Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tony Blair's Keith Joseph Moment?

Politaholic is a little worse for wear having just been to the pub on the way back from work. But unless I am hallucinating I have just heard Channel 5 News say that Tony Blair has just made a speech in which he said that potential troublemaklers (criminals, etc) can be detected before they are born (lock 'em up that's what I say). It doesn't surprise me at all that a public schoolboy thinks like this, but dear Jesus he is the Leader of the Labour Party. When Keith Joseph said something not entirely dissimilar years ago it ended his prospect of leading the Conservative Party. But the Labour Leader? - dear God, I need another drink.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Apres Moi Le Deluge

In yesterday's Guardian Peter Wilby (a former editor of the New Statesman) argues that Cameron will win the next election and that, for Labour, this is a good thing because a period of Opposition will allow the party to renew and reinvigrate itself, choose a younger Leader, and so on. I have no idea what Wilby's politics are, but this is an argument which obviously appeals to many uber-Blairites, and possibly to Blair himself (the idea that Labour cannot win without him would appeal to his vanity). The danger, of course, is that Labour will not, as Wilby hopes, bounce back and win the election after next, but instead find itself in a long period of Opposition. In the end-game between the Brown and Blair camps Wilby's article does, however, highlight the key advantage that the uber-Blairites possess: Brown needs to keep the party united and in good shape in order to win elections (hence his reluctance to strike); whereas the Blairites can opt for an "apres moi le deluge" strategy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Campaign Against Orla Guerin

Orla Guerin, until recently the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, appears to the object of a well-organised witch-hunt by the pro-Israel lobby. She has had the honour of being attacked by, inter alia, Barbara Amiel in the Daily Telegraph (wife of fraudster Conrad Black), by the New York Sun, and by various right-wing bloggers. Tory A-lister and prodigious blogger Iain Dale has called for her to be sacked. (An interesting insight into the Tory attitude to press freedom, and reminiscent of NormanTebbit’s attack on Kate Adie in 1986. Adie’s crime was to report that the US bombing of Tripoli had, well, actually killed people). Over at Dale’s blog they clearly believe that the BBC has a “left-wing bias” (seriously, try not to laugh); back then, of course, Tebbit was claiming the same thing. When Guerin was awarded an MBE last year, the Israeli Government criticised the decision and levelled the, by now, utterly routine accusation of anti-Semitism. Natan Sharansky, an Israeli Government Minister, accused her of “total identification with the goals and methods of the Palestinian terror groups”. The latest furore centres on her August 14th report from the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, in which she said it had "been wiped out". This is compared to the report by Channel 4's Alex Thomson, who reported that the town centre had been "destroyed on a really wholesale scale" but the suburbs had been "pretty much untouched". It would have been better if when Guerin said “town” she had instead said “town centre” (which is obviously what she meant) but it is hardly an example of “lying”, as is being claimed. Both reports agree that the town centre has been destroyed (Thomson says it has been “pancaked”). Thomson has since issued a statement defending Guerin and referring to “an incredible well-organised Zionist lobby” eager to seek out supposed signs of “bias”. Thomson’s report is actually very damning: e.g. it shows that the Israeli’s used cluster bombs in residential areas and films an unexploded bomblet close to a hospital. Guerin’s real sin, of course, is to show some sympathy for the victims of the Israeli bombing (that’s enough to brand her a “terrorist”). The BBC is already far too pro-Israel in my book (for evidence see Greg Philo and Mike Berry’s Bad News From Israel, 2004). However, the BBC’s Independent Panel which reported in April 2006 pretty much rejected the findings of Philo and Berry, and decided that the overall coverage was fair and balanced; but nevertheless the Panel concluded that there were shortcomings and they almost all favoured Israel. This, of course, sent the right-wing and pro-Israel press into a frenzy. The truth is that the pro-Israeli lobby want the BBC to refer routinely to “Palestinian terrorists” and “Hizbollah terrorists” but to “Israeli Defence Forces” or better still Israeli “peacekeepers”. They want the BBC to refer to Palestinian and Hizbollah “bombs” and to “daring” Israeli “strikes”. They want the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to be called an “incursion” (have you ever heard this word used in any other context?). They do not want the cameras to show the civilians killed or displaced by Israeli bombs. They want reportage of Israeli victims to be extensive, and of Palestinian or Lebanese victims to be minimal. They want the kind of mindless pro-Israel bias that is characteristic of almost all the US media, and any deviation from that is to be punished as “anti-Semitic” and “supporting terrorism”. The BBC has not sunk quite so low; let’s hope it never does.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cameron Recants

