Wednesday, December 30, 2009
One formidable lady
HIGH standards, a short temper and a taste for whisky - Margaret Thatcher's personality is laid bare in secret files released in Britain Wednesday which cover the first few months of her premiership.
The files, covering the first few months of her premiership, reveal she refused a guard of 20 "karate ladies'' when she visited Japan soon after becoming prime minister in 1979 and personally handled pistols to decide which model was best for police in Northern Ireland.
Her impatience for the failings of ministers and civil servants less formidable than herself is also shown in a volley of curt, scrawled annotations on documents.
Perhaps the most unusual story in the files relates to her attendance at the Tokyo Economic Summit in June 1979, the month after she was elected Britain's first female premier. British officials heard of Japanese plans to lay on 20 "karate ladies'' to provide her security at the event, but Thatcher insisted she did not want them. "The Prime Minister would like to be treated in exactly the same way as the other visiting Heads of Delegation; it is not the degree of protection that is in question but the particular means of carrying it out,'' a confidential official communique from the Foreign Office said. "If other Delegation leaders, for example, are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out.''
Another document records a conversation between Thatcher and the then US President Jimmy Carter at the White House in December 1979. She was trying to persuade him to reverse the US policy of not selling arms to Northern Ireland's police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Arguing her case, Thatcher said, according to the official record: "She herself had handled both of the gun(s) which the RUC at present used and that which was on order. "There was no doubt that the American Ruger was much better.''
A file on her first visit to France in June to meet president Valery Giscard d'Estaing revealed that embassy staff in Paris paid for her duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. They later had to chase Downing Street for a refund.
An invoice in the file lists one bottle of Teacher's whisky, known to be her drink of choice; one bottle of gin, a "snifter'' of which was favoured by her husband, Denis; and 200 Benson and Hedges cigarettes for Thatcher and a senior Downing Street figure.
Elsewhere, Thatcher berates officials for not providing a "sufficiently interesting'' itinerary for the first day of her maiden tour to the US and requests a "fuller program'' in New York.
She furiously annotates documents in blue fountain pen, adding notes, underlining and even correcting officials' grammar.
Utopian new left just like old left
How did the European left rationalize communism's crimes and transform itself into a viable political force after the fall of the Soviet Union? It's all explained in "Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era." First published in 2000, the book by the late French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel is only now available in English. But given Revel's insights into today's leftist movements, it couldn't be more timely.
The old left's attempt to "excommunicate" modernity, as Revel describes it, is as alive today as it ever was. He traces the left's ideological rejection of modern civilization and the idea of progress back to French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who in the 18th century launched the Romantic rebellion against the Age of Reason.
Revel explains how Rousseau's "primitivism" and denial of reason manifested itself in the utopian ideologies of communism and fascism. These ideologies are often mistakenly associated with rationalism, progress and science. But their deeper motivation was the irrational impulse to eliminate all the uncertainties of the human condition -- to create, in short, an earthly paradise. Revel calls this the "totalitarian temptation" because mankind is tempted into thinking that the only obstacle to creating the good society is a lack of will and power.
Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany were the most extreme examples of this idea. But Revel notes there were softer versions, ranging from socialism to the progressive movements in the United States. Yes, some versions were violent while others were not. But, Revel stresses, all shared the idea that their noble cause to create an ideal society morally justified the means, and the means of choice was state power - sometimes grossly violent and sometimes not.
Hitler's creation is long gone, and so, too, is the Soviet Union. But the legacy of Rousseau's assault on civilization and progress lives on in three modern political movements.
The first is environmentalism. By this I don't mean the mere desire to have a clean environment, but rather the messianic mission to create a new ecological order through the application of state power. Environmentalism, particularly in its more radical forms, has inherited all of the old left's habits of mind, only on a far grander scale. It seeks to transform not just civilization, but the physical planet as well.
As with the old left, new left environmentalists view capitalism and the free market as enemies. But so, too, is reason. The lengths to which some scientists will go to stifle dissent reveal not only a disrespect for the scientific method, but also contempt for using reason to understand reality. If truly understanding climate change were the main goal, there would be no hesitation to look at all the evidence of global warming. In the minds of many climate-change scientists, however, the top goal is not to understand the planet but to "save" it. The cause transcends the science.
Another new left movement is dedicated to "global governance" -- the creation of supranational institutions to control societies. Manifested in the United Nations, the European Union, and other international institutions, the ostensible aim is more happiness for more people, but the means is the same old centralization of power in ever larger governing institutions -- in this case, regional and global ones.
The enemies here are also familiar, namely, the nation-state and the free market. The United Nations and the European Union seek to bypass and control both, empowering bureaucratic elites who are unaccountable to the democratic process. In the old days, the nation-state was to be the engine of socialism; today, it is supranational institutions.
Unsurprisingly, this movement exhibits all the traits of the old left. Dissent from the received ideal is tolerated no more than the fat-cat bourgeois was by old-school socialists. For example, EU advocates in the European Parliament are boycotting its new European Conservative and Reform Group because it questions some aspects of integration. Its sin is apostasy from the creed of European integration, which EU advocates equate with wanting a return to the bad old days of suicidal wars. The same advocates never explain how regulating the size and shape of bananas and cucumbers or the noise that tires make serves such a noble cause.
Another great utopian movement of our era, militant Islamism, differs in origin from these secular leftist movements, but it shares some of their mental habits. The Muslim Brotherhood rejects capitalism and freedom no less than the most ardent environmentalists. It matters little whether advocates want to create a religious caliphate or an ecological nirvana. They share the utopian's disregard for progress and civilization, and see few if any limits on the means to stop them.
Though written about the past, Revel's book is a window into the future. Read it and you understand why, as the French say, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" ("The more things change, the more they stay the same.")
