Friday, December 06, 2002

OPEN DEMOCRACY

I've put up a few more links over on the right-hand side and on request from a couple of people, including 'Hawkgirl' I have now included a comments box under each post - feel free to make us of it and plug your blog if you want - I have been doing so shamelessly. Longer contributions can of course still be Emailed


Couple of interesting political links added -
Open Democracy is a UK site giving space to essays and thoughtful pieces that might not find a home elsewhere. Well worth a browse, there is plenty of material including an excellent section on Iraqi voices - the opinions cover a broad spectrum internationally.

Imprints "aims to promote a critical discussion of socialist ideas, freed from theoretical dogma but committed to the viability of an egalitarian and democratic politics". Which sounds about right. The promise of the back issues gradually appearing online is something to look forward to.

One of the Associate Editors of Imprints, Christopher Bertram, has a weblog Junius which is one of the small number of thoughtful left blogs to appear on this radar so far. There is a good range of issues and perspectives to be found.

I notice a lot of visitors have paid trips to Conservative Commentary so here is another entertaining right-wing blog: Peter Briffa's lively Public Interest.

Also worth adding to your regular reading Iain Murray's strangely-titled but always topical Anglo-American blog The Edge of England's Sword.



posted by BA on 1:23 PM link

Thursday, December 05, 2002

OUR FRIENDS OVER THE ATLANTIC

"I find it easier to be optimistic about the futures of Iraq and Pakistan than, say, Holland or Denmark," is the latest informed opinion I have come across via North America's right-wing blogland.

These aren't the words of one of some redneck with a laptop however but the introduction to an article by Mark Steyn, a columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph and Canada's National Post and according to some "one of, if not the best pundits around".

The title of the piece Goodbye Europe should be enough of a warning that there is going to be a lot of hyperbole but it really didn't prepare me for the nonsense that followed.

"The good news is we won't have to worry about another Hitler or Mussolini because, on present reproductive trends, the Italians and Germans are going to be out of business in a couple of generations. Few people have ever been in less need of lebensraum. "

Yes Steyn has made the stunning discovery that birth-rate has slowed down in Europe. Welcome to the 1970's Mark.

But wait, somethings not right here - OK he's got Mussolini, Hitler and a Nazi word in the first paragraph of an article on Europe but an American opinion piece with no mention of Islamic terrorism yet? We don't have to wait long - par two in fact.

"The main source of European immigration is Muslim youth from North Africa and the Middle East. Whether these are the chaps to keep Hans and Pierre in the style to which they've become accustomed is a moot point: According to some Scandinavian statistics, 40 percent of those on welfare are immigrants. And, while it's not true that every immigrant on welfare is an Islamic terrorist, it's a good rule of thumb that every Islamic terrorist in Europe has been on welfare, living in radicalized ghetto cultures with nothing to do but sit around the flat plotting the jihad all day"

Wham! Its the perfect conservative combo - European welfare democracy breeds Islamic terror!

Perhaps we should try the American approach after all. Maybe leaving the unemployed sleeping in doorways and begging for food will moderate their views? (Not that the claimed figure of 40% unemployment amongst immigrants is anywhere near accurate for Europe - there must be something in the fifth ammendment about the right to quote "some Scandanavian statistics").

The same publication carries some more biting American satire, this time from Jonah Goldberg in his article on Europe sweetly titled 'Irritating and Irrelevant': "When you're out of power, you can obstruct. You can criticize. You can be unified in your "dismay" at the hard decisions of others. You can second-guess and pound the table. Sometimes these outsiders have something interesting to say, but sometimes they're just whiners and complainers. The beauty of the English language is that it has a word for such people. We call them "the Europeans."

That was humour I think. He carries on:

Europe's most significant political achievements in the twentieth century were: World War I, World War II, communism, fascism, colonial oppression, post-colonial upheaval, intellectual nihilism of every flavor, and now appeasement of pretty much anyone willing to say nasty words about the United States.

Now it is really tempting to write a list of America's most significant political achievements in the twentieth century but that would be whining anti-Americanism wouldn't it?

I mean it would be complaining to mention agent orange, the arming of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, the funding of the IRA and the support to Saddam Hussein wouldn't it?