The Observer leads on David Cameron's recantation on South Africa. In an article in the paper he says his party made "mistakes" with respect to "relations with the ANC and sanctions on South Africa" (Just "mistakes"? It wasn't actually wrong? It doesn't actually make him feel ashamed that the Tories gave so much succour to the apartheid regime? I know, it was just an "error of judgement", a "moment of madness", and shouldn't be taken "out of context"). Anyway, this is typical of Cameroonian "gesture politics": sixteen years after the release of Nelson Mandela it costs nothing and helps Cameron in his attempt to make the Tories look like humans. True, it enrages Bernard Ingham and such-like but that is probably all to the good in appealing to the wider electorate. The lessons he draws from this? Well, one is "the importance of humility" (no doubt at some stage he will expand on this on Richard and Judy's couch). The other is "the importance of patience when trying to achieve long-term change". This is a suitably conservative theme but one hopes to God he didn't expatiate on the subject in his recent meeting with Nelson Mandela (who must be sick to death of photo-ops with celebrities and wannabees). Meanwhile, the YouGov poll in the Telegraph puts the Conservatives 7 points ahead on 38%. The Cameron strategy (touchy-feely, policy-lite) may seem to be working but I think this is more to do with Labour's travails. I still think the Cameron bubble could burst. On Cameron's recantation Mike Terry of the Anti-Apartheid Movement hit the nail on the head. Cameron, he said, should listen to what Mandela has to say "about the Iraq war, about the Middle East or about the need for resources to adress HIV/AIDS". Mind you, vis-a-vis this last, so should Thabo Mabeki.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Weapons of Maths Instruction

I have copied this from Recess Monkey (see Links):

NEW YORK - A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a calculator.
At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement.
He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction. “Al-gebra is a problem for us,” Gonzales said. “They desire solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute values. They use secret code names like ‘x’ and ‘y’ and refer to themselves as ‘ unknowns’, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator”
When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes.”
White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the president.

I Blame the Parents

Euan Blair has been taken to hospital with a "stomach complaint". Surely he hasn't been on the pop again?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fit/Fat and Cycles (and Caroline)

The Government wants us all to take more exercise. Too many of us are obese. Caroline Flint - looking rather fine here - is the Health Minister responsible for this initiative which will encourage people to make “small changes” to their lives in order to improve their fitness. John Humphreys on the Today programme asks Flint, vis-a-vis Gordon Brown, John Reid, and John Prescott: “What are you going to do about them?” He also asks if the Government is going to ban ads for junk food targeted at children (Flint waffles about some “consultation exercise” underway). Are they going to require trains to provide adequate space for bicycles? Are they going to stop selling school playing fields? Are they hell. Earlier John Grimshaw of Sustrans (they have a web-site) calls the Department of Transport the “Department of Sedentary Affairs”. He argues that walking and cycling are regarded as secondary forms of transport and that everything is geared to the car. He’s right about that. Politaholic is a cyclist and is fed-up with inter alia: cycle paths that suddenly come an end after a few hundred yards throwing me onto a main road; cycle paths used as a convenient parking space by cars requiring me to use the road; motorists who overtake and turn left almost knocking me off my bike (I was once knocked off by a bin lorry and if I hadn’t been wearing a cycle helmet I would have been killed: I was in the cycle lane at the time); motorists who empty ash-trays or throw fish-and-chip papers out of the window, which ends up in my face; motorists who open their car door and step into the road without looking; motorists who beep their horn or scream foul abuse because at a particular point the road isn’t wide enough for them to overtake, so they have to wait a few seconds before they can do so; motorists who simply don't give cyclists enough space and tryy to force them into the gutter or off the road; children and teenagers who jeer and shout through an open window as they drive by, their parent sitting contentedly in the driving seat; and, of course, the ubiquitous broken glass. I recently went to Norway on a cycling holiday. There is no train linking Newcastle railway station to the ferry terminal. Cycles are not permitted on buses. To get to the ferry it is necessary to cycle. It isn’t far – about 8 miles – but it is a very unpleasant and dangerous ride along a main road. Once in Norway the cycling is tough. But it is possible to take your bicycle onto a bus (it costs a child’s fare although often they don’t bother to charge). I was able to get a bus from Bergen to Voss with bicycle. The bus-driver, a helpful, civilised human being (yes, I know, a bus-driver!) helped me stow my bicycle in the luggage compartment, and helped me get it out at the end of the journey. In this country the Government and most local authorities are simply not serious about this. Most cycle paths have clearly been designed by people who have never ridden a bicycle. Cycles can’t be taken on buses. Trains only have room for two bicycles (they don’t have a guards van anymore). The local authorities think all they have to do is paint a green stripe down the side of a road and say “Hey, look how Green we are!” The truth is they do not want to do anything that will upset motorists (“Middle England”). All this talk about getting fit is hypocritical twaddle until such time as they are prepared to treat such things as cycle paths seriously. The same goes for ads for junk food, school playing fields, etc. Getting Flint to talk twaddle is no substitute.

