An expat's commentary on current events in national security, foreign affairs, the media, culture, technology and assorted trivia.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Quote for the day

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

- C. S. Lewis (1868 - 1963)
Irish author and educator


Pensions train wreck still approaching

From today's Financial Times:

Germany's government-in-waiting is considering a proposal to increase the statutory retirement age to 67 from 65, in a move that, if agreed, could send a reform signal across Europe but would stir a backlash from welfare and pensioners' groups in Germany.

"Stir a backlash"? Lieber Gott! There is some understatement!

What happened in Italy the last time pension reform was attempted?

General Strike!

In 2003, Berlusconi's government
propose[d] raising the official retirement age by several years from 57 to 65 for men and to 60 for women.

In response, Italy's three major unions called for a general strike... which shut down most airline and train service, public transportation as well as schools. Even fans of one of Italy's most beloved pastimes, opera, were inconvenienced when Rome's famous La Scala opera house was closed due to the strike.

Berlusconi's first government was toppled in 1994, when his attempts to take on the issue were met with popular unrest.

The result: reform only at the margins. Pensions catastrophe still looms in Italy.

What happened in Austria in 2003?

General Strike!

Key aims of the [proposed Austrian pensions] reforms:
  • Raising the retirement age to 65 years; at present, most Austrian men retire at 59 and women at 57
  • Slashing some pension payments by more than 30%, because the reforms would calculate the monthly sum by taking an average of contributions over 40 years and not only the 15 last, or most lucrative, years

Fully one-quarter of Austria's voters took to the streets in mass demonstations. The zeal of even the stoutest reform-minded politician must surely have quailed at that level turnout. It was the first General Strike in Austria since the Second World War.

The result? Reform only at the margins. Pensions catastrophe still looms in Austria.

What happened in Belgium just this month at mooted pension reforms?

General Strike!

Belgian workers began their first general strike in more than a decade... disrupting schools, transport, government services and shops to protest against government plans to increase the retirement age.

The 24-hour strike halted the high-speed Eurostar service from London and the Thalys connection from Paris to Brussels, home to the European Commission headquarters and EU agencies.

The government wants to raise the retirement age to 60 years from 58 years, saying the country has to pay for its increasing and aging population and has support from its liberal socialist coalition partners for the proposal...

Strikers also picketed entrances to factories and offices, including a Ford car plant in Genk, east Belgium. Antwerp, one of Europe's biggest ports, was shut for business as dockers refused to work...

The result? It remains to be seen. A larger strike may follow shortly if the unions do not get their way.

Back in the Federal Republic of Germany, who knows what will happen?

One salient fact to keep in mind:

General strikes are deemed unlawful in the Federal Republic. An exception to this principle is the case where, exercising the right of resistance enshrined in the Basic Law , a general strike is used as a means of upholding or restoring the law.

(Emphasis added.)

I would wager a large sum that a GeneralStreik would be considered seriously by the parties of the left and their union paymasters. After all the talk about the European / Rhineland 'Social' 'Model', I am sure the rationalisation would be made that the strike was not illegal.

Rather it would be recast as 'justified resistance' to Muntefering's 'bloodsuckers' and 'capitalist 'locusts'. The aim? To 'uphold' and 'restore' European norms.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Kofi once again covers for a tyrant, once again incompetently

The UN never fails to meet expectations. Still thoroughly corrupt and

The Times of London reports on the UN's latest bumbling attempt to cover for a Middle Eastern tyrant:

THE United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

(Emphasis added.)

Let's look on the bright side: Kofi is still trying to protect serial human rights abusers who deny democracy to their people, but at least he doesn't do a very good job at it.

Let's hope the greasy-palmed bureaucrats (who pay no taxes!) and their blue-helmeted Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning gang-raping UN peacekeeper henchmen never up their game and become more effective at running interference for dictators.

Back to the Times report:

Mr Annan had pledged repeatedly through his chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, that he would not change a word of the report by Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor.

But computer tracking showed that the final edit began at about 11.38am on Thursday — a minute after Herr Mehlis began a meeting with Mr Annan to present his report.

The names of Maher al-Assad, General Shawkat and the others were apparently removed at 11.55am, after the meeting ended.

The BBC has more.

MidEastWeb has a helpful display of the edits:

One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyed senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that Sayyed a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of Shawkat a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held in the house of Shawkat the same senior Syrian security official approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included Mustapha Hamdan another senior Lebanese security official. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Quote for the day

A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies.

- Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
English poet


Bzzzt! Wrong answer.

Petty corruption on display in Bulgaria. Almost a case of Chekhov's 'laughter through tears'.

Bulgarian Officers "Stole" US Ambassador's Phone

Two border officers from Varna airport were arrested Sunday, for stealing the cell phone of the United States Ambassador to Bulgaria John Beyrle.

The ambassador was flying from Varna to Hungary Friday morning, when he forgot his cell phone at the conveyer where hand luggage is x-rayed. He did not realize his phone was missing until after his plane took off.

A search was commissioned immediately but when asked, all border officers claimed that they hadn't found a phone.

The high-tech gadget was equipped with a global positioning system, however and it helped locating it in the pocket of one of the two officers who were monitoring the x-ray belt. They had thrown away the SIM card and kept the expensive device.

The two claimed that they wouldn't have taken the phone if they knew it was property of the ambassador, Trud daily newspaper reported.

The culprits are now under arrest in Varna, facing malpractice and theft charges. They will be fired, officials announced, and their superiors will also be penalized for the lack of control and bad organization.

(Emphasis added.)