Italy to world – we’re ridiculous

Another European country is going to great lengths to render itself absurd in the eyes of the rest of the world. Yes, it’s Italy’s turn (emulating Germany’s example from over the weekend):

An emergency taskforce is to be established within a month to monitor airwaves and news-stands the world over for coverage of Italy and bombard foreign newsrooms with good news about the country.

The plan was announced by the tourism minister, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, who said a crack team of young journalists and communications experts would be assembled to stamp out bad news.

“Their first job will be to monitor all the foreign press, including dailies, periodicals and TV in every latitude, from Japan to Peru,” she told Corriere della Sera today.

The second task will be to “bombard those newsrooms with truthful and positive news”, and reveal to the world “a generous, truthful and audacious Italy – the Italy of entrepreneurs, art, cultural events and our products”.

This, needless to say, is the brainwave of Signor Berlusconi who – crazier by the day – is intent on crushing anti-Italian forces that are intent on destroying him. If this was a film (and perhaps it is), we’d be nearing point in the plot when the mad dictator is put out of his misery by faceless henchmen…

Wake up Nigeria: lessons from Sierra Leone

While researching my upcoming book on the world’s poorest countries last week, I came across David Keen’s ‘Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone,’ an analysis of the causes of the world’s poorest country’s vicious 1990s civil war. What struck me most was the similarity between what I read of the conditions in Sierra Leone before war erupted and what I heard on a recent trip to Nigeria of the conditions prevailing there.

The parallels are remarkable. Burgeoning youth population? Check. Intense competition for services and economic opportunities? Check. Collapsed education system that fails the young? Check. Dependence on a single valuable natural resource? Check (diamonds in Sierra Leone, oil in Nigeria). Neglect of other economic activities like agriculture? Check. Catastrophic lack of jobs? Check.

The result of all these fundamental problems in Nigeria, as in Sierra Leone, is a youth population that cannot establish itself. Denied employment, young people cannot leave their parents’ homes, marry, or start families. Their reliance on the older generation deprives them of the latter’s respect. Their resentment of their elders, who benefited from a better education, faced weaker competition for jobs, and have control over the country’s economy, is acute. The corruption and decadence of those in power and their lack of interest in young people’s demands further fan the flames (both David Keen writing on Sierra Leone and several Nigerians I spoke to said that wealth, no matter how dishonestly acquired, had become society’s’ overriding goal – as a young woman in Lagos lamented, “nobody asks how you got rich”).

In Sierra Leone, young people eventually took out their frustrations with extreme violence. Among their main targets were village chiefs and other figures of authority. When the Revolutionary United Front invaded Freetown in January 1999, its young rebel soldiers sought out and dealt out horrific punishments to journalists and writers who had criticised them and shown them disrespect. Many young Nigerians also bemoan the lack of respect they receive from the older generation, who dominate the country’s institutions.

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Correction- it’s the EU that’s the climate deadweight

Interesting to compare my post from earlier (“anger at America’s free pass“) with Kevin Grandia’s take. Writing from the Bangkok talks, he points an accusing finger at the EU for its failure to make any meaningful commitment to binding targets:

The only developed country to make a real commitment to a hard cap is Norway, who announced yesterday that will commit to a forty-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. It’s worth pointing out that Norway is not part of the European Union.

I have to admit to being slightly bemused by Kevin’s argument. At Bali, all members of the Kyoto club agreed that, ‘as a group’, they must cut emissions by 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The US, of course, was not in the room for the negotiation.

The EU is already committed to reducing its own emissions by 20% in 2020 against 1990 levels, the Kyoto benchmark year. Since well before Bali, it has explicitly stated that it would take on a 30% target if other countries make comparable efforts.

In contrast, the US is attempting to legislate at home on an agreement that would see its emissions return to 1990 levels by 2020, but does not yet seem to be in a position to take on any binding international target.

So that’s a possible 0% from the US vs a hard(ish) 20% from the EU, and a possible 30%. Seems quite a big difference to me. Or perhaps, Kevin, I am missing something?

Climate – anger at America’s free pass

I was talking to a friend about the Copenhagen climate summit the other day.

