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Defence is cheap at the price

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is saying all the right things about spending more on defence. There’s no need to quote – just think of all the right things, and that’s exactly what Mr Wallace is saying.

Lisa Nandy, my idol (today)

And what do you know – Labour agrees. Speaking on Sky News this morning, Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary for Levelling Up [sic!], also said all the right things. In fact, for the first time ever I found myself agreeing with everything a socialist says.

The government’s first duty is to defend its citizens, said Miss Nandy. Yes! This issue should transcend partisan bickering. Yes!!! She agrees with Ben Wallace: defence budget must be increased. Yes!!!!

Don’t think the Ukraine war is far away. It’s on our doorstep. Yes!!!!! This government has been grossly negligent in stripping the army down to a negligible size. Well, yes. But not just this government, Lisa, and I thought this issue went beyond scoring cheap political points.

Since that Russian perestroika lulled the West into a false sense of security, all governments, Tory, Labour, Tory-LibDem coalition, have treated the defence budget as a hunk of salami. Whenever other departments got hungry, the government would hack off a piece. What’s the point in spending money on defence when there’s no one to defend against?

Lest you may think I’ve got it in specifically for the British government, other European countries have been even worse. At least Britain has tried to meet the pledged Nato minimum of two per cent of GDP. Germany, for example, has hovered just above one per cent for years.

The interviewer Kay Burley then asked the inevitable question: “Where is the money going to come from, in these hard times of growing inflation and dropping living standards?”

That was counterproductive. No politician, red, blue, green or piebald, will ever give a straight answer to that question. Did Kay expect a Labour politician to say she was prepared to reduce social spending? Stop throwing billions down the bottomless NHS pit? Refuse to succumb to union blackmail? Really.

Lisa said none of those things. Instead, in the good tradition of democratic politics, she repeated word for word what she had said before, even though that didn’t answer the question. But at least she had said all the right things before.

While we are on the subject of money, building up the defence industry doesn’t have to impoverish a country. Just look at the US before and after the Second World War, and you’ll agree that a vast defence effort can also spell boom, not just bust.

I suppose we must thank Vlad Putin for making our politicians at least pay lip service to the first (more radical people than I will say ‘only’) duty of any government: protecting the nation from foreign and domestic enemies.

It’s not a government’s job to eliminate poverty: only robust economic activity can do that. In any case, every war on poverty declared by any government in modern history has only succeeded in making more people poor.

Spending enough money on defence to ensure national security should be the only non-negotiable item of expenditure. Instead, it has been the only expendable item.

Last year, our Tory government, with the newly hawkish Ben Wallace its Defence Secretary, pledged to reduce the army to 72,500 soldiers by 2025. The last year in which Britain disarmed herself to such a derisory level was 1823. Two centuries ago, when the population of Britain was about 10 million.

Our newly hatched hawk, then still a dove, explained that we didn’t need any more soldiers. In fact, our “increased deployability and technological advantage” meant we didn’t need any.

Just joking: he didn’t say we didn’t need any soldiers. That’s just my logical inference: since our military technology is bound to get more and more sophisticated, the need for boots on the ground will continue to diminish. Our troops’ “deployability” will increase, and will continue to do so until we have no troops to deploy.

The response of Britain and other civilised countries to Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine shows that, when they perceive what Americans call “a clear and present danger”, they begin to do something about it. Sluggishly, reluctantly, begrudgingly, overcautiously – but they do take their collective finger out, after a fashion.

Since they have done nothing like that since the end of the Cold War, one can deduce that they had never seen Russia as a factor of danger until 24 February, 2022. This shows a gross failure of intellect, character and understanding of history.

Generally speaking, I dislike the hubristic “I told you so” school of writing. But since I accuse Western governments of strategic negligence, it’s essential that I establish my bona fides.

In that spirit, with no hubris anywhere in sight, I started writing about the imminent danger of the post-perestroika Russia in the early 1990s. At that time Major Putin still spied on the West out of the KGB’s Dresden station, figuring out how he could skim enough off the operational funds to buy a Grundig stereo and possibly a Bosch washing macine.

It was already clear to me that the much-vaunted glasnost and perestroika were merely a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB. That’s why no Nuremberg-style closure ever happened. How could it if essentially the same people remained in charge?

The country needed a few years to regroup, but there was no doubt what it had to regroup for. The first task was to plunder Russia and turn the new ruling class into dollar billionaires. Given the richness of Russia’s natural resources, that didn’t take long.

Then came the time to rebuild Russia to her former grandeur, understood as a carte blanche to occupy or at least bully her neighbours. As the country regained some of her former strength, the need for subterfuge diminished. Russian chieftains stopped making emollient noises for the consumption of Western ‘liberals’. More and more, the bugles of supremacist diatribes began to command airwaves.

The West didn’t hear the bugles because it didn’t want to hear. If early on the KGB (in its new guises) was doing its utmost to dupe the West, now there was no need. The West was more than happy to dupe itself, getting fat on what was then called the peace dividend.

Defence budgets dwindled away to practically nothing, trillions poured into Russia as investments or payment for her natural resources. Gangsters and KGB operatives (by then the two groups had largely merged into one) began to hobnob with Western politicians, dominating the social scene in European capitals.

Russia was committing one atrocity after another, murdering dissidents all over the world, pouncing on her neighbours like a rabid dog – and still the likes of Mr Wallace and Miss Nandy closed their eyes, sometimes pulling their eyelids down with their fingers.

As for their German colleagues, they kept their eyes wide open – to the opportunities of collaborating with Russia’s now transparently fascist regime.

I don’t know if Angela Merkel was a Russian agent and neither do I care. For it’s not immediately clear how differently she would have acted had she indeed been recruited by Putin. (The opportunities for such an arrangement were rife when Putin was a KGB spy in Dresden and Merkel a nomenklatura official in Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands in Leipzig, 70 miles away.)

