November 2004

Global politics17 Nov 2004 09:37 pm

Geokker made the following comment in the post below.

“You say “we are all pawns in our governments’ callous, acquisitive war games and we will be the ones who have to pay for their greed.”

I think it may be dangerous to distance ‘us’ from our government too far (my belief that democracy is a fantasy notwithstanding). Their greed is our greed. We in the West – particularly the invading countries should remember that our militaries were designed to protect us and our interests.” [see original comment for full text]

This is a very good point. We Westerners enjoy a outlandishly high standard of living compared to much of the world. And whenever we have excess, someone else must have a deficit. There’s only so much to go round.

But it overlooks one important point: our leaders, by and large, are wealthy members of a small elite. Not ordinary people.

If the leader of a country is rich, well-connected and has (for example) a family who have personally made millions of dollars from corporate interests, whose interest are they likely to be serving when they pass laws and make decisions?

The working class people who keep their country running, the people they have no contact with and no interest in?

Or the rich people they grew up around, offer jobs to and play golf with?

Our leaders act in the interests of the wealthy, the powerful and the owners of big business. Because that’s who they are too. We know this is the way it is. All the major political parties support this arrangement, implicitly or explicitly. And within the current political system, it’s pretty hard for any candidates who oppose that paradigm to get anywhere. That’s democratic capitalism for you.

Sadly, only truly revolutionary or optimistic people can think of ways of fighting this world order. It seems impossible to dismantle, a system which should perhaps be left to destroy itself from the inside, via its own contradictions, rather than be changed by the least influential of its participants. The rest of us resort to writing scathing articles or tutting when one of these hypocritical politicians appears on screen to talk about ending poverty. And noting that they neglect to mention how we could easily feed the world and provide clean water for all if we cut our ‘defence’ spending and abandoned the misconceived neo-classical economics theories which insist constant growth is both possible and desirable.

Is there anyone reading this who honestly believes their national leader makes their policy decisions based on the interests of ordinary folk?

Middle East17 Nov 2004 07:34 pm

Formal confirmation was received today that Margaret Hassan has been murdered in Iraq.

Irish-born Mrs Hassan was married to an Iraqi man, who has made an emotional plea for her body to be returned. She had lived in Iraq for 30 years, held an Iraqi passport and had converted to Islam. As director of aid agency Care International’s Iraq operations, she was well loved and respected in her area for her hard work on behalf of Iraqis.

Mrs Hassan was kidnapped by an unknown group. After a harrowing month in captivity, she was shot.

News of her murder has met with worldwide disgust. The Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement in which it said “Mrs Hassan had served the Iraqi people tirelessly for most of her adult life and it is appalling her goodness has been repaid with murder.

Iraqis have also been swift to condemn the killing, ensuring their horror and disbelief at the crime will be heard by those who cannot easily distinguish between the labels ‘Iraqi’ and ‘terrorist’.

Journalist Robert Fisk has today questioned the information surrounding Mrs Hassan’s murder in The Independent (you’ll need BugMeNot for a login).

Our thoughts go out to Margaret Hassan’s husband, family and friends, and to all victims of violence in Iraq.

Activism&American politics&Anti-consumerism&Pop culture&Self17 Nov 2004 01:59 am

It may shock regular readers to learn this, but I only saw Fahrenheit 9/11 for the first time today. Ha.

American politics&British politics16 Nov 2004 02:25 pm

Way back on 12 October – oh, practically a lifetime ago – I wrote to my MP about the seizure of Indymedia’s servers by US authorities. No British authorities were involved in the seizure, but it took place on British soil. Like many other members of the public, I asked my MP to investigate how exactly US authorities were able to operate in British jurisdiction without Home Office approval, and what the implications of this decision will be in British law. I’ve just received a reply.

My MP says that a number of parliamentary questions have been tabled surrounding this issue and that the Home Office has not yet responded. I had already read on Indymedia that a group of indignant MPs had got together to make these enquiries, including high profile ex-Cabinet ministers, but it seems there has been no further progress. Indymedia have got their servers back, but still no explanation as to why they were seized by the FBI in the first place.

