While Democrats fan out to talk about the misery of our economy and how the government has to do more to control it, the news out of Europe seems brighter. The Germans and their more-controlled economy has begun improving. In fact, their unemployment rate has dropped all the way to 8.6%:
Germany’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.6 percent in February as a relatively mild winter added to momentum from the country’s economic upswing, government figures showed Thursday.
The number of people without a job in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, fell 42,000 from January to 3.617 million, and 630,000 lower than in February last year, the Federal Labor Agency said.
The unadjusted jobless rate was down from 8.7 percent in January. Last February, that rate was 10.1 percent.
“Unemployment continues to fall,” Labor Agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise said. “Companies’ demand for labor remains at a very high level.”
The bad news? The improvement is likely overstated, according to a UniCredit economist in Munich. The German government’s short-term winter benefit for construction workers masked what will soon become a significant drop in work. Major companies plan cuts as they forsee a cooling economy, although the government insists that unemployment will continue to decline.
Europe, with its heavy-handed economic regulation, struggles to keep itself out of Jimmy Carter-era unemployment. They celebrate 8.6% unemployment. Meanwhile, the Democrats claim that 5% unemployment here requires the exact same kind of solutions that brought Germany their current economic “success”.
Lest anyone think that this problem is confined to Germany, take a look at this report from last February. The “Eurozone” celebrated its best unemployment rate ever — at 7.4%. Three weeks ago, they announced a further improvement — to 7.2%. Either of these numbers would have Americans screaming in the streets for new leadership, and yet those who claim to represent that new leadership want to take the US down the same statist path where 7.2% is a “record low”.
We need market solutions, not government-controlled economic plans that send capital to Capitol Hill instead of the engines of economic growth. We don’t need to duplicate the European debacle.
The rate of infanticide in Germany varies widely between the regions of the former West Germany and East Germany. Der Spiegel reports that the issue has become a political hot potato, and that the suggestion by the governor of the formerly communist-run state Saxony-Anhalt that communism could be the cause has people demanding his resignation:
Wolfgang Böhmer, governor of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, faces opposition calls to resign after he said women in the east had “a more casual approach to new life” than in the west.
Böhmer, who trained as a gynaecologist, was responding to research showing that the risk of a baby being killed by its mother is three to four times higher in the east than it is in the west of Germany.
Barely a month goes by in Germany without media reports of infanticide. One of the most shocking cases (more…) was that of Sabine Hilschinz, 42, from the eastern city of Frankfurt an der Oder, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2006 for killing eight of her babies. She is seeking to have the ruling overturned in an appeal that started this month.
“Statistics don’t necessarily imply a causal link,” Böhmer told the German newsmagazine Focus in an interview published on Monday. “But the accumulation cannot be denied. I think it can mainly be explained with a more casual approach to new life in eastern Germany.” In the German Democratic Republic abortion right up to the 12th week was allowed in 1972. The women took the decision on their own. Today, to obtain an abortion at that late stage, women are required to receive a professional consultation.
Bohmer blamed the “widespread fixation on the state” for cheapening human lives. It could also have been the actual application of communism by Soviet and East German leaders that contributed to that as well. Joseph Stalin killed millions through deliberate starvation, bloody purges, and internal fights; East Germany’s leaders had just as few scruples if lower body counts.
Communism as a system devalues the individual. It reduces their worth to simple calculations of productivity. By eliminated the foundations of liberty as an innate part of humanity as a vestige of the divine within us, Communism made the state divine instead, and the people within it merely producers. In that kind of oppressive system, the dispirited will see babies as little more that exo-fetuses.
The reaction to Bohmer shows that Germany still has unification issues almost two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The forty-five year split of the country created very different cultures across the divide, and it left the Germans in the East poor, defensive, and wary. If Bohmer faces this much grief over pointing out the obvious cultural effects of Communism even with this evidence in support, then the country may need another generation to fully heal.
Well, this comes as no surprise. After a rally of 150,000 Serbs turned into a riot in Belgrade, they broke into the American embassy and set it on fire (via The Corner):
Serb rioters broke into the U.S. Embassy Thursday and set fire to an office after a large protest against Kosovo’s independence that drew an estimated 150,000 people.
Masked attackers broke into the building, which has been closed this week, and tried to throw furniture from an office. A blaze broke out but firefighters swiftly put out the flames.
