Saturday, 2 April 2011

Why are expert forecasts so often worthless?

The fake forecasts of this Greenpeace activist should be the focus of study

Do you remember, who on January 25 said that “our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people"?

It was, of course, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who based her statement on the assessments of the wast US intelligence community, including the CIA and the US embassy network.

This and a number of other intelligence failures has prompted the little known US agency, Intelligence Advanced Researh Activity (IARPA) to sponsor a vast project - involving thousands of participants - to improve forecasting, Reuters´ World Affairs columnist Bernd Debusmann reports:

The idea is to raise five large competing teams of people of diverse backgrounds who will be asked to make predictions on fields that range from politics and global security to business and economics, public health, social and cultural change and science and technology. The project is expected to run for four years and stems from the recognition that expert forecasts are very often wrong.

One of the teams is being put together by University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock, whose ground-breaking 2005 book (Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know?) analysed 27,450 predictions from a variety of experts and found they were no more accurate than random guesses or, as he put it, “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.
“To test various hypotheses,” Tetlock said in an interview, “we want a large number on my team, 2,500 or so, which would make it almost ten times bigger than the number I analysed in my book.” There are no firm numbers yet on how big the other four teams will be. But Dan Gardner, the author of a just-published book that also highlights the shortcomings of expert predictions, believes the IARPA-sponsored project will be the biggest of its kind. It is expected to start in mid-2011.
The title of Gardner’s book, “Future Babble. Why expert predictions are next to worthless and you can do better,” leaves no doubts over his conclusion. The book is an entertaining, well researched guide to decades of totally wrong predictions from eminent figures. There was the British writer H.N. Norman, for example, who, in the peaceful early days of 1914, predicted there would be no more wars between the big powers of the time. World War I started a few months later.
There was the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, whose best-selling 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in famines in the 1970s. There was an entire library of books in the 1980s that predicted Japan would overtake the United States as the world’s leading economic power.
Not to forget the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s September 1978 prediction that the Shah of Iran “is expected to remain actively involved in power over the next ten years.” The Shah fled into exile three months later, forced out by increasingly violent demonstrations against his autocratic rule.
In a similar vein, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on January 25 that “our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”
Seventeeen days later, the leader of that stable government, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down in the face of mass protests.
“We are not clairvoyant,” America’s intelligence czar, James Clapper, told a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee where criticism of the sprawling U.S. intelligence community was aired. “Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted.”


IARPA should add a team to analyze why fake "experts" like NASA´s James Hansen and a great number of his warmist academic colleagues -  who receive vast sums of public money - are still allowed to spread their bogus "science". Hansen and his followers are no better than the man mentioned in Debusmann´s article, Stanford´s Paul Erlich, who is famous for always being wrong:

Sad to say, Paul Ehrlich has never been right about anything. He wrote a book in 1968 called The Population Bomb, saying 'The battle to feed humanity is over' and predicting famines that would kill hundreds of millions in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, the Green Revolution happened. Ehrlich now feels his book was, in his own words, 'too optimistic.'
This is the same Ehrlich who bet Julian Simon that the price of five commodity metals of Ehrlich's choice would rise over  the 1980s. Prices fell through the floor.
This is the same Ehrlich who wrote that he would take even money that England would not exist in 2000. Oops. Ehrlich has been a Malthusian doom-monger his entire career, during which humanity has thrived. You could literally become a millionaire by betting against his every statement.
Read the entire article here.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Cold war still alive in Russia: Swedish contribution to Libya no-fly zone "dangerous"

These guys seem to frighten the Russians - regrettably the Swedish pilots are not allowed to use their weapons in Libya

Yesterday´s Pravda article cited below about the Swedish decision to participate in the UN sanctioned Libya operation could have been written in the middle of the cold war. It has all the vintage communist party paper ingredients about the the US and NATO "carrying out an active policy of encirlement of Russia,  creating a ring of military bases around us". Having read the views of  Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues, the question arises: When the communist system broke down, did Mr. Ivashov go into hiding somewhere in a basement room where all the old party propaganda leaflets and films were stored? If that is indeed the case, the editors of Pravda are to be congratulated for finding him. But they would have been well adviced to brief him about the change of date and year.

The Swedish army is 25,000 people strong, but the local General Staff has developed a plan that allows it to quickly double. The Scandinavian military machine has 165 combat and 102 support aircrafts, over 50 surface ships and five submarines. It is noteworthy that the decision to build combat power in Sweden was made after the war in South Ossetia.

