Some things “more important than a rock show”? Surely not.

BruceSpringsteenThis statement by Bruce Springsteen, explaining why he cancelled a gig in North Carolina, shook me to the core.

There I was, thinking that nothing in life could possibly be more important than watching several superannuated, tattooed, booze-sodden, drug-addled morons performing an anti-musical pagan rite that goes by the misnomer of music.

What could be more important than thousands of culturally challenged infants of all ages responding to the shamanistic ritual with the coordinated enthusiasm of a Nuremberg rally and the erotic passion of an orgy?

It has to be something of cosmic significance to be more important than incoherent shrieks of the audience to muffle the incoherent, electronically enhanced shrieks of the morons on stage, accompanied by a jungle drum beat and the same three chords repeated ad nauseam.

Music as an extension of pharmacology, a psychedelic symbiosis between an audience yearning to abandon whatever little humanity it had in the first place and cynical operators who know how to scream anti-capitalist invective all the way to the capitalist bank – what could possibly be more important than that?

Turns out some things are. Such as Bruce Springsteen’s flaming social conscience, born in the USA. (That’s one of his greatest hits, in case you don’t know, which I sincerely hope you don’t.)

And Bruce’s conscience says that North Carolina has forfeited the privilege of being regaled with such delectations as Born in the USA, Murder Incorporated and My Hometown.

This backward state has passed a law that, according to Springsteen, “is an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognising the human rights of all our citizens to overturn that progress.”

Excuse me? I realise that eloquence beyond the fluent use of four-letter words isn’t a job requirement in Mr Springsteen’s profession, but still. It took me a while to realise that he doesn’t actually wish to strike a blow for the rights of all citizens to overturn the progress the country has made in attempting to recognise the progress of the people who cannot stand progress.

No, old Bruce is actually registering a protest against a law passed by people who cannot stand progress. The law doesn’t call for the slaughter of every firstborn boy, although I for one would give such a bill serious consideration if it could prevent the propagation of Bruce Springsteens.

No, the law that riled Mr Springsteen so is one his official statement describes as “the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, [which] dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use.”

‘Bathrooms’, in Americans usage, include public lavatories, changing rooms and dressing rooms. And the offensive North Carolina law simply states that transsexuals must use such facilities according to the sex specified in their birth certificates, rather than the one they have chosen for themselves.

Mr Springsteen, born as he is in the USA, is entitled to play or not to play wherever he wishes. What he’s not entitled to – or wouldn’t be in a sane world – is having an understanding audience for his ignorant and idiotic views.

Here’s a touch of sanity, to establish the proper framework for assessing Mr Springsteen’s protest.

First, a man who wants to refashion himself as a woman has, in the technical medical parlance, a screw loose.

Second, scientists have demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that a man cannot become a woman. He can only become a man shot full of oestrogen and with his bits cut off. His chromosomes remain XY, which makes him male in any other than a psychiatric sense.

Third, jurisprudence scholars raise serious doubts about the legal legitimacy of such a conversion. A man may fancy himself as a woman, a dog or a tree, but for all legal purposes he must still be regarded as a man.

Conversely, a woman, which is a Homo Sapiens born with XX chromosomes, may shoot herself full of testosterones and attach a dildo to her nether regions, but she’ll become a man no more than she can become, say, a pony (which some women no doubt fancy themselves to be).

In that context, protesting against the law that says men mustn’t be forced to share urinals with women, and crazy women at that, doesn’t strike me as one that ‘overturns progress’. What it does overturn is collective insanity that these days goes by the name of progress.

As part of this insanity, show business or pop celebrities are routinely accepted as authorities in areas outside their immediate expertise, such as it is. For example, as part of a day of special live programming, the BBC has invited the actress Angelina Jolie to act as keynote speaker on the global refugee crisis.

“Above all,” says Miss Jolie, “we need to address the conflict and insecurity that are the root causes of the mass movement of refugees.” Yes, but only in our virtual world is it possible to believe that a movie star, best known for her pouting lips, is ideally suited to ‘address’ such issues.

Perhaps Miss Jolie should get together with Mr Springsteen and see whose inanities are more inane. Who knows, a romance may blossom and they’ll concentrate on each other so much that they’ll spare us their profundities.

So glad Vlad has explained it all

PutinTVHis detractors may claim that my friend Vlad lacks any morality. Shame on them!

Vlad has morality coming out of his… well, ears. And he has the courage of his convictions. To wit: he attended a live TV forum, knowing in advance that Panama would come up.

Sure enough, he was asked to comment on “the so-called Panama dossier, featuring the musician Roldugin, who’s your friend”.

A lesser man would have dismissed the implicit ugly rumours as a lie. Vlad’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov chose that very tack when asked whether his Olympic skater wife indeed had vast offshore accounts.