She systematically eliminated most domestic sources of energy, making Germany’s economy hostage to Putin’s good graces. She admitted more than a million aliens, putting a great strain on the German economy and indirectly increasing its dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. And she reduced the Bundeswehr to a level that even any self-respecting police force would consider risibly inadequate.

Better late than never, they say. Western Chamberlains aren’t exactly turning into Churchills, but neither are they still rushing to become Quislings. Thank God for small mercies.

Had they acted earlier, the danger of a major war wouldn’t be as real as it is now. And Ukrainians wouldn’t be paying with their blood for the West’s cupidity and stupidity. A consistently strong, strategically deployed Nato would have kept Putin’s appetites down, and no need to fight would have arisen. Now it’s very real, and the consequences are unpredictable.

That’s what happens when all Western cabinets lack an essential member: C.O. Jones. Sorry for the crude pun.

Putin hits strategic targets

According to the Russian government’s spokesman, the latest volley of missiles fired at Ukrainian cities targeted “decision-making centres”.

Truer words have never been spoken. After all, shoppers in malls do decide what to buy. Residents of apartment blocks decide whether to walk up or take the lift. Kindergarten pupils decide whether to play tag or hide and seek.

Hitting such strategically vital installations has to downgrade the Ukraine’s military capability no end. If not, people are likely to bandy about such words as “savagery”, “barbarity”, “fascism”, even “Third World War”, and that won’t do, will it?

Putin’s actions can only be properly understood in the context of the street gangs that self-admittedly shaped his personality (“I was a common street thug,” was Putin’s nostalgic recollection of his youth), with the KGB then adding the finishing touches.

His speeches abound in references to that formative experience: “You should always hit first”, “Don’t make threats – if you pull out a gun, shoot”, “We’ll whack them in the shithouse” and so on. More important, Putin’s actions spring from the same inspiration.

Having had to deal with Russian street thugs in my youth, I recognise the pattern of gradual escalation favoured by Putin. The Putins of my youth would approach a boy from a decent family and ask for a trifling amount of money, say 20 kopecks.

If the boy meekly handed the coin over, they’d ask for a rouble. And so forth, one demand at a time: “Can you spare these gloves?”, “You don’t really need this hat, do you?” If the boy demurred, then came the clincher: “Oh yeah? So what are you gonna do about it?”

Before the poor chap knew it, he became first the thugs’ mark, then their bitch. The rest of his youth would be spent in fear, sneaking in and out of the house, always looking over his shoulder, asking his parents to accompany him to school.

Braver souls knew there was only one way to respond to the first demand to prevent follow-ups: a punch on the nose. A brawl would ensue, and the mark would win even if he lost. Bullies seldom want to fight; they are out to intimidate. Faced with staunch resistance, they’ll look elsewhere.

Over the past 20 years, the street thug in the Kremlin has been escalating his banditry in incremental steps: Chechnya, Georgia, the Ukraine, Syria, the Ukraine again. In parallel, he’d commit acts of anti-Western terrorism that in the past would each have been seen as a casus belli: a cyber attack on US elections, the murder of Litvinenko with a nuclear weapon in London, the attack with military-grade chemicals in Salisbury.

And each time the thug asked the West, that boy from a good family, the same sacramental question he learned in his youth: “So what are you gonna do about it?”

In reply, Putin got expressions of concern, serious concern and grave concern, accompanied by reductions in defence budgets. Nothing to fear, in other words. Oh well, it was clear the boy was a wimp. That punch on the nose never came. Putin was emboldened.

Heroic Ukrainian soldiers, outnumbered and outgunned but never outfought, are paying for the West’s cowardice and stupidity with their blood. The same cost is exacted from peaceful Ukrainian civilians, who also have to throw in their murdered children, raped wives, destroyed and looted houses, devastated infrastructure, dwindling food supplies – everything that was their normal lives.

The recent blood-curdling attacks on the shopping mall in Kremenchug and civilian targets in Kiev were timed to coincide with the G7 conference in Bavaria and the Nato conference in Madrid. That was Putin’s way of asking that same lapidary question, hoping that the wimp would cower yet again.

The West has responded by increasing seven-fold, to 300,000, the number of troops on high alert in Europe, or rather stating the intention to do so at some time in the near future. Promises to increase arms supplies to the Ukraine were also reiterated, but with all the usual provisos: no rockets or artillery with enough range to hit Russian territory, no risk of humiliating Putin – and certainly nothing that could possibly provoke an attack on a Nato country.

At the same time, calls, nay demands, for Zelensky to agree to peace negotiations are becoming more persistent and shrill. Just give Putin Donetsk and Lugansk provinces, and he’ll be happy. A capitulation would be even better, but we dare not ask. Not yet anyway.

After all, for all his belligerent talk, Putin secretly yearns for peace. Doesn’t he? Of course, he does. After all, as a particularly cretinous hack opined in The Standard, if Putin continues the war, the electorate will punish him at the polls.

When I read that, I gasped. What [expletive deleted] electorate? What [expletive deleted] polls? But then I remembered who owns The Standard, and everything fell into place.

Allowing the Lebedevs to buy important British newspapers with KGB money was another example of a wimpish boy acting as a thug’s bitch. And ennobling Lebedev fils was tantamount to handing the thug the keys to the house, in this case of Lords.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the British Army, said yesterday that Britain is facing a new “1937 moment” and must be prepared to “fight and win” to prevent the spread of war in Europe. The reference to Hitler rolling on to a world war is clear enough, but surely Sir Patrick must remember that 1937 was followed by 1938.

The Anschluss of Austria in March, the Munich Treaty in September, occupation of Czechoslovakia later that month – all these followed the original 1937 moment. And, vindicating both chronology and the practice of street thuggery, 1938 was followed by 1939.

Sir Patrick hopes that Britain, and the West in general, strides through 2022 equipped with the valuable knowledge of the 1930s. He can rest assured that we have indeed learned all the right lessons, those in cowardly appeasement and futile attempts to pacify the street thug.

