu de fixation particulière à ce sujet.' It is a little difficult, however to square this with what we shall see further on.

It's almost as good as a John LeCarré novel: 'M. Gergorin also arrived at M. de Villepin's office. I was quite surprised to see him there. He took out from the inner pocket of his jacket a paper: it was the same listing, comprising the names et numbers of accounts, that he had passed on to me in mid-november 2003.' That's the only bit of translation you're going to get from me:
Dans un premier temps, que je situe au début du mois d’avril 2004, j’ai récupéré Imad Lahoud avec ma voiture de service dans une rue à proximité du ministère et nous sommes allés dans la nature, c’est-à-dire dans le parc de l’observatoire de Meudon. Nous nous sommes arrêtés dans une contre-allée du parc et ça s’est passé dans ma voiture. Imad Lahoud travaillait avec son téléphone portable et son ordinateur. Il a appelé un numéro de téléphone et pianoté les touches de son ordinateur. Je l’ai vu mettre les codes et j’ai vu une liste apparaître sur l’écran. Je précise qu’il a eu des problèmes techniques de liaison parce que selon Imad Lahoud cet ordinateur n’était pas assez puissant. Cependant, j’ai vu apparaître un listing qui défilait avec des noms qui étaient déjà apparus dans les listings précédents [...]

D’après ce que m’avait dit Imad Lahoud, il avait profité d’un moment d’inattention de Denis Robert, alors qu’il se trouvait chez celui-ci, pour lui vider son ordinateur. Je sais par Lahoud que Denis Robert lui avait également donné des CD-roms sur lesquels il avait des listings de comptes Clearstream.

To get on to the spiral notebook:
Nous vous présentons la photocopie d’un carnet à spirale et d’une partie de feuillet comportant des mentions manuscrites, contenue dans le scellé Rondot-Meudon 12 [..]
Dans le compte rendu de la réunion du 9 janvier 2004, j’ai écrit :
« 9 janvier 2004, 17h30, entretien D. de Villepin
- à son bureau + JL Gergorin
Ops Reflux

Jean-Louis Gergorin lui avait transmis une note. (…) Il ne me l’avait pas dit alors qu’il avait été convenu de ne rien écrire à ce sujet.
Instructions du président de la République, auquel Dominique de Villepin avait rendu compte :
- Traitement direct avec le président de la République, prudence cadre secret
- Tenir compte des manipulations politiques.

Les connexions selon Dominique de Villepin + Jean-Louis Gergorin : des réseaux tangentiels à explorer Fabius, Pasqua, DSK, Jean-C. Marchiani, Squarcini.
L’enjeu politique : Nicolas Sarkozy.
Fixation Nicolas Sarkozy, référence conflit Chirac-Sarkozy.

Compromission P. Ol. ->Michèle Alliot-Marie
->Irak, Libye, Syrie. Dominique de Villepin ne le sent pas.
->Ne rien communiquer au ministère de la défense.
Rôle des américains -> soutien apporté à Nicolas Sarkozy.
(…) L’action de la mafia russe ; 1 milliard de dollars sortis -> Clearstream

Message du président de la République à Poutine. Jean-Louis Gergorin le rédigera. Couper le réseau du soutien mafieux russe.
Tolérance du pouvoir russe ->demander des criblages à la DGSE.
Peter Atanazov. Voir fiche remise par Mahdi le 02/12/03
Connecter à Alain Gomez.
Les liens Sarkozy-Dassault ->Le Figaro
La connexion Pasqua-Marchiani
Compte couplé N. Sarkozy, Stéphane Bocza, à préciser.

Cité par Dominique de Villepin, Michel Roussin, pro-Nicolas Sarkozy
Aucun système branché sur le président de la République.

Dominique de Villepin insiste sur le croisement des réseaux en dehors des clivages politiques.

Dominique de Villepin demande de démonter le système et d’explorer la nature des relations pour comprendre les opérations qui sont  énumérées ->travail historique à faire.