Absolutely not, said Dmitry, pulling his shirt cuff over the £400,000 watch his wife is supposed to have given him as a wedding present. Alas, The Guardian published facsimiles of the documents verifying the skater’s ownership of offshore laundries, making a red-faced Dmitry ask questions like “Oh, you mean those accounts?”

Vlad is too big a man to demean himself by lying. Instead he attacked the insinuations head on.

Well, perhaps ‘head on’ isn’t exactly accurate. Actually, after saying “I’ll try to be brief”, Vlad took six minutes before getting to the actual question.

That was time well spent. For Vlad explained how Russia’s enemies have always tried to push her down to her knees.

He touched upon, in a non sequitur kind of way, the ‘90s “when everyone liked to supply us with potatoes and use Russia in their interests”. From there it was an easy transition to the West’s disapproval of Yeltsin over his policy on Yugoslavia, the current Western invective over the Ukraine and the Crimea, and Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden.

Russia’s enemies, explained Vlad, are envious of her economic success – even though there seems to be little to envy. In fact, the size of Russia’s economy has doubled since the ‘90s, and Russia’s armed forces are ready to challenge the global monopoly America takes for granted.

“Events in Syria,” said Vlad, “have demonstrated Russia’s ability to solve problems… far from our own borders”. True, Russia has achieved the improbable feat of both withdrawing her army from Syria and launching a massive build-up there.

Vlad, however, was too modest to point this out. Instead, after four minutes of meandering through recent history, he took tentative steps towards answering the question about Russia’s heir to Pablo Casals.

‘Tentative’ is the operative word, for Vlad approached the issue from the angle of geopolitical psychology: “Our opponents are mostly worried about the unity of the Russian nation. In that connection, attempts are made to rock us from inside… to undermine society’s trust in the organs of power…”

Contextually the Panama scandal represented one such attempt, but Vlad didn’t say the Panama papers were forged. His KGB training told him it’s impossible to falsify 11 million documents. Instead, referring to himself as ‘yours truly’, he highlighted the absence of his own name from any of them.

“So there’s nothing to talk about,” concluded Vlad. Not quite. That’s like saying that, since the defendant wasn’t caught with a smoking gun, no amount of circumstantial evidence would suffice to convict. In fact, people have been hanged on one tenth the evidence against Vlad.

His close friends and family have been busily laundering bribery money, raising the question of which public official in Russia could command bribes in the billions.

The bribes are mostly indirect: buying equities and then selling them the next day at a huge profit; signing an equity contract, then immediately breaking it and paying a $750,000 penalty; getting $600 million credits with no collateral or repayment; buying shares worth $25 million for $100,000. Yet crypto-bribes all these are, and only Putin handles enough funds to justify such palm-greasing.

After this six-minute preamble, Vlad finally got around to Roldugin whom he’s “proud to call a friend”.

This was my favourite part, for Vlad not only offered a highly plausible, nay irrefutable, explanation but also showed a subtle understanding of artistic creativity.

Roldugin, explained Vlad, “is a creative person”. That judgement is hard to fault, assuming that the cellist came up with the Panamanian trickery all on his own.

But Vlad meant something else. “Many creative people… try their hand at business.”

Now I’ve lived my life surrounded by creative people, and in my experience most of them are rubbish at business, or certainly not good enough to make $2 billion.

But then, according to Vlad, Roldugin isn’t so much a businessman as a benefactor. “He has spent almost every penny he made on buying musical instruments abroad and bringing them to Russia. Expensive things… He donates them to various state institutions.”

Those ‘things’ have to be jolly expensive to cost $2 billion, which is the documented amount of funds passing through the creative cellist’s hands. Irreverent Russians are already quipping about Stradivarius drums and Guarneri drumsticks, which just goes to show that Vlad hasn’t yet succeeded in curing his countrymen of cynicism.

I for one accept Vlad’s explanation. As a sort of creative person myself, I understand the urge to donate $2 billion’s worth of musical instruments to the KGB.

One wonders how many of the other 2,000 of Putin’s known launderers boast the cellist’s creativity. Why oh why didn’t I take cello lessons when a child in Moscow?



Holland introduces fines for buying cheese

ProstitutesApart from their spitting sibilants (or shpitting shibilants, as they are known locally) the Dutch are defined by their compulsion to produce and consume mountains of mediocre cheese.

So how is it possible to penalise an activity so seminal to nationhood?

Here I must own up to playing a trick to catch your attention. The Dutch haven’t penalised buying cheese. I made this up to highlight the ridiculousness of something that did happen.

For, in an act of similar iconoclasm, the French parliament yesterday passed a law imposing fines on men paying for sex.

I don’t know what else the French are going to cut off to spite their national tradition, but this is ridiculous. Edward VII, a great patron of Paris bordellos, must be spinning in his grave.