Chatham House and Iran

The Today programme on Radio 4 this morning reported that the Royal Institute of International Affairs (“Chatham House”) – described by John Humphreys as the nearest thing to “a foreign policy establishment” in the UK – reports than Iran is the big winner in the US “war against terrorism”. The US has eliminated two of Iran’s regional rivals: Saddam in Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan (although the downside is that Iran now has unstable neighbours); and the US’s Middle Eastern policy (mindless support for Israel) has similarly helped Iran increase its influence. The report says that the US is playing poker (tiddlywinks would be a better analogy, I think) while Iran is “playing a long game of Chess”. An interview with Edward Luttwak, a Pentagon adviser, revealed clearly enough the US strategy: to try to undermine Iran from within by encouraging various secessionist insurgencies (Azeri’s, Baluchi’s, Kurds, etc). One assumes the CIA and assorted “special forces” are active supplying arms and logistical aid, and God knows what else. (Another example of “blowback” just waiting to happen, a decade or so down the line). Luttwak described Iran as a multi-national and multi-ethnic empire which is “beginning to disintegrate” (this is obviously what the US is hoping for: they positively aspire to anarchy). Caroline Spencer of Chatham House said she saw little evidence that Iran was disintegrating, and that US tactics were encouraging “resurgent (Iranian) nationalism”. Not so long ago we were reading about the discontent with the mullahs and the spread of liberal attitudes among younger Iranians; now it is the religious nutters who appear to be in the ascendant and the US (who have their own religious nutters) is playing into their hands. The Chatham House report suggests that, whatever Blair thinks, the “foreign policy establishment” is deeply unhappy with what passes as US “strategy”.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Latest ICM Poll

The Guardian ICM poll gives the Conservatives a 9-point lead; on 40% to Labour’s 31%, with the Liberal-Democrats on 22%. This is the highest rating (on an ICM poll) for the Conservatives since 1992, although they are only up 1% from ICM’s July poll. Labour are down 4% and the Liberal-Democrats up 5%. The Guardian thinks that Blair’s foreign policy partly explains this: 72% think it has made Britain more of a target for terrorists; only 1% think that Blair’s foreign policy has made Britain less of a target for terrorists. It is possible that the “Prescott factor” may also be a factor: the derision he continues to generate is hardly helpful. John Reid’s grandstanding seems to have done his personal rating some good, but hasn’t helped the party. The scenes of holidaymakers camping out at airports can’t help (a government is supposed to make the trains – or planes – run on time). And, of course, Cameron has made the Conservatives appear less “nasty” and more “touchy-feely”. The unresolved “succession crisis” is another factor: the longer it goes on the more damage it does. It is now too late for a formal challenge to Blair at the party conference; but in Sunday’s Observer Andrew Rawnsley was speculating that if a large enough number of Labour MP’s (over 100) called for Blair to go that might force his hand. Maybe, but I think the chances of an early departure (which I hitherto thought likely) are receding. The forthcoming conference will certainly be interesting: if Blair is undamaged by it he will not go soon. Its crunch time.