Dominique de Villepin revient sur le voyage de Nicolas Sarkozy en Chine ->intérêt financier ?
Jean-Louis Gergorin demande que je m’occupe de la sécurité de Mahdi.

Mon impression : doute persistant. Belle construction intellectuelle montée par Jean-Louis Gergorin et qui accroche Dominique de Villepin -> la théorie du complot ?

Ne pas avancer sans preuves concrêtes.
Le cas Martini. Le cas Marchiani. Squarcini.

General Rondot makes the following clarifications:
La note dont je fais état au début de mon compte rendu est une note écrite au sujet de cette affaire de listing par Jean-Louis Gergorin et qui a été remise par celui-ci au début de la réunion. J’en ai demandé une copie à M. Gergorin, qui me l’a remise ultérieurement, dans les jours qui ont suivi. Je ne sais pas où se trouve cette note.
Les instructions du président de la République : je fais référence aux instructions du président de la République que m’a transmises Dominique de Villepin, qui apparaît dans mon compte rendu sous les initiales DDV.
Les initiales P. Ol renvoient à M. Patrick Ollier, compagnon de Mme Alliot-Marie, ministre de la défense. (…)
La mention « RM » signifie « remarque » ; « Ops », « Opération » et « OP », « orthographe phonétique ».
I don't know if this is Watergate-sur-Seine. It certainly reminds me a bit of the Hutton enquiry, 2 to 3 years ago.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Margaret Beckett, FM

Margaret Beckett is the new British Foreign Minister, following Tony  Blair's reshuffle. I am struggling to see the logic behind this. Perhaps he thinks she will get on better with Condi.

Jean Eaglesham in the FT says she is being rewarded for loyalty. Quentin Peel says she may take a tougher stance on Iran, more in line with the Prime Minister's position.

The unwashed taxi driver

Christopher Hitchens may be right in his assessment of Juan Cole, but he is wrong about Iran.
Well, I was in Iran in the run up to those elections, and they went through the usual procedure. First, they eliminate all the candidates they don't like, even anyone who's vaguely tainted with the brush of so-called reformism. So they comb out the list of possible candidates. Then they present a final list, very, very near the election, by the way. And it looked to most people as if, disliked though he is, that Mr. Rafsanjani would get another term in office. Not be reelected, but elected again. I mean, he'd been out, but might be returned, because the others were so pathetic or so nasty. This was a bit of a crisis, you know, for the regime, and suddenly, at the very last minute, they find a new candidate and shot him in, some unwashed taxi driver figure who once was a Mayor of Tehran, and who is a complete religious loyalist. Well, I think that shows that he's a puppet all right, and we know who pulls the strings, the supreme council of mullahs, pulls these strings. I think that he can't have advanced any more in power...And then of course, I might add, it really annoys me when the New York Times reports the landslide victory of this puppet. (Radioblogger, via Norm.)

This is a travesty of the truth. See here, here and here. Also, how come then that Khatami was elected in 1997 and 2001? I just don't see that if Rafsanjani had been elected, it would have been a 'crisis for the regime'. 

70 years ago

This week saw the 70th anniversary of the coming to power of the Popular Front government.  France Inter had a feature on this, Wednesday evening. One député at the time described it as a scandal for the Gallo-Roman civilisation of France, to have a Jew as a Prime Minister. This was a widespread opinion on the Right.

One question that was asked by many people (it was a kind of phone-in programme) was why did the Popular Front government not give more support to the Spanish Republicans, faced with the fascist insurgency led by Franco. The answer given was that the Popular Front was an alliance of diverse left and liberal forces. Léon Blum wanted to give more help to Spain and so did the Communists, but the Radicals, a more middle-class party, drawing much of its support from the self-employed was strongly opposed. Sentiment in France was strongly pacifist at that time. 

Some pictures: Il y a 70 ans, le Front populaire.