It would just be snidy and envious to point out America's ability to create a society where schoolchildren carry out massacres in the classroom and where the creation of radicalised ghetto cultures led to the innovative introduction of drive-by shootings -- a model society where militias are allowed to train themselves to blow up their own government buildings.

And who cannot fail to admire a country that is able to investigate a crime against humanity by appointing a man who is one of the world's experts in such matters to head it?

American Enterprise Online's Symposium on Europe - a more depressing read for those of us who spend time criticising knee-jerk anti-Americanism could not be found.















posted by BA on 3:59 PM link
ALL NOISE, NO ANSWERS

The US right-wing ‘war-bloggers’ are working themselves up into a frenzy at the moment and I am pretty sure they have all pre-typed their “yeah hah!” post ready to upload the moment CNN shows the first of the “fireworks show” over Baghdad (followed no doubt by a boring bragging competition on who had the first link to the first bomb story up after which the losers will then scurry off to be the first to find a Robert Fisk opinion piece to trash).

Yes deadline time for the Iraqi weapons declaration is getting close – “Lies on Saturday should mean Bombs on Sunday” yells Peter Cuthbertson on Conservative Commentary, doing his best to keep pace with his breathless Stateside pals.

In fact the US right-wing pundits are the worst possible advocates for the case for military intervention in Iraq.

The knee-jerk anti-Americans they rightly despise portray the US as a country full of bigoted, ignorant and arrogant fools who get off on bombing other countries – and they need only visit a few of the right-wing US blogs to confirm their prejudice.

There is a strange fashion in US media, old and new, which at the moment seems to believe that the only way to make politics of interest is to set up a straw-doll of the liberal left and then rip it to pieces – if you think it is just an irrelevant weblog phenomenon then watch Fox News for ten minutes.

That channel has a hilarious programme called the O’Reilly Factor – watch and you’ll quickly learn that while we in Europe may consider the Jerry Springer Show to be amusing trash tv, in the States its influence has spread into news and current affairs broadcasting. Make it as loud and as crass as you can and people will watch it – four more years Jerry.

None of this is particularly helpful to those in Europe that are trying to carefully and calmly make the case for action against Iraq. If you are trying to argue, as most European governments are, that you might not like George Bush, but the US is the only force capable of overthrowing Saddam’s dictatorship, there is a danger that you might be drowned out by the noise of the tub-thumping populists of the American right.

Many on the European left are prepared to do the once unthinkable and give backing to US-UK military action in Iraq quite simply because we like the idea of regime change. It worked in Yugoslavia and it worked in Afghanistan and it can work in Iraq. There is a strong strategic and moral case for removing this dictator and introducing democracy to Iraq – and if America is going to help bring that about so be it.

We think it will be for the good of the Iraqi people, we think it might help challenge the opinion of those in the Arab and Muslim world who see the US and the west in general as a supporter of corrupt dictatorships. We think a free Iraq might become a beacon for democracy in the region and a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. And most importantly of all we think the Iraqi people want liberation.

While concerns about weapons of mass destruction are important, the current inspections are in many ways a side issue. There is, after all, no point in disarming Saddam and leaving him in power to build up his weapons again sometime down the road. The only way to make Iraq less of a threat to its neighbours is regime change, or as we on the left prefer to call it – revolution.

And this gets to the crux of the matter and an issue you will hardly find addressed on Fox News or on the hysteria-blogs. What comes after Saddam?

It is not just a question that can be dealt with after military action. The legitimacy of a post-Saddam government will depend a great deal on how it achieved power. If it is installed by a victorious US army it will be seen as a puppet regime and while that may not effect its popularity initially you can be sure that it will later on when the afterglow of liberation has faded.

If however the new government is made up of Iraqis who actively participated, alongside foreign troops, in the overthrowing of the Saddam regime it has a much greater chance of carrying the long-term support of the Iraqi people during the difficult years ahead.

Yesterday a member of the Iraqi opposition grouping the Iraqi National Congress was murdered, almost certainly by an agent of Saddam. There has been very little outcry about this and that adds to my growing suspicion that the US has yet to make firm decision about whether it is really ready to support the Iraqi opposition.

In Afghanistan the US needed the Northern Alliance to fight on the ground for a whole host of reasons – some logistical, some political, some cynical. But does Bush really need the Iraqi opposition? Do they believe that they can overthrow Saddam without local involvement?