Then my MP closed his letter with these words:

“I would add, however, that Indymedia provides a vehicle with which people can debate some of the most important issues that face the world at the moment. This is to be welcomed. I expect that future contributions will surround the re-election of Bush and it is imperative that people continue to criticise his neo-conservative policies which, in my opinion, have done nothing but destabilise the world.”

He’s a Labour MP.

If they’re prepared to admit to that much disillusionment with Tony’s alliances to their constituents, imagine how they talk amongst themselves?

Countdown to Gordon Brown: 6 months tops. Hopefully.

American politics&Human rights&Middle East&Religion16 Nov 2004 01:04 am

American Marines have been filmed shooting injured Iraqis at point blank range.

The picture below was taken of one such incident. It took place in a Fallujan mosque.

click photo to read ITN news story

That’s right. In a mosque. If there could possibly be a more inappropriate place to showcase wanton disregard for Muslim life, I can’t think of it. If there’s any image more likely to launch hitherto moderate Muslims into fanatical vengeance fantasies, I can’t imagine it.

(Christians might like to imagine how they’d react to footage of a wounded, dying Western man being shot at point blank range by a group of Arab soldiers on the altar of a church. This doesn’t even take into account the separate horror Muslims will feel at soldiers trampling over prayer rugs with their dirty boots, or the thoughtless, careless way in which such sacred buildings are summarily destroyed.)

One incident was shown on ITN news this evening, with just the soundtrack of the killing heard clearly, but with the picture paused as it was “too distressing to be broadcast”.

In another incident, also shown on British TV tonight, soldiers are seen discussing how a shot Iraqi has fallen between two buildings and cannot escape. One soldier walks up to the gap, aims at the injured man, shoots, and walks away saying “He’s done”. This footage was broadcast in Australia and other countries days ago and has whipped up a storm of outrage trailing right across the planet.

Fallujah is broken, smashed, smelling of “broken corpses and decaying flesh” , with no water or electricity or food. We hear that 50 doctors and nurses have tried to enter but that 17 of these were shot dead by US troops while crossing the River Euphrates. We hear today that the journalist who made that report has been shot by US soldiers.

We hear stray dogs and cats are eating corpses in Fallujah because the bodies aren’t being cleared away. That Iraqi blogger also makes the following claims:

“They report today that Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi, a doctor who witnessed the US and Iraqi National Guard raid the general hospital said, “We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments.”

She said the hospital was targeted by bombs and rockets during the initial siege of Fallujah, and troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them against the wall.

Al-Muhannadi went on to say that all of them were put under intense inspection and, “Two female doctors were forced to totally undress.”

She continued on, “I was with a woman in labor,” she said, “The umbilical cord had not yet been cut. At that time, a US soldier shouted at one of the (Iraqi) national guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver. I will never forget this incident in my life.””

We hear that Amnesty expresses concerns about violation of international laws in Fallujah, that the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been denied access because the US says it is capable of treating any remaining civilians, despite the vast numbers of innocent people who have bled to death or died as a result of lack of access to basic medical care.

We learn that typhoid is spreading in “ghost town” Fallujah and that puppet president (unrecognised by Iraqis) Allawi laughably insists there has been not a single civilian loss in Fallujah. No wonder he’s so unpopular with his people. Not even Rumsfeld or Hoon are brazen enough to make that bold a claim. Conservative estimates are currently around 2,000 Iraqi dead. The distinction between “insurgent” and “civilian” is impossible to make.

Military families, traditionally pro-war and pro-government, have made unprecedented breaks with convention by protesting about the Iraq campaign vociferously. A few days ago, families of dead Black Watch soldiers forced their way to Downing Street’s steps to hand in a wreath of protest. Soldiers and their families have spoken out so strongly against this war that the Ministry of Defence scarcely knows how to handle the sudden abandonment of protocol.