To be fair, we’ve added new chapters to the same book. Back then, nobody was cautioning against humiliating Herr Hitler, nor feeling certain that a war would spell an electoral disaster for the Nazis. Chamberlain and Daladier had the power of their craven convictions.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana. This aphorism is often repeated but never properly understood.

I’m sure General Sanders knows the saying. So do Messrs Johnson, Macron, Scholz, Draghi and other polite boys from good families. So does the street thug in the Kremlin, who is asking “So what are you gonna do about it?”

If he likes the answer, he’ll stick the boys’ gloves in his pocket and reach for their hats. Are we going to punch him on the nose? Sir Patrick would doubtless like to. But the bigger boys won’t let him.

P.S. “Britain is broken,” writes Tony Blair, and for once I agree with that revolting man. He should know. After all, he did much of the breaking.

If money talks, what does a million in a bag say?

Prince Charles is being accused of naivety. That’s one way to describe it.

Turns out HRH accepted three cash gifts of about a million each from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the former prime minister of Qatar.

HRH deposited the money into the accounts of the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, which finances the causes Charles holds dear. I don’t know if speech therapy for plants is one of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

One way or the other, the transactions aren’t believed to have been illegal, so HRH isn’t going to have his collar felt, which is comforting to know. However, his moral judgement is appalling.

He failed to perform due diligence, which in this case could have boiled down to a simple question. What kind of people pay or receive millions in cash?

After all, most people, including many rich ones, have never even seen a million pounds in cash. Why would they? We have at our disposal many instant methods of money transfer. Tap in a few numbers, push a button, and Harun al-Rashid is your uncle.

I’ve seen Penelope do that many times, if with amounts considerably smaller than a million quid. And if some small French firms still haven’t yet got their heads around electronics, she sends them a cheque. No bags (or, in our case, envelopes) of cash ever see the light of day.

We have quite a few wealthy people among our friends, and some of their transactions are much bigger than ours. Yet they don’t stuff bundles of banknotes into briefcases either. So who does?

The kind of people who need to keep payments off the books for any number of reasons, few of them praiseworthy. In other words, dishonest people. In still other words, criminals.

An example from my experience, if I may. Penelope’s niece went to one of Britain’s top schools for girls. The annual tuition costs about £70,000 now, but when our niece went there, it was about half that amount.

Like most such schools, it attracted many foreigners, those for whom money wasn’t an object, but social prestige was. Some of them were Russians, those who are misleadingly called oligarchs, but who are in fact gangsters.

And gangsters keep much of their assets liquid, which is good for a quick getaway. Cash is also less traceable than any transfers involving banks, which offers obvious advantages to chaps whose gains are ill-gotten.

One such Russian had the apple of his eye admitted to that school, but the headmistress informed him that an annual fee had to be paid in advance. Not a problem. The man walked to his car, came back with a briefcase full of £500 notes and nonchalantly tossed the requisite number of bundles on the headmistress’s desk. Job done.

Not quite. To her credit, the headmistress refused to accept the cash payment. She knew what our future king (perish the thought!) doesn’t: that cash carried around in such amounts is almost certain to be covered with dirt or even blood. And the good woman didn’t want to sully her hands with either substance.

Had she accepted the purloined cash, she would have done nothing illegal. And of course these days legality has subsumed morality. Not doing anything wrong isn’t an issue any longer. Only not getting caught is.

I’m not qualified to ponder the fine legal print involved, although I fail to see a valid moral difference between accepting stolen property and purloined cash. But fine, if that’s the line the law draws, we have to accept it – even if we think it’s drawn in some funny places.

One just wishes that our future king (perish the thought!) had enough moral sense to compile a mental list of the kind of people who routinely handle millions in readies. Any such list would include Colombian drug barons, American mafiosi, Russian friends of Putin, Chinese friends of Xi, foreign or homegrown gangsters and tax evaders, money launderers – and assorted sheikhs.

Our royals’ hobnobbing with such people and accepting their lavish gifts brings the monarchy into disrepute. And our monarchy can ill-afford coming across as any old group of people scrapping for whatever they can get.

The principle significance of this institution is transcendent, rising above politics and other quotidian concerns preoccupying most people. That’s why our royals should neither look nor, more important, act like most people.

They should hold themselves to the highest moral standards for, if they fall short, too many people will start wondering what the monarchy is for. Such questions will arise anyway when the Queen goes, and it will be up to her successors to provide satisfactory answers.

Accepting millions in dubious cash doesn’t qualify as one such. HRH should refuse such gifts in the future, even at the risk of his plants continuing to speak with a stutter.

P.S. How many suitcases full of cash did it take for Qatar to secure the 2022 World Cup? Just wondering.

Three cheers for the US Supreme Court

As anticipated, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling that enabled the federal government to legalise abortion on demand throughout the country.

Megan The Stalion, Biden’s kind of girl

I’ve written on the moral and philosophical aspects of abortion quite a bit. If you are interested, tap ABORTION into the SEARCH rubric in this space and you’ll get the story chapter and verse, several times over. Today, I’ll comment strictly on the politics of the issue.

Roe vs Wade was another battle that centralism won in its war on localism, and this war defines modern politics more than any other. For, having first supposedly empowered the people, the modern state immediately began to shift power away from them and towards its own good offices.

While the traditional conservative state devolved power to the lowest sensible level, the modern state reverses this process. It divests individuals and local bodies from as much power as possible this side of concentration camps. A small group of people sitting in the capital assume the prerogative of micromanaging affairs in remote parts of the country, hundreds or, in the US, thousands of miles away.

Such is the essence of socialism, the dominant trend of modern politics. If we ignore its mendacious mock-Christian claims made for PR purposes, socialism is about transferring as much power as possible to the central state. The ideal is for the state to get its hands on every lever of control and, though no Western country has quite achieved that goal, they can all boast close – and increasingly closer – approximations.

The tangible effect of burgeoning centralisation is steady diminution of liberty. The greater the distance between the government and the governed, the less are the latter able to uphold their much-vaunted sovereignty – and the more latitude does the former acquire to put its foot down.

