Saturday, 15 January 2011

Freedom is declining in the world

It does not look good for freedom and democracy in the world:

Global freedom declined for a fifth straight year in 2010 as authoritarian regimes dug in worldwide and crime and unrest plagued democracies like Mexico, a US watchdog said Thursday.
In "Freedom in the World 2011" the Washington-based Freedom House said it had documented the longest continuous period of decline since it began compiling the annual index nearly 40 years ago.
"A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains," the group said.
"Authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world," it said.

The fact that the present leaders of the democratic countries do not seem to care about the decline of freedom is a very sad - and dangerous - sign of our time. Fortunately, as so often before, there are some positive signs in the US that may lead to sounder view of the world.

A return to stage choaches?

The stage coach - twice faster than the electric car between London and Edinburgh

Richard North at the EU Referendum blog makes a good observation:

Then came the electric car. Said the BBC, there are hopes that the electric car will capture the imagination of British motorists this year. Thus did the BBC's Brian Milligan take up a challenge to drive from London to Edinburgh in an electric car. It might sound easy, we were told, but under the rules, he was only allowed to charge the car's battery at public points.

In between driving he read a lot of books because charging took 10 hours. In all, from London to Edinburgh, it took four days it took to complete the journey – twice as long as it had taken in the 1830s, with the stage coach. That is progress, greenie-style.

Friday, 14 January 2011

EU gas agreement with Azerbaijan - "major breaktrough" may be illusory

The European Union has signed a natural gas agreement with Azerbaijan. EU Commission president José Barroso called the agreement "a major breaktrough". However, the agreement does not specify when and how much natural gas will be delivered. And with Russia doing its utmost to prevent EU from becoming less dependent on Russian gas, it is unlikely that the new EU agreement with Azerbaijan will lead to any real "breaktrough".

Russian officials and those of gas-giant Gazprom have often cast doubt on the chances of EU projects getting off the ground. Just this week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pointed out Nabucco's failings to this point, suggesting it had little chance of success compared to projects like South Stream that already had funding and gas behind them.

"Nabucco's major problem is a lack of guaranteed volumes of raw materials and no source to fill this system," Putin told RIA Novosti. "Russia will not deliver anything there, Iranian deposits are not explored, and Azerbaijan's volumes are small. Moreover, Azerbaijan has signed a delivery contract with Russia."

Read the entire RFERL story here.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Russia Among `World's Riskiest' Locations for Investors

One can only hope that foreign investers read this piece by Bloomberg before considering investments in Russia:

Russia is “one of the world’s riskiest locations for business to invest in,” according to a survey of 196 nations by U.K risk-assessment company Maplecroft.

Maplecroft, which assesses factors including conflict, terrorism, the rule of law and the regulatory and business environment, rates 11 countries including Russia as an “extreme risk” for investors.

Russia is the world’s most corrupt major economy, according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index issued in October, sliding to the 154th spot of 178 countries and placing it alongside Tajikistan and Kenya.

Krugman on the euro crisis

Paul Krugman is nowadays often more a leftist political agitator than an economist. However, his description of the euro crisis is very much to the point:

The tragedy of the Euromess is that the creation of the euro was supposed to be the finest moment in a grand and noble undertaking: the generations-long effort to bring peace, democracy and shared prosperity to a once and frequently war-torn continent. But the architects of the euro, caught up in their project’s sweep and romance, chose to ignore the mundane difficulties a shared currency would predictably encounter — to ignore warnings, which were issued right from the beginning, that Europe lacked the institutions needed to make a common currency workable. Instead, they engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the nobility of their mission transcended such concerns.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

EU plans to lift China arms embargo

British MEP Daniel Hannan (conservative) is not surprised that the European Union now plans to lift its arms embargo on China:

What the devil is Brussels doing fuelling the revanchism of a Communist tyranny? Taiwan has made real and strenuous efforts to embrace parliamentary democracy, yet has been shunned for its efforts. Red China, by contrast, has not only failed to apologise for Tiananmen, but continues to incarcerate many of the protestors it arrested at that time. How can the EU possibly consider backing a belligerent dictatorship against a small neighbouring state which upholds human rights, personal freedom and the rule of law?

The answer, I’m afraid, is that the EU places no more of a premium on democracy in its foreign policy than it does in its internal affairs. Just as it is quick to swat aside referendums which go the “wrong” way, so it has a measure of sympathy with systems of government which resemble its own: that is to say, technocracies, in which ruling Commissioners are insulated from public opinion. The politburos of Brussels and Beijing have a certain entente, a shared view of the world, a way of doing business. They can work with each other, mandarin to mandarin.

Read the entire column here


China´s repressive treatment of human rights activists - The shameful silence of Western leaders

Western political leaders - busy feting visiting Chinese "benefactors" - are shamefully silent on the fate of Gao Zhisheng and other human rights activists in China.

When the Chancellor, George Osborne, and Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, hosted visiting Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang at a cosy dinner at Mansion House on Monday, it is a fair bet that the extra-judicial torture of the man formerly on China's official list of its 10 best lawyers was not among the topics discussed.
The details of what the Chinese police did to Gao Zhisheng during his mysterious 10-month disappearance would have ruined anyone's appetite.
The brilliant human rights lawyer, who had risen from an orphaned childhood in a cave dwelling to a starring role in Beijing's courts, defending citizens against land theft, censorship and religious intolerance, was beaten day and night, temporarily blinded and threatened with death.