Sweden's participation in the bombing of Libya is a possible trial step towards membership in NATO, or at least establishing a special relationship with the alliance. How does it change the situation at the Russian borders? What kind of troubles Sweden's membership in NATO can cause Russia? Military experts Leonid Ivashov and Anatoly Tsyganok shared their thoughts with Pravda.Ru.

Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues:

"I would not say that Sweden has too strong of an army, capable of solving extra-combat tasks. It thinks more about maintaining its higher status in comparison to Norway and Finland. During last decades Russia has had good cooperative relations with the Swedes. The Swedish General von Sydow was very happy that his country did not participate in the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. This fact should be noted separately.

"However, the U.S. is carrying out an active policy of encirclement of Russia, creating a ring of military bases around us. There are bases in the Black Sea region, at our northern borders. The Americans started working with Sweden to attract it into NATO. It seems that the political decision has been made and the Swedes will be joining the North Atlantic bloc. Participation in the bombing of Libya and the creation of "Arctic mini-NATO" are steps in this direction.

"Sweden alone is unlikely to threaten Russia. However, as a part of NATO, it is much more dangerous. The Alliance is a well-honed, sophisticated American system designed to encircle Russia. In that sense, the end of the era of Swedish neutrality is not good for Russia."

Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Center for Military Forecasting, Institute of Political and Military Analysis:

"To date, there is no consensus about the possible entry into NATO in Swedish society. Proponents point to the danger posed by Russia, the adversaries point to the costs of the membership in the alliance. However, the fact that the Swedes have been recently coordinating closely with NATO forces, and that the planes have been sent to Libya, says that the "Atlantic" vector of Swedish politics today is stronger.

"If Sweden joins the Atlantic alliance, it will create many problems for Russia both at the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. In the north, near Russian borders, a joint Swedish-Norwegian strike group will appear, theoretically able to act against our Baltic and Northern fleets. Today, NATO is increasing its presence in the Arctic. In this regard, the addition of Sweden to the alliance is a very bad signal for Russia."
Read he entire piece here.

This is one of the films Mr. Ivashov must have been watching during his years in the basement:


It is very sad that this kind of thinking still is so prevalent in Russia today. But one cannot say that it is a surprise. As long as an old (second or third rate) KGB spy is in charge, not very much will change, inspite of all the talk (especially by the puppet president). 

Climate change policy gone mad: EU to ban pizza Carbonara

"As individual consumers, we all bear some responsibility for the future of our planet.
By taking small steps – like not drinking carbonated water and not eating pizza of the Carbonara type - we can all make a difference".

Connie Hedegaard, EU Climate Change Commissioner

Brussels April 1 2011.It now seems almost certain that the renowned Italian pizza and spaghetti specialties Carbonara are soon to be banned in the European Union member countries. The APF news agency, citing EU sources, reports that the EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has been successful in her efforts to secure a majority in the European Parliament for a directive that aims to “delegitimize products which encourage a carbon intensive lifestyle”. What is new in the directive, nicknamed “the Carbonara directive”, is that the products as such do not necessarily have to increase the amount of greenhouse gases in order to be covered by the new legislation. It is considered sufficient that they “encourage” a high carbon footprint lifestyle.

According to a study, recently published by the EU Climate Action Service, even the origins and history of the Carbonara show that it is incompatabile with the values and principles of the EU climate change and environmental policy : 

"First, although thought of as a typical Roman dish, the name is said to come from a dish made in the Appenine mountains of the Abruzzo by woodcutters who made charcoal for fuel. They would cook the dish over a hardwood charcoal fire and use penne rather than spaghetti because it is easier to toss with the eggs and cheese.
Second, is the obvious one that given the meaning of alla carbonara, coal worker’s style, that the dish was a dish eaten by coal workers or that the abundant use of coarsely ground black pepper resembles coal flakes."

An endangered species

The Union of Italian Food Manufacturers lobbied hard, but in the end unsuccessfully, for Carbonara to be excluded from the directive. It is widely believed that the present less than stable state of the Italian government (following the numerous scandals surrounding prime minister Silvio Berlusconi) seriously weakened their case.