I saw a TV programme in France a week or so ago, about economic nationalism in France and Germany in the 'thirties. I didn't see all of it, but what I did was fascinating. One suggestion made was that it was not Hitler's programme that led to economic recovery and a reduction in unemployment, but the actions of the previous government (mainly cutting wages). (5 / Arte, 25 April).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A charge too far?

L'affaire Clearstream: time to sign another petition?

Aside from the latest stuff about De Villepin trying to get Sarkozy investigated (oh no he didn't), what's behind this? I started by looking to see what Le Monde had on this. This may have been a mistake, as we shall see later. I then followed my own suggestion,  of searching for info on Denis Robert and Clearstream. At about the same time as the piece on France  Inter I heard, Denis Robert  also gave an interview on 20 Minutes. According to him, the false accusations are not the real story. The real story is about Clearstream (possibly) being used as a mechanism to wipe out traces of financial transactions, about tax havens (paradis fiscaux) ...

Denis Robert also has a weblog, though you may find it blocked.

Here is a view from the financial establishment: Clearstream’s reputation is cleared.... Appeals are still ongoing, however (in the French courts).

On 27 January 2006,  a little-reported event : Denis Robert was summonsed by the Luxemburg courts for libel and defamation -  l’inculpation de trop (a charge too far). The history behind this is as follows. While researching his book, Révélation$, which was about to make serious allegations about  Clearstream, he sent their management a number of letters, giving them the opportunity to respond. He had very little response. After the book came out in February 2001, there was a storm of legal actions. The book's publishers calculated that the total of claims for damages exceeded their annual turnover.

The action in Luxemburg is on charges for which Robert has already been acquitted in the French courts (in the first instance and on appeal).

The Wikipedia entry, Révélation$, is largely based on the previous reference. It does, however, add one little detail: the reception for the book in France was mixed and that of Le Monde in particular was 'distant'.

I have no idea whether Robert's claims are true - they may strike some as similar to the 911-type conspiracy theories, but it seems to me that he should be supported in his right to express them, in the face of pressure from banks with their massive financial resources. The petition can be found here.

Update (Thursday, 4 May): Other people who have been mentioned in the affair include:
Mikhail Khodorkovsky,  through Menatep;
Imad Lahoud, the nephew of the Lebanese president:
Fritz Bolkestein, whose name will be forever linked in French minds with attempts to liberalise the services market in the EU.

Le Monde published, Wednesday afternoon, a document (pdf) which added more fuel to the fire. France Inter claimed last night that it proved De Villepin had lied.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Spherical objects (Part 2)

"B*llocks to Blair" read the slogan on somebody's t-shirt. He was asked to remove it by the police. This was taken up as a great curtailment of freedom of speech by guests, who included former Tory leader Michael Howard, on BBC Radio4's Broadcasting House on Sunday (30 April).

Freedom of speech, however, can be exercised without being offensive: nobody is going to have their website taken down for using obscene words; they could also be used in a newsletter without a problem; such language can also be used freely in a public bar; but you do not expect to hear a stream of obscenities in the street. Whether you agree with that or not, you would have thought it would form part of Conservative thinking; but all that seems to count for nothing in the feeding frenzy of hatred for Blair.

It was also said that the word was merely an old English one meaning 'stones'. To which only one response seems appropriate:


Spherical objects (Part 1)

Savoie, too, cites the Iraq war as an example. “The pollsters - modern witchdoctors - take too short-term a view,” he says. “The pollsters may have said the public favoured war but no pollster could tell Bush or Blair that after the war there would be a problem.”
Come again ?

The quotation is from "Mandarin dynasty" by Sue Cameron, FT Magazine, 8 April 2006. Donald Savoie, although now a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, is a Canadian. He acted as special adviser to the Gomery inquiry into a scandal in Canada, where civil servants 'broke almost every rule in the book'.

But that still doesn't explain anything: the war was just as unpopular in Canada as in the UK (and of course Canada did not take part in it).