Authorities drove armored jeeps down the street and fired tear gas to clear the crowd. The protesters dispersed into side streets where they continued clashing with authorities.
The embassy was unoccupied at the time of the attack. The rioters moved on to the Croatian embassy after getting chased out of ours, but there is no word on the extent of the damage there.
The US has protested the attack, and demanded better security from Serbia. Frankly, no one should be surprised at the reaction. We just recognized the division of the Serbian state from boundaries recognized for the past six centuries. If the Serbs seem disinterested in guarding our territory within their capital, it’s not hard to imagine why.
As predicted, the province of Kosovo — under Serbian control for more than six centuries — declared its independence today amid celebrations and condemnations. Russia has demanded and received an emergency UN Security Council meeting to stop the EU and the West from recognizing the nation of Kosovo. The UK will send the last of its reserves to Kosovo to prevent a breakdown that could start another round of ethnic cleansing:
Kosovo’s parliament has formally declared independence from Serbia, ending a long chapter in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.
Celebrations were underway in the Kosovan capital Pristina as an emergency parliamentary session was held to make the historic declaration. …
However the breakaway attracted immediate condemnation from Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic. “Serbia will never recognise the independence of Kosovo. Serbia has reacted and will react with all peaceful, diplomatic and legal means to annul this act committed by Kosovo’s institutions,” he said in a statement. “I appeal to all our citizens in Serbia and in Kosovo to be led by reason.”
Russia claims that the EU has no power to recognize the independence of Kosovo. They want the UNSC to reassert its authority as the administrator of Kosovo to keep the US or European nations to give legitimacy to Thaci’s declaration:
The United Nations Security Council will meet in emergency session Sunday afternoon at the request of Russia, which opposes Kosovo’s declaration as an independent nation and bid for international recognition.
The Security Council’s president received the request from Russian diplomats and has scheduled a meeting, said Angelica Jacome, a spokeswoman for the current council president, Panama’s U.N. Ambassador Ricardo Arias.
The 15-member council remains deeply divided on the future of Kosovo with Russia backing its close ally Serbia and calling for more negotiations while Britain, France and other European Union members are supporting the Kosovo Albanians.
It’s an absurd situation made even more absurd by the UN administration of the province. For almost nine years, the UN sat paralyzed by the mutually exclusive demands of the majority Albanians and minority Serbs in Kosovo, and the equally exclusive demands of the West and Russia. Rather than confront this quickly and cleanly from the beginning, the UN allowed all sides to believe that they would succeed through stalling.
And in the end, it may not have saved anything. Relations between Russia and the West have foundered on the Balkans policy over the last thirteen years. The military commitment there will deepen after the independence of the last of the Yugoslavian provinces, and in this one the Serbs had a pretty fair argument for opposing independence.
The breakup of Serbia calls into question whether the concept of Westphalian sovereignty remains extant. Shall Burgundy go back to the Burgundians, if they so desire? Will Wales and Cornwall exit from Great Britain? Can Texas declare its independence? More pragmatically, are we seeing a return to the micronationalism that generated numerous wars on the European continent over the centuries before Westphalia?
This occurs in the shadow of the struggles in Africa and the Middle East over nationalism, sovereignty, and statehood. Just as we want to solidify the boundaries between nations in these regions to produce more stability, we seem to be supporting the breakdown of the exact same system in Europe. The end of the Age of Empire has left civilization struggling for a new model of political stability for almost a century — and the struggle continues today in Kosovo.
Europe’s biggest headache will become Excedrin #3 on Sunday at 2 pm UTC. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announced that the breakaway portion of Serbia will officially declare its independence at that time, setting in motion a potential powder keg in the Balkans — again. The UN, which supposedly administers the cease-fire in Kosovo, has so far said nothing:
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci confirmed Saturday that Kosovo would declare its independence from Serbia on Sunday, the day when the “will of the citizens of Kosovo” would be implemented.
“Tomorrow will be a day of calm, of understanding, and of state engagements for the implementation of the will of the citizens of Kosovo,” said Thaci after meeting religious leaders from the predominantly ethnic Albanian province.
Expectations that independence would be declared on Sunday have been running high but Thaci’s comments marked the first top-level confirmation that the long-awaited break with Serbia would take place this weekend. …
Kosovo inched closer to its historic declaration of independence with a growing sense of excitement among its people and the European Union launching a police and judicial mission to smoothen the birth of the world’s newest state.
