December 2004


Seasonal31 Dec 2004 01:03 pm

And ye, who have met with Adversity’s blast,
And been bow’d to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass’d
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury –
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.
-Thomas Hood

British politics&Global politics&South Asia30 Dec 2004 05:59 pm

The UK government has just increased its aid from £15m to £50m (around $96m). UK charities have already raised £25m (around $48m) as well. Good news.

So the new top 10 in the cashflingers chart are (in US$):

World Bank: $250m (hey, whaddya know! It’s good for something after all)
UK: $96m
EU: $44m
US: $35m
Canada: $33m
Japan: $30m
Australia: $27m
France: $20.4m
Denmark: $15.6m
Saudi Arabia: $10m

(taken from this BBC article)

Plus a couple of articles on the topic of aid donation for good measure:
– Crikey (Australian)
– Indymedia (British)

Global politics&South Asia30 Dec 2004 02:26 pm

Today’s confirmed tally of dead: 120,000

Key aid pledges to date (in US$):
EU $44m
US: $35m
Canada: $33m
Japan: $30m
UK: $28.9m
Australia: $27m
France: $20.4m
Denmark: $15.6m
Saudi Arabia: $10m
Norway: $6.6m
Taiwan: $5.1m
Finland: $3.4m
Kuwait: $2.1m
Netherlands: $2.6m
UAE: $2m
Ireland $1.3m
Singapore: $1.2m

Source: Reuters, United Nations

Global politics&Seasonal&South Asia29 Dec 2004 01:24 pm

I was planning to resume blogging in the New Year, after a peaceful rant-free holiday. But I’m afraid I just can’t leave the subject of the international aid effort for the south Asian tsunami disaster alone.

Let’s recap for a moment. Today we’re told at least 60,000 people have died and as many people again could die as a result of communicable diseases caused by destruction of sewers, overcrowding, lack of medical care, malaria, dengue fever and so on. Sri Lankan survivors have to contend not only with the loss of their homes but landmines floating out of known mine sites and into unknown areas, exploding randomly just as a displaced family thinks they’ve found shelter.

Parents have lost children. Children have lost parents. Entire families were wiped out in minutes: drowned, dashed against rocks, trapped in crushed buildings or vehicles.

Survivors’ stories speak volumes. Some are almost unbearably poignant. On one BBC messageboard, Darshanie from Sri Lanka wrote:

“I heard someone who said that she lost two (out of four) of her children. She said that she didn’t know which one to pick up because she couldn’t carry them all.”

Words can barely express the devastation this disaster has wrought. It is a humanitarian tragedy on a vast scale.

Which leads me onto my point.

So far, just £41.5m ($80m) of aid money has been pledged by international governments.

That’s right. The equivalent of a handful of loose change to rich Western governments.

The USA made an initial pledge of $15m, which was derided by the UN as contemptuously “stingy”. They then increased it to $35m.

To put this in perspective, remember the USA is spending several hundred billion dollars on their Iraq invasion alone. I’d be interested to learn how much money was given by federal government and international charity fundraising when around 3,000 Americans were killed in a World Trade Center terrorist attack back in 2001. If anyone has figures for this, please do let me know.

Britain is giving £15m in aid. Hilary Benn, secretary of state for international development, deflected calls for more aid to be given by the UK.

To put this sum in perspective, the 2012 Olympic bid is costed at just under £2.4 billion.

Benn, like representatives of other governments, has the gall to imply that the bulk of the vital aid funds – the substantial remainder which is not covered by official international aid – must come from the general public.

And we will do it, because we know what’s at stake. Now is not the time to make a stand. We will give all we can afford, because there’s a huge shortfall. Every missing chunk of aid equates to a human life.

But, yet again, our supposed representatives are letting us down. They are letting humanity down. Our government squanders our hard-earned tax on unsupported wars and pointless ID card technology, while ignoring pleas for help from the poorest and most vulnerable in our country. Pensioners freeze while the rich get richer. New “Labour” has continued this Tory trend. None of this surprises us.

So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us now to see it fling a few coins at a monumental catastrophe and expect the survivors to be grateful it bothered at all. It’d be funny if it weren’t so horrific.

This paltry aid contribution is a disgrace to the Western world.

If you think your government can afford to give a lot more than it has, let your representatives know about it.

Meanwhile, let’s make sure we give some of our own money to help the rescue and rebuilding efforts. Because someone has to.

Seasonal23 Dec 2004 04:24 pm

This isn’t Fox Towers, by the way. I’d never waste all that electricity, for a start.

Ho ho ho.

Have a lovely peaceful Christmas.

Festive hugs to one and all.

love from the urban fox
x x

American politics&British politics&Seasonal23 Dec 2004 03:33 pm

I was going to write a quick post about remembering those who are suffering while we’re eating and drinking twice our own bodyweight and arguing with relatives. But Swiss Toni’s Tonight thank god it’s them post said it all and more, so I will leave the topic in his capable hands.

Instead, have a bit of unusually restrained Mon-sense:
George Monbiot: “The US government is… like a robin attacking its reflection in a window”

and an article about the British Government’s attempt to cover up their deliberate destruction of classified documents, before the Freedom of Information Act kicks in, by burying the issue in the one time of year nobody’s watching (see also: ID cards)…

and a wish that the survivors of today’s horrific north London knife attacks recover fully. Deepest sympathies to the family of the Edmonton man who died.

British politics20 Dec 2004 11:28 pm

The ID card scheme has been approved by 385 MPs. 93 opposed it.