Does the Bush administration actually want the complex additional factor of democracy bringing into the equation? Or is it going to revert to the cold-war practice of imposing a pro-American dictator?

The answer is we don’t know. More worrying does the US administration itself know?

Here is part of a transcript of an interview on Tuesday between American journalists and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Myers, Chairman of Joint Chief's of Staff.

Question: Mr. Secretary, could you bring us up to date on the training of Iraqi opposition forces in terms of the timetable, the numbers, any of those developments?

Rumsfeld: I really can't. It is -- I don't know precisely where it stands. I do know who is responsible for it and that it's in process, but where it stands today -- do you know?

Myers: What little I could add to that is that we are still in the vetting process for some of the individuals, and we are still trying to finalize the site where the training would take place.

Q: Would that be this month, the month of December?
Myers: It's possible. I think we just -- we haven't had an update recently.
Rumsfeld: Haven't heard lately.


For once I have to say I hope that Rumsfeld is just being evasive. Because if he isn’t we have legitimate cause for concern.

After all last time we went to war in the Gulf we were given the expectation that it would be the end of Saddam. But it wasn’t.

The Iraqi people paid with their lives but there was no liberation at the end of it. The opposition were encouraged to rise up by George Bush senior and then left undefended to be slaughtered by Saddam and then to live under years of UN sanctions from outside and repression at home - the kind of cyncial approach that leads us to now speculate about the US's agenda in Iraq.

Perhaps in place of all the noise the US media might be asking a few more questions about what, to use their language, is the game-plan?

Without one it will be much harder to convince us that the US's concerns are truly with the Iraqi people.







posted by BA on 7:05 AM link

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

AND THE WINNER IS....

Dull, Brussels based newspaper European Voice has announced a surprise winner of the European Politician of the Year award

posted by BA on 1:00 PM link
EDUCATE, AGITATE....GYRATE?

According to the Associated Press workers at the United States' only unionised peep show walked the picket line, arguing that a contract offer by management at the Lusty Lady is too skimpy.

Wearing pink T-shirts that read "Bad girls like good contracts," dancers banged on pots yesterday and chanted, "Two, four, six, eight, pay me more to gyrate!"

The girls are members of the The Exotic Dancers Union story here

Should a new pay deal be linked to greater flexibility?



posted by BA on 10:33 AM link

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

THE NEW SECTARIANS?

Interesting and timely piece in the Guardian today from Peter Kilfoyle - the man who took on and defeated the entryist Trotskyites of the Militant tendency in the Liverpool Labour Party in the late eighties.

Kilfoyle played a major role in the clearing of the decks that was carried out under Neil Kinnock's leadership and then he was a part of Tony Blair's election campaign team in 1994 and was rewarded with a defence ministers position in 1999.

He is an angry man is comrade Kilfoyle - he believes that once again the Labour Party's values are under attack - except this time it is not Trots but Blairites he sees undermining the mainstream values of the party.

"Older members recall the internal triumph over sectarianism and wonder whether it was worth it, as a new sectarianism takes hold - one defined by the combination of a perceived neo-Thatcherite economic policy with a quasi-liberal social policy. It is little wonder that those who were committed to Labour before year zero of The Project feel so disaffected."





posted by BA on 11:39 AM link
FORWARD TO ENDLESS DEBATE!

What will socialism be like? That is the question posed by the Socialist Workers Party (sic) and answered by them in this amazing article that I heartily recommend for anyone curious about what kind of world these people fantasise about.

According to the author Jonathan Neale, who remarkably is 54-years-old the SWP's vision of a new world involves weekly meetings in football stadiums in every city to "make decisions about what to do with the economy".

Each workplace would also have weekly mass meetings: "In our new world we could make decisions based on what we need, not on profit. There would be endless debates in those meetings".

How can we not be tempted by the prospect of endless debates?

Anyone who has ever sat in a meeting listening to speeches being heckled by SWP members or even worse had to actually listen to speeches by SWP members has asked themselves when it is going to end?

Now we know why - they are working towards their goal. All those hours flogging papers in front of shopping centres, all that time spent transforming the normal mode of speech of the Seven Oaks middle class into a mockney accent is in the service of achieving a society where there will be endless debate!

The great thing about a world of non-ending discussion is that there will be no time of course to actually do any work.

Reading Neale's, ahem, 'critique' of capitalism it becomes pretty clear that what he dislikes about it is not so much inequality, environmental damage or the explotation of the developing world but the fact that he has to work.