Leftist destruction in Britain
The economy has suffered its worst decade of growth since the Second World War, figures revealed yesterday. The findings, which show a far worse performance than under the Tories in the 1990s, raise serious doubts about Labour's claims to superior handling of the economy during its 13 years in power.
Gross domestic product, which is the country's total economic output, rose just 1.7 per cent a year in real terms, which means the figures have been adjusted for inflation. At this low level, the last decade has been Britain's weakest period of economic expansion of any ten-year period since the 1940s, according to the research based on figures from the Office for National Statistics. By contrast, in the 1990s, when John Major was in power before being ousted by Tony Blair in 1997, output rose by an average of 2.2 per cent a year.
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have made a habit of disparaging the economic record of the Conservative Party, but yesterday the Tories said the figures exposed the Government's dismal record. Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond said: 'After more than a decade in power, Labour's economic legacy is record low growth and a poorly performing stock market. 'This shows the urgent need for change to ensure the next decade is one of sustainable growth and a return to soundly-based prosperity.
The biggest loser over the decade was the embattled manufacturing sector, which collapsed into negative territory, falling by an average of 1.2 per cent every year. This did not happen even in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when Britain's industrial base virtually collapsed with victims such as shipbuilding, coal mining and car manufacture. During those two decades, output grew at an average annual rate of 0.6 per cent and 1.0 per cent respectively.
The sluggish performance of the economy is made even worse by the fact that the population has ballooned in recent decades. A rising population is usually associated with a rise in economic output, rather than a fall. The population has grown from 56 million in 1971 to 61 million in 2007, and is forecast to keep on climbing to nearly 63 million in 2011.
The findings come at a bleak time for Britain, which remains the only G20 economy still in recession. Latest ONS figures show that output fell between July and September, down 0.2 per cent. Since the recession started last year, the economy has shrunk 6 per cent, the biggest slump in modern times.
Unemployment has shot up to 2.5million, and a warning has come from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that another 250,000 could lose their jobs. Its chief economic adviser Dr John Philpott said the outlook may be even worse, with unemployment possibly reaching three million. He said: 'Private sector employers will seek to contain wage costs and public sector employers will have to cope with the consequences of fast shrinking budgets and mass job downsizing.'
The most important civil right of all
Well, to paraphrase a famous president of a slightly earlier time, "you're doing a heckuva job, Janet." That goes for everybody at the White House.
If Barack Obama wants to reassure a nervous public that bureaucratic incompetence won't be tolerated, he might look to the example of what happened to the director of FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But no one expects the president to sack Janet Napolitano, the secretary of something the government insists on calling Homeland Security.
That's not how an administration that regards words and deeds as equals actually works. The lessons in the latest Islamist attempt to bring down a Western airliner could be useful, but such lessons are too painful for the guvvies to think about.
Mzz Napolitano's early assurance, since amended, that "the system worked" was either dopey beyond belief, or an unintended ringing endorsement of the ancient folk ethic that "God helps those who help themselves." Better God than a guvvie, but not everyone can count on having as a fellow passenger a young Dutchman with quick instincts, athletic grace, a sharp eye and a full complement of bravery and courage. That's not really a "system" for securing the homeland.
President Obama, interrupting a day at the beach, told reporters in Hawaii that he would pursue the plotters in Arabia and he would not rest until they are caught. This time he did not promise they would be executed, as he did of the Guantanamo plotters who are to be tried in New York City. But the attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it approached Detroit was "a serious reminder" of the dangers George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other Republicans warned us about. (Of course, he couldn't afford to say it quite that way.)
Mr. Obama's tough-guy rhetoric, his words plain, pretty and well-parsed, is more reassuring than his deeds, or would be if there was evidence that he really understands what must be done. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young jihadist from Nigeria by way of Yemen, was quickly indicted on federal charges of trying to destroy an aircraft, which means that he will have the full array of rights accorded to every defendant in an American court. Someone will have to read his Miranda rights, and he will have the right to a lawyer. This will please the civil rights radicals who imagine the Constitution to be a suicide pact, and who don't, or can't, understand that the most important civil right of all is the right not to be murdered. Murder, after all, is the surest way to deprive someone of his other civil rights.
If ever a system isn't working, this is the one. Warning flags the size of bedsheets fluttered above checkpoints on two continents. The suspect's father tried to warn the American government that his son had been radicalized and was looking for an opportunity to slaughter innocents. That should have been enough to interview the young man before revoking his visa. But such common sense, common nearly everywhere else, is rarely rewarded in the government precincts of the politically correct. Someone eager to scratch the itch to wound America might be offended.
Where were the intelligence services that soak up so many of the nation's billions every year? Did the CIA talk to the FBI, or the DEA to DIA, or did considerations of protecting turf take precedence, as such considerations often do? The Obama administration promises an investigation, naturally, and of course it will be fair, thorough, hard-hitting, blah, blah and blah. Congress should be suspicious of bureaucrats investigating themselves, and conduct its own investigation. But Democrats in Congress will no doubt be more interested in protecting the administration than finding out what really happened. To find out might compel even a senator to actually do something.
The Detroit incident ought to persuade President Obama once and for all that making nice with those who are determined to kill as many of us as they can is a fool's errand. He can go back to Cairo again and again to apologize as eloquently as he can, and when the apologies are over and he bumps the floor with his forehead in bowing to whomever, the Islamic jihadists will still despise us and will continue to plot to destroy us.
Janet Napolitano can conjure up more ways to harass air travelers, going after all those blue-eyed Scandinavian grannies in Minnesota again to avoid "profiling" the likely terrorists. She may require us to take off our pants as well as our shoes. But even with more harassment of the innocent, she still won't have a "system" that works. We must pray for a Dutchman.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)
Posted by JR at 9:31 PM