One of the main arguments of the pizza&spaghetti lobby was, that it is going to be difficult to enforce the directive, due to the fact that there are thousands of pizzerias in Italy and the other member countries. However, in a recent hearing, Commissioner Hedegaard testified that the new EU Galileo satellite navigation system will make it easy to track any offenders:

“Today, we are focusing on the tools needed for the International Climate Change Policy Regime. In that respect, space is not just nice to have; it's a need to have,” Commissioner Hedegaard told attendants.

“We need science, knowledge and facts to formulate European policies. With those policies in place, we then need the tools to monitor them,” she said for members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European space industry and national governments.
The official also went on to talk about the usefulness of having the Galileo satellite navigation system up and running as soon as possible. She explained that the system has other advantages other than providing actual navigation data, too.

What is less known, is that carbonated water (club soda, soda water, sparkling water, fizzy water) and all carbonated soft drinks are also included in the list of soon to be banned products. There is only one exception:  After a personal intervention by French  president Nicolas Sarkozy, the EU Climate Action Service finally had to give in, and accept that original French Champagne is to be exempted from the directive, “due to its historically and culturally unique role in important diplomatic and other high level gatherings”. At the recent EU summit all other heads of state and prime ministers, except Berlusconi, supported the French initiative. Political analysts are already speculating that this Sarkozy victory will strengthen his popularity in the coming presidential elections.

The French Champagne Producers´ Association has, of course, been in jubilant mood after the grande victoire in Brussels. One producer even named a new vintage champagne after the French president: Champagne Pierre Mignon Cuvée Nicolas Sarkozy Champagne Brut. The association also wanted to highlight the traditional values associated with their noble sparkling product with this video: 

The Federation of European Green Parties has already welcomed the new directive as “an important step towards a sustainable, carbon free future for Europe”. Although the directive does not yet cover eating and drinking at home, "people should voluntarily abstain from consuming these products", the Green Parties Federation said in a statement. The director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, also lauded the directive:“ Europe is again showing the way, but we desperately need a global agreement under the auspices of the United Nations”. The most serious threat against a global agreement is the US Senate, with its majority of climate change deniers, Mr. Naidoo said.

If you would like to taste the "forbidden fruit" before it disappears from the menu, here is a brief educational video:

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Corruption in the European Parliament

Corrupt MEP caught on tape

There are close to 5000 registered lobbyists in Brussels trying to influence the the European Parliament and other EU institutions. Many of these lobbyists are probably working within the limits of laws and regulations honest in order to influence the decision makers. However, the Sunday Times recently showed how easy it is for lobbyists to get members of the EU parliament to advance special interest causes by paying them to do it: :

The Sunday Times claimed a total of three MEPs – including a former deputy prime minister – had agreed to work for a fake lobbying company in return for a fee and had subsequently put forward amendments to key draft legislation in the European parliament.
The newspaper said two of the amendments went on to appear in official parliamentary documents, exactly as instructed by the fake lobbying company.
One amendment was intended to water down the Deposit Guarantee Schemes directive, a key financial reform designed to protect customers’ deposits in the event of another banking collapse.
If proven, the allegations could prove highly damaging to the reputation of the European parliament, which has become a magnet for corporate lobbyists seeking to influence European legislation.
Lobbyists say that MEPs can be easy to influence because they tend to have small staffs and limited technical expertise in many of the policy areas over which they preside. In some cases, lobbyists have drafted the actual amendments that MEPs have later voted into law.
Sunday Times reporters approached Mr Strasser offering him a seat on an advisory board of a fake lobbying company.
Mr Strasser was taped offering to help with an amendment on behalf of investment firms seeking changes to the Investor Compensation Schemes directive. “You send me the amendment and what your client wants to change. Yes?”

Read the entire FT article here.

The Austrian MEP - the former Austrian interior minister Ernst Strasser - named in the Sunday Times report has now resigned after he was filmed claiming that he already worked for five companies who each paid him up to 100.000 a year. Mr. Strasser was caught offering to help with an amendment seeking changes to the Investment Compensations Schemes directive. The two other MEPs who were cought by the Sunday Times offering services against cash, were Adrian Severin, former Romanian deputy prime minister and Zoran Thaler, former Slovenian foreign minister. Severin and Thaler have not yet resigned.

The Sunday Times report is just one example of what is going on in this rotten so called parliament, which regrettably has been given more powers by the the new EU constitution, better known as the Lisbon treaty.