Actually brothels were outlawed in France as far back as in 1946, doubtless to punish the owners for having done brisk business during the occupation. But never mind the ban on brothels. Yesterday’s legislation is much more pernicious than that, for it reverses the 2003 law penalising solicitation.

Or, to be more exact, that law banned ‘passive’ solicitation, that is wearing revealing clothes in a public place of ill repute. (If we had a similar law in England, the entire female population under 30 would be fined every weekend.)

However, blaming prostitutes for what they do isn’t consonant with the modern understanding of man. People are no longer seen as free agents, responsible for their actions. They’re pawns moved around by the invisible hand of circumstance.

If the hand moves them towards objectionable acts, they aren’t the wrongdoers. They are the victims.

Hence those young ladies hustling passers-by in Rue Saint-Denis and Place Pigalle are neither immoral nor greedy. They are victims of factors beyond their control, and the chap buying their services is one such factor.

In other words, a prostitute hired in Paris is deemed to be involved in the transaction the same way as a slab of Gouda bought in Amsterdam.

Nothing that an estimated 40,000 French prostitutes can do will ever come close to this act of degradation, reducing human beings to automata, rather than recognising them as God’s creatures endowed with free will.

A technically different but philosophically identical development is under way in Sweden. There men who report paedophilic fantasies are seen as patients requiring treatment.

About five per cent of all men are estimated to have paedophilic thoughts. Assuming that only a small proportion of such dreamers act on their fantasies, those who do must be working overtime: 10 per cent of girls are supposed to have been sexually abused.

My advice to men who dream of children in those terms would be to shut up about it and sort themselves out. My advice to courts dealing with paedophilic acts would be to punish them with deterrent severity, possibly including castration.

But such a cut and dried approach doesn’t agree with the progressive ethos, of which Sweden is the greatest champion. The progressive ethos says that every aberration must be medicalised.

Thus having impure thoughts about children is seen as a problem for doctors to treat, rather than an urge for the man himself to control. This again denies man’s free will, in this case his power not to turn silly fantasies into criminal acts.

Let’s face it, we all have fantasies acting on which would land us in prison. For example, I used to daydream about killing my first mother-in-law, who nonetheless died a natural death.

Part of the modern ethos is for the authorities to act as thought police. Fair enough, if we’re denied any responsibility for our own actions, then a criminal thought is practically indistinguishable from a criminal deed. No restraining mechanism exists: today I dream of killing my mother-in-law, tomorrow the hatchet sees the light of day.

Hence Swedes who love children the wrong way are brainwashed to seek treatment, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually abused anyone. And they do – even though the treatment on offer is the same chemical castration proposed as punishment in some quarters.

A drug that achieves such an effect by stopping the production of testosterone is currently on trial. Dr Christoffer Rham, the leading researcher claims that “a substantial number of patients with paedophilic disorder actually want help”.

They want to be castrated not to act on their fantasies? That’s as if I had sought jail for my fantasies about my mother-in-law.

What’s happening is a programme aimed at penalising thought as if it were deed, and a programme for which, in another modern perversion, huge state funds are being demanded.

Instead of offering castration as treatment for fantasies, it should be threatened as punishment for acts. On the assumption that most paedophiles wouldn’t seek castration voluntarily, this would reduce the incidence of child abuse more effectively.

But that’s not the purpose of the exercise. The purpose of what’s going on in France and Sweden and everywhere else is for modernity to put its leaden foot down, to impose its view of life. And what a puny view it is.

Have neocons discredited the very idea of military action?

ArmyiniraqAndrew J. Bacevich’s well-written article on US foreign policy as articulated by Sen. Cruz (Ted Cruz Embodies the Degeneration of Foreign-Policy Conservatism) has caught my eye for several reasons.

The most immediate one is that I agree with most of Prof. Bacevich’s premises, while taking exception to his conclusion.

Prof. Bacevich correctly identifies “prudence and even circumspection” as the essence of conservatism, an understanding that was tersely encapsulated in 1641 by Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland: “If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” Yet prudence of action shouldn’t mean relativism of principle.

Prof. Bacevich tacitly disapproves of the “pronounced ideological edge” that conservative thinking on foreign policy acquired after the defeat in Vietnam. As an example he cites Ronald Reagan’s denouncing the Evil Empire, and Reagan’s “willingness to condemn adversaries as unabashedly wicked.” He then describes this as a manifestation of Manichaeism.

At this point Prof. Bacevich and I begin to diverge. For the Soviet Union, which Reagan condemned as unabashedly wicked was just that. Nor is recognition that good and evil exist ipso facto Manichaean.

While one struggles to identify a modern country that’s unequivocally good, compiling a list of those unequivocally wicked is easy, with ‘the Evil Empire’ taking pride of place.