This tendency is observable throughout the West, but the exact mechanisms differ from country to country, depending on their own constitutional experience. In the US, the eternal conflict is between the federal government and state rights. This was the constitutional bugbear ever since the Constitution first saw the light of day.

That conflict led to the bloodiest war in American history, the Civil one, in which more Americans died than in all the other American wars combined. Centralism won the day over localism then, but the issue wasn’t settled once and for all. Nor will it ever be.

Today it provides the clearest line of political demarcation. Political (as distinct from social or cultural) conservatism is defined by a quest for individual liberty, with local institutions keeping centralising encroachments at bay. Conversely, socialists (incongruously called liberals in America) mask their indifference to individual liberties by pretending these would be best protected by an omnipotent central state.

‘Liberals’ are in effect statists. Their main concern is building up and padding up a single centre of power that would be easier for them to control. They don’t care at what cost to liberty such an arrangement could be reached.

Whenever the issue of state rights comes up, their knees jerk and they instantly join ranks against conservatives, for whom liberty is more than just an empty slogan.

It’s in this context that the Supreme Court’s ruling should be viewed. America’s highest judiciary body struck a blow for liberty by denying the federal government the power to browbeat individual states into issuing a blank licence to abortion on demand.

Individual states can now decide for themselves whether abortion should be totally banned, partly banned, offered on demand or offered with some limitations. Thus the principle of liberty inscribed on the banners of the American Revolution has for once been upheld, if only in this narrow area. One would think that most Americans would rejoice.

This, irrespective of their stand on abortion. Even those who love the idea of having fully formed foetuses scraped out of the womb bit by bit must have enough residual attachment to the founding principles of their republic. Must they, hell.

Instead, America is tearing her political fabric to tatters over this ruling. A widening hole appears, through which frenzied multitudes stick their heads out to scream their trademarked idiocies.   

The chorus is led by that self-proclaimed pious Catholic, Joe Biden. Joe’s take on Catholic doctrine is uniquely his: he seems to think abortion is some sort of sacrament. That suggests he is unaware of the distinctly dated nature of human sacrifice.

Even more worrying for those who voted him into the White House is that Joe is equally ignorant of some basic political fundamentals. This he showed by promising to fight every future election on the promise of overturning the overturners. After all, as far as Joe is concerned, state rights spell less liberty, not more.

“Yesterday, I spoke about the Supreme Court’s shocking decision striking down Roe v Wade,” he said. “Jill and I know how painful and devastating the decision is for so many Americans.” Well, not on Joe’s watch. He’ll strain every sinew to “protect women’s health”.

This commitment to women’s health is laudable. However, one has to infer that having an abortion is akin to taking vitamin supplements, doing regular exercise and following the Mediterranean diet. This means Joe’s thinking on medicine is as idiosyncratic as his take on Catholic doctrine, but I’m the last man to rebuke independent thought.

In passing Joe created a whole new branch of medicine: “Millions of women in America will go to bed tonight without access to the healthcare and reproductive care they had this morning. Without access to the same reproductive healthcare that their mothers and grandmothers had for 50 years.”

What on God’s green earth is reproductive healthcare? To me the term sounds like minimising women’s health risks throughout pregnancy and birth. Surely Joe doesn’t think abortion is a factor of reproductive health? I’ve known at least a dozen women rendered barren by abortions. How many has he known?

But never mind medicine. Joe is a politician, and it’s politics we are talking about. Promising to make abortion on demand the central commitment of any future campaigning, Joe said: “This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot. The right to privacy, liberty, equality, they’re all on the ballot.”

This man, who has dedicated his whole life to politics in a residually free country, thinks that the likes of him riding roughshod over local communities is tantamount to pursuing “personal freedoms, the right to privacy, liberty, equality”.

He left out the magic D-word, democracy. You know, a political dispensation enabling Joe Biden to dictate to the people of, say, Alabama how they should conduct their family affairs.

Emboldened by their president, professional rabble rousers have called hysterical mobs to arms all over the country, so far only figuratively. Emboldened by their president, mobs are taking over the streets to make sure everyone knows they are even more feebleminded.

The battle cry was issued by the rapper Megan The Stallion: “My body, my motherfucking choice!”

I am shamefully unfamiliar with this young lady’s corpus of work, though I’m sure she is a most accomplished musician. But her grasp of zoology is infirm. A stallion, after all, is a male horse but, as the photo above shows, Megan seems to be female, although these days one can never be certain.

Nor does she (he? it? they? ze?) realise that a foetus isn’t a part of the woman’s body. The Stallion should look up some scans on the net, especially those taken a couple of months into pregnancy. She may stop neighing on this subject then.

But we aren’t going to argue against people whose IQ is dangerously close to a courgette’s, are we? Instead I wonder how well most Americans understand their constitution. Not very, if their president is any indication.

But the Supreme Court clearly does, and my hat’s off to it.

Well, stone the crows

This old Cockney gasp of amazement applies both figuratively and literally to the excerpts from Nicholas II’s diary posted by a friend.

Another bird has flown its last

Russians like to argue in the past subjunctive mood about the course Russian history would have taken had a stronger leader than Nicholas been at the helm in 1917.

Now, I like to say that a country doesn’t need a strong leader. It needs a strong society. However, like many aphoristic statements, this one is correct only up to a point.

True, the leader’s personality doesn’t matter very much when a country sails on an even keel. In fact, a weak leader minding his own business may be even preferable when a society is strong enough and balanced enough to run itself.

A strong, energetic leader may well upset that balance by his meddling. Ignoring folk wisdom, he may try to fix what isn’t broken and break it as a result.

But when a storm is brewing or already raging, a strong hand on the tiller is essential – provided that limb is wired to a wise head and a noble heart. When a country needs a Churchill, a Chamberlain won’t do (and, incidentally, vice versa).

The excerpts my friend posted date back to 1904-1905, when Russia was, not to cut too fine a point, falling apart. A disastrous war against Japan was followed by a revolution. The government managed to survive, but only just. Wise heads knew the writing was on the wall, and it spelled E-N-D.

