Sunday Funnies: Pulled Punches

I think we should leave the nice kitty alone, looks a bit grumpy to me!

Which would, of course, go well over the head of the current Speaker, but one could say, “That’s a low bar.”

Does she have a gun? You tell me.

I’m reasonably certain she doesn’t have a gun, but don’t stare into her eyes, she nearly got away with my soul.

 

And Looking Across the Ditch

Yesterday we took a look at the status of Brexit, since that post the worst candidate for Tory leader has dropped out, which seems like a good thing. But let’s take a look at Europe.

The European Parliament elections have put an end to the “far right.” From now on, the EU’s ministers and bureaucrats will have a new nationalist right complicating their machinations. The attempt to identify elite preferences with majority rule under the false rubric of centrism has failed. For the first time, the center-left Socialists & Democrats and the center-right European People’s Party have failed to win a majority. Instead, an anti-EU bloc has emerged in the European Parliament, the very institution intended to fix the famous democratic deficit of the EU while sanctioning “centrism” continent-wide.

This immoderate centrism will no longer be able to label populists as undemocratic. These so-called populists in several countries now control the government. They achieved this by democratic decision in free and fair elections: think here of Poland, Hungary, and Italy. Populism is a popular choice for the European Parliament: England, France, and Italy bear this out. Unless elites propose to elect another people, as Bertold Brecht joked, they’ll just have to stop calling it “far right.” […]

We are experiencing a politics of maneuvering between elites that still hold the highest offices in the EU and counter-elites hoping to replace them, change the structure of the EU, and even destroy some EU powers. The command of the high EU offices is still powerful enough to exclude the nationalists from EU coalitions, since there are alternatives on the center and left, but that will expose the center as its own faction or what Pierre Manent has referred to as the “immoderate middle.” Expect the nationalists to make this conflict worse by undermining the legitimacy of the European Parliament. They will work to subvert the European institutional consensus—to expose entrenched corruption and to expose the technocratic consensus as partisan, and to defend each other from Article VII sanctions (loss of voting rights) which the European Parliament threatened against Hungary in 2018.

This is a good moment for the nationalists to size up their adversaries’ ideas about the situation Europe now faces, adrift somewhere between America and China. Europe has neither the economic growth nor the technology to compete with either of the two, but EU officials keep saying they want to be independent of NATO on security and foreign policy even as China is buying its way into the EU and introducing new technologies over which it has a near-monopoly, such as 5G infrastructure. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the EU was not only the future of Europe, but political alternatives were inconceivable—they had no expression. EU politicians and their compliant press applied the epithet Eurosceptic to such views. But the failure to deal with the financial crisis, among other crises, has mainstreamed opposition to the EU on a number of levels in Europe—and it’s now storming into the European Parliament itself.

What champion of the EU consensus will fight it? The self-appointed leader of Europe is French President Emmanuel Macron. His presidency has not exactly been met with great success. The French people in many ways have given him their own vote of no-confidence, from months of street protests (“yellow vests” movement) to the victory of Marine Le Pen in the European Parliament elections, his own party coming in a close second, with only 22% of the votes. His great unpopularity, which plagued both his single-term predecessors, portends problems for the Fifth Republic. But Macron is still an elected president with very considerable powers.

There is quite a lot more, read it all at The European Union and the Fate of Nations.

I think that is true, once again (albeit by quite different means) Great Britain is moving to prevent a single power from dominating Europe. This time, not the government, but the people. It’s a wise move, even though continental Europe is becoming irrelevant, as both China and the United States move well beyond it. It needs Britain far more than it thinks. That I suspect is part of the trouble with Germany and France. Remainers often chide Brexiteer as ‘Little Englanders’. But like so much with the left, it is projection. What I see is little Europe and global Britain.

Britain isn’t the largest power in Europe, nor has it ever been. But, like, and perhaps even more than, the United States, it has a cachet for the rest of the world. It is the foremost font of ‘soft power’ because of who and what it has been in the modern world. I commented last weekend at the Hong Kong demonstrations and the number of the old colonial flag, Union Jack in the canton, and royal arms in the field, 20 years after the colony was ceded back to China. That’s no accident.

Nor is it an accident that all the countries that promote freedom share the Union Jack. Britain, of course, and Australia, and New Zealand, But the old flag of Singapore also does, as does Canada’s Red Ensign. The US also has a historic flag featuring the Union Flag in the canton. In fact, that was the flag raised in Philadelphia on 4 July 1776.

That’s a lot of places that remember the heritage of the British, show me the comparable heritage of the French, or the Germans.