"We spend the majority of our lives getting ready for work, going there, working, coming home, and then slumping to recover ourselves," says Jonathan who appears not to enjoy a great working relationship with the collegues he will have endless discussions with in the glorious SWP new world.

"From the moment you clock on to the moment you leave, you do what you're told. "If you don't like it, Jonathan," they say, "you can go."

But what makes the SWP future even more irresistable is the fact that it will help Jonathan to quit smoking and lose weight.

"We have all grown up under capitalism. We carry the scars of much suffering, of grief, of being made to feel small. I smoke. I'm overweight," he says.

So there it is - the road to the new Jerusalem - Neither Marlboro Lights nor Hamburgers But Endless Debate!






posted by BA on 5:44 AM link

Monday, December 02, 2002

REMEMBER ACAS?

The firefighters next eight day strike due to start on Wednesday has been suspended after the intervention of the consiliation service Acas.

Story and from the new TUC site FBU statement

posted by BA on 11:45 AM link
MODERNISING WORKING PRACTICES?

Great piece of populist political letter-writing in the (Glasgow) Herald today from Alan McCoombes, of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Obviously it is part of the tit-for-tat political jousting that goes on during strikes like this but there is a serious point here as well. MP's like Peter Mandelson are being paid £55,000 a year by taxpayers to be public servants and seem to spend half their time seeking private gain.

Anyway here is the letter:

ISN'T it high time Westminster MPs modernised their working practices? Take, for example, the other PM, Peter Mandelson. On Question Time last Thursday, the New Labour guru taunted the firefighters with allegations that they don't work hard enough, they don't work flexibly enough, they haven't modernised enough. Some of the firefighters even have time for second jobs, for goodness sake.

Really? So how many firefighters have second jobs writing a monthly column for GQ magazine? How many have third jobs delivering lectures for £500 an hour? How many have fourth jobs working as company directors of advertising agencies? How many firefighters found the time to make 14 overseas trips to far-flung destinations, paid for by
big business?

In between gallivanting around the world, running a company, writing for a men's magazine, and lecturing investment bankers on how to make money, Mr Mandelson is MP for Hartlepool, for which he is paid £55,000.

According to the most recent register, half of all MPs have jobs on the side from which they personally pocket the fees. Indeed, Westminster is stuffed full of company directors, consultants, lawyers, journalists, broadcasters, and lecturers who, in between making money, have a little sideline running the country.

Are the taxpayers getting value for money from our MPs? Isn't there an overwhelming case for a thorough review of their working practices? Shouldn't their numbers be reduced? Isn't it high time they modernised?

Alan McCombes, Scottish Socialist Party

Comments?


posted by BA on 2:53 AM
link
AMNESTY LOSE THE PLOT

Stephen Pollard is right to get angry about Amnesty International's reaction to Jack Straw's dossier on human rights abuses in Iraq.

Amnesty UK's general secretary Irene Khan, says: "This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists". BBC report.

Amnesty used to stand up for human rights whether it was fashionable or not in a given place and they managed to do so without taking sides in conflicts but stood up for what Gorbachev used to call "general human values".

Would it really have been beyond Amnesty to simply agree that there are human rights abuses in Iraq (a mild understatement in itself)? No-one would have expected them to give their support to military action - they would just have been doing their job.

They could still have pointed out how in the past they were supporting human rights in Iraq while the US and UK were undermining them.

Amnesty seem to be saying that if the UK and US were wrong to ignore/tacitly support Saddam's abuses in the past (and they were) that means they should continue to be wrong forever? What muddled thinking is this?

Comments?




posted by BA on 2:13 AM
link
STORM IN A TEACUP

And predictably enough John Prescott has made a furious attack on the FBU for turning the firestrike into a "political battle".

Is an arguement over public funding of an essential public service not by its nature political? Was Tony Blair's labelling of Andy Gilchrist a "Scargallite" not a political attack?

What is good to see is that the likes of John Edmonds and Bill Morris, none of whom could in any way be described as "ultra-left wreckers" have stood up to Prescott and stood by the firefighters.

The Independent provides an edited version of Gilchrist's speech in Manchester - worth reading to keep a sense of perspective about all this.