I’m still waiting to hear just how storing my fingerprints, iris scan and facial measurements will stop terrorism, organised crime and people trafficking. If any Labour or Tory MP who voted in favour of the scheme can explain this conundrum to a confused and livid voter, please contact me using the email form on the right.

British politics20 Dec 2004 02:20 pm

The House of Commons is debating the issue of ID cards and biometric passports today.

Rushing the process through now means most British people are preoccupied by Christmas preparations, and too cold to considering taking to the freezing streets in protest. A masterstroke. Expect all future controversial legislation to be implemented in inclement weather.

According to official figures, it will cost £415,000,000 of public money per year to run a biometric passport scheme, plus £85,000,000 for ID cards.

As yet, the government has come up with no convincing reason how ID cards might protect Britain’s security. Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary, has written an article in the Times in which he seems to claim that biometric passports are considered necessary to fit in with the USA’s requirements, no matter what the cost. “Under current plans, for example, from next autumn British tourists who need a new passport will have to get a biometric one to visit the US or get a biometric visa. We will — rightly — have to bear the costs of introducing the new technology to enhance our passports anyway.”

Why do we need to bear the costs of introducing invasive technology to comply with one single nation’s far-right agenda? He doesn’t say. It’s taken for granted that we’re the 51st state, all too ready to comply for a pat on the back and a choccy biscuit.

Clarke goes on to sat that “a secure identity system will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities.” The naivete of his assumption that ID cards will not be stolen, traded or expertly forged is shocking.

His closing remarks are worthy of “plain speaking” (aka arrogant and rude) Blunkett himself: “I claim that the ID Cards Bill that I am introducing today is a profoundly civil libertarian measure because it promotes the most fundamental civil liberty in our society, which is the right to live free from crime and fear.” Labour again employs doublespeak to introduce something as its exact opposite. See also – tuition fees, which made higher education “more accessible”. And many, many more.

Anyone who seeks to question how exactly spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ pounds on biometric data storage can lead to a utopian life “free from crime and fear” is told they are guilty of “woolly liberal thinking”.

Let’s pause for just a moment and remember this is another member of the Labour Party talking.

Ask for specifics, for facts and data, for proof that this isn’t an obscene waste of money which would put the Millennium Dome to shame, and you’re just being difficult.

Predictably, the so-called Opposition party are providing no opposition at all. Having weighed up their options to see which opinion would best give them the reputation of serious potential government, tough on crime and immigration, they’ve fallen in line with the ID card scheme. And no doubt cursed Labour once more for stealing their right wing thunder.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party officially opposing the scheme.

Campaigns against the government’s latest insane idea are making lots of noise, but we know how much notice Blair’s coven takes of public opinion. With any luck, this might be another nail in the coffin of his career. And it might galvanise the electorate into punishing Labour severely next April.

But if ever we needed a viable opposition party who aren’t afraid to challenge our neo-Stalinist government and the legacy of 25 years of Tory/Labour dismantling of public services, it is now. If you’re out there, you have my vote already.

American politics&Middle East&Pop culture18 Dec 2004 01:43 pm

I wrote it off as a sick, badly-timed joke at first. Then I saw it in print with my own eyes.

Hollywood producers are making No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah with Harrison Ford as a heroic General in charge of the attacks. The film is based on a forthcoming book by pro-war journalist Bing West.

What are the chances of an Iraqi production company filming a huge multi-million dollar blockbuster presenting the insurgents as heroes, to even out the cinematic shaping of history?

Zero? Close enough. There’s no money, no access to resources, no stability. When you’re worrying about personal safety and whether the electricity will ever be reconnected, your priorities probably don’t stretch to feelgood cinema. And hey, it’d be murder trying to find a safe location to film in. The Americans will at least be able to make their production from the comfort and safety of a fully-functioning, financially stable country. Well OK, a fully-functioning country.

Back in Fallujah, the US army claims the battle has been won. A resounding victory for truth, honour and justice. It’s all over bar the clearing up. Strange, then, that people living in Iraq tell such a different story. “Goodbyes in Iraq are always sincere…because the possibility of never seeing one another alive again is very real. Our eyes tell it all to one another.”.

American politics&Australia&British politics&Europe17 Dec 2004 01:18 pm

America
The former head of the KGB, General Yevgeni Primakov, and the ex-boss of the former East German Security Police, Markus Wolfe, have been employed by the US Homeland Security department.

In 1997, Markus Wolfe was refused entry to the USA on the basis that he was a terrorist. Evidently the criteria for vetting staff are less stringent than those used for visitors.

Last week, anti-war protesters in California learnt that state law entitles police to take DNA samples even from those against whom charges have been dropped.

Australia
Gerry wrote last week about the passing of the Surveillance Devices Act into Australian law. This permits federal and state police to use covertly planted spyware on citizens’ computers, to track their online activities. This includes recording keystrokes which are later deleted.

Britain
The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has today refused to accept the legal ruling which states detention of “terrorism” suspects in Belmarsh Prison is unlawful. Lord Nicholls said “Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law.” Lord Hoffman said “The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.”

This cut no ice with the British government. Jack Straw replied “The law lords are simply wrong to imply that this is a decision to detain these people on the whim”. Charles Clarke, Blunkett’s replacement as Home Secretary, insisted the prisoners will be kept under lock and key regardless of the ruling, while the Government prepares to change the law itself to make its crimes legal. “We will be studying the judgment carefully to see whether it is possible to modify our legislation to address the concerns raised by the House of Lords,” said Clarke.

Needless to say (as B1rdie commented in the post below), Charles Clarke has also picked up Blunkett’s ID cards baton and is running with it all the way to a new police state.

Question
Are there any influential countries where this sort of thing isn’t happening right now? I’d really like to know.

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