She was aghast – and angry – that, even in a best case deal, the United States will take on an emissions target that is no more onerous than that given to the European Union (and may be considerably less so).

US emissions have shot up during the Kyoto years, with the average American now accounting for twice the emissions of his/her European counterpart. But EU negotiators are so desperate to have the US rejoin the party that they’ll swallow more or less any commitment that their US counterparts are prepared to put on the table.

My friend’s visceral reaction is evidence, I think, that outside the ‘climate bubble’, citizens in European countries have not even begun to ask themselves what a fair deal on climate looks like.

This creates a real chance of a backlash when they finally work out that the United States expects to be allowed to continue to emit more than Europe for the next thirty or forty years – and possibly for much longer.

That’s why John Kerry got all hot under the collar when I asked him at Bali whether all countries should be heading for similar levels of emissions per head, dismissing those who insisted on playing what he called ‘the per capita game’.

It’s also why American politicians obsess over the fact the China now emits more than the US, but fail to remind their audiences that there are more than four Chinese for every American.

Past form would suggest that European governments will be meek, mild and biddable in Copenhagen, doing everything they can to make Barack Obama’s life as easy as possible. But it would be a mistake for them to be too supine.

After all, no-one respects weakness, especially Americans. And European citizens will have no hesitation in knifing their governments, when they work out that they didn’t even try to get its transatlantic cousins to finally begin to pull their weight.

German government goes batsh*t crazy

What on earth does the German government think it’s doing? According to the Sunday Times, its diplomats are briefing journalists that it trying to ensure Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, is impeached for failing to ratify the Lisbon treaty.

In recent years, Klaus has carved out quite a niche for himself, trolling other governments on climate change, European integration and a host of other issues. His latest trick is declare that Lisbon will leave the Czech republic open to legal claims from 3.5 million ethnic Germans expelled at the end of the second world war – a red line he somehow forgot to mention before now.

As he clearly hoped, other European governments have responded furiously. But the German reaction must be beyond his wildest dreams – an insane suggestion that he should be impeached on the grounds of, wait for it, high treason.

The Times has even managed to find a German diplomat dumb enough to give the following quote (whose idiocy is such that I wonder whether the paper simply made it up)::

If the president is obstructing the democratic process and opposing the decision of parliament as well as the will of the people, he is moving beyond the law and will need to face the consequences.

Assuming the quote checks out, I can’t even begin to imagine why the Germans would allow themselves to be caught so obviously bullying a neighbour.

After all, it’s not as if they don’t have form. As the Times points out, “A comparison is being drawn in Prague [between Klaus and] Edvard Benes, the pre-war Czech leader who in 1938 had to flee to Britain after refusing to cede territory to Hitler under the Munich agreement.”

Obama’s December: deity or damaged goods?

Obama: We Need Global Emissions to Peak Now

While I still hope Obama’s team will tell him to turn down the Nobel Peace Prize (see my earlier post), that now looks unlikely.His initial reaction doesn’t leave much wriggle room (“humbled to be selected” etc). Given that he was woken in the early hours to be told the news, one wonders whether this was the 3 am call that Hillary tried to warn us all about.

So let’s look forward to Obama’s December, which could progress along two dramatically different paths. Here’s the key dates:

December 7: Copenhagen climate summit opens.

December 10: 300 miles away, Obama arrives in Oslo to give his Peace prize acceptance speech.

December 16: Copenhagen’s high level segment starts (the bit Ban-Ki Moon, Ministers and some heads of state pitch up for – Gordon Brown is confirmed, other are under pressure to turn up).

December 18: Copenhagen concludes – with a deal (triumphant headlines) or no deal (major league acrimony).

So by Christmas, two scenarios – one that will see the President attain mythical status before his first anniversary in office; the other will fuel claims that he is already a busted flush:

Obama’s best case: Health care passed. Nobel prize accepted to great acclaim. Climate change deal sealed (now an outside chance, that is certain to require Obama’s personal intervention).

His worst case: No health care. Copenhagen talks have collapsed. Remorseless mockery for Obama’s Nobel. The IOC’s snub to Chicago’s Olympics dream (also delivered in Copenhagen) now seen as portent for what was to come.

So hold tight Mr President. December is going to be quite a ride.

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