And, as expected, the EU parliament is doing everything in its power to block the EU´s own anti-fraud office from investigating the corruption:

The European Anti-Fraud Office, or OLAF, thinks it should be the one investigating. After all, what’s the point of having a dedicated EU anti-fraud agency if you can’t investigate credible allegations that MEPs are taking bribes?
But when an OLAF team showed up in the parliament to search the MEPs offices last week, they were unceremoniously denied entry by parliamentary authorities. Parliamentarians insisted OLAF was set up to investigate fraud against the EU budget, and it’s not clear that the EU has lost money in this episode.
OLAF disagrees on the limits of its role, but so far hasn’t been anywhere near the MEPs’ offices, which have been sealed off

China continues its crackdown on human rights and democracy activists

The communist government of China continues its crackdown on human rights and democracy advocates:

BEIJING — A human rights advocate in Sichuan has been formally arrested and charged with inciting subversion against the state, according to a statement on Wednesday by China Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group that tracks violations by the Chinese government. The advocate, Chen Wei, was charged on Monday, and his family was notified on Tuesday.

Mr. Chen is the third person in recent days to be charged with inciting subversion in an extraordinarily harsh crackdown on progressives in China that has been unfolding since late February. The other two, Ran Yunfei and Ding Mao, are also from Sichuan and are known, like Mr. Chen, to be promoters of the rule of law and democracy-oriented reforms.

Parts of Sichuan Province, a rugged, populous area in western China, are known to be havens for liberal thinkers, and the region has a long literary and philosophical tradition. The authorities there are now at the forefront of pressing charges against people advocating political reform.

On Friday, a court in Sichuan sentenced Liu Xianbin, a veteran democracy activist, to 10 years in prison for slandering the Communist Party in his writings; Mr. Liu was detained in June, before the current clampdown.

The recent wave of disappearances and detentions began when a Chinese-language Web site hosted in the United States posted a call in late February for frustrated Chinese to take to the streets in a so-called Jasmine Revolution to protest corruption and unjust rule. The Chinese government, fearing the kinds of protests that have swept through the Arab world, has apparently ordered that any signs of dissent be nipped in the bud.
China Human Rights Defenders estimates that at least 23 people have been detained for criminal investigation., an English-language Web site based in Beijing, compiled a list this week of about 50 Chinese who have been recently detained, arrested or made to disappear; the list is based on various reports and is incomplete.

Read the entire article here.

If you wonder why there are so few reports in Western media about protests in China, CNN gives the reason:

Authorities have deployed heavy security along major thoroughfares, especially in Wangfujing, a busy shopping street in downtown Beijing that had been designated by the online group for protests.
China also has tightened rules on foreign reporters, explicitly warning them that they risk detention, suspension of press cards and expulsion if they show up at planned demonstrations.

The Chinese government wants to prevent this kind of media coverage:

"Germany´s dangerous new foreign policy doctrine"

Foreign Minister Westerwelle does not have many friends in Washington DC

(image by Auswärtiges Amt)

It is difficult to understand, why the normally rational German chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed herself to be led by her less than talented foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle on the question of Libya. There is, of course, the even more worrying possibility that Merkel actually agrees with Herr Westerwelle´s new "foreign policy doctrine" - at least there have been no clear signs that she would disagree.

No wonder that people both inside and outside of the Obama adiminstration are wondering, what on earth is going on in Berlin:

They used to call him "Guido Who?," but now the German foreign minister is finally known by name in Washington -- and that is not necessarily good news for Guido Westerwelle. His stance on Libya has confused and angered US politicians, and Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be able to put up with it for long.

Finally, Guido Westerwelle has name recognition in the United States capital, despite the election failures of his business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) at home and calls for his resignation. For a long time, he was known in Washington as "Guido Who?" At most, the foreign minister's English -- which could do with some improvement -- brought a passing interest, along with his oddly persistent calls for the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from German soil.

Since then, however, he has gained greater recognition. Thanks to the German abstention on the vote for Libyan military action in the United Nations Security Council, for which he was responsible, the backlash against Westerwelle has started in the ivory towers on the Potomac.
"Chancellor Merkel has deeply strained relations with allies in the European Union and the NATO alliance, raising new questions about Germany's ability to play a global role in foreign policy, even as its economic power and influence grow," writes the New York Times. The Huffington Post adds that the German decision was obviously motivated by domestic political considerations. Recent polls now show that most Germans agree with the course taken by the coalition government.
In an interview with NBC on Monday evening, US President Barack Obama talked about potentially supplying the Libyan rebels with weapons, dictator Moammar Gadhafi's remaining options and the importance of the military action. And when he spoke to American citizens about his Libyan policy, he said he counted on "our closest allies": The UK, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey.