Prof. Bacevich seems to confuse political action with political thought. The former can’t always account for moral considerations; the latter must. This confusion will become more evident later, but meanwhile Prof. Bacevich laudably makes mincemeat of the neocon obsession with “forcing large chunks of the Islamic world into compliance with [George W. Bush’s] Freedom Agenda.”

“The defining features of American conservatism now became hubris and vainglory,” he writes, and the statement would be unassailable had he added the prefix ‘neo-’ to ‘conservative’.

Prof. Bacevich correctly sees the 2003 attack on Iraq, inspired by the neocons, as an unmitigated disaster whose “mournful consequences continue to mount even today”. He doesn’t list the mournful consequences, but prime among them would be a huge dose of militant passion injected into Islam, a creed to which militant passion is essential sustenance.

Mass migration of Muslims to Europe, for which the term ‘colonisation’ appears more and more appropriate, would also appear high on the list, sharing that position with creating a tangible danger of a world war.

Prof. Bacevich is absolutely right when describing that 2003 act of ideological folly as a “perversion in what passes for an ostensibly conservative approach to foreign policy.”

Where he then begins to go wrong is in lumping Ted Cruz together with the neocons whom the Texas senator has always mocked mercilessly. Yes, the neocons were criminally wrong in pushing the US into that foolhardy effort to instil democracy in a region where no conditions for it have ever existed.

But from that it doesn’t follow that Sen. Cruz’s current advocacy of doing “everything necessary” to stamp out Islamic militancy is wrong.

Prof Bacevich sees no difference between ideological neocon madness and Sen. Cruz’s ‘raw pugnacity’. True enough, the good Texan is much given to rhetorical flourishes that might prevent some from taking him seriously, such as “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

The implication is that, if elected, Sen. Cruz would seriously consider unleashing a nuclear holocaust on much of the Middle East, and even his enthusiastic supporters may wince at the suggestion and deplore the possible consequences as much as Prof. Bacevich does.

Yet there’s a seminal difference between the neocons and Cruz. They identify the problem as ‘Islamism’. He clearly sees it as Islam in general, and proposes to act accordingly.

The other difference is that it’s not 2003 any longer. It’s 2016, and the safety valve on the boiler in which Islamic passions bubble has failed. They’ve splashed out, threatening to scorch us all.

In 2003 the valve was still doing its job, just, which made prudence and circumspection the only reasonable basis for action. Now the time for circumspection has regrettably passed.

The problem that didn’t exist then exists now, and I find it hard to think of a solution drastically different from that proposed by Sen. Cruz, though I perhaps would propose it with more verbal restraint.

Nor do I find it easy to find anything wrong with Sen. Cruz’s fierce opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran, which he describes as “allowing homicidal maniacs to acquire weapons of mass murder”. That’s exactly what it is.

“His implied willingness to use guns to stop the bad guys in Tehran is unmistakable,” laments Prof. Bacevich, stopping short of offering any other method of stopping ‘the bad guys’ or indeed of suggesting that stopping them is advisable.

One presumes Prof. Bacevich’s solutions to the problem threatening us all wouldn’t include a military option, which makes one think with trepidation that the past stupidity of the neocons has made any robust military action unfeasible.

If so, one wishes Prof. Bacevich had used his obvious expertise to make a strong moral case against Munich-style defeatism – even if taking issue with Sen. Cruz’s stridency. There’s always the danger that opposition to one extreme turns into the advocacy of another.

P.S. I touch upon some of these issues in my book Democracy as a Neocon Trick, available on Amazon.

There are many ways to skin a cat

CatDogAnd the Chinese know them all – in addition to having accumulated similar expertise in skinning and jointing dogs.

Both animals are widely used in China not for companionship but for their gastronomic value. Nor are Tabby and Fido seen in purely utilitarian terms as a cheap source of protein. No, the Chinese actually have discerning palates and appreciate the pets for their nuanced taste.

So, when a visiting Chinese businessman responds to your profession of love for your Siamese by identifying himself as more of a dog man, you may be talking at cross purposes. In fact, in China as many as 20 million dogs are slaughtered for food every year, and a similar number of cats, so your interlocutor may well be a connoisseur.

This predilection for canine delicacies is normally associated with Koreans. In fact, a few years ago, when there was a South Korean playing for Manchester United, every time he touched the ball the fans chanted “He will run and he will score, he will eat your Labrador!”

Yet in this area the Chinese won’t easily cede the position of top dog, as it were. Witness the annual dog meat festival, currently under way in Yulin, where 10,000 barbecued dogs and cats will be enjoyed in just a few days.

The animals are typically bludgeoned to death with steel rods, not a slaughtering method likely to win an RSPCA approval or a ringing endorsement from animal rights groups. And even cynical old me can’t help wincing.