Cluster Bombs in Lebanon

Yesterday’s Guardian carried an article by Declan Walsh on unexploded cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. Apparently the most popular “release device” – the M26 rocket – scatters 644 bomblets over 20,000 square metres. Many fail to explode on impact, and continue to kill and maim civilians, often children, long after formal hostilities have ceased. In effect, unexploded cluster bombs function as anti-personnel landmines. They have been described by a UN weapons commission as “weapons of indiscriminate effects”. When they do not kill, they inflict horrific injuries. The web-site Bombies explains: “Because the fragments travel at high velocity, when they strike people they set up pressure waves within the body that do horrific damage to soft tissue and organs: even a single fragment hitting somewhere else in the body can rupture the spleen, or cause the intestines to explode. This is not an unfortunate, unintended side-effect; these bombs were designed to do this”. (I can imagine the Pentagon PowerPoint presentation). Needless to say the United States is the world’s largest cluster bomb manufacturer (and last year the US gave Israel £1.2 billion in military aid). According to Walsh cluster bombs are permitted under international law, but it is not permitted to use them in residential areas (Under Article 85 of the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to launch "an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population in the knowledge that such an attack will cause an excessive loss of life or injury to civilians”). Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch says that: “The laws of war don’t ban cluster munitions in all circumstances. But the use of cluster munitions in or near civilian areas violates the ban on indiscriminate attacks, because these weapons cannot be directed at only military targets.” Walsh quotes Chris Clark of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre who says: “We’re finding them in orange plantations, on streets, in cars, near hospitals – pretty much everywhere”. Aisa Hussein, a resident of Yahmour, sums up: “You see what America is sending us. This is their idea of democracy”. Cluster bombs have also been used in e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. Thousands remain unexploded. Western governments remain deaf to the campaign by human rights organisations to have these dreadful weapons banned.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gary Younge in the Guardian

On the appeal of fundamentalism, Garry Younge has an excellent article in today’s Guardian. He argues that fundamentalists (and Muslims are by no means the only kind) for the most part “stalk the borders of our community”, but “at moments when an identity feels besieged they will move to centre stage”. Why do Muslims feel besieged? At least partly because: “For the past five years they have been fed on a nightly diet of bombings and occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon; imprisonment and torture in Guantánamo Bay, Belmarsh, Basra and Abu Ghraib; and tales of alleged wanton murder and rape in Hamdania, Haditha, Balad and Mahmudiya. This excuses nothing but explains a lot.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Vanity Off the Richter Scale

Mike Marquesse reviewing Michael Gray's Bob Dylan Encylopedia in Saturday's Guardian: "...anyone who can write of Geroge Harrison that he was a "crucial Beatle...for fans of musicianship and people who recognised a decent human being when they encountered one", while describing U2 as an "inexplicably successful Irish rock group founded in 1980, fronted by one of the world's most self-important and vain celebrities", has his heart and head in the right place". Amen to that.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Old Etonian Values

Old-Etonian David Cameron has unveiled the final version of his “Built to Last” statement of Conservative values. It is, as one might expect, light on detail and heavy on sound-bites (I fear we will hear a tremendous amount of waffle about the “responsibility revolution”). It tells us that the Tories “cherish freedom”, they want to “advance opportunity”, “to raise living standards and the quality of life for all”, to “fight social injustice” (Tories?), to achieve a “better balance between work and life” and “action on public health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives”. And they believe in motherhood and apple-pie, tree-hugging, sugar-and-spice and all things nice. Mind you, it's not that they set their aims low, they want everyone to “fulfil their potential and to find true and lasting happiness” (a fairly ambitious aspiration for a political party, I would have thought, not far short of Marx at his most utopian). In-between are the clues to what they really stand for: “fairer, flater and simpler taxes” (a tax regime more regressive than the regressive one we have at the moment); “deregulation for employers” (fewer rights and less protection for employees); and “giving schools greater control over their own affairs” (better schools for posh kids, bog-standard comps for the rest). There isn’t much here that Blair would quarrel with, except the promise to get rid of ID cards if they are introduced (but I wouldn’t bet on that surviving election to office). For the most part, however, the document is just “feel-good” piffle.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Was it all a Scam?