Serbia, backed by Russia, has said that the split — supported by the United States and most major European powers, nine years after Kosovo was put under interim UN administration — would be illegal.
The new state will launch itself to the sweet strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is the official anthem of the EU. Certainly the majority of Kosovars will be joyful, but the Kosovo Serbs will have a much different take on the celebrations playing out all around them. AFP reports that NATO forces will make a very public display of strength in order to tamp down violence, but the passions of the moment will probably not make that terribly effective.
Where does this leave European politics? Russia will take umbrage at this unilateral step. Its traditional ally, Serbia, has now been cut off from a province that has been considered part of its territory for centuries. While the Russians and the Serbs have never been terribly cooperative in the dispute over Kosovo and were never likely to agree to a settlement that did anything but return Kosovo to Serb control, the abrupt split and the explicit EU encouragement for it will complicate Russo-Western relations even further than they are now.
Given that Vladimir Putin supplies a large percentage of Europe’s energy, it might not just be the diplomatic relations that get frosty.
And what of the UN’s administration of Kosovo? That turns out to be a big failure. NATO kept the peace, and the UN was supposed to resolve Kosovo’s status. Instead, they dragged their heels for years, only reluctantly starting talks a few months ago. Like everything the UN does, the talks got stymied by Russian refusals to compromise or cooperate.
The moment the UN and NATO intervened in Kosovo, the independent status of the province was established. There was no practical way afterwards to return Kosovo to Serbian control. Instead of vacillating for almost nine years, NATO and the US should have recognized the province’s independence as soon as the fighting stopped. Postponing the inevitable has done nothing but keep Kosovars at each others’ throats and extended the diplomatic bitterness of the Balkans wars.
Serbia has re-elected pro-Western president Boris Tadic by a narrow margin. It sets up a confrontation between Tadic and Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose parliamentary support for a less Western-friendly course will get tested in the resolution of Kosovo’s status. If the Kosovars declare independence, Serbia could find itself with a destabilizing internal battle:
The West sees Tadic’s victory as a sign that Serbia has turned away from the reactionary nationalism that fuelled the wars that marked the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Last week, the European Union signed an interim accord with Serbia covering trade and relaxation of visa rules — an initial step towards eventual EU membership — and on Monday the bloc welcomed Tadic’s win. “The EU wishes to deepen its relationship with Serbia and to accelerate its progress towards the EU, including candidate status,” the Slovenian EU presidency said in a statement.
Although both Tadic and Nikolic had vowed not to accept Kosovo’s independence, Tadic’s priority is to see Serbia pursuing a path towards EU membership. His pro-Europe views are not, however, shared by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who wants to pursue a more confrontational policy with the West over Kosovo.
Kostunica is in coalition with Tadic’s Democratic Party (DS) yet he refused to back Tadic in the presidential election, and he has insisted that if Kosovo declares independence, and this is recognized by the EU, then Belgrade should abandon its bid for EU membership.
This goes beyond EU membership, but that will probably be the catayst. Tadic could pull down Kostunica and force parliamentary elections at any time, and over any issue. If Kosovo declares its independence, and especially if the EU rushes to recognize it as most believe it will, the Serbs will have a strong inclination to rely on their allies in Moscow rather than embrace the Europeans they see as dismembering the traditional Serbian nation. And Russia will be happy to play power politics and take up their cause against the EU.
What we have here is a resumption of the Balkans version of the Great Game, subsumed for decades by the fascist and totalitarian Nazis and Soviets but rising again over the last twenty years. The shadows of the empires that fought for control in this Eurasian frontier are back at it again under different guises, and the peoples of the Balkans have once again become pawns in the struggle. The stakes are somewhat different this time around, however, as the question is not who will rule the Balkans as it is who will have their influence strengthened there, and therefore build more credibility and have more political satellites.
In any event, if the West relies too much on Tadic, they may be disappointed. Tadic also opposes Kosovan independence and isn’t likely to react with joy to an EU recognition of it. He may be pursuing EU membership as a gambit to get Europe to butt out of Kosovo rather than assisting European ambition to sever Kosovo permanently from Serbia. If the EU does recognize Kosovo’s independence, Tadic may join Kostunica in looking East rather than West.