No mention of Germany.

Read the entire Der Spiegel article here.

In another related articlek, Der Spiegel´s Ralf Neukirch writes about "Germany´s dangerous new foreign policy doctrine":

That makes it so alarming when Westerwelle proclaims Germany's UN abstention as the birth of a new foreign policy doctrine. In the future, Germany wants to cherry-pick its own partners in the world. That can be France, Britain and America, but it could also on occasion be Brazil or India. The principle of "If in doubt, stick with the West'" no longer applies.
Westerwelle's New Doctrine is Contradictory
This new doctrine ignores Germany's history. It is deeply contradictory. On the one hand Westerwelle is exaggerating Germany's international role -- even a superpower like the US can't keep up such a policy of shifting alliances in the long run. Germany would be hopelessly overreaching itself by doing so. If Bismarck didn't manage it, Westerwelle doesn't have a hope. It would be disastrous for Germany if its Western partners began to doubt its commitment to them.
At the same time, Westerwelle is making Germany more insignificant than it really is. He wants Germany to be a country that doesn't send any soldiers on foreign missions and instead serves as a role model for peace. This Germany wants its role in the Security Council to be about abolishing child soldiers and landmines, not about imposing no-fly zones. It wants to leave the unpleasant matters for others to sort out.
The Libyan controversy highlights this double standard. Westerwelle was at the forefront of Western politicians supporting the popular uprisings in Arab countries. But he left it to others to keep protesters from being massacred. That is simply hypocritical. One can't accuse the other European countries of being too slow in backing a weapons and oil embargo while at the same time withdrawing German ships that could enforce such an embargo.

Read the entire article here.

It is likely that domestic considerations are behind the Chancellor´s strange behaviour. By now, she must have realized that the "Westerwelle" doctrine is a recipe for disaster, which should be abandoned as soon as possible. She would probably like to get rid of Herr Westerwelle as soon as possible, but that is easier said than done. As long as Westerwelle is the leader of the coalition party FDP, his departure also leads to the departure of the entire government. However, Frau Merkel cannot blame anybody else than herself for having allowed all this to happen.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The face of the new "green" Germany

The representatives of the German society´s "new core" in action.  The "choir" towards the end is worth listening to!

Charles Hawley, editor of Der Spiegel, thinks that the success of the Green party in last weekend´s two state elections has resulted in a "profound shift" in the country´s political landscape:

The equation seems simple. A nuclear disaster in Japan combined with widespread skepticism of atomic energy in Germany equals record-setting election successes for the anti-nuclear Green Party in two state elections on Sunday.
The story line is certainly tempting. Germany has, after all, reacted with notable concern to the ongoing calamity at the Fukushima nuclear facility on Japan's east coast. And the resulting nuclear policy about-face by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government in Berlin has looked anything but composed and reasoned.
But Germany's Greens had been building toward ballot box success for months prior to the events in Japan. In many states, the party stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). In many others, their poll numbers are rising.
Indeed, far from being a one-off, the party's 24.2 percent result in Baden-Württemberg and the 15.4 percent it received in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday marks the beginning of a new era for Germany's political landscape. The Greens have benefited mightily from ongoing exasperation with the tradition-laden parties CDU and SPD -- and the erstwhile rebellious environmentalists have now become a fixture in the country's political center.
"In the cultural debates which have been waged in recent years, whether they focused on lifestyle issues, questions of values or nuclear energy, the center-left and the Greens have the support of society's new core," writes political analyst Franz Walter in a Monday contribution for SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Culturally, society's new center has distanced itself step by step from the Christian Democratic and conservative-traditional world view.