To add piquancy to the situation, apparently the demand is so voracious that neither stray animals nor those specifically raised for this purpose can satisfy it fully. Hence some of the carcasses still bear collars with name tags, suggesting they had been pets before becoming the main course.

While any decent person will object to brutality and theft, the matter of canine or feline repasts isn’t as clear-cut as one may be tempted to think. How would we feel about eating, say, a Yorkie if we were sure he was slaughtered humanely?

One suspects that even the inveterate meat eaters among us would turn up their noses at a Yorkie steak. Moreover, such fussy eaters may feel superior to the Chinese for this reason – and that’s before we’ve talked about another Chinese delight: eating a live monkey’s brains right out of the opened-up cranium.

It has to be said that the British, while having lost much of their conservatism in areas that matter, still retain it in gastronomy. Even my multi-lingual wife, who spent her formative years in Paris, winces every time I tuck into such French delicacies as andouillette (chitterling sausage) or tête de veau (calf’s head).

Yet for all my catholic tastes in food I’d draw the line at eating dog or cat, regardless of how humanely they were slaughtered or how delectably cooked.

This admission didn’t come easily for several reasons. The main one is that I’m owning up to a feeling for which there is no rational justification, something I deride in others and hate in myself.

Why not eat dog or cat? Because we are what we eat? Muslims claim that ‘if you eat pig, you become one’, yet they eat beef without growing horns (unless, of course, an interloper slips into their harem).

Because the Bible says so? But its says nothing of the sort. On the contrary, Genesis doesn’t exempt dogs and cats when stating “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you.”

Because dogs and cats are more intelligent than other animals? There’s no evidence for that. In fact, pigs are considerably cleverer than either, yet we don’t seem to mind having a couple of rashers with our morning eggs.

Partly because of their relative intelligence, pigs are supposed to be better pets than either dogs or cats, though they are seldom used for that purpose. And here, I suspect, we touch upon the real reason for our fussiness.

Dogs and cats serve as pets, and many of their owners anthropomorphise them to a point where they’re seen not as animals, typologically indistinguishable from goats, but as family members, typologically indistinguishable from humans and in fact preferable to some.

This is an extension of the general modern tendency to replace sentiment with sentimentality, typical of a godless world. By implicitly raising Fido to a human level, we implicitly lower ourselves to Fido’s taxonomic tier, relinquishing the unique status humanity was granted by God.

Thus I loudly protest every time I visit my friends, whose Yorkie is always happy to see me. Yet his owner – a man, may I add, of supreme intelligence – always says “Say hello to your uncle Alex”, unfailingly eliciting my impassioned response: “I’m not his bloody uncle! He’s a ******* dog!”

Having said all that, and having constructed what to me seems to be an unimpeachable argument replete with theological and philosophical implications, what would I say if offered a rack of Beagle ribs?

“No, thanks, Li. I’m not hungry.” I’m ashamed at myself for being so illogical.

What’s the world’s best-paying job?

Putin PanamaPop star? Premiership footballer? Not even close. City fund manager?

Not even close. The world’s best-paying job is that of Putin’s friend. Anyone who qualifies instantly makes billions – irrespective of any other qualifications.

The cynic in me feels it’s unlikely that an assortment of thugs, most of them lacking any business credentials, would suddenly undergo a catharsis turning them into entrepreneurial geniuses. And the historian in me remembers that proximity to the throne is both a necessary and sufficient requirement for enrichment in criminal dictatorships.

That Putin presides over a unique state formed by a fusion of secret police and organised crime is a truth as universally acknowledged as anything Jane Austen ever thought up. That Putin himself sits at the centre of a global web through which he and his cronies launder their purloined wealth isn’t exactly a secret either.

Yet for some reasons, most of them one suspects political, Western governments, intelligence services and media have been sitting on this rather explosive information.

One can understand them: how can one deal with a state whose head isn’t only a murderer, nuclear terrorist and a tyrant, but also a gangster? And yet, as Putin and his henchmen keep reminding us, we must deal with them because they have the big bombs.

It’s only when the political situation began to change, with Putin’s theft of the Crimea and an attack on the Ukraine, that bits and pieces began to seep into the public domain. And then a few days ago someone gave a green light to blow the whole lot, or at least some of it.

Putin was kindly given a couple of days’ advance notice that compromising data was about to be published. His mouthpiece Peskov warned the world that a mass of information would be ‘dumped’, all of it needless to say concocted by the CIA, MI6, and personally by Angela Merkel.

If the intention was to soften the coming blow, it hasn’t worked. A leak of 11 million documents from the Panamanian money laundry Mossack Fonseca points at the biggest corruption scam so far revealed in history.