The political blogosphere has been alive with rumours that the latest terrorist plot has been a public-relations stunt. Craig Murray claims that none of the alleged bombers had made a bomb, bought an airline ticket, and most did not even have passports. Many of them had been under surveillance for over a year. The evidence that they intended to blow up numerous planes seems to have come from Pakistan (possible from someone under torture). Incredibly, Reid himself stayed up all night to “minutely direct the arrests”. Murray argues that the timing of this is political. Can it really be true? I suppose we will have to wait and see. But if there are no convictions it will be bad news for John Reid, and the airlines will not be best pleased. Gordon Brown is currently on paternity leave, which may prove to be very wise. Murray's article can be read here:

Cowboy-fan calls Bush a Cowboy

At a private meeting with Labour MP's John Prescott apparently called Bush’s Middle East policy “crap” and called Bush a “cowboy” (I thought he liked cowboys). Well, he’s not wrong there; that view is widely held (and not just in the Labour Party). The Labour MP for Leyton, Harry Cohen, has spilt the beans (why?); but other MP’s present at the meeting are so far refusing to confirm (one apparently claims, risibly, that he must have been in the bathroom when the remark was made). But if Bush is “crap” what of Blair? Their policy on the Middle East is pretty much the same. I suspect Prescott is a bit Janus-faced: saying one thing to backbench MP’s (which he knows they want to hear) to establish his grassroots credentials; but presenting altogether another face to Blair.

The Benjamin's and the Law of Return

Yesterday’s Guardian carried an article about the Benjamin family from Liverpool who are immigrating to Israel. As Jews they will have no trouble taking out Israeli citizenship, and as members of the state-approved religious/ethnic group will “be welcomed as heroes”. Under the Law of Return ethnically-cleansed Palestinian families cannot return (wrong religion, wrong ethnic-group), but a Jew anywhere in the world is welcome. There is a picture of the Benjamin’s, who appear to be a normal English family, and I bear them no ill will; but the injustice of this must be obvious to any reasonable person.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Roy the Brave, Polly the Sloppy.

Roy Hattersley in Monday’s Guardian argued that to demand a shift in British foreign policy “because it will reduce the risk of suicide bombing is to diminish the case for altering course from a matter of principle to a question of self interest”. If Israeli was waging a “just war” in the Lebanon and if all was going well in Iraq then “the dangers would have to be accepted with good grace”. Well, yes: the argument for e.g. a change of course in Middle East policy rests primarily on the case for justice for Palestinians. But I am not sure I am quite as phlegmatic as Hattersley about the risks involved. Britain is a target, and Sweden is not, because Blair has slavishly followed Bush; and next time I board a bus or train I don’t particularly want to be blown to pieces. I’m afraid I can’t regard this as an irrelevant consideration. Hattersley, no doubt, is a braver man than I am. In any case, in this particular case, the lofty “argument from principle” and such mundane pragmatic considerations happily coincide; if they did not do so, of course, as Hatterley suggests, the choice would be more difficult. All I am saying is that pragmatic considerations are not completely irrelevant: I suppose the risks we take to uphold our principles depends on the importance of the principles at stake. In today’s Guardian Sadiq Khan says, in a letter replying to Hattersley, that he agrees that “foreign policy should be constructed according to ethical principles and executed in a manner that is even-handed” but “…I don’t believe we should ignore the domestic impact foreign policy is having”. That seems fairly sensible to me. Polly Toynbee returned to the argument in Tuesday’s Guardian, if in a rather less temperate way: “…a democratically elected government’s foreign policy can’t be moulded by threats from murdering religious fanatics”. True enough. But, to repeat, a country’s foreign policy should surely take into account pragmatic considerations bearing on the safety of its citizens. The Muslim Leaders claim that British foreign policy “gives ammunition to extremists who threaten us all” is plainly true. I cannot see how their stating this involves any support for the extremists in question. But sticking with a set of policies widely perceived as grotesquely unjust by Muslims in general is hardly likely to make it easier to isolate and defeat extremists within the Muslim community. Finally, consider this paragraph from Toynbee: “Yesterday Ruth Kelly set out to talk to the Muslim community – again. It’s hard to know what that means. There are “no” talks available with religious fanatics seeking paradise in an impossible cause”. Note the elision from “Muslim community” in the first sentence to “religious fanatics” in the second sentence. They are not the same thing. Sloppy Polly, sloppy,