Titus Techera ends his article with this:

As soon as he won the vote in Italy, Salvini moved to talk to other populist victors, having already formed a new European party for nationalists. Is it even possible for nationalists to have an alliance across borders? On what principle of justice? They will invariably have competing, contradictory claims and no institutional arrangements where leaders can pledge their loyalties and arrange to defend each other from the institutional claims of the EU, much less from the enormous influence of the German economy. Whether national politics or the continent-wide arrangement of institutions and economic interests wins will go a long way to deciding the future of Europe.

I’m inclined to say, of course, they can, if they are mature enough to do it. Like the US, Britain, and Canada will give way on minor gripes to each other, so can these countries. Whether they will is a different question.

To conclude, what the nationalists can do is shake the confidence of the centrists and mount a minority assault on decisions in the various EU institutions, since they cannot control EU offices. We will find out whether the various EU institutions are weaker or stronger than they have hitherto seemed. But we will also learn how aggressive the shift from the political center to the Greens and Liberals will make the majority. There is no tranquility or common purpose in sight.

And it is even possible, although unlikely on their own, that they shake the whole edifice down and allow Europe once again to be a group of independent nations trying to look out for their people.

A Brexpanation of the Mess in Westminster

This is, I think, a very good view of Britain as it prepares for what may thankfully be the last phase of Brexit.  It’s from Helen Dale writing in London for Law & Liberty. Let’s take a look.

At time of writing, Boris Johnson has opened a commanding lead in the race to be Conservative Party leader and thus Prime Minister, confirming one of my father’s bits of life advice: “always bet on self-interest, Helen; it’s the only horse that’s trying”. Whether Boris will have a country to govern come July 22 is, however, something of a moot point.

Let me tell you about Brexit Britain, which is in the process of breaking the Big Electric Trainset in the Palace of Westminster.

Since the 23rd of June 2016, when the UK voted to “leave” the European Union, colossal fissures — hitherto obscured from view — have opened in the body politic. More Conservatives voted Leave than Labourites, but Labour represents the most passionately pro-Remain constituencies in the country and the most passionately pro-Leave ones. This means both parties have taken to destroying themselves internally rather than dealing with the vote’s implications.

The Tories are more culpable because they formed government during this period. They stuck with Theresa May, a leader who lacks every leadership quality apart from perseverance and who managed to lose a 20 per cent poll lead against an antediluvian Marxist after calling a completely unnecessary general election. This election produced a hung parliament and forced May’s Tories into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a Northern Irish outfit that is, to put it mildly, full of strange characters.

Thanks in part to the immense distraction of said unnecessary election, May and her Cabinet Office hangers-on made a complete hash of negotiating Brexit. They failed to appreciate — while slow and ponderous and beset with terrible problems of its own (Italy, Greece, Hungary, people in France attempting to re-run 1789, etc.) — the EU must defend itself on Brexit or risk being torn asunder.

There’s a lot in that. Because Mrs. May fiddled around while the Conservative party burned around her, the EU itself is backed into a corner. Back when the referendum passed, it might have been possible to let the UK go without too many repercussions in the EU itself, at least obviously, and like HMG, the people running the EU give no indication of being deep thinkers. But now, they have something of a continent-wide revolt on their hands, caused not least by Brexit, and so now everybody thinks they are fighting in the last ditch.

They may well be correct in that belief. It’s hard to see Britain surviving as a sovereign country if they take May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which to me (and to most of my British friends) looks slightly more harsh than Versailles agreement that ended the Great War did to Germany. It’s also increasingly hard to see the EU surviving the loss of its second largest contributor.

It is not Project Fear to point out that tariffs will make our goods unappealing to buyers in the EU; that is their point. A large number of British businesses will be affected and many of them will go bust. Industries that cannot relocate, such as Welsh lamb farmers — who depend overwhelmingly on exports — will go to the wall and they will not go quietly (nor should they).

On the other hand, shoppers will be free of EU tariffs on imports and will be able to buy generally superior Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Canada) agricultural produce at a lower price. This is an undoubted benefit of leaving the EU properly but is also a reminder that neither EU nor UK agriculture is remotely competitive with Australian or Canadian agriculture.

That’s very true, and unlike 2016, the United States has a president that believes in Brexit and is willing to do a very good trade agreement, and our agriculture would make for overwhelming pressure on UK farmers, that’s one of the reasons that the EU’s agriculture tariffs are so high. But agriculture isn’t merely another business, aside from the fact that being able to feed yourself (or come close) is a strategic matter, for all of us agriculture is our base, it is how we grew our countries. That’s true for Britain, and France, and Germany, but also Canada and the United States, and Australia. It’s much more important to all of us than business, it’s very deep in our personalities.