What interests me is the thoroughly dishonest coverage of the scandal in our media. For example, this morning’s Sky News report didn’t as much as mention Russia, concentrating instead on the offshore accounts held by assorted party donors, all of them coincidentally Tories.

The impression the report gives is the same one that the government tries to convey: that using offshore accounts to avoid tax is ipso facto immoral and possibly illegal. It’s neither. But then offshore accounts are a bugbear of all modern governments, who hate to see any money lining pockets out of the state’s reach.

What makes Putin and his cronies criminal isn’t that they keep billions in offshore accounts, but the ways in which they acquire those billions – and route the money into the offshore accounts. It’s not so much businessmen handling their finance as gangsters covering their tracks.

Tory party donors may have offshore accounts, but they don’t use cutouts like the concert cellist Sergei Roldugin, Putin’s friend and his daughter’s godfather.

Roldugin ostensibly owns, but in fact merely reshuffles, $2 billion in assets. Somehow the modest musician acquired a 3.2 per cent share in Bank Rossiya, run by another Putin crony Yuri Kovalchuk. The bank, described by US authorities as the ‘personal bank’ of Putin’s inner gang, was among the first to fall under the post-Crimea sanctions.

Bank Rossiya has spun a web of money-laundering offshore firms, such as Sandalwood Continental, International Media Overseas, Sonnette Overseas and Sunbarn, all nominally owned by the unusually enterprising musician.

Sandalwood has purchased some assets for $1 and then re-sold them for $133 million three months later – a healthy return if I ever saw one. At the same time Sandalwood received an $800-million loan from a Russian state bank, with no evidence of either collateral put up or repayments made.

Sandalwood has also received $600 million worth of credits from the Russian Commercial Bank of Cyprus. The money was then transferred to other offshore firms, one of which is owned by Putin’s personal banker Kovalchuk.

Sonnette Overseas was one of the privileged companies that were in 2008 given the option to buy 10 per cent of the Russian lorry maker KamAZ for $100,000. The same 10 per cent of the company cost Daimler $250 million, but then the Germans obviously didn’t have the right friends.

In 2009 Sunbarn, along with four others laundries, paid $50,000 for a 20 per cent option on the shares of AvtoVAZ, another lorry manufacturer. Renault paid a billion dollars for 25 per cent, but again the French aren’t Putin’s cronies.

Sunbarn received $231 million in credits from firms linked to Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s boyhood playmate. He and his brother started a construction company that made billions on government contracts overnight – and so on, Putin’s web keeps spinning.

The Russians are making a big deal of the fact that Putin’s name doesn’t appear in any of the documents just published. But then Stalin’s name doesn’t appear on mass execution orders either. Stalin had cronies for his dirty work, as does his heir and admirer Putin.

The KGB colonel’s personal wealth is variously estimated at between $40 and 200 billion. The boy done well, for a self-described ‘common street thug’. So have his friends.


You can take a boy out of Trotskyism…

SmokestackIf this is what conservatives are writing, perhaps I should reverse a lifelong phobia and sully my hands with a copy of The Guardian (a note to my American readers: The Guardian is like The New York Times minus the solvency).

Then again, Peter Hitchens isn’t like any old conservative columnist. A former Trotskyist, he often gives the impression of trying to shoehorn a contrived form of conservatism into his heart.

Sometimes it works, but at times the heart rejects the implant, for example when Hitchens goes all weak-kneed over Putin’s kleptofascist state.

Sure enough, in his today’s Mail blog, Hitchens mentions in passing that the West is so overcome with its ill-advised hatred of Russia that it doesn’t seem to mind ISIS very much, an assertion so bizarre that it falls into the realm of psychiatry, not political analysis.

But the main thrust of his today’s offering is economics. Hitchens’s eagle eye espied that Britain’s economy today doesn’t closely resemble that of the Soviet Union during the early stages of its industrialisation, nor indeed that of Victorian England.

As a result, the columnist suffers an acute fit of nostalgia for nationalisation, though not yet, at least not expressly, Five-Year Plans, slave labour and concentration camps.

Our nationalised industries worked so much better than today’s privatised ones do, laments Hitchens, an assertion that screams for factual proof. This he attempts to provide by citing British Telecom:

“I think anyone who has ever tried to contact BT when things go wrong would now happily go back to the days of nationalisation. Soviet-style slowness was bad, but surely better than total indifference.”

The man is bonkers, God bless his cotton socks. There’s not a sane word in this paragraph, and the only discernible emotion is a repressed craving for anything Soviet-style.

In addition to the vastly improved quality and speed of service, Hitchens should compare his today’s phone bills with those of 30-odd years ago. In those days, I – and I’m sure he – paid hundreds of pounds every quarter for international calls, those that today cost next to nothing.