Britain has endorsed nuclear power as a solution to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. They will encourage new facility construction with an eye to having the next generation of stations on line by 2020. The environmental lobby, which has pushed the global warming issue, did not respond positively to this development:
The British government on Thursday announced support for the construction of new nuclear power plants, backing atomic energy as a clean source of power to fight climate change.
Business Secretary John Hutton told lawmakers that nuclear power “should have a role to play in this country’s future energy mix, alongside other low-carbon sources.” He said nuclear energy was a “tried and tested, safe and secure” source of power. ….
Environmental groups condemned the decision, saying nuclear power was dangerous and would divert resources from developing renewable energy sources.
“We need energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralized power stations like those in Scandinavia. That’s the way to defeat climate change and ensure energy security,” said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace.
The problem with the Greenpeace approach is that it won’t generate the energy levels we already have now, let alone what we’ll need in 2020 and beyond. The only way to produce the energy needed to keep the global economy going and to maintain and improve the standard of living is to add nuclear power to the mix. The rest of these technologies cannot produce enough energy to allow for a zero-loss transfer from our reliance on fossil fuels.
Britain realizes this, and also realizes that nuclear power — contrary to the shrieking of Greenpeace — has a remarkable safety record. It has only had one real disaster, in Chernobyl. That occurred at a facility with known and significant design flaws that would only have passed muster in a Communist nation. The meltdown happened when the engineers turned off all of the safety systems in order to run a demonstrably stupid and useless test, and the explosion became inevitable. Otherwise, the few near-misses that have taken place resulted in no loss of life and little release of excessive radiation, including Three Mile Island.
France derives most of its electricity from nuclear power. Japan generates a healthy percentage of its power the same way, even on an island known for powerful earthquakes. Britain and the US needs to start paving the road for nuclear expansion in order to help move farther towards energy independence while continuing to encourage development in other renewables. That might even include fusion, if recent advances hold in that technology. While these mature, we need to use existing technologies to bridge that gap.
Of course, maintaining current standards of living and energy production levels may not seem important to groups like Greenpeace. They have pursued global warming as a plague on Mankind for its insult to nature, and their professed solutions suggest that we should do penance for these secular sins rather than propose serious alternatives to maintaining the progress made over the last few centuries in longevity, prosperity, and rationality.
The former Soviet republic of Georgia attempted to move past its old Russian-dominated politics and hold an free and fair election including the restive Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, recently abandoned by Russian troops. President Mikhail Saakashvili won re-election in the first round with a majority of votes, cementing the pro-Western direction Georgia has taken in the last few years. However, the results have stirred up tensions, with Saakashvili’s main opponent crying fraud:
Georgia’s pro-Western leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, yesterday snatched victory in the country’s snap presidential election. But the opposition immediately rejected the result and demanded another round of voting.
Thousands took part in protests in the snow-covered capital, Tbilisi, claiming the election had been rigged.
The United States called for calm and respect for the verdict of election observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe who concluded that “democracy took a triumphant step” in the Caucasus.
No one claims that Levan Gachechiladze beat Saakashvili. He only took 27% of the vote, as opposed to almost 53% for Saakashvili. However, in the Georgian system as in others in Europe, the first round selects the two top votegetters for a second round, unless one candidate wins a majority in the first round. The Georgian opposition claims that Saakashvili didn’t legitimately win his majority and that a second round should be ordered regardless of the stated results.
The Russians will be happy to foment this unrest. On the same ballot, the Saakashvili-backed referendum on NATO membership passed with 61% of the vote, outpolling even Saakashvili. Vladimir Putin has already made it clear that he sees NATO’s flirtation with Georgia as a serious affront to Russian sensibilities, but that’s harder to push if the Georgians themselves make such a clear demand for membership. Putin needs to discredit the vote, and they wouldn’t mind seeing Saakashvili take a tumble along with it.
If so, then the protests won’t exactly thrill Putin. The opposition hasn’t called massive numbers into the streets — just a few thousand people. It won’t shut down Tbilisi, and it won’t generate the kind of momentum that would force Saakashvili into calling another round of voting as a referendum on the first. The weak response seems to verify that Gachechiladze didn’t win most districts as he claims, and that the election results were probably accurate.
Still, with Putin planning his transition of power from the presidency to the Prime Ministry in Russia, he will continue looking for ways to bring the Caucasus state back into the Russian orbit. Saakashvili will have his work cut out for him.