One of the reasons the 2016 EU Referendum was so destructive of civil society is because Westminster is a system of representative democracy. We elect MPs to make law, and it is their role to deliberate in Parliament and make decisions on behalf of those they represent, but not at their behest. Over its long development, anything even vaguely populist was drained out of the UK’s constitutional architecture. Politicians are not supposed to keep picking at some electoral scab or another using direct democracy. 2016 was thus a horrible disruption of the constitutional order precisely because referendums are not how one does things.

A referendum became necessary, though, as the UK outsourced so many legislative competencies — most importantly trade and immigration — to the EU. Constitutionally, the electorate entrusts MPs with legislative power, but Parliament had no authority to give that power away; it required a popular mandate. Britain’s greatest constitutional lawyer, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, pointed out that a referendum should have been held in 1993 (before signing the Maastricht Treaty). His advice was ignored. Instead, former Prime Minister David Cameron, Bognanor’s most famous student, was forced by circumstances to lance the national boil in 2016.

UK politicians have legislated and governed within such a constrained field for so long they are now literally out of practice. Westminster is no more than a Big Electric Trainset. The concomitant loss of capacity among civil servants is notable. It is difficult, for example, to imagine the Home Office replicating Australia’s points-based immigration system, even if it wanted to.

And that is the baseline, I think. I can remember a very good friend telling me that the reason that every governmental function in Britain is Londoncentric is because there are no competent people in local government. I suspect he is correct. The problem now (that neither of us suspected then) is that there are none in Westminster, either.

Maybe Boris Johnson can find some, or Nigel Garage, or somebody. Because it is important that some develop from somewhere, or the whole thing is gonna fail.

Do read the whole article at Brexplaining the UK’s Future. It’s excellent.

Sunday Funnies: Into the Silly Season

Summer has always been the silly season. Looks like little has changed. But we are still paying attention.

And yep, I hear this quite a lot from my British friends.

Only the Turks know for sure!

Good on AOC with this one, but she’s off message

And, of course

A Very British Protest

Americans are likely the foremost proponents of individual freedom in the world. We have been as long as there have been Americans. There sits John Winthrop’s “Shining Citte on a hill’. Over there is the Declaration that fueled both the French and Russian Revolutions, although they both let it get out of hand, which we didn’t. There is a Constitution that almost uniquely has been honored for over 200 years more in its use than its breach.  But that is our heritage, above all that is what makes Americans, Americans. But it didn’t spring forth like Pallas Athena from Zeus’s brow on 4 July 1776, where did it come from? Edmund Burke knew and put it as well as anyone ever has when he said…

First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation, which still I hope respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles. Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object; and every nation has formed to itself some favourite point, which by way of eminence becomes the criterion of their happiness. It happened, you know, Sir, that the great contests for freedom in this country were from the earliest times chiefly upon the question of taxing. Most of the contests in the ancient commonwealths turned primarily on the right of election of magistrates; or on the balance among the several orders of the state. The question of money was not with them so immediate. But in England it was otherwise. On this point of taxes the ablest pens, and most eloquent tongues, have been exercised; the greatest spirits have acted and suffered. In order to give the fullest satisfaction concerning the importance of this point, it was not only necessary for those who in argument defended the excellence of the English constitution, to insist on this privilege of granting money as a dry point of fact, and to prove, that the right had been acknowledged in ancient parchments, and blind usages, to reside in a certain body called a House of Commons. [emphasis mine]

But we are not, and never have been alone. This is the heritage of Britain, seen undiluted in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and some others, and imperfectly in others such as India. But it is the most powerful drive in the world. Take another look at the picture that leads this article. That is not London, nor any other great British city. That is a picture of the protests last weekend in Hong Kong. The former crown colony, now belonging to China, but with guarantees till mid-century about its English style justice system which is now being threatened by mainland China.

A good write up in The Federalist.

Last Sunday, more than 1 million Hong Kong residents, despite brazing heat, took to the streets to protest the government’s controversial extradition bill. Should this bill become law, Beijing will be able to demand Hong Kong authorities extradite anyone, including pro-democracy dissidents and human rights activists.

The Sunday protest is the largest since the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong over to Beijing in 1997. The protest was peaceful until midnight, when a small group of protestors clashed with local police. For an event involving 1 million people, a mostly pacifist protest is a no small accomplishment.

In some way, Sunday’s protest feels like Hong Kongers’ Alamo moment. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive appointed by Beijing, vowed the day after the massive protest that she would push ahead with the extradition bill in spite of dissent. She probably doesn’t have much choice, because Beijing won’t allow her to back down. Since 1989, Beijing has always suppresed any dissent immediately and ruthlessly.

