Corrupt elites are being named and shamed – by the people

Around the world, tyrants and thieving officials are running out of places to hide.

It will be a year ago next Wednesday that a Tunisian fruit vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi died, 18 days after dousing himself with paint thinner, setting himself alight, and inspiring a series of protests which we now remember as the Arab Spring. At the time, these protests were widely described as political. But in a recent, brilliant article for Foreign Policy magazine, the economist Hernando de Soto pointed out that these movements also had a very specific set of economic inspirations. In fact, Bouazizi was a frustrated entrepreneur, a would-be businessman who was unable to get ahead because of weak property rights, bad laws and rigged markets.

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Can a nation survive without its backbone?

My friend J grew up in Chicago, but spent his summers in a small town on a Michigan lake. His family, because they came from the city and because they were “summer” visitors, were slightly more privileged than those who lived in the town. Nevertheless, the town considered itself “middle class” and the children observed no social distinctions playing together. J told me recently that he had been back to that town and found it utterly changed: shops were boarded up, houses were being repossessed, cars were old. He no longer had much in common with people he had known as children, some of whom were now unemployed, all of whom had far lower incomes than he. Continue reading “Can a nation survive without its backbone?”

Is Nato finished?

The Libyan adventure shows a dwindling capacity for intervention.

After Muammar Gaddafi and his ghastly children fled Tripoli, Libyans desecrated his statues and stamped on his posters. As it turned out, the Libyans really did hate Gaddafi enough to rise up, arm themselves and overthrow him. Gaddafi’s own elite units mostly melted away when the rebels advanced into Tripoli, and even the dictator’s tatty palaces (where did all that oil money go, one wonders) were abandoned by his personal guard. Backed by western airpower and special forces, the rebels entered many of these ramshackle structures unopposed. Continue reading “Is Nato finished?”

High noon

The American left is revelling in Rupert Murdoch’s British troubles – and it’s America that has the power to really hurt him.

Let’s start, first, with the bare facts: a British newspaper has been found to have broken British law. The proprietor has closed the paper and apologised profusely. Some British policemen have resigned. Some British journalists have been arrested.

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It is in America that Rupert Murdoch faces ruin

We’ve been waiting a long time, but now the moment of reckoning is here: American journalists, long maligned by their British colleagues as boring and earnest, can finally take their revenge.

American newspapers have featured the News International meltdown on front pages since the story broke. American websites have posted every new development, as it breaks. Continue reading “It is in America that Rupert Murdoch faces ruin”

The Long, Lame Afterlife of Mikhail Gorbachev

In the most notable of the many photographs snapped at the gala held to mark his 80th birthday, Mikhail Gorbachev seems shorter and rounder than he did in his prime, back when he was one of the most important people in the world. He is inscrutable, only half-smiling; he also looks disheveled, and perhaps unsure of himself. Those impressions may of course be exaggerated by the fact that in this particular picture, the onetime general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has his arm around Sharon Stone. Continue reading “The Long, Lame Afterlife of Mikhail Gorbachev”

Who has what it takes to beat Barack Obama?

At this stage in any American presidential election, it is almost too easy to make fun of the primary contenders. It is especially true this year, when the sitting president – serene, remote, unchallenged – has no need to contest his party’s primary at all. Inevitably, his opponents seem insubstantial and unserious by comparison. Invariably, cartoonists will caricature them as, say, sparrows on a telephone line, chirping away at the eagle in the White House, and columnists will make up disparaging names (one past group of primary contenders was known as “the Seven Dwarves”). Continue reading “Who has what it takes to beat Barack Obama?”

He Just Called to Say He Loves Us: Barack Obama in London

I was in a meeting on the other side of London on Wednesday while President Barack Obama was speaking in Westminster Hall, so I didn’t hear what he said. But I could see him. My meeting was in a room that contained a flat-screen television with the sound turned off, permanently tuned to Sky News. Because I was sitting across from this flat-screen television, it was impossible not to glance at it every so often, just to see what was going on. Continue reading “He Just Called to Say He Loves Us: Barack Obama in London”

Bin Laden killed: For a day or two, we’ll feel like the United States of America again

It’s always satisfying when hoary old national stereotypes suddenly prove to be true. On Friday, the British were brought together as a nation by a royal wedding. On Sunday morning, Poland was brought together as a nation by the beatification of the former Pope. On Sunday night – and well into Monday morning – my fellow Americans were brought together as a nation by their delight in the execution of Osama bin Laden. You sing God Save the Queen, they say a “hail Mary”, we chant “USA, USA”. And all of us wave our national flags. Continue reading “Bin Laden killed: For a day or two, we’ll feel like the United States of America again”