January 2005

British politics29 Jan 2005 05:27 pm

Is this Labour Party poster anti-semitic and deeply offensive to the two (Jewish) Tories it satirises?

Or is it just yet another example of the kind of pathetic, childish electoral campaigning which is routinely employed by both parties, and serves only to drag political debate into the playground?

Grow up, gentlemen. All of you.

British politics28 Jan 2005 03:57 pm

Have a guess who said this, before clicking the link:

“The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is transforming Britain into a police state”

George Monbiot? Tony Benn? An ordinary citizen, tired of being stopped and searched three times a night on the basis that his DNA is not of Caucasian origin?

No – George Churchill-Coleman, former anti-terrorist police chief.

That’s right, a police chief. A police chief with extensive experience of working with terrorists and terror suspects.

The police aren’t generally renowned for their compassion towards suspects, or commitment to human rights. When even the police start going public with statements like:

“I have serious worries and concerns about these ideas on both ethical and practical terms. You cannot lock people up just because someone says they are terrorists. Internment didn’t work in Northern Ireland, it won’t work now. You need evidence.”

then you know the government’s policies must have already slipped past the point of reason.

If a member of this famously conservative section of the establishment is sufficiently moved to denounce Team Blair’s unilateral policy-making, would this not suggest that it is dangerously out of control?

I fully expect to hear next that Margaret Thatcher has written a column for Guns & Ammo complaining that Blair’s bloodthirsty warmongering has gone too far.

Europe27 Jan 2005 01:40 pm

Just 60 years since this sickening place was closed. It’s within living memory. I felt that sense of immediacy today, reading about the memorial ceremony being held to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops.

It’s chilling, when you remember the scale of the genocide in this and other camps, and the fact that there are living people in this country (and, of course, worldwide) who still bear the physical and psychological marks of their ordeal. Not to mention the painful memory of lost families, friends and loved ones. In the bigger picture of world history, these incomprehensible, inhuman events happened just the other day.

The Independent today has an excellent article about the Holocaust, including some survivor stories.

Let’s also remember that Hitler was elected democratically. Democracy is not an automatic protection against abuse of power. If ever there was a reminder that we need to keep our governments in check and speak out when we disagree with them, it is Nazism.

We must never forget.

British politics&Corporate&Human rights26 Jan 2005 11:18 pm

First loyalty cards, now spy chips. The leading British supermarket, Tesco, has taken another step forward in its mission to collect every possible item of data about its customers: it is trialling the insertion of RFID chips into its products.

What are RFID chips, the innocent shopper may ask? Well, RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. Essentially they’re spy devices. No bigger than a grain of sand, they enable the store to monitor exactly what and where the product is.

Tesco have already experimented with these chips. Eighteen months ago, they placed them inside Gillette razor packets. The chips triggered a hidden camera under the shelf to take a photo of the shopper picking up the product. This move was in violation of an internationally agreed moratorium on RFID experimentation.

The latest trials are taking place in Tesco’s Sandhurst and Leicester stores. The only notice the supermarket is giving its customers of the trial is worded thus:

Not quite the comprehensive warning consumer groups might have expected.

Eventually, the RFID industry hopes that the technology will replace barcodes. The chips will be embedded in anything from clothing to magazines to household products. It means anyone with the correct reader device will be able to tell exactly what you’re wearing and carrying the moment you walk into a room. And anyone living in the “developed” world will be able to imagine the implications RFID technology could have for increased corporate control of people’s lives.

This isn’t science fiction; it’s happening now. What are your thoughts?

(Key points and photo taken from Indymedia and Spychips.com, which provide a much more detailed examination of the issue. There is also a general overview of RFID technology here.)

British politics&Human rights&Middle East26 Jan 2005 01:25 am

The remaining British inmates of Guantánamo Bay prison have been released at last. Feroz Abbasi (age 24), Richard Belmar (age 25), Martin Mubanga (age 32) and Moazzam Begg (age 36) were yesterday flown from the Cuba camp to an RAF base just outside London.

But they won’t be getting their home comforts back just yet. Having already been detained without trial for three years, they were immediately arrested under the British Terrorism Act 2000.

Along with its vicious little brother, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, this nasty legislation allows the arrest and indefinite detention of any person, regardless of whether there is a scrap of evidence against them or not. Under these Acts, a person can be locked up and the key thrown away solely on the basis that the Home Office thinks they look like a bad sort. “Muslim” seems frequently interchangeable with “bad sort” for the purposes of these assessments. Rather like it is to the American security services.

Best of all, there was no point arresting them at all. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, “ruled out any prosecution on the basis of material gathered during interviews in Guantánamo Bay… He told The Independent that his officers would have to obtain an admission from the four suspects or find other evidence before the men could be put on trial in this country.”