Hong Kongers Want to Keep Their Freedoms

But Hong Kongers won’t back down either. More protests are taking place this week. What’s amazing is that, unlike 2014’s “umbrella movement,” which demanded universal suffrage, there is no single visible leader like Joshua Wong who is in charge of this week’s protests. Instead, ordinary Hong Kongers—students, airline crews, office workers, labor union organizers, Catholic Church workers, business people, and even some legislators—are taking part in these protests of their own initiative.

Teachers’ unions called for closing schools on Wednesday so teachers and students could participate in the protest. Art galleries, restaurants, and many other businesses gave their employees a day off so they could join. These grassroots efforts demonstrate that the protest isn’t only about opposing the extradition bill. Hong Kongers are fed up by the constant economic and political squeeze by Beijing. They feel that Beijing has broken its promise of respecting Hong Kong’s autonomy. They are also deeply disappointed in Hong Kong authorities’ submissive attitude. Now, ordinary Hong Kongers are showing they won’t go down without a fight.

Protesters have surrounded Hong Kong’s legislative building since Tuesday, which forced the pro-Beijing legislature to temporarily delay the second round of debate of the bill. However, the Hong Kong government’s responses to the peaceful protests have become more hawkish.

The legislature resumed the debate of the extradition bill on Wednesday. Lam called the protests “riots,” which reminded people of the language Beijing used against the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square. The latest video shows Hong Kong police are firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd. According to a government report, more than 70 people, including both police and protesters, were injured during the clash.

The most likely outcome of this extraordinary event in Hong Kong is that the legislature will pass some version of the extradition bill. So are Hong Kongers’ efforts futile? I don’t think so.

Helen in her article thinks President Trump should make a statement supporting the protestors. I want to agree, I admire them greatly. But like Hungary in 1956, we cannot effectively support them, so do we risk increasing their casualties by encouraging them, or do we sadly remain silent, recognizing that there are things even the United States cannot do. I don’t know that answer.

But I do that the Hong Kong protestors are in the best tradition of Anglo-American freedom, and I’m cheering for them.

But think of that, it was twenty years ago that Britain gave up control of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong, and now like a phoenix, its flag again flies, carried by the former colonists. Takes a special sort of empire for that to happen.

Hong Kong Protests

Hong Kong: Anti-extradition protesters block government HQ | World News | Sky News

Have you heard much out of Hong Kong lately? Me either. But there is a lot of protesting going on there. Why? Because China wants to extradite people to stand trial in China rather than Hong Kong with its western (British) rule of law. From Reuters.

Hong Kong braced for strikes, transport go-slows and another mass demonstration in protest against a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, as the Chinese-ruled city’s leader vowed defiance.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would push ahead with the bill despite deep concerns across vast swaths of the Asian financial hub that triggered its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.

That’s no doubt true, but I doubt it is the most important reason than HK with its westernized population, used to proper courts and such, is up in arms.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China under a “one-country, two-systems” formula, with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.

But many accuse China of extensive meddling, denying democratic reforms, interfering with local elections and the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Sunday’s protests plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.

She warned against any “radical actions”, following clashes in the early hours of Monday between some protesters and police after Sunday’s otherwise peaceful march.

Police erected metal barriers to secure the council building as a small number of protesters started to gather on Tuesday evening despite torrential rain and thunderstorm warnings. Police conducted random ID checks at train stations.

Nearly 2,000 mostly small retail shops, including restaurants, grocery, book and coffee shops, have announced plans to strike, according to an online survey, a rare move in the staunchly capitalist economy.

Eaton HK Hotel, which is owned by Langham Hospitality Investments and operated by Great Eagle Holdings, said it respected workers’ “political stances” and would allow them to rally.

The student union of several higher education institutions and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union urged people to strike on Wednesday. Nearly 4,000 teachers said they would rally.

Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.

“When the fugitive extradition bill is passed, Hong Kong will become a ‘useless Hong Kong’” said Jimmy Sham, convenor of Civil Human Rights Front. “We will be deep in a place where foreign investors are afraid to invest and tourists are afraid to go. Once the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ (it) will become nothing.”

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly” and urged all Christians to pray for the former colony.

Read it all, I have little to add, save that there is little we, Britain, or anybody else can do. I had a bad feeling when the UK handed the colony back, even if the lease was running out. In truth, it lasted longer than I thought it would, but it has worked to China’s advantage, apparently China no longer thinks it does.

But it wasn’t one of Britain’s greatest hours.

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