One must sincerely hope that Hawley is wrong. Already hitherto, the greens have had a disastrous influence in the political and economical development of the most important country in the European Union. If the greens really now have the support of the "society´s new core" in Germany, it does not bode well for Germany, the EU or NATO.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Putin and Medvedev are less and less popular in Russia

Russia´s ruler Vladimir Putin and his puppet President Dmitry Medvedev are more and more mistrusted by ordinary Russians, according to a new report that was publishded today in Moscow. "People have not only stopped fearing a ´third person´ but are beginning to wish for his emergence", says the report.  What is remarkable is that the report has been compiled by the pro-government think-tank Centre for Strategic Research in Moscow:  

MOSCOW — Russia's leaders are increasingly mistrusted and there is a growing desire for an alternative to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev in 2012 polls, a study said Monday.
The report by the pro-government think-tank Centre for Strategic Research said an unfair 2012 presidential election win by either Dmitry Medvedev or Vladimir Putin may lead to a crisis similar to one that brought down the USSR.
"People have not only stopped fearing a 'third person' but are beginning to wish for his emergence," said the report, based on the group's own polling and focus group work.
"The most important change in the political consciousness of Russians over the last eight months consists not just of a fall of trust in the tandem and its participants but also a growth in demand for a 'third' person."
The past year has seen an onset of a "political crisis" in Russia as ratings of Medvedev, Putin, and the ruling party United Russia fell by 12, 21, and 18 percent, respectively, it said.
Observers in Russia have closely watched for an indication of whether Medvedev will seek re-election or if Putin is likely to run again. The leaders have said that they will decide between themselves which one of them will run.
But based on the think-tank's polling, it said that "Medvedev seems an unelectable figure" while Putin is gaining "anti-electorate" among not just the opposition but wider society that accuses him of acting in self-interest.
If the trend of falling trust in authority keeps strong over the next year, Russia will arrive at a political crisis that could "in its intensity surpass the end of the 1990s and closely approach the end of the 1980s," it added.

Read the entire article here.

Another interesting report, highlighting the worsening corruption in Russia during Putin´s reign, was also published today:
Opposition leaders claimed on Monday that corruption has worsened under Vladimir Putin's rule, and his friends and relatives have abused their positions for personal gain.
Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and two other opposition figures presented a report alleging corruption under Putin over the past decade.
Former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov cited data by the Indem think tank, saying corruption increased tenfold between 2001 and 2005 to well over $300 billion, or a quarter of the economy.
"Corruption is killing the country's economy, welfare, hurts its morals, political system and robs Russia of a future," Ryzhkov told reporters.
The report says a handful of Putin's friends and relatives — all relatively obscure until the 2000s — have accumulated fortunes with the help of state companies. In one of the examples, Putin's friends came to control a small bank, Rossiya, which received a handful of lucrative assets from Gazprom in the mid-2000s.
The report also highlights the activities of Gennady Timchenko, a low-profile Russian oil trader with Finnish citizenship.
His declared fortune shot up from about $2 million in 2000 to $2.5 billion in 2008, according to Forbes magazine. While paying taxes in Switzerland, his company Gunvor exports at least one-third of Russian oil, buying it from state oil companies at preferential rates, the report said.
"All of them got rich at the state's expense," Nemtsov said, referring to Timchenko and Putin's friends involved in managing Gazprom's assets.
Read the entire article here
Nothing has changed - at least not for the better - after Putin installed Medvedev as president, even if Medvedev repeaedly has spoken about the need for freedom and reforms. This German video is as true as it was shown for the first time in 2008, except that Putin chose to leave his office in the Kremlin, at least temporarily.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Another day in the life of an EU Commissioner

Recently we met EU Commissioner for development, Andris Piebalgs in the capital of the tiny island state Vanuatu, one of the destinations in the Commissioner´s  grand tour of the Pacific. His main task during the visit was to announce the EU´s willingness to add 50 million euro to previous EU climate change commitments to a number of “sinking” (not true) islands states.
No wonder our dear commissioner was treated royally by his hosts in the different exotic islands he and his entourage visited.

         The "official" dark suit look - somewhat out of place in the South Pacific

Unfortunately all nice things must come to an end, and our Commissioner finally had to return to Brussels, in order to prepare for the next exotic trip, this time to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

But before that, the hard working Commissioner found time to visit Ireland – a member country which recently has been in the news for other reasons than climate change.

The Irish Times reports about the Commissioner´s visit:

Andris Piebalgs told a conference organised by Trócaire that EU countries had promised to meet the target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNP on development aid on many occasions and should do so despite the global economic downturn.

Speaking at a Dublin event to discuss Trócaire's Leading Edge 2020  document about the future for international non-government organisations, he warned that the credibility of donor countries was on the line.