His head was bound in a wet towel until he felt he was suffocating. He was told his children had suffered nervous breakdowns. During one week of abuse he was handcuffed, his mouth and eyes bound with tape and he was pistol-whipped for hours on end. Other things done to him were so grotesque he refused to divulge them.

These details from the Independent´s story are revealed in an inerview with Gao Zhisheng conducted by AP when he reappeared last April. He asked that the interview be withheld unless he vanished again. Shortly after the interview Zisheng was seized again and has not been heard of since. That is why AP decided to publish the interview:

Read the entire interview here.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Why Cameron should not visit Russia

The Guardian´s Simon Tisdall continues his excellent reporting on Russia:

The jailing of several leading opposition figures, including former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, has hammered another large nail into the coffin of free expression in Russia, human rights activists and foreign observers say. Exactly how David Cameron will justify his visit to Russia later this year is hard to see at this point. Cheap energy and investment are important. But affording undeserved respectability to an increasingly repressive, authoritarian and undemocratic regime may be judged too costly.

In the end of his article Tisdall calls on Cameron to cancel his planned visit to Russia this year:

"Putin is gambling that western politicians are too weak and western investors too greedy to stand up to him. They should prove him wrong," the Economist commented last week. "The West should recognise this marks a new, more repressive phase of Putin's rule … If Russia continues to act in this way, it should be chucked out of the G8." Likewise, Cameron should cancel his visit.

The kowtowing to China continues: Now it´s the British who excel in Panda diplomacy

There seems to be no end in Europe to the kowtowing to China. The British government is the latest to join the servility choir. The deputy PM offered these words of praise when it was announced that China is going to give two pandas on loan to the Edinburgh Zoo:

Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, said it was a sign of the “strong relationship” between the UK and China.
"The kind gift of a loan of a breeding pair of giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yuangguang, is a sign that we can co-operate closely on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues, as well as commerce,” he said.
Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to the UK, said it will unite the UK and China.

The Telegraph also gives us some background :

The rare animals are highly sought after and it has taken more than five years of political negotiations at the highest level to persuade the Chinese that the young pandas will be well looked after.

So, now we at least know what has been an important priority for British diplomacy for the laste five years. Certainly senior British diplomats involved in the panda negotiations can expect knighthoods for this major diplomatic breakthrough.

The Independent is, however, in its leading article trying to spoil the party:

The links between our countries are important and should be nurtured. Chinese students who come to the UK are a great mutual benefit, bringing in considerable income to our universities and creating personal links that should prove a tremendous economic asset in the years to come.
Yet, unusually, there is to be no press conference to coincide with this high-level Chinese visit. This cannot be put down to a lack of time, since the delegation does not leave until Wednesday. The word is that the Chinese did not want a conference for fear of Mr Li being asked awkward questions about human rights abuses in China, in particular the vindictive treatment of the Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Either way, the British people have been denied an opportunity to get a closer look at the man who is likely to be the next Chinese premier. This is regrettable. Press conferences are moments of democratic scrutiny. It might suit the Chinese to communicate with the public by releasing statements and eliminating the possibility of impertinent questions, but it should not suit our own Government.
The Coalition is determined to get close to China for economic reasons. It has taken a gamble that Britain will be able to export its way to recovery over the next five years. And with the European economy stuttering, China takes on a still more crucial role. There is nothing wrong with facilitating better relations between our nations and encouraging trade and technology transfers that can benefit both of our peoples (not to mention the planet). But there is a fine line between seeking economic links with an autocratic state like China and acting in a subservient manner. The Government needs to be extremely careful that, in its haste to increase trade with China, it does not cross that line.

The Independent´s warning is somewhat belated. The "fine line" already was crossed.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Chinese Volvo

Most Swedish commentators, appear to be very happy about the new Chinese owners of the former pride of Sweden, Volvo cars. Yes, I agree, things may be going reasonably well for a couple of years. However, it will not take long before Geely will move most of the operation to mainland China. After having digested Volvo´s technology, there is actually no reason for the Chinese to continue with expensive manufacturing in Sweden.

Then there is the question about the seriousness of Geely as a car manufacturing company. Remember this Rolls Royce Phantom clone, proudly introduced by Geely as recently as 2009?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

"Green" energy madness: Wind farms that do not work in cold weather

When it´s cold outside, heavily subsidised wind turbines stop working. The UK government will have to build costly emergency back-up systems. The same, of course, applies to other European governments participating in this "climate change" energy madness (well knowing that the consumers/tax payers will end up paying the bills). 

The failure of Britain’s wind farms to produce electricity in the extreme cold will cost billions of pounds, create an economic crisis and lead to blackouts, leading industrialists have warned.
To cover up the ineffectiveness of wind farms the Government will be forced to build emergency back-up power plants, the cost of which will be paid by industry and consumers.
Jeremy Nicholson, director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, which represents major companies employing hundreds of thousands of workers in the steel, glass, pottery, paper and chemical industries, said the failure of wind power had profound implications.

Read the entire piece here.