And meanwhile, Iraqi sources say the Fallujah massacre has only inspired the able-bodied men of Iraq to fight all the more against their unwanted occupiers. They intend to fight to the death.

This is a war waged without reason, without humanity and without a hope of succeeding in its professed aims. A few years ago, a lot of Muslims disliked the West’s foreign policy, but only a handful of crazed extremists ever took violent revenge. Today, watching thousands upon thousands of people being killed, their homes destroyed and an entire city reduced to rubble, how many more will be preparing to fight back? With pride, life and hope obliterated so publicly and so humiliatingly, what do these nations have to lose by fighting us back? Aren’t these ideal conditions for destructive hate and suicidal vengeance to flourish?

As a global population, we have never been more at risk. Let’s not kid ourselves: we are all pawns in our governments’ callous, acquisitive war games and we will be the ones who have to pay for their greed.

This senseless killing must stop now and those responsible must be brought to justice. If you oppose this war, please make sure your voice is heard.

British politics15 Nov 2004 03:07 pm

What a silly man Michael Howard is. Sacking Boris Johnson over a straightforward affair with a colleague is just the latest pointless move of a party in its death throes.

Howard claims it’s because Johnson omitted to tell the truth about the affair when questioned. But what business is it of his in the first place? Isn’t it between Johnson and his wife, not the public and not the Conservative party?

The sacking clearly has more to do with the ‘maudlin Liverpool’ article in the Spectator, for which Johnson made full and humble reparation. Let’s not forget: he didn’t even write the thing. As editor, he took responsibility for the article’s appearance, and didn’t attempt to shift the blame onto the journalist who wrote it. In fact, he didn’t even reveal the name of the journalist and took the entire weight of critics’ wrath on himself, which was both gentlemanly and professional of him. Regular readers will know I rarely speak kindly of right-wingers, into which category both Labour and the Tory party now fall, but Johnson is by no means among the worst of the bunch.

Howard has misjudged this one spectacularly. Convinced that Posh Boris is now a liability, based only on the mistiming of that controversial Spectator article and the outcry that ensued in the wake of Ken Bigley’s murder, he has lost his only MP with a personality. Johnson is popular with the public. I challenge anyone to name another Tory MP who is even recognisable to most of Britain, let alone liked.

This sort of prurience just highlights how out of touch the Conservative party really is. This is 2004, not 1964. Unless a politician makes a point of harping on about family values while engaged in extra-marital dalliances of his or her own – which Johnson did not – then their sex lives are their own business. Don’t we all have bigger fish to fry?

British politics13 Nov 2004 01:35 pm

A couple of readers have questioned my remarks that most of Britain does not support its Prime Minister’s foreign policy, and (not unreasonably) commented along the lines of Major Dad in the post below, who says “let’s see what happens during the next election on your turf. If Tony Blair doesn’t win…then we’ll know that the majority of Britons do not back him”.

This seems logical. And yet I’m pretty sure Tony Blair will be Prime Minister even after the next election, despite his country’s disapproval. (Unless he is impeached first.)

Here’s why.

I don’t know how much non-Brits know (or care!) about our electoral process, but I’ll explain the background first so it makes sense. In Britain, we don’t elect our Prime Minister as an individual. We elect a political party, the leader of which is automatically made Prime Minister. Our election takes the form of regional voting for candidates to become Members of Parliament (MPs) and take “seats” in the House of Commons. This could be considered vaguely equivalent to the American election of senators. We have an overall process similar to the US electoral college system, in that it’s not the popular vote but the number of seats in Parliament which is counted. I’m comparing this to the American process only because theirs is probably the most recent high profile international election we’ve all witnessed.

The current British ruling party is the Labour party, which is theoretically a left of centre party, more or less equivalent to the American Democrats. Before Tony Blair became the leader, the country had been ruled by the Conservative party (also known as the Tory party) for 18 long years. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister for the majority of that time. You see, there’s no time limit on length of service, unlike America’s maximum two term presidency (for example).