Of course BT isn’t ideal, and of course one can complain about its being impersonal, but preferring the antediluvian ‘Soviet-style’ nationalised service attached to the Post Office? One has to be clinically mad.

Another thing Hitchens misses badly is a landscape richly adorned by smokestacks, each spewing fumes and driving thousands to a premature death from pulmonary disorders. He doesn’t mention the coal pits of yesteryear, black lung and all, but I bet he misses them too – as I suspect he does Victorian workhouses.

This is how he waxes nostalgic: “A journey across the heart of England, once an exhilarating vista of muscular manufacturing, especially glorious by night, turned into archaeology.”

An aesthetic preference is expressed here, and de gustibus… and all that. But one also detects a Marxist belief in the inherent moral goodness of manufacturing, as opposed to the evil of financial services.

Using this creed as the starting point, Hitchens then attacks the very idea of a free-market economy, the only one, may one add parenthetically, that has ever been able to deliver wide-spread prosperity.

He manfully admits to the mistake of buying the capitalist canard in the past: “I am so sorry now that I fell for the great Thatcher-Reagan promise… I believed all that stuff about privatisation and free trade and the unrestrained market.”

A resounding mea culpa, but at least now Hitchens has seen the light, or rather has seen it again, shining out of a nationalised economy run by the state. For others the light is rather dimmed by the sustained record of abysmal failure everywhere this perversion has been tried in earnest, including the UK.

An optimal ratio of service, financial and manufacturing sectors is a serious issue meriting serious discussion. But crypto-Trotskyist romantic rants don’t qualify as such.

There’s nothing wrong with “privatisation and free trade and the unrestrained market”. The more of those, the better – to this notion there are no known exceptions. The problem is, this remains as idealistic as Hitchens’s craving for a benign version of slave economy.

In Britain today, the government controls 50 per cent of the economy directly and more indirectly – there goes privatisation. Our free trade is crippled by regulations, most of those coming courtesy of the EU. Our markets are very much ‘restrained’, nay suffocated, by red tape, much of which has the same cross-Channel provenance.

The problem with the “great Thatcher-Reagan promise” is that it was mostly talk. Only a few good things were done (privatising BT emphatically one of them), many couldn’t be done because of the rearguard fight put up by the socialists, many were attempted but not done well.

Specifically, the transition from an economy in which manufacturing accounted for almost 50 per cent of GDP to one in which it makes up only 14 per cent should have been handled with more tact and less speed.

But to use the failures of some inchoate attempts at freeing up the economy, while ignoring the successes, is disingenuous. And Hitchens’s craving for ‘Soviet-style’ nationalisation as a viable remedy ought to be examined by competent psychiatrists.

Economic wisdom be damned

SteelOver the last week economic wisdom has been shoved aside twice.

First HMG introduced the mandatory National Living Wage (NLW), forcing employers to pay workers aged 25 or older at least £7.20 an hour.

This is folly any way you look at it. In purely practical terms, small businesses in particular will come under downward pressure on their profits.

Logic suggests they have three ways of dealing with it. One, they grin and bear it. Two, they reduce their staffs. Three, they pass the higher overhead cost on to the consumer.

Option One presumes so much on human goodness that it can be discounted. As Adam Smith put it, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their self-love…”

Option Two is more realistic: when the state makes employers pay more, they hire less. Hence a hike in unemployment, and a swelling of the welfare rolls.

The Office for Budget Responsibility warns that 60,000 jobs could go as a result of NLW. That’s a high price to pay for a publicity stunt designed to show that the Tories share and care – but hey, politicking always comes first.

Option Three is another possibility, nay certainty. Yet any economic primer will tell you that modern economy is driven by the consumer. Hence whatever hurts the consumer hurts the economy, which more or less means everybody – including those who have been granted an extra 50p an hour.

However, it’s not such practical consequences that’ll cause by far the greatest damage. This will come from yet another demonstration of the state’s power to ride roughshod over the market.

Edmund Burke warned against this more than two centuries ago: “The moment that government appears at market, the principles of the market will be subverted.”

That a nation’s prosperity is inversely proportionate to the state’s interference with the economy has been theoretically postulated and empirically proven everywhere in the world. Yet most things our government does, including the NLW, fly in the face of both wisdom and experience.

The other worrying development is the trade war breaking out over a global steel glut.

It’s obvious that a country like China, where workers are paid a fraction of what ours get, can produce steel at a fraction of our cost. It can then dump its steel on the market, jeopardising the very existence of a European steel industry.

The EU response, and the somewhat more ambivalent reaction of the nation that gave the world Adam Smith and Edmund Burke, is to slap tariffs of up to 66 per cent on Chinese steel imports. However, as has been known at least since the days of another British thinker, David Ricardo, tariffs beget counter-tariffs.