It’s in this context that one can fully appreciate the concerns preoccupying the Tsar of all Russias at the time.

“I had a good walk with Misha, killed a crow.” (7 April, 1904)

“Walking for a long time, killed a crow.” (19 April, 1904)

“He killed the crow.” (29 April, 1904)

“I walked, killed a crow and went kayaking.” (17 May, 1904)

“I walked for a long time and killed 2 crows.” (25 May, 1904)

“Went for a long walk and killed 2 crows.” (27 May, 1904)

“Killed 2 crows. Went for a ride in a kayak.” (June 2, 1904)

“I have read a lot. I rode a bicycle and killed 2 crows; one yesterday.” (4 June, 1904)

“It was a wonderful day. Rode a bike and killed 2 crows.” (5 June, 1904)

“Walking for a long time, killed three crows.” (6 October, 1904)

“We walked together, then Alix came home, and I continued walking and killed five crows.” (10 October, 1904)

“Went out and killed a crow.” (8 November, 1904)

“I went for a walk and killed three crows.” (25 January, 1905)

“Went out and killed a crow.” (27 January, 1905)

“Went out and killed 4 crows.” (19 February, 1905)

“Walked around, killed two crows.” (17 March, 1905)

“He killed the cat.” (8 May, 1905)

“Rode a bike and killed 2 crows.” (28 May, 1905)

“I have read a lot. He killed a crow.” (29 May, 1905)

“He killed a woodpecker.” (10 September, 1905)

When Russia was going to the dogs, her absolute ruler was waging war on crows (and the odd cat and woodpecker). Really, he – though not his family – deserved ending up in that satanic cellar filled with gushing blood.

Russian nationalists like to say that Russia is there to teach the world a lesson. I agree: a lesson in how not to do things.

Now, as the world is balancing on a knife’s edge, take a roll call of Western leaders, to find which of them has the strength of mind and character to be up to a salvation job. Biden? Johnson? Macron? Scholz?

Then remember that worthy heirs to the ghouls who filled that cellar with blood now have their fingers on the red button. And Russia is just 1,000 miles from London – as the crow (or the missile) flies.

Inflation is tyranny

The UK inflation rate is rapidly heading towards double digits, making Adam Smith spin like a top in his grave. There he was, teaching the multitudes about natural market forces and the invisible hand.

However, the hand that has been steadily debauching Western currencies with inflation is clearly visible to anyone with eyes to see. It belongs to state officials.

Their motivation is clear: inflation is a tax requiring no legislative approval. By inflating the currency, the state effectively transfers money from the people’s accounts into its own, with a parallel transfer of even more power the same way. This fulfils the overarching objective modern politicians feel in their bone marrow, even if they don’t articulate it.

Any economic primer will tell you that inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. Modern states seldom dirty their hands with producing goods. Yet they have total control over the money supply, using to that end their own good offices and also the quasi-independent central banks.

The US led the way with the Federal Reserve system. In 1913, the year the Federal Reserve Act came into effect, the Sixteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was passed, empowering Congress to levy federal income tax as it saw fit.

European countries were all following suit at roughly the same time. The printing presses went into high gear, banknotes floated through the air like snowflakes, melting as they spiralled down to the ground.

A brief look at the numbers will confirm the distinctly modern flavour of high inflation. Before Western governments were allowed to meddle in economies, inflation was practically nonexistent, varying from 0.1 to 0.2 percent a year.

In Britain, £100 in 1850 equalled £110 in 1900, a negligible inflation of 10 percent over half a century. That meant Britons could confidently plan for the future, anticipating that hard work accompanied by thrift could make them independent not only of want but also of the state.

Conversely, if we look at the next century, £100 in 1950 equalled £2,000 in 2000 – a wealth-busting, soul-destroying inflation of 2,000 percent. To take another Anglo-Saxon currency as an example, over the past 100 years the US dollar has lost 95 percent of its value, a marginally better, though still abysmal, performance.

During the same period, productivity was increasing steadily in both countries, as were the production volumes and GDP per capita. Thus the only thing the state had to do to keep inflation in check was make sure that its spending and the money supply marched in step with production.

Inflation figures, however, prove that everywhere in the West the state did exactly the opposite. It was spending like a beached sailor and, whenever the money ran out, the printing press would go into high gear. And the state has never changed its behaviour.

So why do governments spend more than they take in if they know that such profligacy will predictably turn money into wrapping paper (or, in our days of electronic transfers, not even that)? The only logical answer is that they want money to lose value. They must feel that by acting in this manner they advance their objectives.

One objective I’ve already mentioned: gradual increase of their own power, which these days comes out of the money purse more often than out of the barrel of a gun.

The other is more subtle, though ultimately it amounts to the same thing: by reducing the purchasing power of a monetary unit, the state makes people seek a greater and greater number of such units to make ends meet. Some succeed, others fail.

But both groups have to be wholly committed to economic activity to stay afloat. This commitment has to be expressed not only in working halfway around the clock but also in taking a gambler’s risks with investments.

Those who fail will have to fall back on the state’s largesse in order to survive. But even those who succeed will also depend on the government, if less directly and more negatively.

After all, a quick pull on the printing press lever can usher in a double-digit inflation rate (our consumer price index grew 9% in April). A few years of that, and a nest egg lovingly hatched over a lifetime is broken, with no omelette anywhere in sight.

Some people lack the nous to do anything other than watch their money melt away like snow on the first warm day. Most, however, take a more active approach: they either go on a spending spree or invest in assets, mostly property, but also more speculative ventures.

Suddenly people become spendthrifts or gamblers, with no temperament for either. Since saving is pointless, they might as well borrow to buy that sports car they’ve always wanted or take a huge mortgage on a house with a south-facing garden. After all, inflation will steadily reduce their debt to practically nothing.

The state encourages such recklessness, with the central bank creating conditions not only for promiscuous borrowing, but also for irresponsible lending. Just a few days ago, an announcement was made that our banks would remove the affordability requirement from mortgage applicants. Another 2008 is ghosting into view, and it looms large.