"If you don't do this, it is not just the projects that it will fail. If there is no trust, there is no success. If you promise you should deliver," he said.
Mr Piebalgs, who is an ex-Latvian finance minister said he would impressing upon the Irish Government that it should make the commitment to the 0.7 per cent target despite the financial position facing the country.He noted that Ireland's contribution peaked at 0.59 per cent in 2009, the first full year of the recession and the development aid budget had been disproportionately cut since.Mr Piebalgs said it was not the "billions in promises" that saved lives but the millions in actual aid.

The EU accounts for 60 per cent of the world's development aid budget. To date only EU countries have met the development aid target. Ireland is behind Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg but ahead of the rest of the EU in terms of the percentage of its GNP that it gives to the developing world.

Here we have an unelected EU bureaucrat criticising the economically hard hit people of an almost bankrupt member country ( mainly because Ireland is a member of the euro zone) for not spending enough on development - including climate change - aid! This is, of course, an outrage. Mr. Piebalgs should have been thrown out of the country after such an insult. But, as the EU now is in reality master of the Irish house, the reaction of the Irish government was rather timid, to say the least:

the new Minister of State for Trade and Development Jan O'Sullivan said the Government was committed to the 0.7 GNP target by 2015.

However, she conceded this goal would be "difficult to achieve" and it was imperative that the aid given was used to maximise the impact on poor people and communities.

 Read the entire article here.

Today, after the brief Irish interlude, Commissioner Pielbags should have arrived in Addis Ababa. This time there is very little information available about what he actually will be doing in the Ethiopian capital (Is his PR staff on holiday?) This brief message on his home page is all there is:
Commissioner Andris PIEBALGS visits Addis Ababa
27/03/2011 - 29/03/2011
tothe 4th Joint Annual Meetings of the AU Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance
participate at

However, judging from what the Commissioner has been doing on similar previous trips (e.g. to the South Pacific) it is not unlikely that he will announce the availability of some new development and climate change aid millions (paid for by the Irish and other member country tax payers) to the African dignitaries gathered in Addis Ababa.

Most likely the Commissioner will not be bothering his hosts with this small problem:

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The European community will give Ethiopia a $17.8 million grant to build a carbon-neutral economy, the European commissioner for development said.
European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs met Monday with Ethiopian Finance Minister Sufian Ahmed to discuss a grant to implement the Global Climate Change Alliance in the country.
The European Commission said the primary objective of the GCCA is to build a carbon neutral and climate resilient economy in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of European development aid. Europe also represents one of the largest export markets for Ethiopian goods.
The GCCA program aims to build a healthy climate relationship between the European community and developing countries that the commission said were the most vulnerable to climate change.
Human Rights Watch called on European leaders to pressure Ethiopia to address alleged misuse of development aid. The rights group said international financial assistance to Ethiopia has increased along with political repression in the country.
"Government services, funded by the European Union and other donors, are administered in a partisan way so that essential agricultural inputs, land, and even food for work programs are used as tools to reward loyal supporters and punish the families of members of the opposition, with serious humanitarian consequences," the rights group said in a statement.

Read the entire article here.

And this subject will definitively not be on the Commissioner´s agenda when he meets the African dignitaries:

Britain warns EU over corruption in its aid programmes

Britain warned the EU on Monday that it was ready to withhold hundreds of millions of pounds from the body's international aid programmes if it does not tackle pervasive corruption and waste.


Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, has teamed up with his Swedish counterpart in a campaign to force Brussels to open up its aid spending to independent scrutiny. He told a meeting in Brussels that he and Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden's development minister, were ready to block co-operation to promote change.


Studies have found that administrative costs swallow up far more of EU spending than the best performing national aid programmes. It has been estimated that the EU's own mistakes result in delays in 40 per cent of all projects. The aid budget accounts for one-fifth of fraud enquiries in the EU.

Read the entire article here.

Another subject not on the Commissioner´s agenda with the African dignitaries is this:

SPIEGEL Interview with African Economics Expert

"For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!"

The Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, 35, says that aid to Africa does more harm than good. The avid proponent of globalization spoke with SPIEGEL about the disastrous effects of Western development policy in Africa, corrupt rulers, and the tendency to overstate the AIDS problem.
Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?
Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Read the entire interview here.

Many other experts have come to the same conclusion as Dr. Shikwati. The prominent economist Dambisa Mayo is one of them:



This blog will continue to observe Commissioner Piebalgs at work and is looking forward to keep its readers informed about about exciting new destinations on his schedule.