Foreign Policy and Suicide Bombing

There has been some discussion recently about what it is that turns young, well-integrated, and reasonably well-off British Muslims into suicide bombers. A complete explanation is, I suspect, elusive. The reasons are probably hugely complicated and multi-causal and, for me, ultimately beyond comprehension. Yet it is, as it were, puzzling that we should be so puzzled. Political murder is hardly an historical aberration: what motivates a sectarian killer in e.g. Ulster, Rwanda, Sudan, or the Balkans? There is also a puzzle about the special horror we seem to feel for suicide bombings as compared to other kinds of bombings. Why is it more wicked for a suicide bomber to target civilians than it is to do so from the safety of a high-altitude aircraft or a pilot less drone? Does wearing a uniform and acting at the behest of a government really make such a critical moral difference? Does calling it “war” make all the difference? Or is it the “up close and personal” nature of suicide bombings that so horrifies us? Or is it the fanaticism of killing oneself as well as others? Or is it that we are the targets? Is it less horrifying if other people do the dying? I don’t know the answer to these questions (except the last two); but there are about a thousand dead Lebanese civilians and I detect no moral outrage and a great deal of specious hand-wringing on the part of western governments. It also seems to me that whatever it is that turns British Muslims into suicide bombers it has something – at least something - to do with British foreign policies, such as its participation in the illegal invasion of Iraq and its unjustified one-sided support for Israel. Many Muslims perceive these policies, not just as mistaken or misguided, but as profoundly and deeply unjust; they see them as involving an attack on their co-religionists, a western “jihad”, if you like. They can see, in the Middle East, a powerful US-equipped military machine – Israel – bullying, strutting, arrogant, convinced of their racial superiority, treating Arab Muslims as lesser beings to be either subjugated or ethnically-cleansed. The Islamic extremists see themselves as engaged in a war and sadly the targeting of civilians in warfare (from Bomber Harris to Henry Kissinger to Ariel Sharon) is not uncommon. They can see, what is plainly true, that the western powers place very little value on the lives of brown-skinned Muslim civilians (in Iraq the occupying forces don’t even bother to count the dead). Muslims do have a legitimate grievance. Of course, it is a long way from justified anger to suicide bombing; and it is that part of the journey which I suspect most of us find baffling. And obviously the fact that people have a legitimate grievance does not justify immoral or wicked actions such as suicide bombings targeting civilians; in Britain there are other (democratic) ways in which they can try to seek redress of their grievances. But it would be foolish to say that suicide bombers are simply evil and leave it at that; as though this “evil” comes out of nowhere, and is inexplicable. Simply from a strategic point of view, this makes no sense. Defeating extremist Islam – which is certainly a backward and loathsome ideology - involves police and security measures against those who are already involved in extremism; but it also means trying to dry-up the reservoir of future recruits, seeking to form alliances with moderate Muslims, and trying to isolate the extremists from the Muslim community. It means winning the political argument; the “war” will not be won by force alone. Instead Bush and Blair blunder around the world as if it were their mission to antagonise and alienate and embitter as many Muslims as possible. To fail to recognize that there are legitimate grievances, and to refuse to recognize any causal link between Islamic terrorism and the foreign policy of the UK/USA, makes winning the political argument harder. It is to thrust one’s head deep into the sand.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lenin, Fisk and The Middle East

Lenin's Tomb (see Links) has numerous posts on Lebanon and Palestine and is essential reading at the moment. Robert Fisk's articles in the Independent can also now be read on-line. Today Fisk reports on the leaflet dropped by the Israeli's on Beirut which can only reasonably be interpreted as threatening the civilian population. For Fisk go here:

Reid Milks It

Jesus, he's certainly going to milk it for what its worth. Reid is on Radio 5 as I write this, conducting another press conference (I suspect there will be more, God help us all). Interestingly, Douglas Alexander is muscling-in on the act. Apropos the speculation about the role of Prescott, Reid says "it is the normal and conventional practice" for COBRA meetings to be chaired by the Secretary of State of the "lead department". Number 10 is saying that Reid would have chaired COBRA even if Blair was in the country. I don't think so. It is true that, at the Cabinet Office web-site, the Home Secretary is identified as the Chair of the Committee. But, as I understand it, after 7/7 it was Blair who chaired COBRA after he returned from Gleneagles (Charles Clarke chaired the meetings before Blair returned). And it is surprising that Prescott did not even attend the first two COBRA meetings on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Prescott has, Reid says, been kept "fully informed" and will attend future COBRA meetings; but it is impossible to disguise the obvious fact that he has been cut out of the loop because of his diminished standing and the widespread view that he lacks competence. It must be humiliating for him; and why he doesn't resign is beyond me.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reid Poses as Future PM