I disagree with Gilchrist's comments about Iraq and I think as well as being wrong they were a tactical mistake from him but the idea that this speech has revealed some dastardly secret ultra-left agenda is ridiculous. It is sad to see how many newspapers will play with the government's spin.

posted by BA on 1:52 AM link

Sunday, December 01, 2002

GILCHRIST'S GAFFE?

The Sunday papers are full of the story that Firefighters union leader Andy Gilchrist has called on the unions to "oust Tony Blair" see Independent story.

Not surprisingly the government and other opponents of the strike are weighing in saying this is proof that Tony Blair is right and Gilchrist is a "Scargillite" and therefore that the FBU action is a re-run of the Miners strike. This of course is part of Blair's sad attempt to present himself as being as tough on trade unions as Margaret Thatcher was.

But lets look at what actually happened yesterday.

Gilchrist was speaking at the left-wing "After New Labour" conference in Manchester so it is not surprising that he told a room full of the Labour left that he wanted to see a "real Labour government" - he was preaching to the converted.

Here, according to the Independent on Sunday is what Gilchrist actually said at this political rally yesterday:

"I'm quite prepared to work to replace New Labour with what I'm prepared to call Real Labour."

He added: "I have no nostalgic romanticism about old Labour but there are real Labour values built on real social progress, on real justice for working-class people and, indeed, for fairness for all."

He also attacked the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, for setting aside £1bn in the event of a war with Iraq while refusing to release money to finance the firefighters' pay demand. He claimed that the Government "ensured and provoked" the fire strike and was "prepared to play with people's lives", and called upon fellow trade union leaders to go on the political offensive through their links with Labour.

He said: "Thank God there might be a time after New Labour."

This is hardly Scargill stuff is it? It is no secret that Gilchrist is on the left of the Labour Party and would like to see a non-Blairite leadership. So in other words - we learn nothing new at all from these over-excited stories.

What it is though is an example of the political agendas of the British press and sadly some niavity from Gilchrist to think that he could attend a rally like this and make those comments without the media picking up on them and the government using them as a stick to beat him and his members with.

This was inevitable when every word he speaks is being analyised and reported in the media - the firefighters strike is big news.

And crucially, when his opponents are, wrongly, claiming this is a politically motivated strike and that firemen are being "misled" by people with a hidden agenda, his comments played into the government's hands.

Gilchrist's job is to get the best deal he can for his members and his comments yesterday, while fairly harmless in themselves, will not help. That is the reality of politics.

He made a mistake. He was niave. He should have stayed away from that conference or if he attended he should have stuck to the firefighter's agenda.

But Gilchrist is not Arthur Scargill and regardless of that his views on Labour's leadership are essentially irrelevant to the main issue. There is a strong case for firemen getting paid more - simple as that.

Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph claims the government have a novel solution to avoid any future disputes with the firefighters - they are going to ban them from striking.

Now that does sound like something from the "Scargill era".

Comments?


posted by BA on 5:12 AM
link
MINOGUE IN 'RACIST' ROW

Dannii Minogue, sister of Aussie 'pixie-like pop temptress' Kylie, may take legal action against the far-right British National Party after they claimed she backed their policies on immigration and crime.

Minogue gave an interview to GQ where she aired her views on crime and immigration but now she says: "I've obviously been misquoted ... This is something very serious and something that I obviously have to be speaking to my lawyers about."

Spotting the article on the BNP website, which praised Dannii but also predicted her views would result in her career plummeting, the Anti Nazi League rushed in claiming Minogue had been "outed as a racist bigot".

Recently there has been a call from some on the right, such as Peter Hitchens and the weblog Conservative Commentary for the debate over immigration to be re-opened.

Perhaps it should. Certainly debate is always preferable to fear of discussing these issues but if the Dannii episode tells us anything it is that there are still plenty of people who are not yet ready for a calm and sensible discourse over immigration and integration issues.







posted by BA on 4:53 AM link

Normblog
British Spin
Tom Watson
Stephen Pollard
PolitX
Nick Barlow
Paul Anderson
Matthew Turner
Jeff Jarvis

Perspective
Vox Politics
Conservative Commentary
Slugger O'Toole
Junius
Public Interest
Emily Jones
Edge of England's Sword
Au Currant
Natalie Solent
Samizdata
Brendan O'Neill
Look Back in Anger
Cinderella Bloggerfeller
Matt Welch