This situation is disastrous not only economically, but also socially. For the rush to invest inflates assets – the law of supply-demand hasn’t yet been repealed. In Britain, for example, over the past 50 years property inflation has outstripped money inflation by a factor of 10.

That means that people doing the same jobs their parents used to do can’t afford the same houses. The side streets around me are filled with two-up-two-down workers’ cottages built some 120 years ago. Today they cost over two million each, which is beyond the means of most workers I know.

As a result, young people can’t get on the property ladder anywhere near their work. Some of my advertising colleagues, for example, earned twice or three times the average UK salary – and still had to commute almost 100 miles each way.

Since rents are also sky-high, the only alternative is to share, and many young executives live in conditions similar to the Soviet communal apartments of my youth. And in New York the average rent for a one-bedroom flat is edging towards £5,000 a month – against the median monthly income of about $3,000.

The upshot is that people have to spend every waking moment either working or commuting. There’s no time left for normal social or family life, and little inclination to start a family.

The desire to consume, however, never abates – with concomitant indebtedness burgeoning pari passu. In the US, for example, average household expenditure over the past three decades has been three times greater than average household income, with the balance funded by packs of credit cards, irresponsible loans and eventually bankruptcies.

People, especially young ones, seem to be competing with one another in who can get rid of their inflated cash faster. Unrestrained consumption becomes the central aspiration of modern societies, making them all consumptive.

People are increasingly losing control of their finances and their lives. But, vindicating the First Law of Thermodynamics, control doesn’t vanish. It merely shifts from individuals to the state.

Macabre palette of French politics

Macron has lost control of the National Assembly and, as les yanquis would say, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But neither Manny’s political future nor even, to be honest, France’s political present concerns me very much.

Everything points to trouble

What does terrify me is the dire threat these election results pose to European and global security. And I don’t scare easily.

If you add the seats gained by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s watermelon coalition (red and green) to those won by other left-wing parties and Le Pen’s fascisoid National Rally, you’ll see that the extremists are only two behind Manny’s Ensemble.

‘Others’ hold another 26 seats, which gives them an inordinate weight in the balance of power. Nudge them a bit, and a few of those ‘others’ could swing political control towards the lunatic fringe. Isn’t proportional representation wonderful?

For France to retain a semblance of sanity, Manny will have to get into bed with the Gaullist UDI (64 seats). However, that party feels about Manny the way a lamppost feels about dogs, and for similar reasons.

On the other hand, the extreme parties have much more in common than one would think. A Mélenchon-Le Pen coalition is eminently possible. Even chromatically, brown is a combination of red and green, which points to the compatibility of all these colours.

And politically, red and brown are much closer to each other than either is to the traditional European social democracy, whatever it calls itself. This kinship was demonstrated to a devastating effect in the German elections that brought Hitler to power.

The three main parties in Germany were the Nazis, Social Democrats and Communists. The Nazis emerged as the largest single party, but a bloc of the other two would have won. What happened next gave the lie to the simplistic binary notions of Left and Right.

One would have thought that a bloc between the Social Democrats and Communists was a marriage made in political heaven. One party was moderate Left, the other extreme Left, but both were Left. The Nazis, on the other hand, were regarded as Right in contemporaneous mythology.

The future not only of Germany but of the whole world was in the hands of Ernst Thälmann, head of the Communist Party. One step towards the Social Democrats, and Hitler’s name would today be known only to history buffs and collectors of recondite trivia.

But, taking his cue from Stalin, Thälmann shunned the SDs. Thereby he signed his own death warrant – he was killed at Buchenwald in 1944. Much worse, so were millions of others on either side of the war into which the combined efforts of Hitler and Stalin plunged the world.

After Hitler came to power, whole herds of ex-communists joined NSDAP and went about its satanic business with singular ardour. It wasn’t just naked self-interest. Those ex-communists also sensed that the substantive differences between their two affiliations were slight.

Both parties supported state control over the economy. The Communists were in favour of de jure nationalisation, the Nazis of the de facto kind, but that was a distinction without a difference. Even their flags were the same hue of red, if with different superimposed symbols. (For that reason, Soviet war films meticulously avoided showing Nazi flags in true colours.)

Both parties worshiped at the altar of unlimited violence, largely directed against similar targets. This they proved when the Nazis and Soviets joined forces to rape Poland in 1939.

The two predators immediately started murdering exactly the same groups in the territories they occupied: priests, officers, businessmen, intelligentsia, administrators. The only difference was that Stalin hadn’t yet come around to the idea of murdering Jews – that had to wait another 10 years.

Today’s relationships may appear different in many respects, but fundamentally they are eerily similar. The reds, greens and browns are driven by identical resentments and destructive impulses, even if they camouflage them with divergent slogans.

All three detest Western civilisation and dream of its destruction. They take different paths to that destination, but the destination is the same. And if Western defences are only manned by Macron types, the extremists must rate their chances as fair to good, especially if they act in concert.

A tri-colour coalition is possible, even likely. And, contrary to the laws of chromatics, the colour resulting from this mix can only be black.

That the combined efforts of the reds, greens and browns would produce an economic disaster is so self-evident that I won’t even bother talking about it. Just look at their proposed policies, and you’ll get the picture. Yet the inevitable geopolitical disaster merits a few words.

France has been at best a reluctant member of Nato since de Gaulle’s presidential term (1959-1969). With this black-hearted coalition ruling the roost, a complete break isn’t so much possible as guaranteed. This would deprive Nato of its only nuclear-armed member on the European continent.

All marginal parties in France (and quite possibly a few major ones) are at least passive Putinistas. This explains to some extent Macron’s overtures to Putin. He began leaning that way when he realised that his main challenge in domestic politics came not from the  Republicans, but from Le Pen and Mélenchon, both active stooges to Putin.