Before they ever reached power, Tony Blair’s rise to leadership took Labour in a new direction, away from their traditional support of unions and the working class and much further towards support of big business and the middle and upper classes. With Blair’s generation of Labour politicians, the party was completely transformed. It won with a huge landslide in 1997, taking an enormous majority of seats in Parliament. This resounding victory came about partly because the electorate were impressed with Blair’s seemingly pluralist vision, and partly because the country was so tired of the dire economic and social consequences of the Conservative government.

Labour’s massive majority meant that it had a virtual dictatorship in Parliament, because its own MPs were present in sufficient numbers to pass any law it saw fit. The usual cross-party opposition was nullified by sheer numbers. As a result, a lot of shocking amendments to British law have come into force despite vociferous opposition, purely because Labour have unilateral power at times when it really counts. Few Labour MPs dare to vote against Blair’s bills, even at times when they strongly oppose the official party line and go whining off-record to the press about what a dictator Tony is. In Westminster, government is supposed to be a team effort. But if a leader can coerce his subordinates into supporting things they don’t believe in, through careerist self interest or a trade-off for future participation, then the governmental process can actually be dictated by one individual. MPs have to resign (as even members of Blair’s Cabinet did over the Iraq invasion) in order to make their point. Although Labour’s majority was slightly reduced in the next General Election, it remains substantial.

Here’s the important part: there is no real, credible opposition to the Labour party at this time. Voters may hate Blair’s foreign policy, his obsequiousness to Bush and his arrogant disregard for public outrage, but that’ll just lead to voter apathy and the usual low election turnout (around 47% on average). When there’s no obvious successor, people will shrug and say “Well, what’s the point of bothering? What difference will it make?”

And, sadly, most people have quite enough to deal with in their busy modern lives without having to spend more time and energy feeling angry, taking direct action, and so on. (Although a million of those were sufficiently motivated to travel to London to march against the Iraq invasion last year, in a country of around 57 million people in total. It was one of the largest public protests in British political history. Blair ignored it.)

And what of the parties who are supposedly in opposition?

The Conservative party were all but destroyed by their 1997 defeat. Their membership is now comprised mainly of aristocrats and upper class pensioners. They’re considered a public joke. Their current leader, Michael Howard, is slightly more credible than his predecessors, but they still don’t have an Iraqi’s chance in Fallujah of forming the next government.

The third party, the Liberal Democrats, have pretty much taken over the unofficial position of left wing opposition, as Labour’s shift to the right has only pushed the Conservatives even further right (give or take the odd anomalous policy, like opposing tuition fees). But the Liberal Democrats are a comparatively young party and, despite increasing support, their best hope is to become the official opposition party (i.e. attain second place in a General Election).

So where does that leave Britain?

The Labour Party has one other option. Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been tipped to take over from Blair ever since the party came to power. Legend has it that the two made an arrangement for Blair to be PM for two terms and then step down to make way for Brown. Blair later reneged on this and announced that he has no intention of stepping down. He says he will stand for a third term and retire after that. Brown has gone from Blair’s closest political friend to his most dangerous enemy, and the Labour party has been polarised into two camps: supporters of Blair and supporters of Brown. Privately, many feel Blair’s days are numbered and that Brown will take over from him shortly after the next General Election, at the latest. This is probably Britain’s only hope of ousting Blair in the near future, unless a dynamic opposition rises swiftly to eclipse him.

There’s no guarantee that Brown’s policies will be any less horrifying than Blair’s, or that he will take America’s side over Europe’s less frequently. But he has opposed Blair on a number of key issues. It’s a tiny shred of hope, but nothing substantial.

What it all boils down to is this: the “choice” we get is no choice at all. That goes for America too. Choose one corporate-wooing, warmongering conservative agenda… or choose the other. What’s the difference? It’s a choice between cornflakes and Rice Krispies. So-called democracy is anything but.