Yulia Tymoshenko will likely return to the position from which Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko dismissed her in a split amongst the reformers last year. Tymoshenko, seen by some as the poster woman for the Orange Revolution, reconciled with Yushchenko enough to see their parties garner a two-vote majority in parliament. Her return as Prime Minister effectively benches the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich:
A coalition of two parties linked to Ukraine’s pro-Western “Orange Revolution” proposed Yulia Tymoshenko on Tuesday as their candidate to be restored in her old job as prime minister.
Members of parliament representing Our Ukraine, the party of President Viktor Yushchenko, and Tymoshenko’s bloc unanimously approved the proposal in a room inside the parliament building.
The coalition will now submit Tymoshenko’s nomination to the president, who has 15 days to consider it and send it to the 450-seat parliament for approval.
With Vladimir Putin extending his stay at the helm of Russian power, the Orange parties have their work cut out for them in protecting Ukrainian sovereignty. The pro-Russian political forces still have plenty of sway, however, and eastern Ukraine feels more comfortable looking east than towards Europe. The new coalition could provoke enough reaction to lose seats in the next election, making this an interlude fraught with political peril for the Orange effort. They cannot push too fast for realignment without finding themselves out of power again.
Is Tymoshenko the right person for that kind of brinksmanship? She has proven herself as a powerful motivator and a dynamic leader. Yulia has also found it difficult to compromise and move slowly, which is why she and Yushchenko split so publicly after the Orange Revolution. If the Orange effort is to succeed, it will have to do so patiently and without alienating voters any more than necessary. Yulia does alienation well, but compromise and patience have not brought her to power.
Ukraine will continue to agonize over its direction for some time to come. The nearly-equal split in their parliament reflects their dissonance, and until one side decisively wins an election, its leaders will have to proceed cautiously in any direction. It’s hard to see how Yulia can succeed n this situation — but it will be fascinating to watch.
Britain’s navy cannot reliably handle a medium-scale operation, let alone a major war, after decades of decline and neglect. The shocking report on the Royal Navy comes as a shock to the island nation, whose navy not only defended it for centuries but came to define the British. The current government, already embroiled in a data-loss scandal, may suffer the consequences:
The Royal Navy can no longer fight a major war because of years of underfunding and cutbacks, a leaked Whitehall report has revealed.
With an “under-resourced” fleet composed of “ageing and operationally defective ships”, the Navy would struggle even to repeat its role in the Iraq war and is now “far more vulnerable to unexpected shocks”, the top-level Ministry of Defence document says.
The report was ordered by Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, who had intended to use it to “counter criticism” on the state of the Navy in the media and from opposition parties.
But in a damning conclusion, the report states: “The current material state of the fleet is not good; the Royal Navy would be challenged to mount a medium-scale operation in accordance with current policy against a technologically capable adversary.” A medium-scale operation is similar to the naval involvement in the Iraq War.
Labour forgot the first rule in politics, law, and marriage: never ask a question for which one is unprepared for the answer. Instead of silencing their critics, Labour now has to explain why they have allowed such neglect to occur to the crown jewel of the British military. Without an effective navy, an island nation has few options to protect its interests around the world.
Where could this have immediate implications? Argentina may decide to take another look at the Falkland Islands, for one. Margaret Thatcher went to war to keep the Argentinians from seizing the territory twenty-five years ago, but the issue remains unsettled. More strategically, Britain’s trade routes now must rely even more heavily on American protection than ever. Diplomatically, the weak state of Britain’s navy makes them less able to influence global events and again more reliant on the US as a partner.
That doesn’t let the US off the hook, though. For approximately the same period, the US has allowed our navy to shrink, a situation that only recently caused alarm in Washington with the apparent arms buildup of China. We have relied on two vast oceans to serve as our buffer against military attack, buttressed by an overwhelming surface and subsurface naval armada. We have begun to drift in the same direction as the UK, allowing our ability to project power and protect our trade routes dwindle slowly. We have not seen the same level of degradation that the British see in their naval power, but we’re on the same road.
With all of the controversies hitting Gordon Brown at the moment, the last thing his government needed was a self-created report proving that Labour had torpedoed the Royal Navy. During Blair’s term, the Conservatives couldn’t do anything right. So far since, they haven’t had to do anything right as long as Brown keeps doing everything wrong.