A France effectively governed by the nightmare coalition would be Putin’s unreserved ally. The West’s capability to resist Russia’s aggression would be severely compromised, spelling bad news not just for the Ukraine but for all former Soviet colonies. Since some of them are now Nato members, the consequences are impossible to calculate, but believe me – few Europeans will be turning cartwheels.

Add to this the kneejerk anti-Americanism that’s de rigueur in French politics, and chaos beckons. The problem isn’t that the outcome is predictably catastrophic, but that it’s unpredictable, which may be even worse.

Globalism offers many advantages, but one potential problem is that it turns all major countries into upright dominoes, ready to fall if one of them does. “Therefore,” as John Donne wrote, “send not to know/ For whom the bell tolls,/ It tolls for thee.”

Marxism strikes again

Next week Britain will be paralysed by class warriors, this time fronted by the Marxist RMT, the transport union.

It called for a three-day strike, and 40,000 RMT members jumped up and saluted. Mick Lynch, RMT boss, explained that the strike isn’t just any old labour dispute.

Addressing a rally attended by Angela Rayner, Labour’s Deputy Leader, Comrade Lynch spoke in the idiom borrowed from Das Kapital, which he probably hasn’t read, and The Communist Manifesto, which he probably knows by heart.

“The Tories are butchering the working class,” he shouted. And the working class must start butchering back: “The campaign is on. The fight is on. The struggle is on. Who’s with us? The working people are with us. We are the working people of this country. Together we are unstoppable. Get up and fight or live on your knees.”

Lovely. I especially liked the idea of fighting as the only alternative to living on one’s knees. That was a reference to the phrase “better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

The fiery aphorism was first uttered by a fiery man, the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who then set off a series of cultural appropriations. The adage was repeated by FDR, but it probably reached Comrade Lynch via the Spanish communist Dolores Ibárruri, a key figure in the Spanish Civil War.

She was nicknamed la Pasionaria, the badge of honour she earned for having bitten through a priest’s jugular vein, thereby establishing her impeccable atheist credentials. The lady missed her true calling. She could have made a top-notch wolfhound.

As far as I know, Lynch hasn’t so far expressed his innermost convictions dentally. But his oration came right out of Ibárruri’s legacy: “The struggle is on. Bring it on. This is the fight of our lives. Stand up and fight. Victory to the RMT!”

The temperature of the occasion should leave no one in any doubt. This isn’t just a haggle about an extra couple of quid in wages. This is a declaration of class war, which actually is superfluous.

For class war has been going on for the better part of two centuries, which doesn’t mean non-stop fighting. It’s more like the Hundred Years’ War, a series of battles and skirmishes separated by years of relative peace.

The fires of this war might not have been started by Marx and his jolly friends, but they certainly fanned them in the nineteenth century – and have been doing that ever since.

Marxism can’t withstand five minutes of rational debate on any level: social, economic, political, philosophical, you name it. It was intellectually defunct even at the time its founder was still burrowing through the British Library in the 1860s.

Marx was describing industrial conditions that were already obsolete at the time of writing, which is why he juggled facts with the dexterity of a cardsharp.

For example, the first edition of Das Kapital gives most statistics up to 1865 or 1866, except those for the changes in wages, which stop in 1850. The second edition brings all other statistics up to date, but the movement of wages again stops in 1850, to mask their rapid growth.

But Marxism isn’t about rational debate. It’s about envy and hatred, two dormant qualities residing in every man’s breast. The point of Marxism is to act as an alarm clock. When it rings loudly enough, envy and hatred wake up with a jolt and begin to destroy.

That is the essence of Marxism: destruction. It doesn’t destroy to achieve some worthy goal. Destruction is the goal, however dense the smokescreen behind which it hides.

It’s no wonder that history’s worst massacres have been perpetrated either by unapologetic Marxists or by the likes of Hitler, who merely acknowledged their debt to Marx.

As the West grew richer and richer, it became clear to unbiased observers that the relationship between prosperity and Marxism could only ever be inverse. But again, Marxism isn’t about improving the lot of the poor. It’s about wreaking enough havoc to make sure everyone is equally destitute and equally oppressed by the Marxists.

The average salary of a British train driver is £48,000 a year, £18,000 higher than the UK’s average. On that basis it’s hard to argue that RMT is defending an oppressed group. Yet arguments don’t fit on the banners of class war. Only slogans do.

However, the readers of this space expect not slogans but arguments. So here’s mine.

Trade unions used to serve a useful purpose, but they have outlived it. They are an Industrial Revolution anachronism, completely out of step with modern economies.

In the past, manufacturing reigned supreme, and mass production was making its first tentative steps. Most labour was unqualified, which made workers interchangeable and easily replaceable.

That’s why individual workers had no clout to negotiate with the management on equal terms. The balance of power swung too far to one end and needed to be redressed. Collective bargaining, and trade unions as its facilitators, thus had a role to play.

One could argue that, even before unionism, workers’ conditions were improving. And as mass production became more sophisticated, farsighted manufacturers saw a clear benefit in keeping their workers happy.

Even in Russia, one of the country’s top industrialists, Savva Morozov (d. 1905), introduced the kind of social provisions for his workers that hardly existed even in the West at the time – or in Russia now. And in the US, Henry Ford didn’t need to be coerced by strikers to pay a decent wage. He turned his workers also into his consumers by paying them a princely $5 a day.

Still, unions were important in the industries that were slow on the uptake – even though unionist methods were often violent. Factory owners responded to violence by violence. They hired thugs as strike-breakers, and many industrial sites were turned into battlefields.

This created troubled waters in which both Marxists and organised crime could profitably fish. Union bosses learned their ideology and methods from those sources, and in due course most unions became Marxist in thought and Mafioso in deed.

Like both Marxists and Mafiosi, they care little about the plight of the people in whose name they supposedly act. Like the former, they strive to destroy. Like the latter, they strive to extort.

Since Marxism has pervaded every pore of Western societies, we all have to go along with the unions. When their extortionate demands make whole countries less competitive, we grin and bear it. When they paralyse whole countries (remember Britain in the 1970s?), we regret their methods and selfishness.