If the police have indeed thwarted a plot to blow up numerous aircraft we must all be grateful. But politics is hard-ball and however cynical this may sound, John Reid is clearly using the opportunity to present himself as a future Prime Minister. I am watching his press conference as I write. He is doing his level best to look statesmanlike. He tell us he has chaired two COBRA meetings. He is praising the "skill and professionalism" of the police and security services. He is handling the whole business while Tony is out of the country. He is almost screaming "I'm the man!!" (well, not quite). Gordon must be watching this with a wary eye (I don't think Reid has a chance of beating Brown in a Leadership contest, but he is plainly going to give it a shot). Incidentally, Reid has a sense of humour; he says that when he was still drinking he found out he was allergic to leather: "Because every time I woke up with my shoes on I had a blinding headache".

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Value of Arab Lives

Alan Dershowitz has been holding forth
on the morality of Israel butchering Lebanese civilians. Those killed “…also include civilians who were warned to leave, but chose to remain, sometimes with their children, to serve as human shields. The deaths of these "civilians" are the responsibility of Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, which has done very little to protect its civilians” (note the decorous use of inverted commas around the word "civilians"). Further: “Lebanon has chosen sides--not all Lebanese, but the democratically chosen Lebanese government. When a nation chooses sides in a war, especially when it chooses the side of terrorism, its civilians pay a price for that choice. This has been true of every war”. So Hezbollah is to blame for the deaths of children blown to pieces by Israeli bombs. Dershowitz – who is not the smartest tool in the box – appears to be unaware that this argument is capable of being generalised (I myself would not wish to do so). The sheer inhumanity of these comments are shocking but entirely typical (John Bolton has been saying much the same thing at the UN): these people simply do not value the lives of Arabs very highly. Meanwhile Israel has been targeting economic “infrastructural” targets and residential areas, and it well attested by reporters on the ground that they are refusing access to humanitarian aid to the displaced civilian population, and refuse to give safe passage to the International Red Cross. They have targeted UN observers killing four (not by any means the first time they have done this). They attack convoys of refugees. They bomb apartment buildings. According to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch: “The pattern of attacks shows the Israeli military’s disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians. Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hezbollah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare”. Dershowitz concludes: “People make choices and they bear the consequences of choosing to collaborate with terrorism. Lebanon has chosen the wrong side and its citizens are paying the price. Maybe next time a democracy must choose between collaborating with terrorism or resisting terrorism, it will choose the right side”. This makes one wonder what he thinks terrorism is? I thought it was deliberately killing civilians for a political purpose. But, no, the rules don't apply to Israel. Killing civilians is not terrorism if Israel does it. It's all a question of being on the "right side". If you are on the "right side" anything is permitted: and the right side is the US/Israel/UK axis (or "arc"). Dershowitz is at least honest: others persist in the ludicrous pretence that the Israeli "Defence" Force (I can use inverted commas too) does try to distinguish between combatant and civilian, despite all the evidence of its utter disregard for civilian life.

Messiah Avoids Tax Sacrifice

U2 have moved some of their multi-million pound fortune out of the Republic of Ireland (to Amsterdam) as a tax-avoiding measure. The super-smug Bono – he of the Messiah Complex – has so far made no comment. The move is a response to a cap of £168,000 which the Irish Government has placed on the amount that artists can enjoy tax-free (in fact much of their earnings continue to enjoy tax-free status). Earlier it emerged that the Rolling Stones have paid only 1.6% in tax on earnings of £242 million over the last 20 years. They too stash much of the loot in Holland. Meanwhile today's Guardian reports that Bono’s “California-based venture capitalist firm” Elevation Partners have also invested around £157 million in Forbes Magazine (described as "the Bible of capitalism"). Joan Burton, Irish Labour's finance spokesman, said: "Having listened to Bono on the necessity for the Irish Government to give more money to Ireland Aid, of which I approve, I am surprised that U2 are not prepared to contribute to the Exchequer on a fair basis along with the bulk of Irish taxpayers. I share Bono's desire to see more resources devoted to Ireland Aid but it is more difficult to make a case for it if everyone is not willing to be part of the social contract that stipulates that everybody should pay their fair share in what is a low-tax country." Quite.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