And indeed the Chinese have retaliated by slapping punitive tariffs of 46 per cent on high-tech steel produced in the EU and Britain, specifically Wales.

This has given rise to debates unheard since the time Margaret Thatcher put paid to the British coal industry in 1985. Protectionism vs. free market is the theme.

Adam Smith, whose judgement in such matters wasn’t clouded by the urgent need to win focus-group approval, was unequivocal on the subject: “To give the monopoly of the home-market to the produce of domestic industry… must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation. If the produce of domestic can be bought there as cheap as that of foreign industry, the regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful.”

Protectionism hurts the economy in many different ways, with one being the most salient. It drives the price of the protected commodity up, thereby hurting the consumer who’ll have to bear the higher cost of everything made out of this commodity, in this case steel.

To put this into crude terms, a consumer may be forced to shell out an extra £1,000 for a car just because our steel industry is protected by punitive tariffs. That same £1,000 could otherwise be spent on the products of our high-tech industry that’s doing well and employing a lot of people.

To put this into even cruder terms, we need a sound economy more than we need a domestic steel industry. If there’s a conflict between the two, some hard thinking must be done, something of which our government is manifestly incapable.

This must include things other than just traditional economic wisdom. For example, we must consider the strategic aspects of domestic steel production, which may trump the purely economic aspects. Also the need to retrain steel workers likely to lose their jobs must be brought into the equation.

The only thing that ought to be ignored is the only thing that won’t be: short-term political expediency.

P.S. I’d be shocked by a reader’s response to my yesterday’s posting if I weren’t laughing so hard: Your blog reminded me of the song the paramedics sang while putting the princess and her lover into body bags: “Zippedy Dodi, Zippedy Di!”

The Protocols of the Elders of Islam

IslamThey are your normal Yorkshire children, those pupils in Dewsbury. Or rather they would be, if they weren’t pupils of the Islamic Tarbiyah Academy.

As it is, they are taught that adopting British customs is forbidden, as is reading magazines, watching TV, following sports celebrities, women going to work or going anywhere without being covered up head to toe. In fact, most things they see around them in England are evil, especially the Jews.

Oh yes, the Jews. Mufti Zubair Dudha, the Academy’s founder, head and inspiration, knows all about that wicked tribe.

He knows, and publishes leaflets to that effect, that Jews are engaged in a global conspiracy to take over the world. The arguments and the language in which they are expressed sound like an echo of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic forgery concocted by the Russian police in 1903.

Incidentally, this immortal work still adorns the bookshop windows in all Arabic countries, including such ‘moderate’ ones as Abu Dhabi and Dubai. For some inquisitive minds this may bring into question the nature and indeed existence of Muslim moderation.

To be fair to him, Mufti ‘Zip-a-Dee’ Dudha may borrow but he doesn’t plagiarise. In one of his leaflets he generously gives credit where credit is due by citing The Protocols chapter and verse, while modestly withholding the information of the work’s provenance.

Old Zip-a-Dee, it has to be said with some chagrin, doesn’t possess a highly developed sense of irony. If he did, he wouldn’t follow his exposition of a vile, global Jewish conspiracy by writing that Muslims should be ready “to expend… even life” to organise the world “according to Allah’s just order”.

Zip-a-Dee belongs to the orthodox Deobandi sect, and the temptation is strong to believe that the sect is the loony fringe of Islam, in no way representative of what our political leaders insist on calling a ‘religion of peace’.

The temptation weakens somewhat when one realises that the sect controls half of all UK mosques and madrasas, and it’s not as if religious and cultural tolerance were big on the curricula in the other half.

Zip-a-Dee’s seeds fall on fertile soil, sprouting into a number of firsts Dewsbury can proudly claim. The town was home to Britain’s youngest suicide bomber, the youngest convicted terrorist, and one of the 7/7 bombers. I wonder if those youngsters had matriculated at Zip-a-Dee’s Academy.

A visiting Martian, unfamiliar with the political, cultural and social subtexts may well shrug his twitching antennas and ask “Why not shut this evil place down? Along with all others like it? Are you people bent on suicide, or what?”

But we are earthlings, not aliens from other planets. We know that shutting even one of those diabolical places would create squawking the likes of which we haven’t heard for a long time.

We’d be reminded of the virtue of religious tolerance. Unimpeachable parallels would be drawn between the closing down of Zip-a-Dee’s Academy and the Nuremberg Laws, if not directly the Auschwitz gas chambers. Multiculturalism would be hailed as the ultimate and absolute good. The government would be made to admit its mistake, reopen that hatchery of hatred and reaffirm its unwavering commitment to diversity.

So, to answer the questions provocatively posed by our hypothetical Martian, no, we can’t close such places down. And yes, we are bent on suicide. So go back where you came from – while the going is good.