However, it doesn’t occur to anybody to question their usefulness and indeed their right to exist. Yet if we gave ourselves a moment to stop and think, we’d realise that the unions represent a clash of troglodyte philosophy with modern economies.

Much of our mass production is outsourced to places where workers, often including children, toil round the clock for coolie wages. We could discuss the morality of this practice some other time, but meanwhile let’s just look at our own back yard.

A modern Western economy is sustained mostly by qualified labour. Workers – and I don’t just mean industrial proletariat – no longer have just their muscle to sell, but also their training and skills. Unlike muscular strength, these vary within a broad range from individual to individual.

Hence collective bargaining has become not just counterproductive but also unjust. Qualified employees should be in a position to strike individual deals with their employers, and the higher their qualification, the better the deals.

Companies, it must be remembered, compete not only for markets, but also for labour. They can’t afford to lose people to their rivals, which teaches them to treat their employees decently. No Mafia-style extortion is needed.

The unions have become a parallel government cum parallel criminal structure capable of bringing a great country to her knees. They should be disbanded – and would be, if it were possible at least to argue in favour of such a measure.

But it isn’t. Even politicians who know all this also know that trade unions are a sacred cow. It can be milked, but it can’t be slaughtered. Unions are like the NHS in that both sit at the top of a totem pole, too high for reason to reach.

That’s why the RMT will win next week’s battle, especially since there’s no Margaret Thatcher in sight. If only one side dares to fight, there’s only one winner.

The twain have met, Rudyard, so there

East is East, and West is West? Verily I say unto you, Kipling had no prophetic powers. He didn’t foresee that, 130 years after he wrote that poem, the West would boast a pro-Russian Pope.

Birds of a feather

Pope Francis must be on an ecumenical mission to reverse the 1054 Schism. When he broaches the subject of the on-going war, he sounds exactly like the KGB Patriarch Kirill, known in some quarters as ‘agent Mikhailov’.

That means they both sound like Putin’s propagandists, and indeed Putin himself. Both try to justify the bandit raid on the Ukraine. And both certainly agree on the casus belli.

According to all such sources, Putin’s only option was to attack. He was severely provoked (“partly provoked” is how the Pope put it) by the eastward expansion of Nato, threatening Russia’s very survival.

Nato, egged on by its Anglo-Saxon members, was going to use the Ukraine as the beachhead for an offensive to smite Holy Russia. Had Vlad not struck, Abrams tanks would be rolling into Red Square even as we speak.

That idea can be expressed in many ways, and His Holiness expresses it succinctly and unambiguously, as befits a prelate. He recalls that, a few months before the war, he spoke to an unnamed head of state. That mysterious official told him, a propos of nothing, that “a wise man who speaks little is a very wise man indeed”.

Allow me to expose the incognito. The proverb that so impressed His Holiness is Russian, which gives us a clue to the identity of his interlocutor. This little discovery vindicates the book the Pope must have seen when he was younger: “Everything secret will become manifest”.

Moving right along, Putin said “…that he was very worried about how Nato was moving. I asked him why, and he replied, ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia. They don’t understand that the Russians are imperial and can’t have any foreign power getting close to them.’ ”

Nato has never made a single threat to Russia that could be described as even “whispering”, never mind “barking”. It’s not there to annihilate Russia, only to prevent Russia from annihilating others.

And what does “imperial” mean? A blank licence to pounce on any country within reach? As for foreign powers getting close, Russia already has five Nato countries on her borders – and so far those Abrams tanks have stayed put.

The Pope not only repeats those Russian lies, but he also treats them with obvious sympathy. Having vented his perfunctory regrets about the savage brutality of the Russian troops, he added that: “… the danger is that we see only this, which is monstrous, and we do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.”

Quite. Those raped Ukrainian women and children, both male and female, have only themselves to blame. They provoked imperial Russians by wearing short skirts, tight trousers and, presumably, revealing nappies.

Anticipating the reactions of heathen vermin like me, His Holiness clarified matters: “Someone may tell me at this point, ‘But you are in favour of Putin!’ No, I am not. I am simply against reducing the complexity to a distinction between good and bad.”

God forbid. Good and bad are too complex to pinpoint accurately in any situation, and never mind the Decalogue or the Sermon on the Mount.

If I understand correctly, since the Pope isn’t supposed to be in favour of Putin, he repeats Putin’s propaganda out of his professional attachment to relativist truth in all its complexity. As long as that truth has nothing to do with good and evil.

Such relativism is odd in a Christian prelate. One feels like repeating the clichéd question: “Is the Pope Catholic?”

The more he enlarges on this subject, the more valid does that question appear. Thus he adds: “Here is no metaphysical good or bad. What is emerging is something global, involving elements that interlink.”

In other words, the Ukraine got caught between the Scylla of the West (minus Germany, France and Italy) and the Charybdis of Russia. Being imperial, Russia is genetically programmed to seek expansion ad infinitum, so she had to react to Scylla’s encroachments by bombing the Ukraine flat.

Fair enough. But what’s the West’s interest in the bloodbath?

Pope Francis is happy to elucidate: “What is before our eyes is a situation of world war, global interests, arms sales and geopolitical appropriation, which is martyring a heroic people.”

I get it now. It’s arms manufacturers who are to blame. And Nato, with its commitment to geopolitical appropriations. As for Putin, his conduct of the war is lamentable, what with so many heroic people martyred, looted, raped and left homeless. But he really had no other choice, did he?

True, some problems indeed don’t lend themselves to binary moral simplifications. But this isn’t one of them.

A horde of savage bandits attacked a peaceful country going about its daily business. Their road map highlights other destinations too, for future reference. Given half the chance, they’ll reduce all of Europe to Bucha and Mariupol.

They are unquestionably evil, while the heroes so close to the Pope’s heart are being martyred because they are defending everything that’s good in their country – and other countries, which the bandits also see as prey.

The Pope’s moral compass is going haywire. It must have been left next to an iron bar for too long.