As well as being idiotic from a crime and punishment perspective, this move is also in contravention of the recent House of Lords ruling, which stated that detention of such “suspects” without enough evidence for charge or trial is illegal.

Returning to Britain would be hard enough for them even without having been arrested. Their anonymous lives destroyed, these men now have to find some semblance of a normal existence. Clinical psychologists working in Guantánamo have expressed serious concerns for the mental health of the prisoners. Professor Ian Robbins assessed the British inmates released earlier and concluded that they exhibited “signs of post-traumatic stress disorder”. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture are sufficiently convinced by allegations of Guantánamo ill-treatment to be providing post-release care to the four men. The founder of the charity, Helen Bamber, has gone on record saying she believes they have been tortured.

And as well as recovering from the mental and physical abuse described by so many Guantánamo prisoners, these men have to contend with the cruel glare of the British tabloids, and the creeping sense of guilt at having got away while former cellmates remain incarcerated.

Remember, these are men against whom no charge has been brought and no proper evidence found. These are men who used to be labelled “innocent until proven guilty” by the judicial system, until post-9/11 Western governments realised they could harness public grief and fear to find a way round that inconvenient legal and moral principle.

It is expected that the four men will be released within the next few days, and will be granted the “freedom” to hide away in remote safe houses until the media gets bored of the story. But this is no consolation to them, to their families or to anyone who feels that justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of Blair’s Bush-worship.

Because, let’s be honest, this whole story is a farce. It looks a lot like our ex-Guantánamo foursome was arrested on arrival for the sake of appearances. Rather than risk humiliating the American authorities by being seen to dismiss the men as harmless, the British government is engaging in a pantomime of arrest and questioning, as though it is seriously worried they might pose some threat. That way, it looks as though the men weren’t illegally arrested, illegally detained, illegally tortured and left permanently scarred by the very killing machine with which their own government is proud to be in cahoots.

This transatlantic sycophancy has got to stop.

Britain’s collective psyche has numerous failings: pomposity, arrogance and a xenophobic superiority complex, and that’s just for starters. But ask a group of older Brits what they perceive their nation’s greatest values to be, and common sense and fairness will rank highly in their answers. It’s a shame this self-image is such a laughable myth.

Blair must stop scampering to serve Bush and big business, and start acting in the interests of the people who are forced to pay for his bombs. Or we must replace him with someone who will.


Internment without trial (Liberty)

Released prisoners: press release (Amnesty International)

About Guantánamo Bay (Amnesty International) (WARNING – harrowing content)

Activism&Anti-consumerism&Global politics25 Jan 2005 11:24 pm

10,000 people protested outside the Bush inauguration. From reading the mainstream media, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a few dozen anarchic cranks taking a day off from knitting hemp ponchos.

“Contrary to the idiot pronouncements of the corporate media, there is no ‘anti-globalisation’ movement. There is instead a massive, articulate and energetic movement for an alternative form of globalisation, a movement which is passionately committed to the cause of global justice. It is inspiring to be part of this.

It is both easy and difficult to join. First of all, you must be able to convince yourself that global justice is something to be valued more than the inducements of a privileged western lifestyle. Get past the idea that a global free market economy is the only thing that can keep a roof over your head, provide good schools and health care and throw big, big parties. It isn’t. But we all need to stop believing it is and start to move forward, dispelling the myths, exposing the lies, and developing together a new practice. Because the cost of not doing so is just too high.”

American politics&British politics&Middle East21 Jan 2005 01:20 am

I was going to write about the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners by UK troops, but Swiss Toni has got it covered.

I’ll just add that I find it difficult to believe that any lowly private or corporal would dare to commit acts of torture and humiliation if they were not sanctioned – in fact, encouraged – by commanding officers. These soldiers will be made scapegoats, like the American private Lynndie England and several of her low-ranking, inarticulate colleagues were blamed for flouting orders, not following them. But it’s impossible not to believe that the rot runs very deep indeed, into the very foundations of the military system. Like Swiss Toni and Gerry say, if you train a person to be a cold-blooded killer, don’t be surprised if he or she behaves viciously.

Then I considered writing about Bush’s inauguration. As George Monbiot neatly wrote this week, “On Thursday, the fairy king of fairyland will be re-crowned. He was elected on a platform suspended in mid air by the power of imagination. He is the leader of a band of men who walk through ghostly realms unvisited by reality. And he remains the most powerful person on earth.”

But I was in peals of laughter by the second paragraph of the first news report I read about today’s lavish inauguration.

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” Mr Bush said.

This is black comedy, I thought, surely? I couldn’t help picturing furious editors of the Oxford English Dictionary taking out an injunction against such wilfully perverse use of the word “liberty”.