This is why I prefer to remain outside party politics, which are at best a smug charade designed to convince ordinary people that they have any say whatsoever in the running of their country, the spending of their money and the deployment of their defence systems.

What really matters is the inherent contradictions in our definition of “democracy”. If we stop being distracted by the petty bickering of our three almost identical main political parties, we might start coming up with some imaginative solutions to our global crisis.

American politics12 Nov 2004 06:41 pm

“Replace the word “liberal” in something that Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly says with the word “black” or “jew” and you’d have a speech worthy of a Klan rally. By creating arbitrary divisions in the populace, right-wing elites not only split them into more managable numbers, but also get half of them on their side.”

This comes from a great blog entry by Dave G here. It’s a “yeah, what he said” moment.

American politics&British politics&Global politics&Middle East12 Nov 2004 05:31 pm

Blair and Bush gave their press conference a short while ago. They talked alarmingly about bringing “a peaceful two-state solution” to the Middle East by any means necessary (“We will do whatever it takes” – Bush), their War On TerrorTM and the forcible imposition of democracy on other states.

One journalist asked if Iraqis or Palestinians decided to elect a leader who was not friendly to the US/Europe (aka “the Free World”), would Bush and Blair intervene to prevent this? Bush claimed he didn’t understand what was being asked. Blair insisted every single person in the world wants democracy. Neither answered the actual question.

I hope the world realises that the majority of British people do not support Tony Blair’s thugs ‘n’ jackboots foreign policy.

Brits, if you want to see this man relegated to the after dinner speech circuit instead of sending your sons and thousands of Iraqis to their deaths, you know what to do.

American politics&British politics&Middle East&News media11 Nov 2004 05:08 pm

Dying to be free
“In another demonstration of their commitment to freedom, the first goal of the U.S. soldiers in Fallujah was to ambush the city’s main hospital. Why? Apparently because it was the source of the “rumours” about high civilian casualties the last time U.S. troops laid siege to Fallujah, sparking outrage in Iraq and across the Arab world. “It’s a centre of propaganda,” an unnamed senior American officer told The New York Times. Without doctors to count the dead, the outrage would be presumably be muted”Naomi Klein, 10 November 2004 – click to read article.

Cartoon news
“Over on ITV (November 10, 18:30), it is Cartoon Time as anchors Nick Owen and Andrea Catherwood stroll down the catwalk to bring us the latest news from Fallujah. This was explained with the help of computer animation: cartoon Humvees trundled along streets and cartoon tanks blasted snipers in cartoon buildings.

It is indeed like a cartoon – the US and UK governments keep running in mid-air, though any pretence of legal and moral justification has long since fallen away. But they do not fall because we have no democracy, no political opposition to establishment control, and no freedom of speech.

For highly-trained, highly professional journalists the issue is more complex – there are caveats, nuances. But in truth, in their minds, this is just another campaign in the West’s permanent Just War. There are different units, different campaigns, different enemies – but it’s basically always the same righteous, liberating Just War.” –
Medialens, 11 November 2004 – click to read article.

”The Butcher of Fallujah”
“Former US intelligence asset turned prime minister without a parliament Iyad Allawi – widely known in Baghdad as “Saddam without a moustache” – has got himself another title: the Butcher of Fallujah. On Sunday, before co-launching with the Pentagon the biggest urban war since the storming of Hue in 1968 Vietnam, Allawi installed de facto martial law in Iraq for 60 days. Historians and political scientists are breathlessly trying to explain to the world that no democratic election can possibly be preceded by a state of siege.

To add insult to injury, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld is saying that Allawi is responsible for all major military decisions regarding Fallujah: only the Bible Belt may be gullible enough to believe that an Iraqi civilian without an army rules over the Pentagon. So it’s the Vietnam tragedy all over again, replayed as farce – a biblical crusade in Mesopotamia. Those who learned their lessons from history know full well what happened after Hue.” Pepe Escobar, Asian Times 10 November 2004 – click to read article.

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