BNP activist supports Israel

Lee Barnes, who is attorney to BNP leader Nick Griffin, has apparently written an article in the BNP news (28/7/06) advocating that Hizbollah be "ground into dust by Israel". The Israeli's are he says "the only true nationalists left on the planet" (translate "nationalist" as you will). He concludes:
"As a Nationalist I can say that I support Israel 100% in their dispute with Hezbollah. In fact, I hope they wipe Hezbollah off the Lebanese map and bomb them until they leave large greasy craters in the cities where their Islamic extremist cantons of terror once stood. The 21st Century is the Islamic Century. Unless we start to resist the threat of Islamic extremism then within 100 years the West will have become Eurabia." It all sounds a bit like Samuel Huntington on crack cocaine. What can we conclude from this? Not much, I think. Guilt-by-association arguments have little merit. But we hear enough of these kind of arguments from the pro-Israel lobby that I thought this worth a mention. It does indeed seem to be Israeli's aim to bomb the Lebanon leaving "large greasy craters" and to do so at any cost to civilian life with Blair and Bush looking benignly on. Maybe Lee Barnes could get a job in the US administration as a Middle East policy advisor?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Politaholic Returns

Politaholic has returned from his cycling holiday in Norway. Three bad things about Norway: (i) it is uphill in every direction, (ii) the price of beer is extortionate, (iii) the food is nothing to shout about (although I liked the Norwegian fish soup). Three good things: (i) the people are - with the exception of the few arseholes one finds everywhere - very friendly and helpful (even to lost cyclists), (ii) the country is very beautiful; (iii) they don't have siesta's (it is possible to find somewhere to eat and drink in the afternoon). The picture shows a steep hill; steeper than it looks. Honest.

Rock On Tommy

Politaholic is pleased at the Tommy Sheridan verdict. I don't doubt that Tommy has a "massive ego" and is probably unbearable at times (then again, I guess the same could have been said of Jimmy Maxton and James Larkin) and I have absolutely no idea what he gets up to in his private life. The nature of the quarrel with his former comrades in the Scottish Socialist Party is likewise a mystery to me; but such quarrels are endemic on the far-left. Nevertheless, the testimony of what used to be called a "good-time-girl" who is on the News of World payroll (£20,000 apparently) does not seem to me to be worth a hill of beans, and much the same could be said about NoW executives. Tommy stands for old-fashioned socialist values and (even if he is sometimes wrong-headed or simplistic) good for him. He gives half his £50,000 salary to his party. He has a personality: which is more than can be said of Hoon, Darling, Blears, etc. The News of the World on the other hand is a degenerate and disgusting rag, much like the Sun (I remember it used to be said: "Only the scum read the Sun"). If I were a juror I would have had no trouble deciding whom to believe.

The Carnage in Lebanon

The pictures show Israeli children writing messages on missiles destined for the Lebanon; and the consequences for a Lebanese child. Robert Fisk in the Independent (6/8/06) reports on the "obscene score-card" regarding fatalities so far: 508 Lebanese civilians, 46 Hezbollah guerrillas, 29 Lebanese soldiers, 36 Israeli soldiers, and 19 Israeli civilians: "In other words, Hizbollah is killing more Israeli soldiers than civilians, and the Israeli's are killing far more Lebanese civilians than they are guerrillas". Just who are the "terrorists"? But, as Fisk also points out, "..Israeli has special privileges afforded no other civilised nation" (3/8/06). Israeli is exempted from the normal moral rules to which others are held; it is a "rogue state" whose extremism over the years has been amplified by the extraordinary indulgence granted it by the western powers. Even in the light of what has happened over the last few weeks Blair cannot bring himself to describe the Israeli bombings as "disproportionate" (itself fairly mealy-mouthed) while simultanously condemning Hizbollah without qualification. One wonders what geopolitical or other gain there is to the US and UK for their absurd and unjust one-sided support of Israel?