“It is the policy of the US, he said, to support forces of democracy ‘with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world’.”

ENDING tyranny! He really said that!

With my sides now comprehensively split, I decided to move onto another, less bleakly hilarious topic. Well, less hilarious. Equally bleak.

How about speculation that Iraq is on the verge of civil war, goaded on by the US administration?

The long-awaited Iraqi elections are being imposed by force by an invading nation. It’s no way to nurture democracy. And the very definition of democracy is that the Iraqi people have the right to choose any leader they wish. Given the unpopularity of the occupying army, it seems likely that, left to their own devices, the Iraqi people would largely choose an anti-US candidate.

Now let’s think about this. America have worked hard to colonise what is one of the most strategically important countries in their sights. Are they really going to stand for the election of a socially-minded Iraqi president who sends them packing, sets up a decent welfare state and imposes tax on oil at source to pay for it (a deftly wrought suggestion of Robert Newman’s)? Or are they going to find a way to ensure they get their own way, and first rights to cheap oil, by any means necessary?

Um, can I have a moment to think? Uh…

Mike Whitney writes:

“Civil war can be messy. Inciting religious and sectarian hatreds tends to disrupt the smooth execution of business; like the purging of potential enemies and the extracting of vital resources. Never the less, Rumsfeld is nearly out of options; ‘divide and conquer’ may be all that’s left. If we glance at the last 3 imperial projects; Kosovo, Haiti and Afghanistan, the very same strategy was applied. All three nations have been effectively carved up, delivered to US multi-national corporations, and reduced to warlordism or anarchy. Their outcome sets the precedent for similar results in Iraq. Will Iraq be Balkanized along ethnic and religious lines?

That’s what the Generals are hoping, and their plan is already in full swing.”

And it’s not just America attempting to control the crushed, brutalised state of Iraq. Medialens reports that not only are the US nudging their preferred Iraq presidential candidates forward, so are Iran:

“…[T]he American writer Edward Herman, co-author with Frank Brodhead of the classic work, Demonstration Elections (South End Press, 1984), points out that when an occupying power sponsors an election ‘it is not free and democratic because it was imposed by an external force and did not come from demands from within’. (Email to David Edwards, January 15, 2005) Moreover, because the election is externally imposed, participation can be interpreted as an implicit approval of the occupation, a corrupting factor in the vote.

And of course the 100,000 Iraqis killed under the occupation will not be voting; nor will the unknown thousands languishing without charge in US-run jails. The ongoing conflict will prevent many more from participating – the several hundred thousand refugees from Fallujah, for example, who are currently busy trying to survive. Nor will international observers be able to monitor the election inside the country.

On December 15, the New York Times reported that on a list of 228 candidates submitted by a major Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq’s electoral commission, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s name was entered as No.1. The Times reported that Hakim has close ties to Iran’s ruling ayatollahs…

Unreported by the mainstream US and UK press, another foreign power is also using its influence to push its candidates.

Washington-funded organisations with long records of manipulating foreign democracies in favour of US interests are deeply involved in the election. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) are part of a consortium to which the US government has provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in Iraq. NDI is headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while IRI is chaired by Republican Senator John McCain.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world” says Bush.

Freedom. Liberty. Those words which used to mean something light and empathetic and gentle. Which now mean something violent and sly and corrupt.

If I’d thought about it more carefully, I might’ve come up with a proper conclusion. But it’s late, and you know all this already.

NB: For a far clearer commentary on selected highlights of Bush’s speech, I recommend visiting Jenni chez Déesses Démocratiques. And apologies to anyone else who’s written an incisive post on this topic which I may have missed, in my half-awake bookmark-free (grr) state. I plan to be more coherent next time, and it may even be possible for a casual reader to locate the point. Here’s hoping.

British politics&Middle East&Self19 Jan 2005 02:49 am

Hello. I’ve been away for what seems like… ooh, 2½ weeks. Practically a lifetime. (If you’re a mealworm, that is. I’m assuming you aren’t, but this is the anonymous ol’ internet so anything’s possible.)

I’ll be dropping into your blogs just as soon as I can find them – and special thanks go to Firefox for spontaneously deleting all my bookmarks – so expect plenty of irrelevant comments on posts you’d long forgotten.

Normal service on here will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, let’s reflect on the latest evidence that British soldiers have been torturing Iraqis and wonder just how much an invading force has to do before its leaders are tried for war crimes.

Until next time… take care of yourselves, and each other.

American politics&Asia Pacific&Global politics&Seasonal&South Asia01 Jan 2005 01:28 pm

$350m from the USA.

$500m from Japan.

Now we’re really getting somewhere!

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